Guest post by Christian Flores (the owner of The Anime Historian).
Toradora is widely regarded as one of the most notable shows in the romance genre. It became a classic over the years and one of the main characters’ Taiga became the face of the tsundere arch type. But why is this? Why does a show from 2008 still be relevant today and can be regarded as timeless? Well, it’s because it talks about the universal truth of young love. Innocent, and naive young love.
Every youngster that watches Toradora can relate to its themes, to its characters, and to its story, because it perfectly portrays youth. Longing for attention, validation, self-doubt, and romance is an essential part of this developmental process that will shape us as we move on and become adults.
The show doesn’t sugarcoat these themes either, even if at first glance Toradora is a simple story of the usual progression of adolescence and youthful idealism, that life will be easy if they just work hard, and plan out everything in advance but of course, this is far from the truth but even if the main characters do that time after time, they still fail because even if you do everything right and make no mistakes you can still fail. That doesn’t mean that you’re a failure that’s just life. Even with this they still hold on to their idealism of what the future has in store for them but it’s slowly stripped down with every tragedy that they face. The reality of life is something that Toradora doesn’t hide, even in its characters.
At first, they have these happy-go-lucky facades that are only there to hide their true selves. Ryuuji’s mother, Yasuko is a hostess, Taiga is neglected by her family, Minori works herself to exhaustion because of her insecurity of being a hindrance, Ami is escaping the bigger responsibilities of show business, that includes paparazzi and her youth being taken away from her in the exchange a having a well-structured persona of a perfect woman, and the president chasing an unattainable dream.
I’ve come to realize that these characters might be representations of most people in general, one thing that comes to mind when I say this is the Japanese belief that people have two personas, one that they show to everyone and their true self. Acting like someone that isn’t you so that you have the approval of others. That’s what the characters are all about, aren’t they? Well-constructed facades and their refusal to accept their true self. The story of Toradora relies on the characters and it is them that hold the story together.
The progression is slow it takes time to build up the settings and develop the characters. It doesn’t rush in and stick to certain character tropes and make that who they are, flat, bland, and uninteresting. Instead, episode by episode, bit by bit we get to know the characters and form a deep bond with them because we know them on a personal scale and this development takes an episode and hours at most but it doesn’t sacrifice watchability in doing so.
Unlike some movies like Stalker by Andrei Tarkovsky where things are often too slow to the point that even with amazing visuals and a captivating story,
sometimes it really feels like a drag to watch. That doesn’t seem to be the case with Toradora, with every episode it makes you want to know what will happen next just for the sake of it. But the happy-go-lucky first episodes slowly turn into deep philosophical questions about youth and life. This is long-form storytelling at its finest.
The meaning of love
What is love? It seems like this is the great question of today. Everyone is asking it and an entire generation is looking for it, finding out the answer to life’s greatest question.
But what is it really? Some people like to overcomplicate the matter and say that it’s a matter of social functions and ancestral hereditary functions that pushes humans to mate with another human, or that it’s a chemical reaction that releases dopamine in the brain and triggers synapses in a human, but is there really a need to complicate the matter if the answer is so simple?
Attraction. That’s what it is.
Well, attraction in itself is a mixture of desire, physical attraction, and emotional necessity but contrary to popular belief, love is simply not something that you find, because you can’t actively find love, it has to come to you.
Remember your most beloved food? How about your most game? Notice how you didn’t actively search for your most loved food or your most loved game, it just so happens that it became what it is, that’s because it’s a subconscious function you don’t find love, it finds you. You can’t force it. But the opposite seems to happen in most people nowadays because of their futile pursuit for “love”. But it’s not love. It’s desire.
Another thing to note is that love is connected with attraction, but attraction can exist without love but unfortunately most of the time people coincide these two things together and that creates confusion, just because you’re attracted to a certain trait in a woman/man doesn’t immediately mean that you love that man, but when you love that man it’s because there’s a certain level of attraction that makes you stick to him/her. This is the main problem of our MC’s Taiga and Ryuuji because they coincide one thing with the other, their idea of love is intertwined with a strong desire and attraction to the people that they think they love, Yusaka and Minori in this case, which renders them ignorant of their true feeling about the people that they actually love which is one another.
Love is a process, and contrary to popular belief you cannot have love at first sight, that statement isn’t entirely wrong as it only uses the incorrect wording, it’s an attraction at first sight. That attraction in return leads you to approach that person talk to him/her, go on a date and get to know each other, and then only you’ll know if you actually have feelings for that person, this process gives our brain some sort of subconscious criteria of whether or not that person is a potential partner that we can spend our lives with and only when those standards are met only that we develop love.
