Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai are back for part 2 of our Toradora! watchalong. Some growing pains (for the characters and the show) give way to a showstopping halfway point and even a few tears.
Date Recorded: February 2nd, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
0:05:34 Birth parents
0:07:58 Physical insecurities by the pool
0:11:37 Support networks
0:16:04 Ami’s attitude
0:22:13 The fuckin’ fanservice
0:25:27 Minori’s fate
0:38:15 Female relationships
0:41:58 Taiga’s shitty dad
0:49:36 Heightened emotions and intended audience
0:53:02 Teenage thirst
CAITLIN: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Caitlin. No last name. I’m a writer and editor for Anime Feminist. Today I will be talking about Toradora episodes 7 to 13 along with my good friends, Dee and Vrai.
DEE: Hi, I’m Dee. I am the managing editor at AniFem. Also, you can find all my writings on my blog The Josei Next Door, and you can hang out with me on Twitter @joseinextdoor.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai. They/them. I always forget to say that on these. And I’m a writer and editor at Anime Feminist. You can find the stuff that I freelance on my Twitter @WriterVrai. And you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod.
CAITLIN: So, Toradora episodes 7 to 13. They go to the beach, they have a school festival, Taiga is insecure about her body, Minori works out her issues, and Ami continues to be amazing and terrible at the same time.
So, how did you guys like this stretch of episodes?
DEE: Vrai, you can go first.
DEE: I think I’m a little bit higher than you are on this stretch, but I’m curious to hear your thoughts first.
VRAI: I really liked the festival arc. I think it’s good that I had the podcast to force me to get that far, because if I had just been watching it casually, I would have dropped the fuck out of it during the pool arc.
Because I think the thing about Toradora is that part of how it’s aged is that I can appreciate that its whole thing is “here are some rom-com misunderstanding tropes but we’ve put human pathos on them.” But the problem is that then you have to spend half of the episode waiting for them to play out the thing normally before they dig underneath it. And that gets real tiring, especially with the love triangle, summer vacation stuff. But yeah, I really liked the end of the first half, so I guess it was worth it.
DEE: Yeah, I definitely had a somewhat similar experience with this. I think when Toradora— I think its highs are extremely high, like top-tier young adult school fiction. It’s really, really good. In the school festival arc, I had tears in my eyes a few parts in that last episode, which I wasn’t really expecting, and I was—
VRAI: I might have teared up a little.
DEE: Yeah. There’s some really just good, genuine, powerful moments about these kids who start off looking like very familiar anime archetypes and are a lot more than that. And I really appreciate watching that happen. But like you said, Vrai, because it is also working with these archetypes and these rom-com cliches that I am kind of sick of, any time it leans into those, I get really angry at it.
I watched these kind of weird because, listeners, it took us a while to schedule the second episode, so it’s been a little bit since we watched the first six. And I watched the first three at a different time than I watched the last four, about a week apart from each other. And I was watching those first three going, “Ooh, this might be a rough podcast. I might be kind of mean.” But then the last half was really, really good.
So, no, I’m with you on that, Vrai. I’m glad we had the watchalong to push us through some of the bullshit. Even the swimming pool arc—I guess we can call it—which is where the show, of what we’ve seen of it, I think is where it falls the strongest into the trap of just doing the tropes instead of commenting on them—even there, there’s a few moments that are really good.
VRAI: Yeah. There were a couple moments in that, mostly with Taiga, that I quite liked. But for the most part, the ratio was not sufficient.
DEE: Yeah. And then the further we get into it, the more it feels like— I’ll be curious to see how the second half goes, because right now I can’t tell if the writer is a writer who’s genuinely good at writing interpersonal relationships and character arcs and just has this weird, genuine interest in these kinds of shitty cliches, or if the writer intentionally put those in at the front and is trying to strip them away…
I don’t know if the cliches are there on purpose or by accident. Either way, there’s definitely more in this stretch to like than to criticize, I think.
VRAI: Yeah, I spent a lot of time trying to figure out whether it’s— I think I mentioned this in the first episode. I don’t really like “love misunderstanding” shows, where it’s just an ensemble cast and they’re gonna swap around a little bit and eventually end up with the person you thought they were going to end up with from the start.
So, I was trying to figure out whether the tropes that I found more grating were so because [in] the medium as a whole they’ve fallen out of fashion or whether it’s just my dislike for that thing of the genre. Because I think part of the reason I liked the stuff with Taiga’s dad so much is because you still see that played straight more often than not.
DEE: Mm-hm. That is very true.
CAITLIN: I really appreciated the stuff with Taiga’s dad, because I feel like a lot of anime and media in general places a lot of emphasis on birth parents, like “Oh, well. He’s your dad. Of course you should want to be with him. Of course you should love him.”
And Toradora has the courage to stand up and be like, actually, no, Taiga’s dad is just a complete piece of shit, and she deserves better than him, and it is incredibly unhealthy for her to spend a lot of time with him.
VRAI: And even beyond the whole blood relation thing, that whole justification of “Well, they’re trying,” I feel like, shows up a lot without concern for the net effect of their fuck-ups on their kid. Even Tiger & Bunny does that.
CAITLIN: Right. I mean Tiger & Bunny…
VRAI: Tiger & Bunny has the Spider-Man defense, but Kotetsu’s still a shitty dad.
