Dee, Caitlin, and Vrai reach the finale of Toradora! Feels are felt, some eyes get misty, and the gang talks out the show’s overall highs and lows.
Date Recorded: March 21st, 2020
Hosts: Caitlin, Dee, Vrai
0:01:59 The ski trip
0:07:32 Ending rush
0:11:21 The dreaded romance
0:11:59 Ami vs Minori
0:21:55 Taiga’s family
0:27:19 Ryuuji and Yasuko
0:31:03 Ryuuji and Taiga’s futures
0:38:48 And then they fucked
0:42:24 Gender roles
0:44:05 Class differences
0:46:09 Final thoughts
CAITLIN: Hi, everyone. Welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. Today we are talking about episodes 20 to 25 of Toradora, finishing up our watchalong. My name is Caitlin, and today I have with me Vrai and Dee.
VRAI: Hey, I’m Vrai Kaiser. I’m an editor and contributor at Anime Feminist. You can find me on Twitter @WriterVrai, where sometimes I post my freelance stuff, but mostly lately I tweet a lot about Yu-Gi-Oh. And you can find the other podcast I cohost @trashpod.
CAITLIN: So, here it is. The end of the road for Toradora.
VRAI: Listeners, I don’t know when you’re hearing this, but we’re recording it from quarantine, so if things sound a little weird, then that’s why.
DEE: Week One, too, so…
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] Yeah, so we’re all going a little crazy. It almost feels weird to watch the characters go outside and go about their day, huh? It feels a little strange, because that’s not happening.
VRAI: [crosstalk, imitating resentment] So young and full of life! Their whole futures ahead of them!
CAITLIN: Ugh, I hate it. I hate it. I’m the bitter old maid teacher.
DEE: [crosstalk] I was gonna say, you’re channeling the teacher right now.
DEE: Stupid youth with their stupid energy and their stupid outdoors! [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Although she would resent me, too, because I am married.
DEE: Also yes.
CAITLIN: But I don’t own a condo.
DEE: No. She’s got that going for her. I assume she bought that condo.
VRAI: I want that for her.
DEE: [crosstalk] She seems to be doing better this final stretch, so I think she’s got that condo.
CAITLIN: All right, so, how do you feel about this stretch of episodes?
DEE: I’ll start since I think Vrai started last time. The ski trip had my eyes rolling so far back into my head that I was studying my own brain a few times. That having been said, I thought the last few episodes were very genuine and sincere and I liked that they touched on a whole variety of relationships instead of just focusing on the central romantic stuff. And so, I ended it with a very happy feeling.
CAITLIN: All right.
VRAI: Yeah, I wasn’t mad at the ski trip. I don’t know if it’s just because I was In It at that point. But you’re right: it is full-on… As soon as the slaps come out, we’re in Melodrama Town.
DEE: Well, and I think this show has done a pretty good job, 90% of the time, of avoiding contrived romantic plots. Everything feels like it’s driven by reasonable actions taken by the characters based on their relationships, etc.
I mentioned in… I think it was week two that, when Taiga’s swimsuit padding pops out and Ryuji gropes her for anime comedy or whatever, that felt super contrived to me, just a dumb plot beat that didn’t fit with what was going on around it. And I had that same reaction to some of the stuff happening in the ski trip: them just conveniently piling into that closet and conveniently hearing this conversation between Ami and Minori, and then Taiga muttering to herself about how much she loves Ryuji because she mistakes him for Yusaku for some reason.
That all, I was like, “Oh, come on, guys. You’ve been doing such a good job of making this all feel like believable character beats, and then you bust out the tired cliches.”
CAITLIN: Now in fairness, I felt like if they really wanted to go hard on the cliches, they would have had Taiga and Ryuji find a cabin and have to spend the night there, and “Oh, no, we have to huddle under a blanket, lest we freeze to death.”
DEE: That would have been cute, though. [Chuckles]
CAITLIN: Oh, but I’ve seen that so many times.
DEE: Oh, it’s a tired cliche. Don’t get me wrong.
CAITLIN: So her barely conscious confession felt more genuine to me than that, especially the sort of very… Yes, it is kind of contrived, but Rie Kugimiya pulls off that moment really well, the sadness and desperation in her voice. It’s almost like, “I want to like you, but I think I’m falling in love with Ryuji because he’s the one who’s always rescuing me.” So I personally thought that worked really well.
VRAI: I think I’m definitely on the side of writing-wise, it’s super contrived. I can feel the writers frantically going, “Oh, shit! We need to clear this up for certain characters, because otherwise we’re never going to be able to end the show in a satisfying way in the time we have left.”
It reminded me, actually, a lot—since this is Okada and all—of the last episode of O Maidens, where we’re just going to lock you in one place so you’re forced to talk about your feelings that we’ve been kind of nebulously doing, because otherwise, if this followed on the realism track that it had been doing up till then, we would all just kind of go our separate ways and be a little bit vaguely frustrated and think back fondly on it, and it wouldn’t really get resolved.
CAITLIN: Think about missed opportunities.