In order to understand this more, let’s go back to the video game and food for examples. When you play a game or eat food, your brain automatically judges them and will decide whether or not you’ll like it. If you’re very keen on playing platformers, aren’t very competitive, and are a casual gamer then you won’t like Escape from Tarkov; if your taste in food leans more on sweetness and less on the stronger tastes like spicy food, then you won’t like Korean kimchi. There is a subconscious process of evaluation.
Now let’s correlate this to Taiga and Ryuuji, both have the idea of love for Minori and Yusaka over their observations on who they are, it forms an idea of what they might be but of course that immediately coincides with who they actually are when they get to know them. Their expectations crumbled because of the realization that their ideas of who they are far from who they truly are and the fact that a romantic relationship with them would bear no fruit because the interests of both parties are conflicted and there is no longer a necessity for each other.
The main reason why Taiga and Ryuuji fell in love with each other is because of the process, a process that happened throughout 24 episodes. Throughout time they’ve been helping each other to achieve their interests, they are constantly trying to improve the other party, they are always together when things go wrong, and no one understands them better than each other. This deep connection between them eventually evolved into affection and then love. Is it the reason of affection only that they’ve stuck for so long? Personally no, I think it’s because of companionship, and I think that that is the reason why they’ve been together for so long.
There is a strong comparison between the companionship between Taiga and Ryuuji and married couples in real life. I mean when you think about it, why do people get married? It’s such a burden! You don’t get to spend that much time with yourself anymore, you lose more free time, you always have to take care of your partner otherwise he might go away and buy some milk, you have more responsibilities now since your private life and his private life is now intertwined, his problems become your problems and life is as problematic as it is already, then you have to think about your future together, buying a house you can’t afford, a car without insurance and worse of all, having kids, the biggest responsibility of all, so why get married?
Well other than the fact that it’s a natural process in human life that has been there thousands of years and the process of mating is something more of a biological instinct for humans, is there any other reason than that? We’re going to a time of drastic change where every social stigma and traditional values are becoming increasingly obsolete and tradition is being heavily questioned and disregarded, everything is readily available now, and that too includes mating, in fact, you don’t even have to mate because with the rise of erotic material on the internet you can just do it yourself. There is no more need for a man or woman since our society as a whole is becoming increasingly independent, we rely less on relationships and social connections and become increasingly self-reliant, so if this is the case, then why bother? Is there a good enough reason to go through the trouble?
Well, there is one big reason for companionship. Try to remember all the happiest moments of your life, go ahead think about it, have you noticed that you were never alone? How there’s always people around you? That one day when you won that competition and everyone cheered for you, how about that one wonderful Christmas? Or your birthdays when your loved ones, friends, or family are there? Notice how you’re not alone? Notice how celebrating a victory alone doesn’t compare to celebrating it around people who are special to you.
Now think of the saddest moments of your life? Were you alone? Most of the time we are, we’re always coping with the hardships of life on ourselves, always facing the problems head straight, most of the time, alone, without anyone to catch us if we fall, do you think it would be better if there was someone to console you? To tell you that everything will be fine and that you can go through this problem together? Do you think that it would be better to have someone to who you can tell your problems to and have the relief that they’ll always listen? That they’d be there to face it with you? Don’t you think that’s better?
Companionship is something that money can’t buy, it’s something that the mega capitalist industries can’t produce because it has to come naturally. There is a strong necessity for having a partner, it’s an instinct because humans are social creatures, they rely on one another to improve and move forward this is the very framework of society and you can’t take that away. Sure, you can have artificial means of getting that necessity but there is still an extreme longing for real companionship, I mean why do you think people are calling their most loved anime characters waifus and husbandos? Because there is a natural instinct for being together with someone to go through the highs and the lows, through the good days and the bad days, all while having the assurance that you will be right there for each other.
This is actually pretty ironic since at the end of the anime Taiga and Ryuuji actually decided to get married when they reach the legal age. This disillusionment is the main focus of Toradora, a story of chasing fiction while losing sight of everything else that matters. A tragic story of disillusionment, false hope, and selfishness.
The disillusionment of love
What drives the story forward is that Taiga and Ryuuji are helping each other to become lovers of the other parties’ best friend and they get through all sorts of trouble to reach their goal. Two lonely people trying to help each other out, but as the show goes on they start to develop feelings for each other, only that they refuse to accept it, or rather, they are too preoccupied with their goal to even notice it. It’ll take Ryuuji having to rescue Taiga in a snowstorm for them to realize what’s happening. Preoccupation with love blinds them to the things that really matter.
