I think Toradora is a really well-constructed story, and I think I’ll write about why sometime in the not-so-distant future. But here’s part of it: it’s a classic example of stealth storytelling.
Quick, who is the main character of Toradora? Is it Ryuji, or is it Taiga?
Here’s how you can tell: Ryuji goes through character growth, while Taiga is still the same punk kid at the end as she was at the beginning.
In fact, Taiga is less a fully-rounded character than she is a bundle of tropes duct-taped together and thrown out there as a foil to which Ryuji reacts. I’ll show you how I know that in a bit.
Let me start with this: I LIKE Taiga. But I’m … and you’re … SUPPOSED to like Taiga. If we don’t, the show is unwatchable.
But when I try to figure out what’s her deal is I keep coming back to …
Well, before I get into that, a little background: For REASONS (If I finish a romance novel of 50,000 or more words, I am eligible to join the Romance Writers of America) I’m working on a light novel about a high school romance, and romances generally draw heavily from common tropes. That’s how they work. Nothing wrong with that so long as the audience likes it.
So I went to TV Tropes and made a list of anime and manga romance tropes, to see which I could work in, because the audience expects them.
And as I read the list, I kept saying, “That’s Taiga. And that’s Taiga. And THAT’s Taiga, And Oh, Boy, that is SO Taiga!” Ready? Here goes…
She’s a Badass Adorable, right? She’s teeny tiny and cute as a button, and if she gets her dander up she comes out swinging that bamboo sword of hers or kicking people three times her size in the face.
She’s a Hungry Tiny Girl. Eats everything in sight and grabs other people’s food as well. And never gains an ounce.
She’s got serious problems with Parental Abandonment. In fact, she’s explicit about that. She didn’t want to live with them, so they set her up, a little tiny girl in that big old apartment across the alley from Ryuji’s place.
She has several Berserk Buttons. If you embarrass by saying something like, oh, I don’t know, “I love you,” she head-butts you. If you disrespect her, the bamboo sword comes right out. If you do anything that resembles picking on her, she puts the boot in. She loses her control so often it’s hard to argue she actually has any control at all.
She’s seriously hardcore Dysfunction Junction. She’s a sixteen-year-old girl who acts like an eight-year-old boy, who wants to be loved but who commits assault and battery on anyone who dares, who acts like a dominatrix while being totally dependent on others. Her behavior is a mass of contradictions, not all of whom make sense to anyone.
She’s wicked-ass A-Cup Angst. She’s as flat as Miss Kobayashi and sensitive about it to the point she refuses to learn to swim until Ryuji makes some falsies for her swim suit.
She’s Masculine Girl to Ryuji’s Feminine Boy. Now, to be frank, Ryuji is a better constructed character than Taiga and his feminine characteristics are limited to the fact that he mothers Taiga (and Yasu), but mother Taiga he does. And as for Taiga, she acts like a boy.
Of course, the two of them have a Crash Into Hello: Ryuji literally walks into Taiga in the school hallway, which of course happens to be one of her Berserk Buttons and ends in her kicking him halfway down the hallway. At that point he should have picked her up, broken her in half, and chucked the pieces out the window, but then there wouldn’t have been a series.
And yes, a key moment for her is Daddy Didn’t Show, when she performs her big number in the school festival.
That’s TEN count ‘em TEN tropes all rolled up into one little bundle of energy. And I probably missed a few.
I don’t think she’s a great character, but I also don’t think that matters a lot so long as you like her enough to think Ryuji’s not out of his mind to be in love with her. And from that perspective she has a lot to offer: she’s really cute; she really likes him; she’s dynamic and interesting, if violently insane; she doesn’t even appear to be affected by his primary weakness (his intimidating appearance). She likes his mom, flake that she is, and even that wacky damned bird of his. There are lots of reasons for Ryuji to like her, and so it works for him to fall in love with her.
But she’s not a real character, and I promised to show you how I knew. Here’s how:
Let’s make a quick comparison:
At the end of the show they have reached graduation day, and Ryuji tells her what we all knew all along. He says, “I love you,” and she headbutts him, and that’s how we all hoped it would end. It works, right?
What happens next?
You can see a future for Ryuji. It’s explicit that there may not be money for him to go to college but you can see him succeeding whether or not he does, right? He intelligent and thoughtful enough to become a teacher, for instance, if he does go, and if he doesn’t he’s big and strong: he could work in construction, or in moving.
I can see him as a cook in a diner. He might even be the Master in Midnight Diner. Admit it…no one’s ever seen them in the same room together, right? But with his gentle demeanor, intelligence, strong body, and discipline you can see him having a future.
What the eff will Taiga do next? Can you see her in college? With her acting like an eight-year old all the time???
Housewife? Mother? Taiga doesn’t cook or clean; people (Ryuji, to be specific) do that for her. Taiga doesn’t mother; Taiga GETS mothered.
Getting a job? In a shop or something? The first time she kicked a customer would be her last day of employment, ever. In fact, the way she acts, prison time is more likely than employment for her.
That’s how you know she’s not really a character: because when the show ends you don’t have any idea where her life can possibly go from there. Not even the people who created her know: when the teacher asks her for a career plan, Taiga blows it off, saying, “I’m rich. It doesn’t matter.”
The people who know her best, her creators, have no idea what she’s going to do. That’s because they threw a bundle of tropes out there and called her a character.
And THAT’s what makes Toradora an example of stealth storytelling. It forces you to look at Taiga. It’s impossible to watch the show and look away from her. But the story is really about Ryuji, and his growth from high school kid to adult; you just don’t notice because the camera is focused on Taiga.
I always look at comments and feedback, and I’m sure I’m not the first to see what I’ve seen, so have at it. Just keep it clean and keep it on target…no personal attacks, okay? Thanks.