VRAI: Uh-huh. It is contrived, but I wasn’t mad at it because it was the emotional beat that I… because I hate misunderstanding plots, and so I would rather have that slightly messy bump in the road so that we could actually get to the characters communicating with each other. I was willing to make that tradeoff.
DEE: Oh, yeah. I knew why it was happening. I guess that was part of it for me. It was one of those moments where you could see the strings, right? You could see the strings of the puppet master, and so it kind of made me wince, or it was like, “Oh, you had no idea how to resolve this other than conveniently overhearing a thing that a character would debatably not say to that person anyway. But here we are.”
So, no, I mean, I got it. Just, that was where I started with this stretch. Those first two, I was like, “Oh boy. Oh boy, where is this going to take me?”
VRAI: Yeah, fair. And then also the general cliche of… the rescue services just kind of… they didn’t have these students on immediate lockdown. They let them go back out in the snow.
DEE: They didn’t immediately check the broken fence where her footprints had gone?
CAITLIN: Yeah, like, “Hey, where’s Taiga? Huh, wonder where she could be.”
DEE: [crosstalk] Yeah, you’re in snow! You’re in snow! Follow the footprints!
VRAI: Yeah. It’s a bit silly.
CAITLIN: But I agree that after the ski trip is where things start to really, really get going. Honestly… So the last two episodes, I remember that arc lasting longer, because everything happens in it. It is such a “Everything happens so much” sort of bit.
VRAI: Yeah! I was kind of wondering if… Were the light novels not done, or is this a Kids on the Slope thing where the series is done and we’re going along at a fairly relaxed pace, and then, oh, crap, we got two episodes to get through like four more volumes of content?
DEE: I don’t know about the pacing, but I checked the release dates, and it looks like the main light novel ended the same month that the anime ended, so it was kind of like a Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood situation. Whether the anime staff had privy to the information that was going to be in that last volume, I would assume so. But obviously, I don’t know what was going on behind the scenes. Based on a little bit of reading I did online, it looks like the ending of the light novel and the anime are a little different.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Hm. Really?
DEE: But things more-or-less shake out the same way. Yeah.
CAITLIN: I mean, it does feel frenzied, but I think the frenzied feeling works really well.
DEE: I think it does, too, because one thing I think the show does pretty well—other than, again, some of these melodrama moments—but for the most part, I think it does a nice job of balancing what it often feels like in high school or your teenage years, where there’s a lot of moments of just mundane, day-to-day, just-going-about-your-business kind of silliness and then these sharp bursts where everything seems to happen simultaneously. The floodgates just open.
And that was kind of how the last couple episodes felt, because they are about to change school year, and they’re heading into their third year, so there’s all this change and potential responsibilities and this sense of “Oh, we have to grow up” right on the horizon, and the sense of “We might not even be in the same class next year. We don’t know what things are going to look like.” So I think it made sense for everything to come to a head simultaneously, based on the external pressures and everything going on around them.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I mean, that’s just how life is sometimes. Sometimes everything starts happening all at once and there’s a sense of urgency to literally every single thing because things are gonna change soon and you gotta get this out of the way. So I really liked it. The last couple episodes, I think, are really just incredible in terms of character and writing and themes, and everything and everyone coming together and everything making sense.
VRAI: Yeah, there’s a really nice emotional urgency there.
DEE: And I think they did a nice job of… There were certain plot beats and things that I thought nothing was really gonna come of them, and they actually did bring it back around to some of those things. And again, it never really felt rushed, despite the fact that so much was happening. I thought the pacing of each scene, it all flowed really well together, which was nice.
CAITLIN: Yeah, it knew when to slow things down and when to pick things up, for sure. Like the moment with Yasuko and her parents, that was a little bit slower, a little bit gentler. The scene on the train. Those were like breaths of fresh air. And then after things were really crazy for a while, and then things get a little crazy again at the end.
But yeah, no, I thought like the last few episodes really did work perfectly. Only problem is what we were dreading happened, which was that Minorin turned out to be in love with Ryuji.
DEE: Yeah, I had assumed by the end of last week’s stretch that was where that was going. But once again, even though they went the direction I didn’t want them to go, they handled it about as well as I think they could have.
The stuff with Minori and Ami in the early episodes, I’m not… Maybe you guys can help me out. I’m not 100% sure what was going on between them with all the animosity. I couldn’t figure out why Ami was pressing Minori’s buttons so hard in those first couple episodes.
CAITLIN: I mean, partly just because she’s Ami.
VRAI: I think it has to do with the fact that they are both characters who put on fronts, and I feel like Ami sort of instinctively recognized that about Minori and resented her for it. Because she talks about it with Taiga, thinking that Taiga automatically gets people to care about her even though she was seemingly being herself.
I think with Minori, she also to an extent recognized—or maybe didn’t—or maybe made that same mistake at first of like, “Here’s a girl who’s just weird, who everybody thinks is a little bit weird, but people like her anyway, and I resent that.”
CAITLIN: Right. Ami seems like the kind of person who dislikes in other people what she dislikes in herself, which would be consistent for pretty much everything Minori is doing.
