Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai reunite to watch beloved 2000s rom-com Toradora! The gang brushes up on archetypes, get to know the cast, and say hello to familiar face Okada Mari.
Date Recorded: December 21st, 2019
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
0:04:39 Background, structure, and period
0:11:32 Western(?) tropes
0:16:53 Minori and genki girls
0:23:20 Taiga and tsunderes
0:33:02 Ami and mean girls
0:49:51 The Okada-less episode
DEE: [whispers] Somebody’s chair is creaky.
VRAI: It’s me. I was trying to be cool about it, but I was not cool.
DEE: You are the one with the creaky chair!
VRAI: It was me! You thought it was someone else, but it was me—Dio.
DEE: Dio, the whole time!
[intro music plays]
CAITLIN: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today we are starting a watchalong of the not-quite-of-this-decade classic Toradora. Joining me today are two of my favorite people, Dee and Vrai.
DEE and VRAI: [crosstalk] Aw.
CAITLIN: And I’m Caitlin, writer and editor for Anime Feminist, as well as the anime reviewer for The Daily Dot. How about you guys introduce yourselves?
VRAI: Go for it, Dee. It’s alphabetical.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Dee, go introduce yourself.
DEE: Oh, okay, are we going in alphabetical order? I feel bad because Vrai’s always at the end of the alphabet, so it’s like, you can go first.
VRAI: [crosstalk] It makes me memorable.
DEE: [Chuckles] Okay, save the best for last.
CAITLIN: The last position is the best position.
DEE: No, I got you. Hi, yeah, I’m Dee. I’m the managing editor at Anime Feminist. And you can find all of my writings at The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor, where I will probably be hollering about Pokemon.
VRAI: It’s a safe bet.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. I do a bunch of freelance work. Lately I’ve been writing for Fanbyte a lot, but you can find all my freelance stuff by going to my Twitter @WriterVrai. Or you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod.
CAITLIN: I’ve been listening to the Trashpod archives lately.
VRAI: Aw. My heart.
CAITLIN: I mean, I’ve been listening this whole time.
VRAI: I know.
CAITLIN: I’m a supportive friend.
VRAI: Uh-huh. Yeah, no. I know.
VRAI: Nobody listens to all their friends’ projects. We just lie and say we do.
DEE: We pick and choose episodes based on what you’re talking about. Let’s go with that.
DEE: I like it when you rip into Anne Rice novels. It’s very good.
CAITLIN: It’s always excellent. [Chuckles] All right, but we’re not talking about Vrai’s other podcast today. We’re talking about Toradora. We ended up choosing Toradora because I decided to rewatch it and I was like, “Guys, Toradora is really good. We should do a podcast about it.”
VRAI: And so it was.
CAITLIN: And Dee and Vrai were like, “Okay!”
DEE: We hadn’t done a podcast together in a while and we enjoy podcasting together, so it felt like a good excuse. Neither Vrai nor I had actually seen this one. That’s unusual. Usually, one of us has seen the show.
VRAI: And plus, we did a bunch of high action series for a minute there, so a rom-com seemed like a good change of gears.
CAITLIN: That’s true. That’s true. Do something a little bit more lowkey, but also still a big fan favorite.
VRAI: People have big feels about Toradora, huh?
DEE: Yeah, I did a single tweet about it, and it got a surprising number of retweets and likes, and I was like, “Damn, y’all are horny for this one, huh?”
CAITLIN: People love Toradora. And I totally get it. But before we get into that, let’s talk a little bit about the production history. It started in the fall of 2008 and finished in the winter of 2009, so it is 11 years old now.
DEE: Oh, boy.
CAITLIN: Time is fake.
VRAI: Ooh, boy.
CAITLIN: It is based on a series of light novels that started in 2006 and has also been adapted into a manga, into a radio show, into a visual novel, pretty much any medium that you can think of, because it is so goddamn popular. The anime version, there was no staff that really jumped out at me when I was looking at it other than, of course, Mari Okada.
VRAI: Motherfucker! This is an Oka— How did I not…? Okay.
DEE: Well, Vrai, uh… Okada did the composition. She didn’t write the original light novels.
DEE: She did the series composition for the adaptation.
CAITLIN: Yes. And I think it does depart, so there is a little bit of that Mari Okada-ness in there. It was fairly early in her anime writing career, I believe, so it was before we really knew what she was made of.
So, my personal history with this show is not especially interesting. I watched it one day and I liked it.
VRAI: Brilliant. Inspirational.
CAITLIN: And then I watched it again and I still liked it.
DEE: Which is a good sign.
VRAI: Yeah, good, good.
DEE: Bodes well.
CAITLIN: But it sort of came on the tail end of the moe boom.
VRAI: You can tell.
DEE: Yeah, end of the aughts. That tracks, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah. So, for years and years, pretty much every single anime girl was moe. And then Toradora came along. And it has some of that in there, but it kind of plays off of them very deliberately and has much more interesting character writing, which I really liked about it. But yeah, it’s not like I’m talking about my long history with Fushigi Yugi or something. I watched it. I liked it. And now I’m getting my friends to watch it for the sake of a podcast.
DEE: Yeah, so, the late aughts are kind of an odd blank space for me in my anime-watching history, because that was when the bubble exploded in the US and we just didn’t get a lot of shows for a little while. And then we switched over to streaming, and then we were just watching everything as it came out in Japan.
So, my knowledge of the genre is a little bit… there are gaps in it, for sure. But it definitely feels like Toradora is playing with and responding to a lot of the tropes that were common in the period. What it kind of reminded me of was Haruhi Suzumiya a little bit.