But let’s ask ourselves this question, is Ryuuji’s love for Minori and Taiga’s love for Yusaku really love? The answer is simple. No, it isn’t. It’s other feelings that are confused with love and it’s this confusion that makes them not know what they truly want.
“How can I know what I want to do later when I don’t even know what I want to do right now?” — Taiga Aisaka
But what is it that they’re chasing for?
Well, let’s start with Ryuuji. He loves Minori because she is—for him—the persona of the ideal woman, hardworking, always cheerful, and upbeat, it greatly contradicts his stoic personality but he likes her, why? Because he wants something that he couldn’t have, Ryuuji subconsciously looks at Minori as the ideal version of himself and he praises her for it, she’s the person that he couldn’t be.
But this idealism of Ryuuji, this idea that he created of Minori being perfect crumbled down when he actually got to know her. He found out that the motive behind Minori’s hardworking personality is that she doesn’t want to be a hindrance to anyone and that she always aims to move forward, living life with her foot on the gas.
Ryuuji having a relationship with Minori will only slow her down, this creates a conflict of thought, should he act upon his desire and push to be in a relationship with Minori even if it will hurt them both and will probably lead to an inevitable break up, or will he tell her his feelings but don’t pursue any further growth? Well, he eventually took action later in the show but that is something that you should find out yourself.
The conflict between what is right and what is desired is something that not only happens to Ryuuji but to us too, in our everyday lives, it’s a constant battle between needs and wants. Do I need to buy a new dress? Do I have to buy a new game? Do I have to order 5 pizzas for dinner? Do I have to buy that new EA game even if I know that it’s probably broken? These are the questions that are constantly presented to you on a daily basis, but even if you know that you don’t actually need it, you do it anyway, because your desire overcomes your rational thought, this happens too in relationships.
In the long process of a romantic relationship throughout the time, they realize that both parties are hurting each other over the process and will eventually lead to self-destruction in the end when they both realize that for the 5 years that they’ve been together, for all the dates that they went to and all the time that they spent together is all for nothing because they don’t really on each other, they don’t need each others company, they’re just there because their desire overcame their rationality and became lust. There is no deeper meaning. This is the main cause of breakups—at least in the Philippines, my country—because most people act on their desires, but in hindsight, there’s nothing wrong with acting with that right? Besides everyone has desires. Yes, that is right but there is a difference between controlling desire and letting it take over your decision without rational thought but sadly the latter happens more often.
Now let’s talk about Taiga. Her love for Yusaku is not love but admiration and desperation mixed together. Why admiration? Well simply because that’s where all the ‘crushes’ begin you admire someone for their physique, the way they talk, their behaviors, and so on, for the most part, you don’t actually notice it because it’s a subconscious thing, and you might even be surprised at the sudden change of your personality.
It’s made clear that Taiga admires Yusaku, but it’s not admiration alone. Later in the show, it is revealed that Yusaku actually confessed to Taiga before but she rejected him, but ironically Taiga fell in love with him much later but why later? Well, I assume that it spawned out of competition, she realized that he’s now in love with the current president and that spawned her feelings for him. I might be wrong but I think that there’s a direct correlation between attraction and competition, I mean why do people that are at the top of their careers or organizations have so many women going for them?
In my own experience when I was the vice president of the student council, the president—who is a guy—always seem to attract all the women and sometimes, even the men, which is weird because no matter how many times he tells them that he’s straight, they still chase after him but what makes it even more absurd it was the only time that happened to him. He’s just that one guy that sits in the corner, and participates from time to time, he even admits that he doesn’t stand out that much but all of a sudden when he ran for the presidency and won—which is a feat in itself because we’ve had lots of competition—he became a ladies man. Think of it like having a prize, when you have him, you win over everyone that wants him. You might ask what does this have to do with Taiga? Well, people are naturally attracted to competition, and this is exactly what happened to Taiga, of course, there is a much deeper meaning to her feeling for Yusaku as shown throughout the show but personally, I think this is the roots.
All of this pertains to our main characters constantly denying the truth in the pursuit of fiction. Denial is the antagonist of Toradora, the characters continue to refuse to look deep down unto themselves and ask what is it that they actually want? And it’s only in the end, after many trials and tribulations, after letting go of the endless rebuttals against themselves where Ryuuji and Taiga are constantly escaping the realities of their situations, they came to a point where they can’t run anymore, it is only then that they finally understood what it truly means to love.