Toradora! did something unexpected: it became wholesome family entertainment. Yes, watching anime with the family is possible, even if many or most watch (or prefer to watch) anime by themselves. I remember watching My Neighbor Totoro, and Millenium Actress – just me and my Mama (such lovely times), and mechafetish and his dad watched Macross Plus (movie ed.) together.
So I daresay that not a lot of people (maybe none) expected Toradora! to be read or appreciated this way. The bits in the finale with the Takasus, and especially with Ya-chan — gold. Yasuko’s story with Ryuuji and her would’ve-been-in-laws is heartwarming and redemptive. Ultimately it lays out so much possibility for the young couple’s future, but perhaps in the form of a family of three.
I can recommend this over most if not all the narmy fare over at the Hallmark or Lifetime cable channels. I never felt for a moment that I was being lectured or preached to. More on this later.
This post is also an attempt to sum up my thoughts about the show:
November 8, 2008
I didn’t have lofty expectations for Toradora! but I did start noticing nuanced characterization, the kind I really like – which launched our recurring post series: Someone’s Showing a Bit of Character. Interestingly enough, it was Kitamura Yuusaku who caught my attention; I noted that he was acting (meta-wise) as an audience surrogate - preparing us for the characterizations that are more than meets the eye/the masks the characters wear throughout the show.
I’m not completely happy with how Yuusaku ended up, not that it was bad or anything – somehow I ended up caring less and less for him.
December 18, 2008
It captured the spirit and the power of friendship, that was there in every summer vacation I had and I wish I had with my college friends […] We were weirdos and geeks and otaku (most still are, just older: now teachers, doctors, bankers, and programmers), and every moment had the possibility that something like this could happen.
I began thinking that there was more to Toradora! than rabu-rabu hijinks, the theme of friendship was so pleasantly explored.
January 8, 2009
As the new year came to pass Toradora! became the touchstone for a significant moment for me: a feeling of community among fellow writers — a number of whom I’m lucky enough to have in the same metropolis:
Toradora! then was the meaningful expression of friendship that anime bloggers could get behind.
January 13, 2008
Past the halfway mark, I praised the direction in the show for ‘opening up’ the narrative to involve the larger set of characters, comparing it to opening the ‘world map’ in a console RPG game. In the same post I discussed Toradora! as a slice of life anime, and was disabused of the notion in the comments. While the show does show many slices of the lives of its characters, it had a plot-driven narrative and had both comedic and dramatic highlights that, according to Baka-Raptor’s ‘highlight-reel’ theory, place it outside of the slice of life genre.
March 18. 2009
True enough, the dramatic highlights of the latter half of the show escalated exponentially. Very little of it unsettled me, even as I started noticing how other viewers were beginning to get put-off by them. Then in episode 23, a particular intervention bothered me. I explained in my post that this ‘bothersome’ thing wasn’t a statement aimed at the quality of the show, but some of the commentary went there anyway. I’d still rather it was done differently, but the show ended very strong, and the whole business is much easier to overlook.
A little digression, I suspect that when writers and commenters (like) myself get alarmed by an episode that they or others didn’t like, the root emotion is fear. It’s like we’re afraid that the show we’ve invested our time in watching won’t meet our expectations in the end. A show’s ending does wonders for its legacy. A good one pacifies a lot of the sound and fury that happens throughout the series’ air date.
And this brings us to the end of Toradora! I hadn’t seen a lot of harem shows, and I was very skeptical about this show being just a generic example (I would’ve preferred instead to have watched the best representatives of the genre than risk spending time with an unproven one). While Toradora! does have harem elements, the nuanced characterizations held my attention and the non-progression of the love stories made it become more about friendship, which was refreshing to me.
Past the halfway mark the show renewed its focus on the love stories when it did so with much-heightened dramatics. While all of this was going on, it’s easy to dismiss Yasuko, Ryuuji’s single mother. But what did we find out about her? She got pregnant with Ryuuji at a very young age, and her lover left her for another woman at this time. She’d gotten advice to perform an abortion, but chose to have her baby. She works as some kind of hostess and managed to raise Ryuuji directly or indirectly to become a very responsible young man.
The crisis came when Ryuuji refused to go attend college out of a sense of guilt for making his mother’s life the way it is — that is bereft of opportuinity to realize her own dreams. But he couldn’t see that her dream is for them to be a family, for him to be a success in life within its context. My own mother is the same, our family is her life’s dream. Not only was he compromising this, and his own future, he was also threatening to repeat the consequences his parents reaped, by running away to get married.
In the end, he didn’t. And they began laying the foundation for a family of three — Yasuko’s fond wish. The fact that the gratification was delayed, not by external circumstance but by Taiga’s own choice makes it even more powerful and satisfying.
Trust in people, be responsible, delay your gratification, look past what is apparent, be true to oneself, be free to love, treasure your friends, cherish the family you’ve got… I can take all of these away from watching Toradora! and wholly without irony. Instead of being clobbered on the head with these ‘life lessons’ I feel invited to consider them. My enjoyment of the show isn’t contingent to these, but they do add value. I seldom if ever watch a show for its ‘message.’ But I’ll gladly take away a message I discover or create out of my experience of a show.
Isn’t this the thinking behind ‘family oriented’ programming? The acquisition of life lessons through the experience of media — ideally collectively as a family? I’m very happy I watched this show with sybilant. I think I’m going to recommend this show to my mom.