Medium Matters: Toradora!

Back when I last wrote about Taiga Aisaka – she’s a quivering bundle of tropes instead of a real character – I got into a really good discussion with a reader. His (excellent) point was that a) the light novels had come before the anime and b) author Yukuko Takimiya had started by inventing the character of Taiga and gone on from there.

That made both of us suspect she was a better character in the books than in the anime.

Yeah, um, how do I put this: Nope.



If anything Taiga is more animalistic, more feral in the books than she is the anime.

Ryuji (left) and Taiga in a typical pose

That begs two questions: How do I know? and What does that mean?

WARNING WARNING WARNING: This is gonna get tedious. There’s like math. AH! AHHHH!

In my racket there’s a technique called Content Analysis that lets you try to discern what’s going in media content by examining it for specific content cues and then counting them. Ideally it’s done with a set of hard content rules and multiple judges and all that, but screw it. I’ve done content analysis and know how to do it.

What struck me what how much Takimiya sees Taiga as an animal instead of a girl. It suffuses the writing: Taiga is routinely described in animalistic terms.

Okay, Takimiya-san, tell us what you really think.

So I went through to see how Taiga is described in terms of the metaphors used to describe her. For instance, if the text says, “She attacked Ryuji like a feral pig attacking a wild truffle,” (it doesn’t) that would be a feral pig metaphor.

For the purposes of this analysis I excluded two things:
I didn’t count her nickname. “Palmtop Tiger” is a valid nickname, just like calling Jake LaMotta the “Raging Bull” (obligatory cinematic reference).
I didn’t count anything that was clearly Ryuji thinking or saying it. That was on him, not the author.

Okay, my sample was volume two. I selected volume two because I have it on my iPad and could flip through it easily. The results might be a little underestimated, since a large section of book two deals Ryuji getting to know Ami, who is actually a pretty good character (although not a good person), and the book is padded out with a short story about a first-year student.


Tiger (NOT Palmtop Tiger, “tiger” as an adjective): appears 8 times in the book
She has “fangs”: 5
French doll: 4
Beast: 2
Animal: 2
Baron Ashura (two-faced): 2
Broken Jack-in-the-Box: 1
Creature: 1
Devil: 1
Drunk cat: 1
Feline: 1
Firework: 1
Great predator: 1
Lit fuse: 1
Poison ivy bloom: 1
Poisoned fruit: 1
She has a “poison-filled smile”: 1
She has “claws and teeth”: 1
Well-fed bear: 1

That’s thirty-six descriptors, and twenty-three of them are from animals.

My guess is that we’re supposed to see Taiga as feral, more animal than human. The only thing that softens her is her obvious inability to talk to her crush, Yuusaku.

Just for the record, I handed this out in class a couple weeks ago, as an example of both content analysis and metaphoric language. I don’t think any of them had seen it.

ALRIGHT, back to the topic at hand: Why does that matter?

Okay, if you thought Content Analysis was technical, you ain’t seen nothing yet!

A couple smart dudes named Ben Whorf and Ed Sapir invented what was called the Whorf-Sapir hypothesis until Ben died and then it somehow magically became the Sapir-Whorf hypothesis. The basic idea, though, is simple:

The words you use to describe something influence the way you think about that thing.

And Takimiya describes Taiga with words that imply she is an animal.

I mean, if you watch the anime you know she is a) nuts and b) out of control. But if you read the books, she’s a step beyond that: she’s actually depicted as a feral animal.

Do I take that seriously? Oh, hell no! Those books aren’t called “light novels” for nothing. Whorf and Sapir would be concerned that if we see women generally described like that, we’ll come to think of women generally like that, but that’s not the case here. There are both flattering and unflattering descriptions of Ami and Minori, but they aren’t treated as though they are animals.

Nope, just Taiga. I mean, seriously, it’s even her given name, right?

So: In the anime, she acts like a six-year-old boy, a serious hardcore brat. And in the books she acts even worse.

Medium matters, right?

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.

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