And also Ami has been called on being someone who puts on a front. Everyone knows that she does now, everyone who knows her. But no one has really interrogated that with Minorin. No one has been like “Minori, I don’t think that you’re really okay right now even though you’re acting okay. Cut out the cheerful act.” No one has really called her on that before, and so Ami is just like, “Okay, this needs to stop.”
DEE: And she just does it in the worst possible way, I guess.
CAITLIN: Okay, well, the line “Talking to you makes me feel like I’m on my period” is a really sick burn.
VRAI: I mean, looking back, and maybe it’s just because “oops, I ship them a lot now as of the end of the series,” I feel like Minori had some weird stuff with Ami as well, because she made all the weird, shitty weight jokes. She’s awkward.
Alex actually, who also wrote the Toradora piece for us, has a piece on her blog talking about Minori and reading her as queer and the early scenes where she’s really awkward about Ami in a swimsuit, and is it life goals or wife goals? Is she jealous because she’s self-conscious about her own body? Is she attracted to this person and flustered about it? Is it both?
CAITLIN: Right. And I really think—listen, if we’re gonna go in hard with that reading, which I am 100% on board for, it’s really easy to think that Minori is confused about her own feelings. She sees Ryuji and Taiga together. She feels jealous. She goes, “Oh, I’m jealous about Ryuji,” when she’s actually jealous about Taiga.
DEE: She could also be jealous about both.
VRAI: It’s true.
CAITLIN: Yeah. That’s true.
DEE: One of the lines I really liked in this—and again, this was in the dub, so I don’t know if this was the exact line in the original—but it’s when Ami is kind of starting to feel some sympathy for Minori and she’s like, “God, she got dumped by both Taiga and Ryuji.” And I was like, “Ooh! That’s a read on this situation, absolutely.”
Because in a way she does… I mean, it’s not like she’s losing the two people she was closest to, but I know that feeling of “Well, they’re in a relationship now, so they’re going to be each other’s number-one priority,” and that feeling of “Well, I’m going to be left behind,” or “It is going to change our relationship, even if we’re still close after this.” So I think you can read Minori’s situation in a lot of different ways.
And I get Ami being… I guess they’ve both been antagonistic to each other from the beginning, and they never really got to that place where Taiga and Ami did, where they were cheerfully ribbing each other. So, yeah, I get it.
I was mad at Ami in those first couple episodes because I was like, “Listen, Minori made her decision, and whether or not you agree with it, that was the choice she made. She made the decision to prioritize her friendship with Taiga over a potential relationship with Ryuji. Leave her alone. That’s a valid decision to make.”
CAITLIN: But also, they’re teens.
DEE: Oh, I know.
CAITLIN: And they get mad at each other about dumb shit all the time.
DEE: They did eventually—
DEE: Yeah, and they eventually got to a point… I wondered with Ami at first if she wasn’t jealous of Minori because she had the possibility to test out a relationship with Ryuji and chose not to. Because Ami never really was even in the running. Which, again, like all the characters, she moves on and is fine with it, and it’s more about having people around her who accept her than it is about the actual romance angle.
VRAI: Yeah, I think also during the whole ski trip thing, by that point Ami kind of gets dug in on her role as… She really buys into her thing as “I’m the mature person who speaks truth to these other people who won’t admit their feelings, and so far, that’s worked out. So I’m gonna keep picking.”
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, but then she picks that fight in the snow with Minori over the sled. That is an extremely immature thing to be, like “You crashed into me because you saw me talking to Ryuji.” It’s like, no, clearly, they were just out of control on the sled.
VRAI: Yep. That was an extremely real teenage moment for me when I was like, “Oh, you said you let it go, but you didn’t. But now we’re doing this.”
DEE: [crosstalk] Oh, yeah, absolutely. Again, it was a little bit melodramatic, the slap fight in the snow, but it felt like a very… yeah, it was one of those teenage moments where it’s like, “I’m gonna put this aside, I’m gonna put this aside,” and then something happens and just blows it all up again.
VRAI: Mm-hm. But yeah, I also know what you mean. Ami has her peaks and valleys of being kind of terrible.
DEE: Yeah. I went back to “maybe Ami sucks” at a certain point during this stretch. But then by the end, I was okay with her again, because I like the way her relationship with Taiga has developed. And then once Minori kind of does start dropping her mask in front of her, Ami sort of opens up to her about that, too.
That scene where Minori stays over so she can just be sad in front of the one person who’s not going to feel bad about it was a good moment, I think.
VRAI: Yeah. I love how protective Ami gets about Taiga and just stops putting up a front about that. And yeah, the scene where Minori just breaks down crying, I had a lot of feelings at that moment, and then I had to message you guys in the Slack about “Oops, I ship it now!”
DEE: Yeah, Minori has… There’s some really good emotional beats in this stretch. The scene in the classroom, I was like, “Well, this is escalating,” where Minori goes off on Taiga and Ryuji about “Just tell us what you said out in the snow,” felt a little sudden and contrived to me as well. But then once we got into it, it was really well done.
I liked that Minori… Because again, there was that sense of: Minori rejects Ryuji and everybody is like, “Well, she didn’t mean it. We’ll have to just keep pressing forward.” And so for her to snap at them like “No, that was the choice I made. You don’t get to decide what’s going to make me happy.” I really liked that moment.
