| Riuji is starting his second year of high school. Once again, he dreads having to convince his classmates that he isn't a delinquent thug. He just looks like one. This is not always a bad thing. When he truly sets his mind to something, other guys start backing away, however, most of the time it just breeds misunderstanding. In the hall he bumps into a tiny classmate who people call the "palm-top tiger". Riuji grasps the meaning of this nickname only slightly before feeling it. When he comes to, he may be a bit embarrassed, but at least the rumors of his being a gangster have been dispelled.
Toradora is full of misfits. While the show messes a bit with gender stereotypes, most of the plot is driven by the characters themselves. They are caricatures of anti-typical people, but the caricatures are not that extreme. I have known people at least somewhat like most of them.
Riuji I have already introduced. He enjoys cooking and cleaning. He watches over his barmaid mother. It is often his part to calm or council his friends, mainly Taiga. These sound very feminine, but he manages to do all of this in a very.....masculine way. Sure the physical abuse from Taiga is pretty awful (imagine what we would think if the genders were swapped), but he manages to be the man of the house back home. More interestingly, I know girls that actually like to clean, but when confronted by a beach house that hasn't been cleaned in nearly a year, how many women would refer to the prospect as "an epic battle"?
Taiga is a truly unpleasant character. She's both verbally and physically abusive. She's derogatory even to her friends. What you start to notice though is how devastatingly honest Taiga is, at least in her own inept way. Unlike most of us, she doesn't stop to think about the effect of her words or actions. She's actually a very loyal friend (though being her friend is very challenging). She's klutzy, shy, awkward about her looks, honestly rather feminine as firecrackers go.
Minori is Riuji's crush. For quite a while, we only see her through Riuji's rose tinted gaze. From there she seems a cute, insanely energetic girl who works hard at everything, and is intensely loyal to her friends. Even so, I'd have trouble calling her perfect. Who could ever keep up with her? But when she lets her guard down we see small cracks. When she and Riuji are locked in a storage building together, you start to see something a little different about her. It's not that she *can't* sit still, it's that she's afraid to. She forces herself to be cheerful, forces herself to work hard, forces herself to be all she can and even a bit more. Horie's voice acting was excellent. I could feel the strain in the girl's voice grow as time went on. There are only a few other times in the first season where she lets us see a bit of herself. We never really learn who she is.
Ami might be the most interesting character study. When we first meet her she's an adorable, air-headed, long haired bombshell. (She's just taken a brake from her modeling carrier). Then the men leave the table and Ami stops acting. She tries ordering Taiga to go get her food and talks off-handedly about stealing Taiga's boyfriend (Taiga informs her she's not dating). She's manipulative, controlling, and totally self absorbed. In the classroom she quickly gathers the adoration of all. Well, except for those in the know. When asked what she thinks about people that boast about being airheads, Minori seems to indicate she's not falling for it either. Well, as much I can understand anything Minori does.
I leave Kitamura for last for a reason. For most of the series, he seems to be the only 'perfect' character. But there's a reason for this; we know nothing about him. Except for the fact that he's a loyal friend and that he is the object of Taiga's crush, he is a figure at a distance. We do see that he wants Ami to have a chance to have friends without acting, but we never really see how the guy thinks.
You will notice I spent all this time setting up the characters, not the setting and not events. This is what the show is about. As such, I would like to talk about the people.
I don't have much to say about Ryuji, mainly because I've never met a guy like him. Many guys become obsessive about one thing (it's that whole one-track mind thing), but most of the time it is something like sports, programming, cars, sports, girls, television, video games, sports, or sports. I've known one or two guys that keep their place clean. (I'm not one of them), but it was just the way they were brought up. Ryuji draws a blank with me.
Taiga is one of the classic stereotypes in Japanese pop culture. However tsundere, curiously, does not appear in my Japanese-English dictionary. Wikipedia defines Tsundere as, "a person who is initially cold and even hostile towards another person before gradually showing their warm side over time." As someone else noted, as of today, August 1 2010, if you type 'tsundere' into Google images, Taiga is on the first page. (also two other characters by the same voice actor). This pretty much covers her personality. The thing is, do I know girls like this? Hell, I have scars from a girl like this. Now, the one difference is that in real life, when a person actually likes you, they stop being so mean to you. I suppose it is a reaction to not trusting the world. The world is often not worthy of trust.
Minori? Now there's a tough one: the impossibly cheerful and energetic girl. Yes, they exist. No, I have no idea what to do with them. Now, never assume that bubbly means dumb. Both of the girls I've know like this were straight A students. Never assume that that cheerfulness is invincible. Everyone has a breaking point. Now, both of these girls were from long ago, so they lost it from incessant teasing, not something more serious. It takes a special kind of person to leave a happy girl in tears. For Minori, it is something more serious. Her intense loyalty to her best friend actually lead her to fight another friend. Ami is not the only one who is acting. To see through Minori's defenses is a rare thing, but for a friend she will do anything. Yeah, maybe I do like her.
Ami is probably the most fascinating person in the series. Now, by "fascinating," I do not mean "most desirable." While I have never known someone completely like her, I have known pieces. For instance, the "worship me" part. In college, there was one girl I met. The first, and almost last, time I talked to her, she took me aside started flirting in a way I would easily have fallen for...except, the group I was taken aside from was five other guys that I knew already liked this girl.
Uh huh, sure...
Now, in its own way, vanity is the least of sins. Almost humble even. It shows you are not so far gone if you still depend so desperately on the opinions of others. It is when you care not what the rabble thinks that you are truly in danger.
The other part of Ami is a bit more scary. She puts on one face, behaving like an angel in public, but having a completely different personality in reality. I really worry about this. For instance, what do you do with a girl that is wonderful to her friends, but hateful to her family? What if I became part of the family? But then, are people's personalities really set in stone? Ami's actually a glowingly optimistic view on this. Over the first season, Ami goes from a person I would avoid at all costs to someone who watches out for and encourages her friends. She sees an obvious opening for the guy she's interested in, but instead of trying to manipulate him, she helps him solve his disagreement with Minori while telling him he'd be better of with her. I guess this is proof of what you can miss if you judge too early. What was the old saying? "for you judge by appearances, but the Lord judges the heart?" I have to say, I'm not used to seeing something that optimistic outside of Star Trek. I wonder what the second season will be like?
Oh yeah, I was supposed to actually review the show huh? Oh well, tough luck. Go watch it.