VRAI: [Groans lightly]
DEE: Yeah, and maybe that’s not exactly… but the way it has these very common character archetypes. And I think Toradora is— And, to be fair, I’ve had this slightly spoiled for me because I did edit an article for AniFem about Toradora way back in the day.
CAITLIN: A really good article, by the way.
DEE: [crosstalk] It was a very good article. Yeah, I’m sure we’ll link to it in the show notes.
CAITLIN: Yeah, because I was the first editor on it. That was Alex, right?
DEE: Yeah, it was Alex. And I gave it the second pass, and I knew nothing about Toradora. And I read that and went, “Oh, this sounds like it’s doing some pretty cool stuff.” This was a few years ago, and I didn’t have the context behind it, so I don’t remember the specifics, but I have kind of a general memory of what the article was about because, again, it was a good piece.
And I’m pretty sure Toradora will be examining the tropes that we see in this stretch as far as… you’ve got the tsundere, you’ve got kind of the genki girl—the cheerful, upbeat character. It also reminds me a little bit of My Teen Romantic Comedy SNAFU in the way it’s engaging with those. And then you have the new girl, Ami, who shows up towards the end, who’s sort of the idol character, but also kind of shitty. [Chuckles] Is also kind of the mean girl.
Anyway, I hope that it continues to interrogate those archetypes and dig into this, because you see this in these first six episodes, this idea of “Okay, but who are these people really, behind this veneer, behind this two-dimensional trope that we’ve slapped onto a lot of these characters?” So, I hope it continues to do that, because there are definitely flickers of that in this early stretch.
VRAI: Yeah, honestly, the most fascinating thing about watching this stretch for me was putting it in context, because in some ways I felt… There were definitely parts of this that I had a lot of fun watching and other parts I did not so much, but in some ways, I had to keep reminding myself, “You’ve been spoiled by the nice boys of recent seasons and how far slice-of-life comedy has come.”
So, it was really interesting to think of this coming out in 2008, when the genre was just poisoned with moe, but also the self-awareness that was starting to become a big hit because of Haruhi Suzumiya hadn’t really become “We’re poisoned with that now” by the end of the 2010s.
So, I can see how this hit really big for some people—or a lot of people—and seemed really, and in some ways was, really, really special because, like you said, it’s trying to say, “All right, let’s poke at these archetypes a little more, still in a comedic framework, and try to find some deeper humanity in there.” I don’t think it always gets there, but I respect the hustle, as you say.
DEE: Yeah, and it was, like you said, Caitlin, hugely popular, right? So, I’m sure it continued to influence the rom-com and slice-of-life school genre going forward, as well.
CAITLIN: And what I like about it is it does have that self-awareness, but it also has a very real sincerity to it.
DEE: Oh, for sure, yeah. I don’t think it’s just a metaphor. I don’t think it’s just engaging with, like, “Look at these tropes!” It’s trying to talk about like… again, it’s fiction, but these are real people behind these archetypes and how do we get to know them over the course of the series.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and what we’ve watched so far has been very episodic—getting to know the characters from episode to episode and seeing some sides of their personalities and how they bounce off of each other. And it’s gonna get more into the more serious character stuff, soon actually. But yeah, we’re still in the very light setting-building—you know, get to know these characters, get to care about them. And then later, it’ll get more dramatic. Sorry, spoilers.
VRAI: I was wondering how the fuck you were gonna keep this up for 25 episodes, show.
VRAI: Maybe it’s because I don’t watch enough rom-coms that are just rom-coms.
CAITLIN: It’s really nice spending time with the characters this way.
VRAI: Oh, no. It just didn’t feel like it necessarily had the momentum to be like, “And we’re gonna do shenanigans for two cours!”
CAITLIN: I mean, that is what the American sitcom model is, but for more like ten years.
DEE: That actually brings me to a question for you guys, because maybe you’re a little bit more familiar with the genre than I am. So, I have an inkling this story… I guess we’re assuming everybody at home, more or less, has seen these six episodes at least, because that’s how watchalongs work.
So, these six episodes set up Ryuji and Taiga, who I’m sure we’ll dig into as we continue to go with this podcast, as these kind of combative friends, but it very much has the rom-com vibe of “Oh, they’re meant for each other, and eventually they’re going to get together.” Right? That’s kind of the vibe you’re getting from this.
VRAI: Oh, 110%.
DEE: Yeah. And first of all, I think this show’s biggest hurdle for me going forward will be I honestly really like them as friends, and it’s gonna have to really work to convince me that they need to smooch. Because at this point, I feel like they don’t have to, and I’m totally happy with that.
That having been said, I know the structure of… So, obviously Toradora is drawing from some anime archetypes in terms of the way the characters are written. But the structure of “We’re gonna team up to help each other with our crushes, but then, oh no! We actually fall for each other!” That is, to me, a very Western rom-com sort of structure of a story.
Have you seen that much in anime before? Because I was racking my brains to think if I’d seen that much before, and I can’t really think of anything.
CAITLIN: Let’s see. Let’s look at my Shelf O’ Shoujo.
VRAI: I am the wrong person to ask because I don’t actually watch a lot of these types of shows where it’s “Three of one gender and two of another so we can have lots of love shenanigans, but it’ll always be straight! Don’t worry.” So, it’s quite possible that there is some of that, but it’s not my preferred go-to.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, I would say that that particular setup isn’t super common in anime. And I’ll be real. My Shelf O’ Shoujo, it’s not exhaustive or anything. But it does sort of play into something that I think is more common in anime and manga, which is “we share a secret, and we grow more emotionally intimate, and that is what leads to dating.”