CAITLIN: Right. Well, yeah, I feel like Tiger & Bunny… I wish it owned it more in the end, because it does have some awareness of just how rough it is on Kaede. But that’s neither here nor there.
DEE: Yeah, if y’all want to have a Tiger & Bunny retrospective podcast, by all means. Have at it.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Oh, yes, please!
DEE: But I can’t engage with this conversation much. I’m sorry.
CAITLIN: But anyway… And at the same time, it’s not just cut and dry like, oh, Ryuji’s saying this because he thinks that biological family equals best. He’s clearly got his own issues tied up in this, too. But let’s save that discussion, because I think it’s worth going chronologically for this stretch of episodes and I feel like we’re kind of getting ahead of ourselves.
DEE: Yeah, a little bit. We can jump back into the swimming pool arc.
CAITLIN: So, swimming pool arc, aka Taiga on the Itty-Bitty Titty Committee—
CAITLIN: Sorry. That’s crass, but it’s just really fun to say. And what is feminism if you’re not allowed to be crass every so often? [Chuckles] So…
DEE: Thanks, Caitlin. Yeah, that is the episode. One thing I generally like about Toradora, even when it does kind of fall into some nonsense—which we’ll definitely get into with the swimming pool episodes—is it regularly zigs when I think it’s gonna zag.
When they get into Taiga being all freaked out about the swimsuit, I figured it was probably a body image thing, which is typical. The flat-chested girl who’s concerned about her chest shows up in anime a lot. And it shows up in Western media, too, but it’s constant in anime. And it’s usually played as a gag or an excuse for an exorbitant amount of fanservice.
And here, while there is some fanservice—and we can talk about that later—for the most part, they play it really sympathetically. When Taiga sort of comes out to Ryuji about why she’s upset and how, like, “I got bullied about this last year and I’m really worried that Yusaku is gonna laugh at me,” it’s a very genuine, sincere moment of somebody with body image insecurities.
I think whether or not you’re flat-chested or not, I think that the way they play it, it resonates with anybody who’s ever been a little bit insecure. Minori even has a comment when they get into the swimsuit like “I’m just gonna stay in the water the whole time, so nobody notices my belly flab.”
DEE: So, it’s that sense of, you know, everybody’s kind of insecure.
CAITLIN: She says it in that very typically cheery way of hers, but in the way that’s like, oh, she’s doing her thing where she’s being cheerful in a way that’s kind of covering up for more unhappy feelings.
DEE: [crosstalk] Minori uses humor to mask her insecurities and, boy howdy, do I resonate with Minori.
VRAI: I think what makes the Taiga stuff even stronger, because I’m definitely somebody who always gets super turned off by small chest anime nonsense—maybe because I got boobs when I was like nine and it’s just like lugging around five pounds of dysphoria on your chest for two decades… But I think it really is something that the show doesn’t… Ryuji helps her out in the end, and that was really sweet, but it’s not because he’s like, “Oh, but I think you’re pretty just how you are.” That is not what makes her feel better.
DEE: That is true. He’s like, “Well, let’s see if we can find a workaround for you so that you’ll feel more comfortable at the pool.”
CAITLIN: He’s a sweet boy.
DEE: He is a sweet boy. I like that this arc shows that he is by no means perfect. I really like Ryuji, but he is still a teenager who’s very short-sighted. And he has emotional intelligence, but he thinks he understands a lot more than he does.
I think this arc does a nice job of showing how, in his attempts to help the people he cares about, he ends up causing more troubles because he assumes he knows what’s going on, even though Taiga is constantly telling him, “You don’t know what you’re talking about.” And Minori does, too, later in the arc.
CAITLIN: Minori’s like, “You don’t know what you’re talking about!” And he’s like, “No, I do!”
DEE: Yeah, we get that later with Taiga’s dad, but I think we see that in this arc as well, where Taiga yells at him like, “Quit acting like you understand me. I barely understand myself most of the time.” I like Taiga quite a bit in this arc, I think because they pulled back on the slapsticky shenanigans.
VRAI: Yeah, there’s one or two and it mostly goes away after that. It was good.
CAITLIN: It’s a lot more focused on the pathos of being Taiga. And that’s another thing where it starts off with the trope and then it sort of pulls away from that. It’s like she’s a tsundere because she’s really messed up.
She’s got a lot of insecurities and issues from her life, from being small and scrawny and having a garbage family and just being treated like a child. And it’s not just that she’s tsundere. It’s that she is really emotionally immature because of her circumstances. And it all fits together really nicely and really well.
VRAI: It’s like with Minori using humor. With Taiga it’s easier for her to get mad than admit that she’s hurt because then she has to deal with that and ask things to change, and in certain cases, like with her dad, it’s not gonna change, not anytime soon.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. It’s really hard to be vulnerable, and especially in high school. And I think the show does a nice job of showing the many different kinds of coping mechanisms that I think a lot of high schoolers use to survive that period of deep insecurity and not really understanding yourself, and your relationships with others are in flux, and everything’s a mess.
Yeah, and I think Taiga’s tsundere archetype starts to look like somebody who’s had to be self-reliant because nobody in her family has ever… she’s never been able to rely on them.
CAITLIN: But she lacks the skills to be self-reliant because she was never taught them. And so, her place is a mess and she eats takeout every day and she pushes everyone around her away.
DEE: Yeah, she’s…
VRAI: A mess!