And then her telling Taiga the same thing as she’s running through the hallway. And then she kinda has the same moment with Ryuji, which… I really liked that scene after she gets the nosebleed, where she’s talking about “Here are these things that are important to me. I want to focus on softball and go to a college where I can go play in the nationals. And I’m determined to do that. So don’t worry about me. I’ve got other things in my life.”
VRAI: It was really good.
CAITLIN: Yeah. It’s really nice to have a character who’s like, “Yeah, I have feelings for you and these suck, but I’m gonna get over it. I’m gonna move on, because I have so many other things going on”; who has the perspective to realize that falling in love in high school is not the end-all-be-all.
Because I feel like that is the case in a lot of teen romances, is “This is it. This is the meaning of my life. I am in love with my high school partner and that’s it. That’s the only thing that matters. I have no other hobbies. I have no other interests.”
DEE: Yeah, and we talked last week about how it felt like everybody’s conflicts were starting to boil down to just romance and how it was kind of exhausting. And I think they did that with a lot of the characters this week, to pull it back and be like, “Well, no, no, no, here’s these other things going on in their lives. They did zero in on this because it was very big and important for them, but it’s definitely not the only thing. Their lives will go on. They have other things that will bring them fulfillment, other relationships.”
CAITLIN: Even Ryuji and Taiga. They had the big romantic climax this time, but they also had all of their family stuff, which all tied in together of course, and those feelings of not really having a place in their family and not really fitting in with their family or being a burden. So I think that now’s a good time to sort of… We talked a lot about Minori.
DEE: We needed to.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Because she’s the best character!
CAITLIN: And it was lovely, and it was very relevant. But we should probably talk a little bit about the main characters. Don’t you think?
VRAI: I mean, they’re good kids. I like them. They’re very sweet together.
CAITLIN: Mm-hm. And I think it’s interesting how the inciting bit is not something that happens between them necessarily, but their family issues. There’s this sense of interconnectedness.
It is almost like a sense of perspective, because it’s not just about the relationship. It’s about everything else going on in their lives that spurs everything on, because their feelings are informed by their family relationships. Their own relationship is informed by their relationships with their families, so it makes sense that they tie in together, the way that they behave.
And the very last episodes have this very strong thematic throughline of connections and relationships, not just romantic, of familial, of friendship, which I think really made everything work really well.
VRAI: Yeah. Like, I don’t love that part of Taiga’s arc ended up coming down to “Go back and work things out with your shitty family,” but I do think, within the context of that, well, her dad’s off the table, which is nice, but also, she frames it in terms of “I need to go and figure out how to like myself, and I can’t do that while I’m here, depending on him. So I’m going to go and work on myself and then come back, and we’ll see how our relationship is.” I think that’s really nice.
CAITLIN: Yeah. She needs to have a sense of who she is outside of her relationship with Ryuji. And I appreciate that she focused on making amends with her mother, because I feel like a lot of the difficulties they have is sort of what Taiga has decided is going on, rather than what is actually going on, when she talks about not having a place with her stepfamily.
VRAI: Yeah, maybe it’s that I wanted a little time to actually get to know her mom, because the only parent of hers we know is her dad, who really is that awful.
DEE: Yeah. And I was never clear on why Taiga’s mom wasn’t in the picture from the beginning.
CAITLIN: My sense is that when her mom got remarried, Taiga decided that she had no place with them, and so she kind of was like, “I don’t belong here. I need to go. I can live on my own. It’s fine.” And since she’s kind of spoiled, her parents were like, “Okay, that’s what you want.” Because after Taiga falls, she talks about how she had such an amazing time with her mom for those few weeks when she’s getting better.
DEE: Yeah, Minori says the two of them have always gotten along well, which is why I couldn’t figure out why… I guess I got the sense in the first stretch that Taiga’s dad had custody and her mom was just not in the picture at all. And so for her mom to show up in these last few episodes, it just threw me off.
And maybe Taiga was like, “Hey, no, I just need to be out on my own,” and her mom was like, “Okay, I’ll give you some space.” I suspect Taiga’s mom is a lot like Taiga, just based on those snippets of voicemails we caught.
DEE: That was a sense I got from her. But yeah, I had some questions about their family relationship and what was going on there that pushed Taiga away in the first place and made her feel like she couldn’t rely on any parent. Her dad, we obviously know why; but her mom, it was less clear why Taiga had felt that way from childhood.
CAITLIN: Right. And I do think there is some cultural stuff at play here, because what I have gathered from reading around and from my conversations with Japanese friends is that children of divorced families and stepfamilies do work kind of differently in Japan. It is pretty common for the noncustodial parent to just never see their child again.
And if I’m totally off base, go ahead and let me know. But this is something that I’ve read, because joint custody is very disruptive, so it could be something to do with that. I don’t think that divorced families function entirely the same way that they do in the US. So that could be a cultural perspective that we’re just not getting.
DEE: Yeah, maybe. That’s possible.
That having been said, the stuff with Ryuji and Yasu was very poignant, I felt.