DEE: That I do definitely… Yeah, I will agree with you that I do see that a lot in the anime and manga rom-com format. “We are united in something that other people don’t know about, and then we bond over that, and then that’s how we slowly become closer and closer.” For sure.
That structure of the “Let’s help each other with our crushes” just struck me as, again, one of those things that is very familiar to me. But then when I started to think about why it was familiar to me, it wasn’t from, like, anime and manga. So I thought that was just an interesting touch for Toradora that it seems to be drawing as much from more Western, Hollywood-style rom-coms as it is anime.
And that combination gives it a freshness that, even though I’ve seen these beats before, to see them kind of merged and then played with a little bit kept these episodes from feeling stale, even though a lot of the stuff that happens in them I have seen in a version before, if that makes sense.
DEE: Yeah. It’s clever the way the author seems to have been influenced by media across mediums, I guess.
CAITLIN: “Media” is a plural.
CAITLIN: But yeah, I never really thought of that before. And yeah, I would say that in terms of anime and manga, it’s probably closest to a Horimiya. And I know that Horimiya came later, but that’s sort of like, looking at my shelf, what I have there, that is most similar. Or Lovely Complex.
VRAI: I guess there’s Cardcaptor Sakura, where they both have a crush on Yukito and then end up having a cute little romance by the end. That’s my nearest estimation. They aren’t working together, but it’s a case of “We have a crush on somebody else, but we’re made for each other.”
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, I do think that there are ones where it’s like, “Oh, I have a crush on someone else, but the other person is really the person for me.” Don’t ask me to name them. Well, no, that was definitely Lovely Complex. Have you guys seen or read Lovely Complex?
DEE: A little bit. I didn’t dive into it, but I’m aware of it, yeah.
CAITLIN: That’s another one that I would like to do.
CAITLIN: It’s really good. It’s really delightful.
DEE: Okay, put a pin in that one, then.
CAITLIN: And it’s shoujo, so, you know, even better. But yeah. Yeah, I never really thought about that. And yeah, maybe that is part of what makes Toradora feel relatively fresh, is that it has that particular setup, which is not super common in anime and manga. And the characters also just have really good chemistry together. I feel like the writing is really snappy.
With all that in mind, should we start talking about the characters?
VRAI: Minorin is good.
DEE: [Laughs] I think I love Minori. I was pretty sure I did when they had the focus episode about her where… So, “genki,” for folks at home who don’t know, is just the Japanese word that means cheerful, bright, happy, raring to go, kind of thing.
DEE: Energetic, yeah. And so, the genki girl is a bit of an anime trope. And Minori kind of starts to slot into that. And when you get that episode of them where they’re trapped in the shed together and she’s kind of freaking out but she’s like, “No, no, no, the point is you have to, like, smash your fears and focus on other things and figure out a way to get through,” that was the moment when I realized I really liked her.
She was already kind of a goofball—some of the scenes you’d get of her at school screwing around when they were playing basketball and things like that.
CAITLIN: Oh, she’s such a weirdo. I love her!
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah. She’s kind of a big weirdo, and I really enjoy that about her. But that moment where you get that sense of, oh, she’s not just bright and chipper because she’s just naturally like this. It’s like this was a choice she made, because it’s actually very hard to be optimistic.
And so, the fact that the show kind of addresses [that] Minori has decided this is how she wants to approach the world, I thought that was pretty cool, and I liked that about her quite a bit. Because I think a lot of those genki-type characters tend to come across as just naive and oblivious, and so I like that Minori does not come across that way.
And then she had that beautiful moment in the classroom where Ryuji asked her what she thought of people who refer to themselves as airheads. And she was like, “Bad, bad, bad, bad!”
DEE: And there’s this orchestral music. And I was like, “Yeah, no, I love you. You’re fantastic. Thank you, Minori.” She’s good.
VRAI: She’s real fun, and it’s super interesting how we’ve kind of come back around to just doing that as trope through a slightly more weird-girl lens. She reminded me a lot of Chika from Kaguya-sama, except with a little more depth.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Yeah!
DEE: Yeah, that’s a good point. You do see that sort of goofball, weirdo girl in shows more nowadays in a way that isn’t just the straightforward “Oh, she’s chipper and cute,” like you used to see. Yeah, they’re very silly now.
CAITLIN: Or even just weird in a very obviously constructed way. I mean, I’m speaking as someone who is kind of weird.
DEE: Yeah. I think we all are a little bit.
CAITLIN: But we’re anime fans, so we’re probably kind of weird, at least a little bit. I’m trying to think if this is something that you see… like the Manic Pixie Dream Girl, basically, right?
DEE: Mm-hm. Yeah. Yeah, sure.
VRAI: I mean, not quite, since that—
DEE: That’s similar to a genki girl, though. I see what you’re saying.
CAITLIN: Yeah. But this very obviously constructed sort of idea of a girl who is happy and energetic and kind of weird. So, the Manic Pixie Dream Girl—which I know that people don’t like that anymore, but I still think it’s a useful term if you contextualize it properly—and the moe genki girl, I think those are two very similar sorts of things in that it felt very alienating.
DEE: Yeah, where you go, “This is not how people act.” And I get what you’re going for. It’s kind of like watching Big Bang Theory, where you’re like, “This is some weird approximation of a nerd. This isn’t actually what it is.”
CAITLIN: Right. The simulacrum, or however you pronounce it. But yeah, Chika and Minori feel more genuinely just kind of weird and in a way that I relate to, because, yeah, I’m weird. I appreciate seeing other weird characters in shows, in fiction.