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Sorry, I interrupted. That was—
DEE: No, I agree with you. I think all of these kids are messes to various degrees, but Taiga is clearly one of the biggest messes because, again, I think that the fact that she really didn’t have a support network until maybe the past couple years… I’m not sure when she and Minori became friends. I think high school, so I think they’ve been friends for about a year at this point. And you don’t get the sense that she really had much in the way of friends in middle school. We’ve not gotten any sense of that.
So, I think that’s had a very strong impact on her and is why she— Ryu’s mom is not the most there-for-you parent, but she’s sweet. She clearly loves her son. I like the part where she gets upset about Taiga moving away and she basically says, “Taiga is a member of our family now. Who the hell is this guy?”
VRAI: Ryuji’s mom is good. And I like that it mostly avoids playing dumb bimbo jokes on her.
DEE: Yeah. I mean, she comes across as a little bit airheaded, but then you see her at her job, and she’s clearly good at it and knows how to work a room and is supporting the family and is there emotionally for Ryu as much as she can be.
So, I think that shows you why Ryu is… why he isn’t perfect and definitely has a really good arc in this stretch, where he realizes how little he understands and how he was projecting on Taiga and acting selfishly and all that.
VRAI: Yeah, because she’s got—
CAITLIN: Yasuko has a really powerful young-mom-doing-her-best vibe.
VRAI: With clear emotional intelligence, because she would have to at her job.
DEE: Oh, yeah, absolutely. She picks up on the fact that Taiga’s dad sucks through a very short conversation.
CAITLIN: There’s reasons for all of these things, too. Toradora is very well-crafted.
VRAI: I’m kind of coming around on Ami, but boy, did it take till the end of this stretch of episodes, because she sucks for a while there.
CAITLIN: Right. And that’s the thing, is she sucks for a while, then she gets a little better.
VRAI: But I kind of feel like the reasons I was annoyed with her weren’t necessarily her fault. It felt less like she’s coming out of her shell and more like they’re figuring out how to write her now.
I like that she’s sort of vain and loves attention. She’s doing some of the same things by the school festival arc, but it’s more [like] it can’t figure out if it wants to use her as a vehicle for fanservice or if it wants her to be sort of the love triangle instigator or if she needs to be “We need conflict for this arc,” and then it kind of settles into “She’s antagonistic and has these flaws, but she’s okay underneath and she’s getting there.”
CAITLIN: I personally think it’s deliberate, because at the start, Yusuke was— Yusaku?
DEE: Yusaku, yeah?
CAITLIN: Yusaku, yeah. Yusaku was like, “Yep! I have known her forever. She’s awful, isn’t she? She is just absolutely the worst! Have fun with her, guys.” But there’s this sense that she’s never had a real connection with other people. And so, now that she is actually making friends and spending time with people in a real way and actually being herself, that her “self” is becoming better.
DEE: Yeah, I think I know what you mean. I was thinking about Ami over this stretch because, Vrai, like you, I got to the last episode where she and Ryu have that conversation by the vending machines where she talks about the two of them being on the same path—which I’m not 100% sure what she means by that. But she’s like, “It’s fine. I talked to Taiga. I’m gonna let her be the hero for one of the shows.” And throughout that conversation, I was like, “Ami is good this week, kind of. Huh!”
And one thing I do like, Caitlin—and this, I think, is kind of what you were talking about, as well—is… A lot of the time in anime, or in fiction in general, where you have a character who’s kind of shitty, there’ll be some big, dramatic turning point where they go from being kind-of-shitty to being a pretty good character; having this significant personality shift. And over the course of these seven episodes, it’s so subtle, you don’t even really realize it until you’re in the last episode, and you’re like, “Oh, Ami is actually being kind of supportive here. This is cool.”
CAITLIN: Yeah. Ami’s a bro.
DEE: And I like that subtle… where it’s not like any one big thing happened. It’s just [that] they spent time together. They got to know each other. She became more comfortable with this group of people and sort of started to care about them, which made her be less shitty because she didn’t want to hurt them, whereas early on she didn’t care.
So, I do like the subtlety of that shift where there’s no big melodramatic moment, because I think that’s true of a lot of people. Much like Taiga, I don’t know how many real friends Ami’s had over the course of her life.
CAITLIN: It doesn’t seem like a lot.
DEE: It doesn’t, right? Especially since she’s kind of been insulated by this child fame thing. And so, I think a lot of the time it isn’t a big dramatic thing. It’s just a matter of, like, “I found people I care about now and I’m slowly starting to open up and that is just naturally causing me to change for the better.”
So, I do appreciate the quietness of that arc in the background here, because I think these episodes are very focused on Taiga and Ryu and Minori. And then Ami’s just a little bit of a background character, but you see her gradually getting better, which I liked.
VRAI: Yusaku will have a character trait someday.
DEE: Will he? He’s kind of a dork. He had a few moments this arc where I was like, “You’re kind of a dork. You’re all right.” I kind of get why Taiga likes him, because he’s sweet. He’s nice to her. A lot of people at school kind of aren’t. They just anticipate her being nasty, and Yusaku’s pretty sweet to her, so I get it.
This is one of the very few rom-coms where there’s this big, tangled relationship pentangle or whatever it is and I genuinely understand everyone’s affections. I get why Ryu likes Minori. I get why Taiga likes Yusaku. I get why Ami is into Ryu. I get why Taiga and Ryuji are slowly becoming into each other, even if they’re not totally aware of that yet.
