The Art of Tiger Training or How to Become a Dragon – A Toradora! Review

Remember that time in high school when you met that person you really couldn’t stand, but you liked her best friend and she liked yours? No? Well pretend you do because I can’t say this anime portrays the situation realistically if you don’t.

Title: Toradora!
Original airing: October 2nd, 2008 to March 26th, 2009
Studio: J.C. Staff
Episodes: 25
Duration: 24 mins per episode
Genres: Comedy, Romance, High School, Slice of Life
Source: Toradora! Light Novel by Yuyuko Takemiya

Where I watched: Crunchyroll (English sub and dub avaialable) and Bluray

Watch the trailer here

Brief Synopsis and First Impressions

Ryuuji Takasu is a gentle high school student with a love for housework; but in contrast to his kind nature, he has an intimidating face that often gets him labeled as a delinquent. On the other hand is Taiga Aisaka, a small, doll-like student, who is anything but a cute and fragile girl. Equipped with a wooden katana and feisty personality, Taiga is known throughout the school as the “Palmtop Tiger.”

One day, an embarrassing mistake causes the two students to cross paths. Ryuuji discovers that Taiga actually has a sweet side: she has a crush on the popular vice president, Yuusaku Kitamura, who happens to be his best friend. But things only get crazier when Ryuuji reveals that he has a crush on Minori Kushieda—Taiga’s best friend!

Toradora! is a romantic comedy that follows this odd duo as they embark on a quest to help each other with their respective crushes, forming an unlikely alliance in the process.

Source: myanimelist.net

Hailed by many as one of the best romantic comedy animes, Toradora! manages to carry a wide appeal in what is something of a saturated genre. Part of the reason can be gleaned from reading the series premise. The setup for this series is somewhat typical, but its characters tend to skew towards the unconventional.

Like several of the other anime I’ve been watching for my watch/review challenge this year, this one ended up on the list because my wife was interested in it. Happy to have a viewing partner, and wanting a somewhat easy viewing experience following the exercise in patience that was Kokoro Connect, I eagerly picked it up. As popular and well rated as this series is I felt there was little risk in devoting my time, but as I do with any hyped up show I kept an eye out for signs of imperfection.


Story

image of ryuji and taiga standing together

“Since ancient times, only dragons stand on equal ground with tigers. So, I’ll become a dragon. And then… I’ll stick by your side.”   – Ryuji Takasu

Though this anime is quite grounded in human interactions, the imagery associated with this quote from the anime’s second episode points to the essence of the story. The name of the series itself is an amalgamation of these animal names but is also a reference to the names of the two main characters Taiga and Ryuji. Taiga sounds like the English word “tiger” while the Japanese word for the animal is “tora” (とら). Ryuji’s name translates to “son of dragon” in English, while the English word “dragon” is pronounced “doragon” (ドラゴン) in Japanese. “Toradora” is thus another way of saying the name of the show’s first episode: “Tiger and Dragon.” While these are associated with the nicknames of the schools (seemingly) most dangerous students (Taiga and Ryuji), they also come to reflect a major theme between the pair.

When it comes down to it, there is nothing truly unique about the story in this anime, nor anything I can say about the premise that can’t be found elsewhere. Like most other romantic comedy series set in high school, the story revolves around the main characters looking for love amid sports events, culture festivals, and field trips. With no lack of cliches in the setting, the characters, or the content, Toradora! appears at first to have a generic setup. But if this were the case throughout, the series would likely not be met with the wide praise that it enjoys today. Part of it has to do with the amusing quirks each character possesses, and part with how fluid the transition is from a straight romantic comedy to a complicated yet touching story about being true to oneself.