VRAI: Well, we’re talking about this as a rom-com, but I feel like we should note for the listeners at home that this is shounen rather than shoujo.
CAITLIN: It is.
VRAI: Yeah, so I feel like that colors certain things.
DEE: Yeah, it shifts the focus a little bit, I guess, as far as character and demographic. But rom-coms exist across all demos. It’s not inherently a shoujo thing, you know.
CAITLIN: It’s the kind of shounen that gets mistaken for shoujo.
VRAI: I was thinking of it specifically in terms of the genki girl, which was originally your standard shoujo protagonist for series aimed at younger girls. And then it kind of migrates into these more romance-focused shounens where she tends to be a more peripheral character or the love interest, which is when it shifts into that Manic Pixie Dream Girl mode, which is specifically a character who only seems to exist to be quirky and turn the protagonist’s life upside-down and have no life outside of that.
DEE: Sure. Yeah, I see what you mean, as far as the way that character archetype has been used over the years, yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I’ve been rewatching Your Lie in April, and the main girl in that, Kaori, is such a textbook Manic Pixie Dream Girl. It’s super annoying to me!
DEE: Yeah, and I do appreciate that Toradora… it edges right up to the line of that sort of insuffer— You get almost to the edge of, like, “Oh, this character is calculated in a lab specifically to appeal to this particular kind of archetype,” and then pulls back.
And like you said, there’s sort of a sincerity, even when I think the show messes up—because I do not think this is a perfect stretch of six episodes by any metric. But I do appreciate that there is a sincerity behind all of them to make them feel like actual people instead of just a combination of tropes to appeal to the demographic audience.
VRAI: Well, and I think—
CAITLIN: Right, even though Taiga is very much a tsundere.
VRAI: Oh boy, is she voiced by the quote-unquote “Queen of the Tsunderes,” if Wikipedia is to be believed.
DEE: [crosstalk] I’ve been watching this dubbed because I am a poser, but you are correct. She is voiced by the Queen of the Tsunderes.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, I haven’t seen the dub. How is it?
DEE: It’s solid. I’m enjoying it quite a bit. I haven’t been bouncing back and forth, so I can’t speak to exactly how accurate it is. But I like it. I tried the sub for a couple episodes, and I stare at a computer all day, and sometimes I need to not be reading. It’s honestly become a health thing at this point that I like to watch dubs when I get the opportunity. But yeah, I—
CAITLIN: Wow, fake anime fan here.
DEE: I know! I’m sorry. Everybody can just mute me out of this conversation going forward because clearly nothing I say matters. But no, I think it’s a pretty solid dub.
I only watched like an episode and a half in Japanese, so don’t quote me on this, but I think the give-and-take between Ryuji and Taiga is a little easier to follow in the dub because the actor who plays Ryuji has kind of a snap to him that works really well with their interactions, whereas the little bit I watched in Japanese… He’s definitely not…
So, one of my very, very least favorite anime things is the sad-sack boy who is just bullied the whole time through, and it’s supposed to be funny because “ha-ha, boys can’t get abused.” And yes, they can. And so, I hate that shit, right?
And I appreciate that Toradora, even though she is a tsundere who’s kind of violent, there’s very much the sense that Ryuji’s not just getting dragged into all of this against his will and he’s just this sad, pathetic, again, basically abused kid. There’s more of a sense of—
CAITLIN: Oh, gosh.
DEE: Yeah, he snarks back at her. They have a give-and-take. When she kicks him in the leg or something, it is more authentic to my experiences in high school—which I’m not saying this was a healthy high school thing, but, you know, when you would sock your friend lightly in the arm to… you know, kind of thing.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and that’s sort of what I think of—
DEE: And I’m not saying that’s good, but I think that there is a way to address that more authentic high school roughhousing experience. And I think Toradora is closer to it than a lot of these shows that really just become like one person wailing on another person. It’s not enjoyable to watch. You’re just like, “I really hope this person gets out of this horrible relationship.”
VRAI: Especially in the 2000s, when Love Hina was still huge and that had the comical relationship abuse. Hooray! Oy.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. I despise that, regardless of the genders.
CAITLIN: And that’s sort of what I think of when I think about tsunderes now. And I loved Love Hina back in the day.
VRAI: Listen, we all read or watched all of it, and we can’t explain why.
DEE: [Proudly] Not all of it, thank you!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] I still have the DVDs on my shelf.
CAITLIN: But I’ve talked before about how I really connected to tsundere characters. And then as moe became more and more of a thing, they became flatter and flatter and more working according to expectations as opposed to, like, Akane in Ranma 1/2, who… she fits a lot of tsundere archetypes, but she’s also genuinely just pissed off.
DEE: Yeah. It’s like an actual angry girl versus a collection of tropes meant to appeal to a particular romantic archetype.
CAITLIN: Yeah, Taiga is angry. That’s who she is.
DEE: Yeah, no, I get the feeling Taiga is genuinely angry. And I do think sometimes the show does sort of fall into that, “Well, of course, this is how Taiga responds, because she’s a tsundere.” But I get the feeling we will find out more about her, based on some of the rocky information we have about her parents that will explain, sort of, why she tends to respond to people being nice to her with aggression.
So, I’m curious to see that going forward and how they continue to, because it feels like they’re maybe going to interrogate these tropes a little bit and talk about “well, how do characters end up being this…?”
CAITLIN: Why is she like this?
DEE: Yeah. Why is she so brutal? Because I don’t think people are just naturally that angry. I think there’s probably some trigger in her backstory that would explain that, so I look forward to seeing that.