All of these relationships and all of these bonds, they’re integrated into the story in a way where I don’t just feel like it’s manufactured for drama. I understand why these characters like each other and are hanging out.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s like we always talk about when we talk about romances. When the two characters, after all of this stuff wears off—the initial drama wears off—what would these characters talk about? Can we see them hanging out together or bumming around together in their living room on a slow day or something like that, right? And I can totally see that for these characters, just casually spending time together.
DEE: And I think it helps that we get some of those conversations and some of those quiet moments of two people just bonding over something, which is really nice.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s a really good balance of the big conversations that you have and also just, like, teenagers fucking around.
DEE: Yeah, I think there’s some really good moments in the summer break arc with Ryu and Minori, which… Right before we get to that, one thing I want to say about the swimming pool arc, because I was basically enjoying their whole thing with the body image, and then the fucking boob cups pop out, and they just had to work in Ryu necessarily needing to kind of grope Taiga. And I was like, why? Why did that have to be in there? There was no reason for it!
CAITLIN: In its defense, it didn’t come across super sexualized.
DEE: No, it wasn’t skeevy and like, “Oh, look Ryu’s getting turned on. This is super inappropriate.” But the fact that it was in there at all was very much… Again, I was talking about how organic a lot of the material in this feels. That felt extremely manufactured.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Especially since he’s really good at handicrafts and would know how to secure those.
DEE: That’s a good point. And it was humiliation-based in a way I really don’t like. This show has a little bit of fanservice, but it’s generally in the vein of, like, Ami knows she’s hot and is flaunting it, you know? And that moment, it wasn’t fanservicey exactly, but it was sort of like that sex comedy trope.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Right, there is a certain type of fanservice that’s about seeing a haughty character vulnerable even if you’re not seeing their boobs.
DEE: Yeah. And that felt like it was a moment that wanted to inject sexual tension, even though it doesn’t even get commented on in the next episode. It was so pointless. It was so pointless.
CAITLIN: Yeah, there was a point where Taiga seemed a little extra uncomfortable around Ryuji, but they got over it really quickly.
DEE: Yeah. I appreciate that. I appreciate they didn’t turn it into a whole thing. But again, just didn’t need to be there. No reason for it.
VRAI: It could have been the flu arc from Kaguya-sama, and we were spared that.
DEE: This is true.
CAITLIN: Yeah, that was a low point for that show.
But yeah, no, it didn’t bother me. You have really good points. It didn’t bother me too much at the time, but yeah, it does feel a little bit like Taiga was being too prideful and was valuing that over her literal life and so this is a knocking-her-down sort of thing.
I could see that, because being able to breathe is more important than people seeing that you have a flat chest and tried to hide it, which I guess when you’re a teenager it does feel like “I am going to die right now. This is the worst thing that has ever happened to me.”
VRAI: I do feel for her at that point, because she knows she was teased for that, and can you imagine? It would never stop.
DEE: Oh yeah. I feel for her.
CAITLIN: Yeah. No, the teasing is gonna get so much worse now that she’s tried to hide it.
DEE: Yeah. Again, I just hate the way they resolved it with, like, “The only solution is a groping scene!” Anyway, things get a lot better after that.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Let’s move on to the summer arc.
DEE: That was the low point for me.
CAITLIN: The summer vacation arc.
DEE: Yeah. Um, I really like Ryu and Minori together, turns out.
DEE: I think that arc was really about the two of them bonding. And I like that it starts with Minori kind of reaching out to him in the sense of like, “Hey, you’re being really nice and supportive to Taiga, and thank you because she’s my friend too,” and then them slowly finding that they have things in common, like they both kind of take care of their families, so they’re both pretty good in the kitchen.
They have these really nice, open conversations with each other. I really appreciated those quiet moments, with Minori talking about how she really wants to believe in ghosts. Even though she’s never seen one, she wants that proof. And how love for her is kind of the same way, where she’s never felt it, but she does want to believe that it’s real.
And Vrai, I believe what you said in the Slack chat was “Minori said aro rights!” Wasn’t that about it?
VRAI: Yes. Yes, I did.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I’ll be real, as a late bloomer myself, I always have mixed feelings about those readings—which, obviously aro people deserve representation, too. But I also have had almost verbatim conversations, myself in high school, when I really wanted to find someone to fall in love with and didn’t develop crushes easily. And so, I found that personally very relatable to my clearly not-aro experience. But yeah, both readings are valid.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Yeah, I think there’s something to the whole… what the fuck you call it? You only show the important things in fiction. You don’t show the billion casual conversations. You only focus in on the things that are meant to tell us something about the character and where they’re going to go.
So, when somebody brings up “I’ve never fallen in love,” usually it’s something like Bloom Into You, where Yu does fall in love by the end of the series, whatever is true of anything else. And I think it is neat that Toradora doesn’t seem to be leaning towards that.
It would be cool if that was one of the things that was subverting, like “No, I’ve never really felt love,“ but clearly she loves her friends. And then if she doesn’t have a… I’m gonna hate it if she falls for Ryuji by the end of the series, only to find that he’s now got feelings for Taiga instead.
DEE: Yeah, I really hope that Minori’s arc is a friendship one. I’m prepared to be disappointed, because while I definitely agree with you, Caitlin, I think Minori’s— I’m not aromantic. I am ace. But her having that conversation she had with him about “Yeah, I’ve never felt this personally, but everyone talks about it, so I assume it’s real. And I wonder if I’ll ever feel that,” that pinged for me in a different way, for sure.
