Ok, so finally I’m momentarily re-entering the blogosphere because I had the time to finish up this post from December! Yeah! Keep in mind this was written several months ago so anything I say about recently is…well…not so recent. (And pardon me if the pictures are Ryuuji-heavy but he’s just so dang adorable! I’d have a whole post of just Ryuuji spam if my good sense didn’t prevent it!)
For various reasons I decided to look up the difference between how to say “I like you” and “I love you” in Japanese. I discovered (hopefully correctly, someone please tell me if I wrong) that the most commonly used words for both are variants of the word suki, literally indicating “like” rather than “love.” Aishiteru (“I love you”) isn’t used at all, or only extremely rarely. I’m glad I got this cleared up because sometimes I’d get confused–suki would get translated as love, but it didn’t seem as if the characters (usually people in high school) would really have the time to truly fall in love. One exception I’ve found is the anime Toradora!. I’ve been re-watching it recently, and it’s one of my favorite anime: at the very least, it’s one of the few anime that I’ve seen that I feel to be worth re-watching.
For those unfamiliar with it: Taiga is a 17-year-old high-schooler with wealthy and divorced parents. She lives on her own, and happens to be exceptionally small (and underdeveloped) for her age, and a tsundere to boot, so her only friend is Minori, captain of the girl’s softball team. Ryuuji is your mostly average, nice-guy 17-year-old, despite being a bit more of the domestic type due to his single mother’s late working hours. Unfortunately, he’s inherited his deadbeat dad’s eyes–which make him look like a delinquent and scare the crap out of his classmates (until they finally see how he acts not just how he looks). He’s got one constant friend, class president Kitamura.
After a bit of a mix-up, these two misfits find out that they like each other’s best friends, so they decide to help each other to ask them out. Things don’t quite go as planned…
It’s a melodramatic and in some points unrealistic high school drama, which you wouldn’t expect to have much substance. But I like it because I think that it’s realistic and substantive where it matters most: when it portrays love. Both Taiga and Ryuuji come from broken homes, so their understanding of love and how to express it has been damaged. Taiga’s father comes and sees her, but only when he wants to, and her mother does not appear to reach out as much as she should. Ryuuji’s father walked out on his mother Yasuko when she got pregnant, and her immaturities blind Ryuuji to her way of showing love. Thus both he and Taiga lack examples or complete examples of love in their lives.
Still, both are looking for love, to give it and receive it: Taiga wants love and appreciation from her father, but also from others in general; which is why she clings so much to the idea of asking Kitamura out, because he first clearly expressed a form of love for her as she is. That’s also why when Kitamura rejects her confession and says he wants to be friends she stops in the middle of objecting (“Tomodachi-ni?”)–because friends are what she really wants. Less troubled than Taiga, Ryuuji is reluctantly resigned to his delinquent-faced fate and functions relatively normally, especially in the having-a-crush-but-not-asking-her-out department.
How is this an exception to some of the other anime romances I’ve seen? Well, it’s not all about looks or feelings, it’s about doing. Taiga and Ryuuji really do fall in love, in the sense that it’s unexpected. They spend time together and do things for each other. They become friends and choose to be around each other. Ryuuji takes care of Taiga: makes her food, cleans her house, etc., and helps her whenever she has problems, even to the point of making her breast pads to fill out her swimsuit. His first thought is always for her, not Minori: he thinks of her, not Minori, at the Christmas party, and when she gets lost on the mountain insists on going to look for her himself and, when they find her, on being the one to go get her. He doesn’t do anything under duress: in just the second episode, when Taiga tells him to go away, he tells her that for some reason he can’t leave her alone so he wants to help her.
Taiga recognizes Ryuuji’s goodness and sees that he actually cares about her. Because of this, she does all in her tsundere power to make him happy, even to the point of holding back her own feelings for Ryuuji, denying herself time with him, for both his and Minori’s sake. She shows her love in smaller ways (though most distinctly Taiga-ways) as well, like when she yells at everyone for not noticing Ryuuji knocked out in the pool. Taiga’s love is still immature–she loves Ryuuji in part because he loves her–but, as the pool incident helps show, she loves him for him.
Despite their clear affection for each other, Ryuuji still gets thrown for a loop when he finds out about Taiga’s feelings. I think the idea of liking her in that way never really occurred to him until then. And even then he still worries about Taiga and wants to comfort her, though he feels unable to, because how can he tell her there’s no shame in being in love when it’s with him? The interesting thing is that he never says a thing about not returning her affection, and he has Kitamura lie to Taiga about who rescued her–at first, probably to spare Taiga’s feelings, but then later because he thinks she wants to pretend it didn’t happen. He was honestly excited, I think.
When he finally allows himself to consider the idea of liking Taiga he finds out that, well, he likes the idea, but he still doesn’t completely understand it. That’s why it takes outside intervention for them both to see love for what it is. While I agree with many viewers that their friends’ intervention seemed somewhat contrived, I still see it as a necessary push. Someone on some forum commented that they didn’t need the intervention because they’re just in high school. Granted, they needn’t necessarily be thinking about marriage, but I think the intervention whether ill-timed or not, works to their good–it prompts their running away, which further prompts certain important realizations on their part about relationships, family, and life in general. All in all, it works to their growth and maturation. Taiga realizes she’s been running from her fears and insecurities and decides to face them; Ryuuji comes to understand his mother a little bit better (to be honest, it’s Taiga who gets the most development).
Now, Toradora! isn’t a perfect series. I certainly have some beefs with it–one of my biggest being, what kind of relatives intentionally let a high-school-age boyfriend and girlfriend sleep in the same room together? Call me old-fashioned and conservative, but that struck me as odd (as well as just a straight-up bad idea). And the other is the fanservice–it was actually sort of mild, except Haruta’s dream in Episode 17 (I mean seriously? talk about gratuitous). But those are all things a discerning viewer (and a viewer of the right age) can recognize as problematic while still appreciating the rest of the story.
Which is not to say the story is perfect either–it’s extremely melodramatic at points, and often I wondered how in the world Taiga and Ryuuji didn’t understand that they liked each other. And it’s set in high school. And Ryuuji helps Taiga bulk up her swimsuit. Do guys do that? I think my guy friends would probably keel over before doing that. Heck, they’d probably keel over before even going swimsuit shopping with me or my girlfriends. It’s certainly not the best portrayal of love out there–maybe not the best portrayal of love in anime (I’ll have to think on that some more). However, it’s an anime with relatively unobjectionable content, good art, good direction (at least, from my little knowledge of such cinematic properties), and an interesting plot that unlike other anime I have seen illustrates how love–even romantic love–is a choice. Thus I would recommend it, as always, to the appropriately-aged anime viewer.