And again, it really helps that Ryuji doesn’t particularly seem to mind. He gets a little annoyed with her, but in the way that you would get annoyed with a friend who’s being particularly snippy about something. Again, they feel like friends. It doesn’t feel like she’s dragging around this poor kid who would really like to be anywhere else right now.
And so, I appreciate that about Toradora. I’m not sure I would have been willing to do this watchalong if I’d gotten a couple episodes into it and had not felt that give-and-take, because that would have been insufferable.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I mean, I wouldn’t have been trying to lead it either. I wouldn’t have been like, “Guys, we should watch this,” if it were like that. Taiga is very… she’s angry and she is extremely socially awkward.
DEE: God, she is so awkward, too. I do love that element of her. Sorry, Vrai. You were trying to say something, and I feel like Caitlin and I are talking a lot.
VRAI: It’s good. Yeah, you made me want to try out the dub, though, because I think they mostly have that give-and-take, but there are a couple moments in the sub where I feel like it does the writing equivalent of letting its breath out and kind of slides into being like the angry girl who goes too far and the beleaguered boy she drags around, who snarks behind her back but never actually confronts her about anything. And I’m like, “I don’t like this.”
I kind of had a hard time with the first episode because it presents itself as doing the thing before it starts to poke at it a little bit. And one of my favorite things in this stretch of episodes was the moment where they kick the crap out of that light pole.
DEE: The light post! That was so good. Yeah. That moment of understanding is really nice.
VRAI: And now that you tell me it’s Okada, that makes a lot of sense. So, I live for the high points like that. I think the anime doesn’t always write to that standard. I think sometimes it’s like, “And we’ll have these big moments where we undermine some of this stuff, and then we’ll kind of go back to just writing the tropes for a while.”
CAITLIN: And I think knowing more about the characters does kind of, if you look back in retrospect, clarify some stuff about the first episode. Like the fact that Taiga literally tries to murder Ryuji for finding her love letter? Just in the first episode, that’s a lot, but knowing her and knowing how she responds to uncomfortable… It’s not just that she’s violent; it’s that she responds to uncomfortable social situations with violence, because she doesn’t know what else to do. It’s like a panic response for her.
DEE: Yeah, it’s fight or flight, and she fights.
VRAI: I kind of don’t know what to do with the fact that they’re both sort of creeps together. The show knows it’s creepy when Ryuji is doing it, and it kind of expects us to be charmed when Taiga is doing it. And I’m not charmed.
DEE: Yeah! I had a note that Taiga’s a giant hypocrite because I feel like some of the stuff that Taiga is doing is way creepier than Ryuji. Ryuji has books full of love letters and playlists that he wants to… he wants to make a mixtape for Minori and all this stuff.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] It’s so cute!
DEE: I know. And I’m like, “Ah, dude, you’re pining super hard.” And it feels maybe lowkey creepy, but more awkward—just like awkward high schooler “I don’t know how to get these feelings out, so I’m just going to have a box full of poetry and mixtapes.” Whereas Taiga’s following Yusaku around and taking photos of him without his knowledge. And to me that’s way creepier.
CAITLIN: I see that a lot in anime and manga, though.
DEE: Yeah. But that doesn’t make it less creepy.
VRAI: And the whole thing with stalking in this anime… Okay. It’s weird that this anime is so much about stalking in these episodes and photos, and isn’t it funny and charming that Taiga wants photos of Yusaku and gets Ryuji to take them, and then it wants to have a serious moment about a stalker in episode 6?
DEE: Yeah. I noted that as well, because I really like that stalker arc.
CAITLIN: I thought that was a really good episode.
VRAI: [Hesitantly] I…
DEE: I love Taiga’s response to seeing him taking photos is “Hey, what the fuck are you doing?” That’s great to see, and the way it sort of inspires Ami to fight back against him—which obviously is oversimplified because actual stalkers in the real world, you can’t just smash their cameras and they’ll go away. It’s much more complicated than that. But it is a satisfying moment in the realm of fiction to see that happen.
But yeah, no, Vrai, totally, I had the same thought when that happened, where I’m like, “But Taiga, you’ve been snapping photos of Yusaku behind his back this whole time. Do you not see this parallel here, kiddo?” Which would be fine if the character didn’t, but I don’t think the narrative does either, because nobody else calls her out on it. Yeah, it’s definitely a noticeable gap in this stretch of episodes.
VRAI: I feel like Ami should be a character meant for me, and I just don’t like her.
CAITLIN: Aw. Well, maybe you’ll like her more as the series goes, because I really like Ami. She’s terrible. She’s my horrible, terrible, awful daughter.
VRAI: In theory, I’m here for a character who pretends to be moe because she’s actually a lazy, snarky slob, but she’s a little bit too genuinely mean, like mean and maliciously manipulative.
DEE: She’s very nasty in this stretch. I do agree with that. Yeah, so I’m curious to see if… because I get the sense the show is going for this thing where… you start to see this with Ami, I think, in episode 6, where not only is it like, well, there’s the…
It’s dealing with appearance and reality a lot, because obviously, Ryuji, everyone thinks he’s terrifying, but he’s actually a really sweet kid who loves to cook and clean, and he’s a domestic darling, and Ryuji’s a good boy. And then Taiga’s this pint-sized little kid who everyone’s like, “Oh, she’s like a doll!” and then she will kick you through a window.
And the two characters are frustrated that people don’t understand them. And I love that. I like engaging with that sort of expectations/reality divide.
And so, you start to see that with Ami as well, where she’s putting on this, truthfully, kind of infantile act, and I like the way the show points out, like, “Yeah, acting like a helpless child makes me popular. Isn’t that kind of fucked up?”