CAITLIN: Oh my gosh.
DEE: He was so harsh on her in a way that was… I was very upset when he yelled at her about her life being pointless and her being mad because she didn’t have a future so she wanted him to have one. And I was like, “Ryuji, you do understand your mom is actually being a really good mom here.” He’s worried about money, understandably so. They don’t have a lot. And her response is, “No, that’s not your job. You’re a kid. Your job is to worry about school, and I will take care of it.”
And I liked the way these final episodes circle back around to the concept of responsibility… what did I write in my notes?… the line between being unselfish and being a martyr; just torturing yourself. And I think we see that with a lot of the characters.
But Ryuji’s violent reaction to his mom wanting him to go to college was, as we get into it, clearly born from a sense of guilt. He has that conversation with Taiga on the bridge about like, “Maybe it would have been better if I’d just never been born.” And Taiga yells at him, and it’s very sweet.
VRAI: Do love that bridge scene. It’s good.
DEE: The bridge scene is good.
CAITLIN: That’s a really good scene.
DEE: Yeah. So I’m not 100% sure where I was going with that, but it’s always good because Ryuji is one of those characters who, for the most part… He’s struggled to understand other people, but for the most part, it’s seemed like he’s had his shit together this whole time.
So I think it was good to get to the end of this arc and see how both he and Taiga, for very different reasons, are struggling with the concept of what they want to do with their futures and how they feel in their family situations and how they bonded in a way because they… I guess I wouldn’t say… It wasn’t like Ryuji didn’t feel like he belonged, but he felt like he was causing trouble. Does that make sense?
CAITLIN: Right. Yeah, no, your observation that it seems to come from a place of guilt, I think, makes a lot of sense, because Ryuji is a person who generally tries to live in service of others. It’s also a very realistic shitty teen moment.
DEE: Oh, absolutely.
CAITLIN: Because listen, even the best teens have shitty teen moments, right?
VRAI: [amused] Go on.
CAITLIN: And so him deciding that, no, he shouldn’t go to college, that she is just projecting onto him when she really does just want the best for him—she wants him to be successful—is very realistically teen, short-sighted, not really totally able to see from the perspective of others.
DEE: Yeah. And then when he takes a half-second to think about it, he has this realization of “That’s not what’s going on here. I just feel bad, and I don’t want her to have to be working three separate jobs to get me through school.”
CAITLIN: And I like that Toradora touches on the economic reality of the hardships of being a single mom trying to pay your teenager’s way through school. And she has been so insistent this whole time that he cannot go out and get a job, that he is not allowed to work because he’s a smart kid. And so, Yasuko’s a really good mom.
DEE: She is. The only… We don’t really get a sense of how 100% they resolve that. I don’t think there’s any sense of what Ryuji actually is going to do after high school.
The sense that I would like to think is… Yasu’s “You shouldn’t have to worry about money” makes sense, but if Ryuji wants a part-time job, I think that’s one of those concessions that a parent should be willing to make for their almost-18-year-old kid. Like, “You don’t need to be worrying about paying for everything, but if you want to work a few hours a week, as long as it doesn’t affect school, that’s fine.”
So I’m hoping that the two of them had a nice conversation about balancing out each other’s wants and needs, and they move forward from there.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I wasn’t allowed to work in high school.
DEE: Really? I was encouraged to work as soon as I could, so I could start building up savings, so I could go to college. And then I got a scholarship. Booyah!
CAITLIN: My grades weren’t as good as they should have been, and so my parents thought another job would be a distraction. Turns out everything in life was a distraction!
DEE: [Chuckles] Imagine that!
CAITLIN: That it was literally impossible for me to not be distracted.
VRAI: Oh, Big Mood.
CAITLIN: That’s a window into Caitlin’s adolescence. But yeah.
VRAI: I do find it interesting that we don’t find out what Taiga or Ryuji do after high school. It seems like the show is more interested in the fact that they made the decision to work on themselves rather than what they decided to do.
DEE: Yeah. Yeah, there’s very much a focus on that idea of not running away, sticking around to face your problems and to work through things together with other people. And so the fact that they decide not to elope is really the turning point for them. So whatever they decide to do after school, you feel more confident that it will be a choice that they make for the right reasons, you know?
CAITLIN: Yeah, I really liked that, because the part where they decided to elope, it didn’t feel like it was the right decision, but it felt like a very true-to-them decision.
DEE: Spur of the moment? Yeah, absolutely. That felt like something they would be, like, “Let’s just run away!”
CAITLIN: It’s like, “We are mad at our families. Our emotions are heightened. Our hormones are surging. We just realized we like each other. Let’s do something big and dramatic, like run away and keep running and never look back.”
And it’s this very ecstatic moment that really captures the feeling of like, “Oh my gosh, I’m in love for the first time, and this is real, this is what it is like, this is perfect,” without really considering the future and considering how feelings tend to work and how the future works. It’s just beautifully teenage.
And I feel like it really captured that sense much better than the series that have the slow buildup, and then at the end of the series, it’s like, “Oh, yeah, we got married.” Because most people don’t marry their high school sweethearts. Most people don’t marry their first love. If they do, it often doesn’t work out.