But I know what you mean. I think a lot of teenagers, you get into high school and it’s like, “Oh, everybody around me is”—it starts in middle school, most of the time—”is having these very intense emotional, romantic-adjacent experiences, and I’m not. That’s odd.”
So, I think Minori can resonate with a lot of different people for that reason. But I would like for her story not to be the “Oh, you just haven’t found the right one, and you will at the end of this, and then you’ll know what love is!”
VRAI: And it went really weird at the end of the cultural festival, where they have that moment where Minori is like, “Maybe I’m into girls,” and Ryuji, because he’s still crushing and is an awkward dumb teenager, is like, “Well, I hope you’re not,” and she’s like, “Yeah, me too.” And I’m like, “Oh, I don’t like that!”
DEE: Yeah. So, in the first stretch—I didn’t mention this in the podcast proper—but there was definitely a moment in the first stretch of episodes where I was like, “Is Minori in love with Taiga? I’m sure I’m just reading into it. I bet that’s not what’s happening.”
And that conversation is a little bit more vague in the Japanese—because I was kind of curious to see how it went down—and Ryuji does say, “I kind of hope you aren’t,” which is of course because he has a crush on her, so he doesn’t want her to be gay because then she wouldn’t like him back! And her response is just like, “Sou da,” which in Japanese is just like, “Yeah, uh-huh.” It’s not one way or the other. It’s kind of a little bit more vague.
CAITLIN: Yeah, “Sou da” is like, “Oh, I see,” more.
DEE: Yeah, “Oh, I see.”
CAITLIN: But that wouldn’t have translated naturally.
DEE: And so, I like that they’re leaving it a little bit open with Minori. And, again, I don’t think their relationship is romantic. I think she and Taiga actually have a very sweet, sincere, close, platonic friendship relationship. But Minori’s sense of jealousy because Taiga’s spending a little more time with somebody else instead of her, I think that’s also totally fair for—
CAITLIN: Yeah, that’s totally normal. And I’ve had in my experience very like “Oh, my best friend is in love, and now the other person is taking up a lot of their time,” or “They’re getting close to someone else and I’m feeling a little bit left behind.”
DEE: Yeah. And so, you get that out of Minori. But I think the fact that she really does like Ryu quite a bit—like, the two of them get along very well—I hope that will help with things going forward.
But I think so often in shows like this, you have those—I don’t want to use the word “third wheel,” because Minori is so much more important than that—but you have the character, especially female characters, who’s a close friend of the other female character, and as an audience member you’re like, “Is this more than…?” and it never gets addressed in the show. So, I do appreciate that Toradora actually has Minori ask that question.
Because definitely, growing up in high school, I wasn’t attracted to people in the way media told me I was supposed to be, and I definitely had a moment where I was like, “Am I gay? Maybe I’m… I don’t think so.” So, having Minori have those conversations with Ryu and wondering about “The stuff that I was told is supposed to happen isn’t happening. What does that mean? I really like Taiga. Is this more than just a friendship? What am I feeling here?” I like that the show is allowing the characters to explore that.
It’d be nice if it went someplace with it. I doubt it will, but I still appreciate that it is at least acknowledging that those relationships exist in the world. [Chuckles]
VRAI: Yeah. I think it says something about the way her conversations around her feelings have been written that I had a moment of “In my heart I feel like I should be shipping Taiga and Minori a lot, but they’re so tight friends.”
DEE: Yeah, I had moments throughout these episodes where I was like, on the one hand, I think it would be really good if Minori stays single and her story is a friendship story, because those should be just as valid as romances. And then this other part of my brain was like, “OT3 though.”
VRAI: [Chuckles] What if?
CAITLIN: Yeah. Anything but just the standard sort of arc for her, right?
DEE: I just don’t want her to fall in love with Ryuji, yeah, and it to be like your typical third-wheel love triangle situation. Yeah, I really hope it doesn’t go there. I really hope so.
VRAI: Because that’s literally the whole—
CAITLIN: The second most popular ship on Archive of Our Own is Ami/Minori.
VRAI: [Intrigued] Go on!
DEE: That’s an odd one. I don’t feel like they’ve engaged enough for me to understand that, but okay, sure, you know. Shippers, do what you need to do.
CAITLIN: Yeah, no, Minori was spectacular during this arc, too. Not just the very good heart-to-hearts that she’s had, but just her going like, “Yeah, no, I pretend to be really scared so that you guys will scare me,” and taking Yusaku’s photos when he just sort of appears, naked.
DEE: What a dork!
DEE: I enjoyed the way the summer break arc in particular played with some of the typical fanservicey-type cliches that you see in shows like this. I thought Ryu had walked in on Ami in the shower, and then Ami’s like, “Oh, yes, please join me!” So, it wasn’t humiliation-driven. It was like her teasing him. But then she wasn’t even taking a bath. She was just cleaning the shower.
DEE: And then Taiga actually does walk in on her, right?
VRAI: Yeah. But we don’t see it. We just see her after she’s been slapped.
DEE: That’s right. Yeah.
CAITLIN: Looking absolutely shocked.
DEE: I love the way it, again, zigs when you think it’s gonna zag, because it is playing in these realms of—like, who hasn’t seen the summer break arc, the swimming pool arc, the school festival arc? It goes a different direction. And then Yusaku is the one who actually flashes everybody because he’s a big doofus.