VRAI: Cough, cough, moe boom.
DEE: Yeah, it interrogates the… Because, obviously, it’s been a solid ten years since this show came out, and I think the cute-girl genre has gone some really exciting ways in recent years. But the moe boom… the double whammy of infantilization and sexualization was super uncomfortable!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] It was bad out there for a while. It was real bad.
DEE: Yeah. It was rough. And so, I do like that Toradora is calling that out a little bit, in the sense of like, “Oh, no, this is all calculated and fake.” That’s pretty great.
And it seems to be easing into this idea of “Well, there’s the level that you put on for everybody. And then there’s the undercurrent where, when you take off that mask, who you are. But then there’s a more complex person who is a little bit of all of that.”
That’s kind of where I think they’re leading Ami. So, even her mean girl vibe, I think, is a little bit of a mask, is the sense I’m getting. It’s a way for her to let off steam and fight back against these social pressures that she’s under. And so, I’m hoping that she will continue to be, as she puts it, “a total mess,” but that it will ease off of the viciousness in these episodes. Because I agree with you, Vrai: she’s unpleasantly malicious.
So, I’m hoping that just by virtue of having some friends who she doesn’t have to feel like she has to pretend all the time around them, that she will stop going so hard in the other direction and will chill out and be a little kinder going forward, because that would be a big deal.
CAITLIN: I really liked how Yusaku introduced her, which is like, “Yep. This is my childhood friend, Ami. She’s a celebrity, and she’s awful. Isn’t she the worst?”
DEE: “She sucks.”
CAITLIN: “I’ve been friends with her for years, and she’s terrible.”
VRAI: “I just want you to know… I set up this whole thing so that you would know she’s terrible.”
DEE: Yeah. “She’s under a lot of pressure to pretend to not be terrible to basically the entire world, and I think it would be really healthy for her if she had a few other people who knew she sucks.”
VRAI: I can see the narrative kind of trying to work towards her and Taiga, in particular, having this kind of relationship where they can just be relentlessly mean to each other, and that’s okay, but I don’t think it’s there yet. And boy, do I hate that fat-shaming, huh! It’s bad!
DEE: Ooh, yeah. Yeah, I could not even… and this could be because I was watching the dub and everyone was talking simultaneously, but I couldn’t even really follow what was going on in those diet warrior conversations. I guess they were calling her out because she was acting like, “Oh, I never diet and I have a perfect weight,” and so they were just giving her shit for being so smug?
VRAI: No, that’s—
DEE: I don’t know what was going on there, but I did not like it. I did not like it.
VRAI: So, she’s talking to these classmate girls, who were just kind of there, and she’s talking about how like, “You know, I think it’s really important actually to just eat what you want but eat in healthy portions,” and then they come in and give her shit about having, I guess, stomach flab and eating a bunch of convenience food and how this is for all of the girls who go out there and diet actually. And I’m like, “Hm. I hate this.”
Yeah, she’s full of shit, and I think it could have been funny satire if they had actually gone to, like, “You’re a model! Models aren’t encouraged to have healthy eating habits!” But instead, it’s about “No, crash diets are an honored part of being a teenage girl,” and I’m like, “I hate this.”
DEE: Okay, yeah, I maybe misread the scene or maybe the dub softened it a little bit, too. I’m not sure. But I knew it wasn’t good. I was like, “I feel like this is bad, whatever’s going on here.” Yeah, them attacking her tiny, tiny bit of stomach fat, how dare she, was really uncomfortable.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Which is like “File not found.” They don’t even draw her different.
CAITLIN: Well, it’s a time-honored anime tradition of “This character is fat because we say they are, not because of any differences in their character design.”
DEE: Oh, she’s not fat. She’s just not perfect. She just has a little bit of body fat. God forbid.
DEE: Oof, yeah, no, that was the one minute where I was like, “Minori, I love you. What are you doing? Stop it.”
VRAI: “Please stop!” [Chuckles]
Yeah, and I will say the stalker scene didn’t so much work for me, I think, because I get what you’re saying about it being really cool in the moment and I love her just being unrepentantly nasty and then admitting afterwards, “I was really scared.” But I think what it is for me is that this show has sort of started to build its bones on: “We’re digging under the archetypes and the simplified anime emotional charge of things to be a little bit more realistic.” And I’m like, “This would have gone so, so bad for her.” So, maybe it— Yeah.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, that scene is very cathartic. But if you try to apply real-world logic to it, then yeah, it would have ended extremely poorly.
VRAI: Yusaku doesn’t really have a lot going on yet. And I’m sure that’s on purpose to keep up his perfect, weirdly on-top-of-everything image and we’ll come under that later, but right now he’s just kinda…
DEE: I’m gonna be real with you: I didn’t know his name for like four episodes.
DEE: I was calling him Glasses, and then I was calling him Potato.
CAITLIN: Glasses Potato.
DEE: Yeah, he’s Mr. Potato Head to me, in that I… So, here’s my personal read on him. And we’ll see. Maybe he’ll get his own arc. I haven’t seen a ton of shows in this format, but I have seen a lot of shows where it’s like, three girls and two boys, and the boy that’s not the protagonist has zero personality and is just kind of there. And I’m a little worried Yusaku’s going to fall into that, so I hope I’m proven wrong.
But my current read on him is he is the author surrogate, who is gently directing the characters in the direction they need to go to find the healthiest conclusions for their particular problems and arcs and relationships and things. So, my read on Yusaku right now is he is the author. We’ll see how that goes from here.
