Because you all care so much… (I’m not really drunk, my typing would be much worse, although this is proofreading free so forgive any grammatical/spelling errors 🙂 )
I’ll be honest, I stopped watching Toradora after episode 13. When I got the scent that this show was moving towards a Taiga x Ryujii ending, I stopped watching. I held on, hoping that the show would surprise me with what I felt was some common sense, and continued to follow the show, reading up on summaries and whatnot. But based on what I read about episode 24, I realized it reached a point where I couldn’t bother to go back, catch up on the show, and most importantly, enjoy it. This isn’t a minor decision for me, as I like to stick things through until the very end. The only exceptions so far being Nabari no Ou which was godawfully boring (I like Rie Kugimya, but what is it with some of her shows), and Clannad ~After Story, which I dropped after the first story, when I realized I couldn’t put myself through another season of Kanon (and having also followed the Clannad summaries, I’m so glad I decided what I did.)
Initially I knocked Taiga as a mere Louise Valliere knock-off, and I’ve since read that there’s been significant character development, and it would be wrong to consider her a Louise clone. Duly noted. But here’s why I still couldn’t bring myself to continue following Toradora.
Toradora is a comedy. First and foremost. That’s what it established it’s identity as, and that’s how I accepted the reality of the story. I mean, it was a “smarter” comedy, not like some throwaway fanservice harem comedy with an abusive female lead, like Zero no Tsukaima, Love Hina or Asu no Yoichi, for example, but it was still a show that didn’t take itself terribly seriously. Because of this, I could accept the reality of otherwise unrealistic scenarios. Like Ryuuji taking the time to cook a social failure like Taiga, breakfast every morning. I mean, it’s a comedy. I don’t have to agree with why. Things just happen, you know? And then… the show moved to a more dramatic, character-driven route. And not in the same way like typical comedies like Kannagi, where it’s lulz for the first 11 eps, and random melodrama for the last 2, but it actually became a really central part of the show’s DNA.
Ok, fair enough. But this requires a shift in understanding. And this is where the show lost me.
The foundational premise of the show is that we’re expected to believe that a normal guy, Ryuuji, is not only going to befriend a social failure like Taiga, who in the beginning of the season had only displayed her complete inability to empathize or connect with anyone that wasn’t Minorin, but also that he’d invite her over every morning and night and cook every meal for her. Including making bentos! Ok, this requires us to take a look at who Taiga was when the show began.
- A social malcontent, with a terrible personality. Unable to connect with anyone and everyone not named Minorin. Only capable of displaying fits of anger. And generally striking fear, if not disgust, through her overall unlikeability.
- Verbally and physically abusive. Admittedly, she never reaches Louise or Naru levels of physical abuse, but there was very little of the initial Ryuuji x Taiga interactions that didn’t end up with her berating or complaining to Ryuuji about one thing or another.
- A general leech. Not only a social malcontent, she had no personal skills whatsoever. God knows, how she survived in that apartment room all alone, but she couldn’t cook, she couldn’t clean – and I’m really trying not to sound sexist – but she offered no utility at all.
Ok, so that makes her extremely similar to Louise Valliere, and somewhat similar to Love Hina’s Naru or Asu no Yoichi’s Ibuki. I loved Louise. And although I don’t really like Naru or Ibuki, you’re probably thinking what’s the big deal right? The difference is Zero no Tsukaima, Love Hina and Asu no Yoichi are clearly fanservice-filled harem comedies and requires a certain level of accepting suspended reality versus a show that decides it wants to be taken seriously like Toradora. I can accept that Saito might fall for Louise, despite the abuse, because she’s the only person he can truly confide in. in a completely foreign world of magic. I can accept that Keitaro might go for Naru, despite the abuse,m because of some random childhood memory, and because he’s an otherwise failure at life. I can accept that Yoichi might go for Ibuki, despite the abuse, because he’s been a sheltered samurai, and because otherwise, she’s a pretty damn good samurai herself.
Notice that the keyword there is “despite the abuse.”
I’m not a fan of abusive female harem leads. In the same way that I’m not a fan of useless male harem leads. Because, let’s be real here. What self-respecting girl’s gonna fall for a completely useless dude like Keitaro. Similarly, what self-respecting guy, is gonna put up with either verbal or physical abuse just to be with a girl? Answer. None. But that’s the type of reality I’m willing to suspend disbelief for, because I’ve accepted that a show like Love Hina or Zero no Tsukaima, isn’t supposed to be taken seriously.
So that brings us back to Toradora. What self-respecting guy is going to put up with a girl like Taiga, and end up serving her by hand and foot? Again. Answer: none. The only benefits that Taiga offers Ryuuji, initially (and remember, I’m focusing on the beginning of the show), is that she has a close friendship with Minorin, who Ryuuji has a crush on. So I’m supposed to believe that a normal guy like Ryuuji’s going to do all that for Taiga, without even knowing whether it’ll get him the ins with Minorin? Uh uh. No. You’ve just suspended my disbelief. I’m not even getting to whether Ryuuji could possibly fall for Taiga. But I am rejecting the very foundation of that relationship outright, up front. In a self-respecting drama, that relationship never even begins, because Taiga is such a complete useless human being at the start of the show (again, before objecting, remember I’m referring to the Taiga that she was vs. the Taiga that she became, which I get the impression is considerably more mature and personable than the Taiga at the start of the show).
This is compounded by the fact that for Ryuuji, Minorin and Ami are much more realistic targets. Whether it’s because she’s a longtime crush (in Minorin’s case), or because she has an uncanny similarity in thought process to Ryuuji (in Ami’s case), there are two other major characters that are more realistic end games, in the case of a drama. But to then ignore that and divert the relationship to a Ryuuji x Taiga ending (I’m assuming this will happen in the last two episodes), is then pandering to a fanbase and shifting the show to a forced and unnatural resolution.
So in Toradora’s case, what is a more realistic foundation for a Ryuuji x Taiga relationship? For me, it’s brother/sisterhood. I may fight with my sister all the time. I may think she’s a complete spoiled brat. But if my dad was dead and my mother wasn’t much of a mother, I’d support my sister in any way possible. Whether it’s cooking meals, whether it’s giving her encouragement, or helping her out in whatever way possible. I would feel that would be my familial responsibility. And this is what Ryuuji initially provides: a feeling of family for a girl who doesn’t have one, and encouragement to pursue the things and people she wants. And I know that there’s this imouto-con thing that exists in Japan (I’m sure, a small fetish thing), but as someone who’s more familiar with US (and Korean) culture, I shudder viciously at the thought of a sister figure turning into a love interest.
And this is where the show loses me. If it’s to be considered primarily a drama, the premise of a Ryuuji x Taiga relationship is galling to me. If it’s to be considered primarily a comedy, the show does too good a job at developing Minorin and Ami, especially, as realistic alternatives for me to consider Ryuuji x Taiga a satisfying ending (For example, can you imagine Saito not being with Louise, Keitaro not being with Naru or Yoichi not ending up with Ibuki? The only alternative possibility I can fathom is Yoichi, but the other shows clearly go out of their way in establish the contender, and the pretenders).
Which isn’t to say that Toradora’s not a good show. It is. I really enjoyed it while I watched it. It’s just that I feel a show has got to set realistic expectations from the beginning. To switch it dramatically part way through is an open invitation for criticism. And I feel like the show is copping out (and I’m ignoring the manga) and is delivering an ending that gives the large contingent of Kugumiya and Taiga fans what they want, at the cost of a more realistic resolution that I feel the show deserves.