CAITLIN: [Laughs] “I saw something dark and hairy!”
VRAI: Oh, that moment of the kid who thinks they’re cool and mature and then is confronted with actual nudity and is like, “Nope. 404 not found.”
CAITLIN: [As if frightened] Ah, pubes!
DEE: [Chuckles] That was well played.
VRAI: What was it you said in the Slack, Dee? “Before Minorin, I never really understood what a Best Girl meant.”
DEE: Yeah, I was always like, you know… I’ve used the term “Best Girl” and “Best Boy,” but I never really— This was especially during the…
CAITLIN: You never felt it.
DEE: I never felt it deep in my bones. And this was really during the first half of these episodes, where I was struggling a little bit to get into the show. I never hated it, but I just wasn’t invested yet. There were definitely moments where it was like, “I’m really just here for Minorin.” And I was like, “I get it. I understand what the concept of Best Girl is now. I would die for you, Minorin.” Who knew?
CAITLIN: She’s great. She’s so great. And I’m pretty sure I said last episode, I love that she’s just weird! She’s just such a weirdo! In a fantastic way.
DEE: Yeah, she’s a goofball. And I liked it that the show does kind of show that part of this is a defense strategy for her in high school. Like we’ve talked about, she’ll use it to kind of deflect away from having more awkward personal conversations to just be kind of a goofball.
But at the same time, she clearly is also just kind of a goofball. That’s the part of her personality that she has chosen to make the most prominent. She’s clearly much more multifaceted than that—which, again, we see in her some of her moments with Taiga and Ryu, which I love. But it’s not like the goofball is a complete show. It’s definitely a part of her personality.
And again, Toradora does such a nice job of showing how you make choices about which part of your personality to put on display for the rest of the world as a way to survive social interactions, because those are scary. And yeah, Minori, she’s great.
CAITLIN: Well, and also, when that runs up against people’s assumptions about you.
DEE: Yeah, that’s throughout this as well.
CAITLIN: No matter what Ryuji tries to do, people assume that he is scary, when he is the sweetest, most domestic boy!
DEE: He’s such a sweetheart. When he was getting all excited about the alterations he made to Taiga’s dress… Ah, my heart! It was like, “You are such a good boy! You’re not perfect. And I appreciate that about you, because you’d be boring if you were.”
Ryu is a genuinely good protagonist, and so often in these kinds of shows, the male protag is just kind of like a self-insert with no real personality. And Ryu, again, has its own arcs. He’s a good character. I enjoy him a lot.
CAITLIN: Yeah. A moment I really liked in the summer vacation arc was also when they were in the cave and Ami just turns around and she’s like, “Yeah, you really adore Minori, and that is why you guys will never work as a couple, because you will never be equal if you worship her the way that you do.”
DEE: Yeah, I liked her central point there—and she brings this up during the school festival arc, too. She’s clearly into Ryu, and so she makes some comment like “I’m definitely the better match for you because you don’t need to put me up on a pedestal like you do with Minori. You know I’m a big hot mess.”
But I thought it was kind of interesting that Ami makes that point about “You’d never be able to tell her she was wrong, even if she was wrong.” But then he gets into a fight with her during the school festival arc. So, I’m not sure Ami’s right. [Chuckles] I think that’s partly Ami just wanting to discourage him so maybe he’ll look elsewhere.
But yeah, I thought that moment where she talks about the importance of having a balanced relationship and being able to call each other out on your bullshit when you need it, I thought that was a good moment for her.
CAITLIN: No, Ami’s so great. There’s just so many really good girls.
VRAI: Her relationship with Taiga has become exactly what I wanted it to be, and it gives me life.
VRAI: Not even frenemies in the classical sense. They openly give each other shit, but they care. Whereas I think frenemies is more you pretend to be nice and you fucking hate each other.
DEE: Yeah, I think that’s true. Yeah, by the end of it, they are kind of doing nice things for each other even though they also bully each other somewhat relentlessly. But it’s very back and forth.
CAITLIN: Which is good, because the give-and-take is always really important, because I feel like it would be really easy to turn into Ami just bullying the much more awkward Taiga. But Taiga gets under Ami’s skin just as much as Ami gets under Taiga’s skin.
DEE: And Taiga has even gotten to the point where she will seek Ami out just to mess with her, like “Let’s get in a fight!” “Yeah, let’s do it!”
CAITLIN: Yeah. [Laughs] Just like, “Oh, we didn’t get our chance to wrestle. I’m gonna go punch on her while she’s flirting with some boys.”
VRAI: And it’s nice because I think that siphons off a lot of the more irksome slapstick between her and Ryuji, because she has that relationship with Ami now.
DEE: Yeah, that helps. It starts to show that this is partly how Taiga shows affection.
VRAI: It’s good!
DEE: I do like that Taiga’s relationship with… Again, the show is stripping away the archetypes, and I think one of the ways it’s doing that is… a lot of the time when you have like a tsundere or a genki girl, their relationships with every character, they basically react the same way with everybody.
And I like that Taiga very much doesn’t. She has that same kind of combativeness with Ryu that she has with Ami, but it comes from a very different place. But then her relationship with Minori is just completely open and sweet, and she just loves her. She’s just very nice to her for the most part.
I like that it’s like, different people you respond to differently. Even if the persona that you have chosen to display to the world is, like, “angry girl who can take care of herself,” there’s still wiggle room in that because people are multidimensional. Surprise!
