Toradora!: United They Stand, Divided They Fall

I think this, and the seconds immediately following it, pretty much sum up nearly everyone's final impression of Toradora!, regardless of what that impression might be.

So. Toradora!‘s over, and by this point in time nearly everyone will have settled down into some kind of vague camp regarding the ending (which pulled no punches, as per the norm for Toradora!), which means I can perfectly well ignore the “is the ending good or not?” debate and simply say that the ending is, and then explain exactly what “is” entails.

As I’ve no doubt mentioned at some point before in previous posts [->] and simply forgot in the long intervals between then and now, perhaps the strongest aspect of Toradora! is that no single character can possibly stand up alone. At the beginning of the series, Taiga was the feared demoness, the Palmtop Tiger of the school, whose only friend seemed to be Minori, and Ryuuji was, well, Ryuuji, a mild-mannered guy who just happens to look as if he’s about to run out of bubble gum at the drop of a hat and going all action movie on everyone. Which he would, if you were, say, a dust bunny.

Not even halfway through the series, both of these outsiders have a much wider circle of friends and acquantainces than they had before. Simply by being together and understanding each other, Ryuuji and Taiga mellow and soften each other. By the end of the series, a class that was, by and large, mostly apathetic towards both Ryuuji and Taiga, now cares about their well-being, for selfish reasons at first, perhaps, but by the end they all seem to genuinely care in their own ineffable ways. Their togetherness, however, quickly upsets delicate balances elsewhere in the classroom. Indeed, over the course of the entire series, many of the main characters are shown to have some kind of problem–a dependency, an unhealthy mode of thinking, etc.–and that they are trying to work through that problem themselves, without any reliance upon others to sort their problems out.

What happens, though, is that as the series progresses, the tide of character development [->] tends to ebb and flow like a tide.  Entropy sets in as every character seems to selflessly give their own desires up to fulfill the desires of another (the Christmas episode being perhaps the biggest example of this), and in so doing the situation spirals further out of control. Just when one of them seems to have the ability to stand on their own, something or someone else comes along and topples them. While, strictly speaking, none of the characters are negatively selfish, they are being excessively private about their worries, and when they aren’t, they’re cryptic about it.

Throughout the whole series, even while working at cross purposes without even intending or realizing it, they still manage to pull themselves together, with the convinently timed help of others. Yes, it’s not always perfect; yes, often the teamwork follows a rather nasty period of them trying to do it on their own; but in the end they get themselves together. I don’t think it’s humanly possible to accomplish anything without some sort of discord–I know far too many people to believe otherwise–but the fundamental concept Toradora! presents, from the moment that Ryuuji and Taiga pledge to support each other in their respective quests for love, is that no one can stand without the support of others. Even when they slap each other in the snow, it’s an outburst that might lead to the betterment of both.

A true class act.

A true class act.

The final episode puts this best and ties it up: Ryuuji and Taiga’s sudden elopement prompt Yasuko to reconcile herself with her parents (along with harsh facts about Ryuuji’s father and her pregnancy), and the long-awaited consummation (not that consummation, the one that they can show on TV) of TaigaRyuuji leads Taiga to reconcile herself, at least a little, with her own parents. And, of course, none of that would have really worked had Minori, Kitamura, and Ami not intervened, and had they not intervened then none of them would have been able to overcome their own problems, or at least take a first step towards it. The stability of a single person is not a solo task but a team effort of those around them.

Hence, perhaps, why the ending is so deliciously open-ended even as it is conclusive. Even as Taiga and Ryuuji enter into an adulthood that will no doubt be Fraught With Peril, even as every character, major or no,  has an intentionally ambigious conclusion, the sense is left that no matter what peril might happen in the future, they have each other. And that makes all the difference.


As far as final non-final words go re: Toradora! as a series, I can safely say that it is the purest recent example of a series that is mostly about the journey and not the destination. You know, from the first minute of the first episode, that Taiga and Ryuuji would eventually be a unit, but the fun is in getting there. And the getting there was delightful–Toradora! tended to take the twisty, winding scenic route rather than the straight causeway that passed by all the flashing lights and glitz. It arrived at its conclusion via the road less traveled by, and that made all the difference.*

* yes I know it’s the same road both ways I am quite aware of this and took account of it when I made the reference thank you Zombie Robert Frost go back to being dead now and take your infinite layers of irony with you

12 Responses to “Toradora!: United They Stand, Divided They Fall”

  1. 1 ghostlightning 6 April 2009 at 1:32 pm

    The final episode puts this best and ties it up: Ryuuji and Taiga’s sudden elopement prompt Yasuko to reconcile herself with her parents (along with harsh facts about Ryuuji’s father and her pregnancy), and the long-awaited consummation (not that consummation, the one that they can show on TV) of TaigaRyuuji leads Taiga to reconcile herself, at least a little, with her own parents.