But that first time you’re in love, for the first few months when you’re in love for the first time, it feels like “This is it! This is all I need.” And so that was really resonant for me.
DEE: Yeah, I thought they captured that well. And then I like how within a day, as they’re on the train leaving town, they’re like, “No… No, we can’t do this.”
CAITLIN: Exactly. Like everything wears off.
DEE: And I loved that right after that, they get together with their friend group. Despite all the weirdness that’s been going on, Minori, Ami, and Yusaku are there for them in that moment. And they’re all like, “We think you’re making a bad choice. But we’re your friends. We accept your bad choice. Here’s some money.” And Ami gave them the key to her bungalow, I think, so it was like “Here. We’re going to help you out.” I thought that was a really—
CAITLIN: [Through laughter] Yusaku gives them rice vouchers!
VRAI: That was the best!
DEE: [crosstalk] He doesn’t have much else to give them, okay? He did his best.
DEE: I thought that was a really sweet scene. I think this show does resonant—
CAITLIN: All the potato has to offer is starch.
DEE: Aww! Ba-dum-tsh!
DEE: I said I wasn’t gonna call him a potato anymore. He had character beats and everything.
CAITLIN: I know. [Chuckles] I know, and I like Yusaku.
DEE: It was a good joke.
CAITLIN: Yes. I’m very funny, is the thing.
DEE: [Laughs] You just can’t keep the goofs inside.
DEE: So yeah, I think this show balances the friendship, romance, family beats really well in this last stretch. Which is good because, again, I think a lot of the time rom-coms can get totally tangled up in the romance as the only thing that matters.
And so for this show to capture that in moments, like the “We’re gonna elope” moment that you were talking about, Caitlin, is really good, because I think that is part of the authentic experience that Toradora hits on very well at times. But then for the show to also make room for those other moments and those other relationships, I think, is really, really nice to see.
CAITLIN: Yeah. I do want to talk a little bit about Yasuko and her family. For example, the revelation that, no, Ryuji’s father didn’t die. He left her.
VRAI: He just fucked off, which is the worst.
CAITLIN: Yeah. She was 16 and pregnant and ran away from her family, and he’s just like, “All right, well, peace!” She went out there and she did her best.
And I do think there is a little bit of a conservative undertone to that narrative. When she explicitly says, “Everyone said I should have gotten an abortion, but I wanted to take care of you,” that felt a little bit like, “Well…”
VRAI: Yeah, that’s some old-fashioned anti-choice rhetoric, but…
CAITLIN: Yeah. And I do see that a lot in anime. Whenever there’s an accidental pregnancy or a teenage pregnancy, they’re like, “Oh, but I need to take care of my baby.” That’s what I see most commonly, and I’m like, “Guys, can we please just… Can we not?”
VRAI: Yeah, it’s one of those things where I’m like, “Ugh, I know this shit.” But also, from her character as it’s built up, it’s so sincere.
CAITLIN: [Chuckles] I know. It’s true. That is very her.
VRAI: So it was an interesting internal push and pull on that little scene.
CAITLIN: Right. Or Taiga and Ryuji, it’s like, “Well, if we are going to get married, it’s okay for us to have sex.”
CAITLIN: Which they definitely did.
DEE: [Chuckles] I was gonna ask, to be like, “Do you guys think they had sex that night?”
CAITLIN: They did the fade to black.
VRAI: I feel like, yeah, they did, and it was probably really bad sex because they’re teenagers who’ve never had any kind of romantic relationship.
CAITLIN: First kiss! And at the same time, the first-kiss scene was one of those moments that, outside of, once again, the kind of conservative note of “Oh, let’s get fake-married before we do it…”
DEE: Oh, I thought that was cute, though.
CAITLIN: Ah, yeah.
DEE: Because they’ve been all gung-ho about eloping already, so to me, it wasn’t like a “We have to get married before we have sex.” It was more of a “Well, we were already talking about getting married, so let’s practice” kind of thing.
VRAI: Pledge our eternal devotion! And I got a little gooey about it.
DEE: I thought it was cute. Also, I felt like the conversation about the kissing was kind of a metaphor for sex, because Taiga was like, “It might hurt, and I don’t know if I want that.” And then she was like, “Yeah, I don’t know. It was weird. Do it again.” I was like, “Okay. Is this…?”
CAITLIN: I zoned out for a second, and so, I did think for a second that she was talking about sex. It’s like, “Wait, no, this is not actually that conversation.”
VRAI: I mean…
DEE: But it was.
CAITLIN: But the moment of, like, he kisses her for the first time, and she’s like, “Again,” and they kiss again, and she’s like, “Again,” and the kisses keep getting more intense, like, oh, yeah, that’s what it’s like. That’s what your first kiss kind of feels like. So yeah, once again, very well done teenage… Yeah, I have written down in my notes, “And then they fucked.”
CAITLIN: Because I have to be crass at least once an episode.
DEE: Sure, sure. You’ve filled your quota now.
VRAI: [Chuckles] We’re very proud of you.