CAITLIN: Yeah. Speaking of Taiga and her dimensions with other people, I think we should get into the school festival arc.
CAITLIN: Before we run out of time. So, I really, really like this arc. I feel like this is where Toradora best hits its stride. It’s where the characters’ various issues start clashing together in a good way, and you really have a sense for who they are and for what’s going on under the surface.
And it’s got those big, heightened emotions, but it also feels very grounded because their motivations are very human, like the way that Taiga tries to resist her dad, but at the same time she wants his approval. The way that she responds to him just kind of waltzing into her life and waltzing back out and constantly checking her phone is a lot like a lot of toxic relationships I’ve had or that I’ve seen people with their not-sufficiently-present parents are.
And at the same time, you can see that Ryuji is projecting his own feelings about what he wishes he had onto her.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah. Ryuji, because he never knew his dad, he has a very romanticized idea of “Well, he’s your family.” And part of it is like “You have a chance to know your dad, and I didn’t.” That scene between them where he kind of grabs her is really intense. But I really appreciate that as soon as he says it, he realizes, “Wait a minute. I’m just projecting. I’m being super selfish right now. I need to back off.”
CAITLIN: But he still continues to project.
DEE: Oh, he does. He absolutely does.
CAITLIN: It takes him a really long time to realize that, no, this is not what’s best for Taiga; that her dad is an asshole who’s going to just sort of come and go as he pleases and basically treat her like when you get a kid a puppy for Christmas and the kid gets bored after two weeks and never takes the dog for walks anymore. He treats Taiga like a hamster.
But Ryuji is just so blinded to that because all he sees is a dad who suddenly wants to have a relationship with his daughter and is like, “I wish I could have that.” And even though he knows that he’s projecting, he can’t stop.
DEE: Yeah. It’s really not until she’s up on that stage and they have that shoutout for the father, who’s not there, and he gets that text, and he’s like, “You sent this to me? You couldn’t text your own daughter?”
He finally has that moment of like, “Oh, God! Everyone was right. I was just projecting what I wanted her to have onto her. And I didn’t know a damn thing about the situation. I knew nothing about this guy. I just assumed that all dads were, at heart, good people who wanted to have relationships with their kids, and maybe they’d be late at the office, but they’d come rushing over as soon as they could.”
And yeah, he has a very cold splash of reality. Which, like we were talking about earlier, is another moment of Toradora pushing back against social norms and standard fictional tropes, especially in anime and manga, where it’s like, “But they’re still your family, no matter how awful they are.” And it’s like, “Well, you have to act like family, is the thing,” so…
VRAI: Yeah. And like we’ve discussed, it’s a recurring thing that Ryuji is learning to pay attention to Taiga when she expresses her own emotions. But especially here, it really feels like he’s speaking with that additional narrative assumption that all kids who are angry at their parents are just immature and just don’t understand all the really secretly good reasons that their parents had for being shitty to them.
CAITLIN: Right. Because he never knew his dad. His mom is someone who tries her best, and often her best is very good, but has not always been able to step up in certain ways. Obviously, she’s left it up to him to be the one to maintain the home.
And it’s like, “Well, maybe she can’t do these typical mom things, but she’s doing her best, so it’s okay and I’ll meet her halfway there.” And so, that’s his context, and that’s what he assumes everyone else’s family is like.
DEE: Yeah. He never assumes parents are perfect, because his mom certainly isn’t. He’s aware of that. But he has this idea that, at heart, they all genuinely care about their kids and want to be there for them as best they can. And so, it definitely takes him a while to realize that that is, unfortunately, not always the case, and that by pushing Taiga back into this relationship with her dad, he has only succeeded in having her get hurt again.
CAITLIN: Yeah, and I like that it genuinely does come between him and Minori for a while.
VRAI: That scene is so good!
CAITLIN: That is a real fight, and if it had not resolved itself, if he had not realized what was going on, it felt like it could have been a friendship-ruiner.
DEE: Yeah. Thankfully, they’re both good kids, and so Ryuji realizes what’s going on and grows. And I like that Minori even said, “You know, I should have talked to you and told you what had happened in the past, because you didn’t have the context.” And communication is also important, so…
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. And she went through a very similar thing a year ago.
DEE: Yeah. Exactly.
VRAI: And I definitely teared up when they finished the race together.
DEE: Oh my God, that was so good! When she comes out of nowhere to be a part of the race and they’re like, “No, it’s boys only!” and the StuCo Prez is like, “No, no, no. I’ll allow it,” I’m like “Yes!”
Because a lot of the beauty pageant, Mr. Lucky Man stuff felt obnoxiously gendered in a way I think the show has tried to stay away from. Gender essentialist. So, I like that it ended on a note of Minori coming in and also wanting to be—not the hero exactly, but doesn’t want Taiga to be out there alone, so is like, “I’m gonna put that crown on her head and dance with her so she can be with somebody who cares about her and can have that support network right now.”
And so, for her and Ryu to have that moment where— I thought the show was setting it up, because she throws herself at all the other players, which is so good… Again, I was cheering through that whole scene with her throwing the baseball and everything.
It could have ended with Ryuji crossing the finish line on his own and Minori dramatically sacrificing herself so that the romance could take center stage. And I love that he goes back and takes her hand and the two of them cross the line together, so that Taiga can have both the guy she’s starting to develop a crush on and also her best friend simultaneously be there for her in this moment.