CAITLIN: I mean, I like Yusaku. It’s true. He doesn’t have a whole lot of personality, especially compared to the other characters. But he’s a nice boy.
DEE: Oh, he’s not a jerk. He reminds me more of a kind of standard harem protagonist, in that, again, he’s a little bit of a potato.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] He looks a little like Kotaro!
DEE: Yeah, a little bit.
CAITLIN: It’s a very human thing how Taiga confessed to him a year ago— Er, yeah, he confessed to Taiga a year ago. Taiga turned him down. But then now she’s had a year for those feelings to be stirred up in her even though they weren’t necessarily there at the moment, and he’s had a year to get over it. And so, now they’re just out of sync with it.
And I feel like that’s [a] very human thing. I think it was in the movie Amelie where someone’s like, “Yeah, the way to get a couple together is to make both people think the other person likes them. Even though they don’t.”
DEE: To me, anyway, I get the vibe that Ryuji genuinely likes Minori. He’s seen enough of her and they’ve hung out enough that he genuinely enjoys and admires and appreciates who she is from what he’s seen of her as a person.
I get the sense Taiga just likes Yusaku because nobody had ever told her they liked her before, and then she started thinking about it, and it got into her head, and so now it’s the idea of him that she’s enamored with. Because you don’t really see enough of them interacting to get a feeling for exactly… Again, he’s kind of a potato, you guys. I’m sorry. He’s nice, but he’s kind of a potato.
So, it’s hard to get a feel for exactly why she likes him other than because he confessed to her. Which, I do agree, that is extremely adolescent in like “I’ve never even thought of this person. Oh, but they like me. Maybe they’re cool?”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, it’s not just adolescence! [Chuckles]
DEE: “I guess I’ll… Oh, okay, they play baseb— Yeah, they’re kind of… All right, yeah. I guess I’m really into them now. I mean, they did say they liked me, so… Yeah! Yeah, this guy rocks!”
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, it’s extremely…
VRAI: Yeah, that bit is so real.
CAITLIN: Okay. You know who we haven’t really talked about in depth yet, though? We haven’t talked about Ryuji.
VRAI: He exists.
DEE: [crosstalk] Good boy.
CAITLIN: He’s so good!
DEE: So, I really like Ryuji because I have a personal fondness for… He’s not a softboy exactly, but again, I like the appearance versus reality that they’re dealing with, and I love the way they’ve kind of flipped the gendered character traits of Ryuji and Taiga. And Ryuji genuinely… It’s not just like, “Oh, I have to cook and clean because my mom works all night and so somebody has to take care of the house while she’s out.”
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] He likes it.
DEE: He freakin’ loves it! He goes to war against that mold.
DEE: He goes to Taiga’s house, is like, “It’s a mess in here,” and there’s no reason for him to clean her house except “I really want to clean this house.” And good for him. I really enjoy that about him. I love that he makes lunches for Taiga. It’s not like, “Oh, I’m genuinely worried she’s going to hurt me.” It’s like, “Eh, she needs food. I’m going to help her out.”
CAITLIN: He’s very domestic.
DEE: Yeah, and I do really enjoy that about him. Again, like I said, I don’t feel like his crush on Minori really veers into the realm of creepy anime crush that can sometimes happen with these kinds of characters.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk, amused] The mixtape is just…
DEE: He just wants to make her a mixtape, you guys!
VRAI: He does.
DEE: Yeah, no, I like Ryuji. I do still kind of get the feeling that Toradora is very much a story about the girls and the boys are sort of there to be vehicles for those stories, but I like Ryuji’s foundation as a character.
I like that he bonds with Taiga over the fact that people make assumptions about them based on the way they look, and that’s super frustrating. And Vrai, like you said, that light post scene is a really good, genuine moment, because I don’t think we… Ryuji’s not… We know that people make those assumptions about him, but he doesn’t start the story as a total outsider who nobody likes. He’s made friends over the years. People have worked past that veneer and gotten to know him. So, it’s not like an angsty teen arc.
But there’s still that frustration, though, that “these are the assumptions that people make about me anytime they meet me, and I always have to fight to get past that until people become my friends.” So, I do like that about him, and he does seem like a nice guy.
CAITLIN: He’s such a sweetheart. And yeah, I totally agree with you. I am so, so weak for the rom-com dynamic of the really angry, dysfunctional girl and the sweet boy who kind of emotionally supports her through it—not in a way where he saves her, but he’s just there for her and can help her work out all of her issues, on top of them having this really good day-to-day snarky dynamic.
DEE: Yeah. And I mean, ideally, ideally—and this is what I’m kind of curious to see with Toradora—ideally, there’s a back-and-forth there, right? I think most people who have followed me in any capacity over the last year know I’m a pretty big Rocketshipper from Pokemon because—
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; feigning confusion] What?
DEE: —it’s a similar vibe to what we’re talking about right now.
CAITLIN: What? You like… [Chuckles] You ship Team Rocket, Dee?
DEE: [Amused] So hard! So hard!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk; through laughter] I didn’t know this about you!
DEE: Shock! Shock and awe! Yeah, but it’s a similar vibe to what we’re seeing here. But I need to know what Taiga is giving Ryuji, and right now I’m not sure there’s a… I don’t know what that element of it is. There needs to be a back-and-forth in their emotional relationship as well. I definitely see the support Ryuji is providing Taiga. I don’t really see the reverse.
And I love these kinds of relationships. Inject them straight into my veins. But I do need that back-and-forth. Again, I’m a Rocketshipper because I also see what Jessie provides to James, if we’re going to dig into that today. We don’t need to dig into that today.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Someday.