DEE: Yeah, I definitely felt that there were some metaphorical overtones to that scene of “Well, no, this is a young adult series, so we can’t talk and show that. But, wink! …You know.”
VRAI: You know.
CAITLIN: You know.
DEE: But no, I thought it was really sweetly handled. Taiga and Ryuji’s relationship… It was a slow burn, and then all of a sudden it happened. But there were still some really good “Aw!” misty-eyed moments with them. When he opens the locker at the very, very end, and it’s just like, “Hey, I love you,” was so cute!
VRAI: It was so cute!
DEE: Because I thought I was good, and then I was like, “Aw!” They got me. They got me with the two of them. And I remember saying in the first week that I was worried there wouldn’t be a balance of give and take between the two of them, and by the end 100% there was.
CAITLIN: Yeah, I mean, that’s the whole point of the show, right? Tigers and dragons have been considered equal since ancient times, which they said over and over. It is about how Ryuji and Taiga are equals.
VRAI: Speaking of the whole “what are they going to do after high school,” I do kind of fully expect Ryuji to be a homemaker. It makes him so happy.
DEE: Yeah, stay-at-home dad. 100%.
CAITLIN: He’s gonna be a great stay-at-home dad.
DEE: He really is.
CAITLIN: Yeah, which kind of gets back to what attracts me to Toradora and to what I love about it. It is not constrained by gender roles. And after a while, it doesn’t feel deliberately subversive, like “We’re gonna subvert all of the gender roles,” but it just feels like this is who these characters are.
Ryuji is a person, he is a boy, and he is someone who likes cleaning and taking care of the home. Taiga is a girl, and she is someone who is terrible at cleaning and taking care of the home.
VRAI: Speaking of that, I love that the one time they decided to do the girl who is a comically bad cook—which Taiga isn’t but kind of slots into the archetype of—does a cooking because she has an emotion, she makes some for everybody. That made me happy.
DEE: The chocolates, yeah, that was a really sweet moment where she wanted to thank everybody with some Valentine’s treats. She did a good job, too. I’m proud of her. She worked hard.
CAITLIN: Yeah. They’re all such good friends!
VRAI: They are! They’re good friends!
CAITLIN: They all take care of each other!
DEE: I’m glad it looks like they all were able to preserve those friendships after everything that had gone down, too, because sometimes you do, sometimes you don’t. So I liked that the show implied that they were all still pretty close.
CAITLIN: So you have in the notes, “Class differences.” Should we talk about that?
DEE: I mean, I think we kind of touched on it. It’s something that the series never really pushed on until the very end, where Taiga and Ryuji are talking about how neither of them has future plans, and Taiga’s reasoning is “I’m rich, I don’t have to work,” and Ryuji, his reasoning is “I’m poor, I have to work.”
And the fact that the series had never really… It was odd for it to bring that up at the very end and then not really touch on how dramatic of a difference that is. That’s a potential source of conflict—or an awesome thing if they do get married and Ryuji gets that money!
VRAI: Well, they did say at the end that her—
DEE: I ain’t saying he a gold digger.
VRAI: I mean, is her mom also well off? Because they did say that her dad’s business tanked and that’s why he skipped town, so she might not be rich forever.
DEE: She didn’t seem concerned about money, though, at that point, so I got the sense that both her parents were well off. I’m not 100% sure. Was her dad paying for her condo in the first place?
CAITLIN: Yeah. Yeah.
DEE: That may also be why her mom wanted her to move back in, then. I’m not sure. Again, there’s some fuzziness as far as the particulars of Taiga’s situation.
But I thought that was a point that was worth pushing on, is that they’re both at a loss for very different reasons that are also kind of like mirror images of each other. I don’t know. I don’t have those thoughts fully formed in my brain. It was just a thought that occurred to me during that scene where the two of them were having the same problem for dramatically different reasons, and I was like, “I’m sorry, Taiga, but I’m sympathizing with Ryuji a lot more right now.”
CAITLIN: It’s sort of like they are opposites in so many ways, and yet they kind of meet in the middle and as equals.
All right, so let’s jump into our final thoughts about the series as a whole.
CAITLIN: So, this is my third time watching Toradora.
CAITLIN: It still holds up. Still an excellent show. I really feel like the way it does come together in the end really is what makes it stand out and stand apart. And it’s strong for the whole time. And I love the script. I love the writing. But those last few episodes are really what makes it memorable. What about you guys?
VRAI: [Chuckles] Yeah, I really liked it. I’m glad that I watched it because I would not have gotten through it if not for the podcast. I think that it has aged a little bit, in that almost the first third of it can be a little bit of a sit if you’re not there for the genre that it is interrogating. If you’re not into school rom-coms, having a third of the series be half-episodes of doing the thing before they interrogate the thing can be a little bit rough at certain moments.
But I also think that it’s really smartly written, its characters are very lovable, and its high points are really, really high, and its low points aren’t so low that it would lead me to warn people away from watching it. I think my advice to people would be to watch the first episode and check how into the lamppost scene you are, because how you feel about that is kind of an indicator of how worth it it might be for you personally to try to hang on for where the series is going.