CAITLIN: Her support system.
DEE: Her support system, yeah. Yeah, that was the moment where I teared up real, real good. When they crossed that line, I was like, “Oh my God, these good kids!” And then them both angry-clapping when Taiga was on stage and it got silent… Because Ryuji started to, and I kind of chuckled because I was like, “Oh, God, it’s this.” But then it flashes to Minori at the back of the auditorium crying and clapping as well. And that got me. I was like, “Oh, no! This is really sweet.”
Yeah, and it’s really interesting—
VRAI: [Tearfully] Was clapping so hard!
DEE: Aw! And the way they juxtapose that against Taiga’s internal monologue about, “I don’t need anybody to take care of me. You guys don’t need to worry about me,” while she’s clearly happy that the two of them have fought for her and are there with her at the end, I thought that was a really sweet moment for all three of them.
I just love these kids. I don’t care what the romance situation is at the end. I just want them all to be together forever, because they love each other so much and it’s very sweet.
VRAI: It’s really good.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It really did come to such a wonderful conclusion. And that really is what Toradora does best: these moments of these huge, heightened emotions, where this one high school thing really feels like the end of the world. Yeah, no, it’s fantastic.
DEE: It feels like young adult fiction for young adults in a way that I think sometimes anime doesn’t. They’ll be stories about teens, but it doesn’t feel like they’re being written for teenagers.
VRAI: Right, it’s— Ah, yeah.
DEE: [crosstalk] And Toradora—
VRAI: Sorry, go ahead.
DEE: No, go ahead. You had a comment.
VRAI: Well, I think you’re right, in terms of “Ah, high school. The best days of my life!” No.
DEE: Yeah. Or sometimes with some of the fanservicey shit that comes across as super skeevy. It feels like Toradora is written for an audience that is the same age as the characters within it. And the way it resonates with some of those big emotions in high school, but also doesn’t necessarily say they’re okay… Again, Ryuji does get called out; characters get called out when they screw up. I think it does a really good job of balancing those elements.
Yeah, it’s good young adult fiction at this point. I give it a lot of props for that.
CAITLIN: I feel like a lot of fiction set in high school either super over-romanticizes it or is like “High school is hell all the time and we just need to survive.” And I feel like Toradora really captures both the highs and lows of it in a way that kind of makes me almost remember what it feels like to be at that age where a lot of things just feel so heightened and all of this stuff feels so important. And it is important. And it does matter.
DEE: But it’s not all melodrama all the time either.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it’s not all melodrama all the time. They have fun with their friends. They go to the beach. And it does the comedy parts really, really well, too. The boy… Fuck, what’s his name? Haruta fucking up the boys’ stupid plot to make a cosplay cafe.
DEE: I love the way they spun that. I also like the way the show handles— We’re coming up on the hour, so maybe we’ll have to save this conversation for later. I like the way the show handles teenage thirst, because I feel like the horniness of the cast is much more realistic to what it’s actually like to be a teenager.
When the guys are all having that conversation about “We should have a school festival event because we want to see the girls in cute costumes”… When he was like, “Hey, you guys want to see something?” or something like that, I was so worried it was gonna be a peeping plotline because that’s where a lot of these shows go.
When they all come out in their swimsuits, there’s parts where the girls are fawning over some of the boys having big muscles and there’s shots of… And again, it’s very heteronormative—
CAITLIN: Yeah, Yusaku being ripped?
DEE: Yeah, what? —It’s very heteronormative, but there’s still that sense of balance between the girls being like, “Oh, shit! The guys with their shirts off,” and the guys being like, “Oh, man, look at the hotties in their swimsuits.” And it feels more like teenagers being kind of thirsty, as opposed to “These are future sexual predators!” Which is so often… I mean, it’s Mineta from My Hero, right?
DEE: One of the arguments, right? So often, if you say anything about Mineta, people are like, “Oh, he’s just a teenage boy. That’s what they’re like.” And I’m like, “Teenage boys who are sexual predators maybe!” But, uh…
So, I like the way that Toradora plays it. Yeah, they want to see each other in their swimsuits, and they think the idea of the girls being in cute costumes would be great, and they’ve got this secret plan so they’ll have a maid cafe or a cosplay cafe or something.
CAITLIN: And then Haruta is just too stupid to make it work.
VRAI: [crosstalk] I am extremely sad we didn’t get to see the entire wrestling show, because that was made for me!
DEE: Right? I love that that was what they ended up doing because, again, it was one of those where you see a lot of school festival arcs in anime, and it’s typically like, oh, they run a cafe or they have a haunted house. There’s a few mainstays that always seem to pop up. And so, for it to be something so completely different and so delightful—just this big, campy pro wrestling show—I thought that was great.
CAITLIN: Minori in her bald cap.
DEE: [Laughs] Yes!
VRAI: So good!
DEE: No, that arc was delightful. And I loved it. And we’re coming up on the top of the hour, so if anyone else has anything they want to…
VRAI: Oh! I feel like I was so positive on the last arc that it sort of smoothed over the grind that was episodes 7 through 9 or so.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, definitely the same for me. And I’m kind of excited to see where the show goes from here.
CAITLIN: So, next episode, we’ll talk about episodes 14 to 19. Thank you for listening and enjoying this summery Toradora episode that we recorded in the middle of a cold, gray winter, at least for me.
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