    These are easily my favorite parts of the whole thing. There’s something to be said about shows that shamelessly portrays family this way – you know, GOOD. I enjoyed it fully and without irony.

    the ending is so deliciously open-ended even as it is conclusive

    I hadn’t realized how open-ended it was until you pointed it out, or perhaps it’s just that I found the open-endedness unremarkable (it is however very open compared to let’s say Kare Kano manga). In any case, an interesting observation.

    • 2 OGT 6 April 2009 at 1:56 pm

      The conclusive open-ended ending is a staple of anime, and, seemingly, Japanese literature in general. I think it’s a product of the Japanese and/or Buddhist mindset of cycles and endings as beginnings and beginnings as endings, which I probably need to flesh out in a post at some point in time (if I can figure out how, my eternal problem).

  2. 3 otou-san 6 April 2009 at 1:48 pm

    purest recent example of a series that is mostly about the journey and not the destination

    Yes. I don’t see the point of the (admittedly few) people who said there was no point in watching because of the obvious end. What a great way to get there.

    …leads Taiga to reconcile herself, at least a little, with her own parents.

    This was great. My feelings on Clannad are probably well known to you, but TD I think succeeded in portraying the value of family so much better, while not making the pretense that that’s what it was even about. Maybe it’s because of how understated that aspect was, it had a more “real” feel to it. But that underscores something I think about Toradora in general: even though you’d never mistake it for real life, there’s something just “true” about it. Hard to put my finger down on it, but either way, Toradora was a great ride.

    • 4 OGT 6 April 2009 at 2:08 pm

      In all honesty, I don’t think CLANNAD‘s portrayal of “family” is particularly bad or good; in CLANNAD “family” tends to be “relatives as well as close friends” and it does a decent job of that while also being Key, so I’m okay with that. But, yes, Toradora! is far and away the better at that particular aspect.

      And re: “even though you’d never mistake it for real life, there’s something just “true” about it”: Fiction is not required to be real; it is supposed to be realistic. The question is less “would real people act this way in reality?” but more “do these characters behave in a manner consistent with the reality of the story?” The point of fiction (be it a book or an anime) has always been to “enter” into, or at least try to walk in the shoes of, another person. They might be a character in the story, they might be the author, and it can be anything from “I think robots punching other robots while screaming their attack names and pushing the lever forward is awesome” to a meaningful philosophical experience and beyond. Good fiction is made when the creator puts something of themselves into the work; the only question from then on out is the degree of quality.

  3. 5 Peter Payne 8 April 2009 at 9:54 am

    Good post. Had to keep from reading it til I saw the last ep. I am satisfied…not Battlestar Galactica satisfied, but still happy. So the fact that Taiga was wearing another school’s uniform meant that Taiga went back to live with her mother and reconciled herself, too, I guess. In real life, a person as messed up as Taiga would not be able to find happiness eloping at age 17 or whatever, so it’s for the best.

  4. 6 Turambar 8 April 2009 at 4:14 pm

    “It’s not the destination, but the journey” is a very nice way of putting it. The title itself already gives you a good idea of just what the pairing will be.

    I also liked how the ending matched the idea of the the entire cast supporting each other. If it is only through the help of their friends and family that Ryuji and Taiga were able to pursue their love, it makes perfect sense for them to work to their fullest to share their love with everyone.

  5. 7 ETERNAL 11 April 2009 at 3:13 pm

    The journey is always what I find fun about these shows, not the destination; that’s probably why I’ve never really cared for shipping :P

    Having said that, though, you make a good point with the “unity” of the cast. Friendship was a strong theme right from the beginning, and most of the developments in the plot come down to characters that were either being honest with themselves and others, or those who were, more often than not, holding their thoughts in and relying only on their own conscience. I think that’s one of the main reasons why Toradora attracted so much attention: because it covers concepts that are rarely seen in the romance genre, and even in anime as a whole.

  6. 8 Peter Payne 11 April 2009 at 9:46 pm

    For a similar group-based anime, go see Ocean Waves by Studio Ghibli, aka 海が聞こえる, my favorite non-Miyazaki Ghibli by far. The warmth generated in the class meeting scene at the end is great, makes me want to be Japanese so I can get a “wa” (a lifelong circle of friends/classmates) like that. Being American, of course, I know no one from my high school or college days, practically.

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  1. 1 Final Thoughts on Toradorable! » Behind The Nihon Review Trackback on 9 August 2009 at 8:26 am

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I cannot understand those that take anime seriously, but I can love them, and I do. Out of my love I warn them to keep clear of this blog.

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