DEE: I think the lamppost scene might be in episode 2.
VRAI: Is it? Yeah, yeah, you’re right. The first episode was a little rough for me. Sorry.
DEE: Yeah, I think the second episode gives you a much better idea of what the show— I think the first episode feels more like it’s just doing the thing. There’s some hints, like Ryuji being a sweet boy who loves to clean and Taiga being this little girl who’s also ferocious.
I think the second episode gives you a much better idea of what the show is doing and the fact that it is planning on having a conversation about fully fleshed-out characters and not just archetypes, and how it’s going to go about interrogating some of those archetypes and some of those rom-com tropes. I mean, we’re saying this to our listeners as if they haven’t been doing the watchalong with us this whole time.
DEE: But yeah, if I were to recommend this to somebody else, I would probably be like, “Yeah, give it a couple episodes. And I want you to know right off the bat, it knows what it’s doing. It is planning on peeling back these layers and building to a much more sincere and genuine story than a lot of the cliched rom-com school stories tend to do,” which is good.
I think this show will always be just shy of being one of my top rom-coms because I was genuinely disappointed that it went the love quadrangle route. I really was. I thought Minori’s arc circa the midway point… The school festival arc, I don’t think anything in the show will top that for me. There’s some really, really good stuff in the second half, but I think that was the high point for me.
I think they had an opportunity to talk… and they did, to a point. They talked about a lot of different kinds of relationships. I think they had an opportunity with Minori to do something really, really unique. And I’m a little sad that they went that sort of standard cliche route—not cliche, because, again, I think that if that was the way you were going to take her character, they did a really good job with it.
But I think they had set up a lot of stuff at the beginning that got my hopes up that they were going to have her story focus more on friendship relationships and those relationships adjusting as your friends start to develop different ties to other people, whether they be romantic or whatever. And yeah, I’m always going to be a little disappointed that they did not stick with that concept, because I think that would have made the series more authentic for more people, if that makes sense.
DEE: I think Toradora captures a lot of genuine and sincere teenage moments. I do think that by and large, it is a show about cishet kids. And so, even though there are some universal… like, again, some of these ideas about maturity and change and responsibilities, and it does do some really good work with friendships and families… [but] I think that it continued to kind of boil everybody’s things down to “girl likes guy” or “guy likes girl.” I think that hamstrung it a little bit.
And again, it was made in 2009. I’m not going to hold that against it. This is not a harsh critique. This is just personal feelings about it. I really, really liked it. I don’t think I loved it.
But I’m very glad we watched it. So thank you, Caitlin, for suggesting this one because I really didn’t know… Enough people had spoken highly of it that I had a feeling I was going to enjoy it, but the highs were a lot higher than I was expecting.
CAITLIN: Yeah, listen, I know my recommendations aren’t 100% for you, so I’m glad this one worked out.
DEE: Yeah, no, I thought this was a good one, so I by no means regret watching it. I’m really glad I did, and it’s one that I would recommend to people with really minimal caveats.
VRAI: Yeah, I know what you mean, though. This is definitely a “If you’re gonna watch a cishet school rom-com, this is the one to watch” kind of thing.
DEE: This one or My Love Story.
VRAI: Oh, I forgot.
DEE: There’s a few in that top category and I think Toradora is up there, absolutely.
VRAI: [crosstalk] Fair enough.
CAITLIN: [crosstalk] Anything featuring a sweet boy instead of a rude boy.
DEE: [Chuckles] Yeah.
VRAI: I guess I didn’t count My Love Story because this is a cishet love quadrangle school story. Because this is a subgenre.
DEE: [crosstalk] The ones that get into the quadrangles. Yeah. No, yeah, the quasi-harem love stories are really, really, really hard to do well. Most of them are not good. And Toradora, I think… Again, even though it went someplace that I didn’t necessarily want it to, I think it handled all of those beats in a way that was really fresh and sincere. Or not all of them. Most of them. And I really appreciate that about it.
VRAI: [crosstalk] More than it fumbled, yeah.
DEE: It walked a very delicate tightrope that most shows fall off of, so kudos to it for that.
VRAI: It’s a good chance to watch something that I would never have watched otherwise, because I’m old, and who’s got time to watch things that you’re not relatively certain you’ll like?
DEE: [Laughs] Of course.
VRAI: Thank you, Caitlin.
CAITLIN: You’re welcome. I have good taste.
CAITLIN: I’m very funny and I have good taste. That’s what we’ve learned about me from this episode.
DEE: That’s the takeaway from the Toradora watchalong: Caitlin is very funny and has good taste—and gets to be crass once a week.
CAITLIN: Once an episode. I’m crass way more than once.
DEE: Right, right, right, I’m sorry.
CAITLIN: It’s hard to believe that I was very uptight about being crass back in the day, because now I love it. I embrace it fully.
All right, shall I play us out?
VRAI: Do the thing.
DEE: Yeah, let’s do it.
CAITLIN: All right. Okay, everyone. Thanks for joining us for this Toradora watchalong. I hope you enjoyed it as much as we did, or maybe not quite as much, or maybe a little more. I don’t know. I’m not your boss.
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