DEE: But it’s that vibe, right? It’s that each side of the relationship is giving something to the other side. And so, assuming the two of them get together, which seems like a fair assumption, I hope that we see more of what Ryuji is getting out of this relationship with Taiga, like the kind of support she is providing him.
CAITLIN: Vrai, how do you feel about Ryuji?
VRAI: I mean, he’s fine. Sometimes I really like him and I think he’s sweet and I think there are moments where their dynamic is just gold. And then sometimes it’s like he’s the meeting point between the modern softboy and the shitty harem protagonist. And sometimes I think the writing shifts a little bit more towards the latter, and then I don’t like him very much because he gets a little mean in not a harmless, playful, rolling-his-eyes kind of way.
So, it kind of depends on the episode, which is how I feel a lot about these first six episodes, where sometimes I really like these characters and then sometimes I feel like the scripts aren’t so good and I don’t like them anymore.
DEE: Yeah, I feel that. I do agree that it’s up and down. I’m hoping the general trajectory that I think is here will continue to happen. But when it’s down, like when Taiga’s yelling at Ryuji for being a pervert for thinking that Minori looks pretty while playing softball or the fat-shaming scene that you mentioned, those moments are just like teeth grinding.
VRAI: And boy, the last— Caitlin, promise me that the last few minutes of episode 6 aren’t going to become a trend. Promise me!
CAITLIN: [Sighs] What happens in the last few minutes, again?
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah!
VRAI: Where Taiga walks in on Ami trying to fake-seduce Ryuji, and oh no! A misunderstanding! Tsundere!
CAITLIN: I… No. It… it…
DEE: Oh no!
CAITLIN: It does— I— There’s—
VRAI: Oh no!
CAITLIN: There’s a little bit of that, but it’s not the primary dynamic.
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, I do not care for that either.
VRAI: Because I so want to watch Taiga and Ami become friends. I’m legit here for that. And Taiga and Ryuji are nice. They’re going to take way too long for my patience to get together, but I’ll enjoy their back-and-forth.
CAITLIN: By the way, there’s one episode in this stretch that was not the script written by Mari Okada. Can you guess which one?
VRAI: [Through laughter] Was it episode 6?
CAITLIN: No, it was not episode 6.
DEE: No, I was gonna say that Ami scene of—that smashing camera scene—
VRAI: [crosstalk] You’re right, that’s very Okada.
DEE: That feels extremely Okada to me. And again, this is based off a light novel. These scenes probably existed there. We’re just talking general flow of scene.
VRAI: I’m going to guess. Is it the photography one?
DEE: Just tell us which one it was, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: [Laughs] No, it’s episode 5. It’s Ami’s introduction episode.
VRAI: Ah. Yeah, that tracks.
CAITLIN: So, anyway… Let’s see, we’ve talked about everyone.
DEE: We’re getting up towards the hour, so…
CAITLIN: I’m curious. Do you guys have any predictions or guesses that haven’t come up so far?
VRAI: I’m so used to one-cour anime at this point that I’m having a genuinely hard time foreseeing the structure of this. Obviously, there has to be a turn going into the end of the first act and then a big realization where we all come together more as characters. But then there’s a whole ‘nother 13 episodes after that, and they’ll just be hanging out and doing shenans, but there must be some kind of narrative arc. I don’t know. Something with the yakuza?
DEE: What, you think Ryuji’s father’s old gang is gonna come back and pay a debt? [Chuckles]
VRAI: I don’t know. Maybe they’ll kill that shop owner who goes around molesting teenage boys.
DEE: God, that would be good, right?
VRAI: That would be really good!
DEE: He sucked! He sucked so bad!
VRAI: He sucks.
DEE: And they just rolled past it like it wasn’t a big deal.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, Toradora definitely wants to interrogate tropes, but it does fall into them sometimes. It feels like a very important stepping stone in a process of genre motion.
VRAI: Like I said, it’s fascinating—in context. [Chuckles]
DEE: Yeah, for sure. And I mean, I do enjoy the cast for the most part and their interactions with one another, even if it is occasionally kind of a mess.
So, like I said, I personally would like it if Ryuji and Taiga were best buddies. But I don’t see that happening, so I’m sure the two of them will get closer.
I dearly, dearly hope this show doesn’t start to deal with love triangles, because one of the things I really like about this is while it is a rom-com that’s kind of based on teen awkwardness, and “Oh, I like this person, but they don’t like me back,” there’s not any of that really unpleasant rivalry stuff so far. Yusaku and Ryuji are friends, and Minori and Taiga are really good friends. (I would love to see more of their relationship. I’ll say that, too.)
But I’m worried Ami’s going to show up and be this character that will create sexual tension vis-à-vis she also likes Ryuji, but oh no, Taiga’s starting to develop feelings! And then if Minori does, too, it’ll be a whole thing. And I really don’t want that to happen, but I’m a little worried it will.
DEE: So, I would like this show to be as little of a harem as humanly possible, if it could do that for me.
CAITLIN: Just as a favor. Personal favor.
DEE: Yeah, that would be so good!
CAITLIN: All right. So, next episode, we should do episodes 7 to 13 because 13 is the end of a three-episode arc. All right, so, thank you for listening to our first episode of the Toradora watchalong. Next time, we’re gonna be watching episodes 7 to 13.
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Thanks for listening, AniFam. And uh… Hm. How do I sign off?
CAITLIN: Watch out for the tsunderes!
VRAI: Nailed it.
DEE: Watch out for tsunderes!
DEE: Caution: Tsundere Crossing.