As with most in this genre there is a heavy focus on character driven narrative. Lacking any strange happenings or unexpected twists of fate, the normal everyday lives of the unique characters is meant to give a basic starting point from which they can generate viewer appeal. Given that this is also a romance, there is a reasonable expectation that the love story plays a prominent role as well. While this technically holds true for this series, the romantic angle seems to sit just beneath the surface of the story rather than taking full focus. This is because the two main characters, who would be paired together in another standard romance anime, aren’t interested in one another. Instead, the majority of their efforts are spent trying to gain the affection of each other’s best friend. Discovering this fact only after a dangerous misunderstanding, they embark on a quest to help one another achieve their goal.

image of taiga attacking ryuji with a wooden sword
Plain old fashioned slice of life.

The comedy angle comes in when their various attempts at doing so go awry, most often due to their unwitting self sabotage. Through these blunders and mishaps, the viewer is given an indication that these initial relationships are not meant to work out, but compelled to watch all the same as they wait for something else to take shape. Shedding away initial impressions thus becomes a major theme in not only the development of the characters but also in the overall direction of the story.

Despite the comedy, which makes up a substantial amount of the anime’s appeal, there is quite a complex side to the characters and their feelings for one another. The series depicts love in a way that can be best described as ‘real.’ It isn’t always a bubbly, happy feeling and such intense emotions give way to a raw and painful experience.

As most of us are aware, feelings change over time. Real love, therefore, doesn’t simply spring up over some flimsy reason or as a way to quickly progress the plot. Plenty of rom-com anime, unfortunately, fall victim to these patterns. Luckily Toradora! isn’t one of them. For a story about high school students having difficulty understanding their own feelings while they try to express themselves to others, the depiction in this series is remarkably genuine.


Characters

image of toradora characters.jpg

As I stated before, the characters in Toradora! are multilayered and well thought out in their interactions with one another. While each one does display a prominent stereotype that can be found in many other slice of life comedies, they have at least one quirk about them as well that breaks the trope. In addition, no character is shoehorned into a particular personality type in order to fill a story role. Each one has their time as the happy character, the sad one, the confident or capable one, and the one with a deep insecurity. Choosing to portray its characters this way allows the series to make them feel more believable while still building drama in a natural way.

The viewer experiences much of the story by following Ryuji Takasu. His somewhat scary appearance, inherited from his father, give others the sense that he’s some sort of thug, which leads to most of the students avoiding him out of fear. It doesn’t take long for the viewer to realize that he is actually quite gentle, though that doesn’t keep him from getting into trouble with the other titular character. He also enjoys cooking and is an obsessive clean freak. Unable to leave any mess alone, his enthusiasm for cleaning borders on the masochistic. Though this is played entirely for laughs, his tendency to clean up other people’s messes highlights another important trait – his willingness to help others, even if his first impressions of them are less than ideal.

Stating that his first encounters with Taiga Aisaka are less than ideal is putting it very lightly. If Ryuji is the viewer’s guide through this story, Taiga strong personality is the force that pushes it forward. Her character, and most of her interactions with the others, revolves around the fact that she’s a tsundere (check KimmieKawaii’s post if you’re unfamiliar with these terms). She is abusive, impatient, and prone to violence when angered. All this comes as something of a surprise, given her small stature, earning her the nickname of ‘Palm-Top Tiger’ by the students wise enough not to say it to her face. Her personality is even more surprising when one sees her behavior around her crush, Yusaku Kitamura.

image of kitamura restraining taiga by holding her up under her arms.jpg
Stop rampaging tigers with the patented ‘armpit carnival’

As if determined to make up for her less than threatening appearance she reacts with aggression toward anyone who crosses her or otherwise earns her ire, but turns into a stuttering timid mess around Kitamura. Her personality isn’t entirely governed by being tsundere, though. Taiga’s violent nature does have some background behind it, and beneath it she can be a very sweet and kind girl. She is capable of great generosity and consideration towards the people she feels close to and does her best to act on their behalf, as seen by her drive to help set up Ryuji with her best friend.

The supporting main characters, Minori Kushieda and Yusaku Kitamura provide an interesting contrast with Taiga and Ryuji. Despite being the target of the latter pair’s affections, they get less screen time by comparison. The story focuses much more on Ryuji and Taiga’s efforts to help each other charm their intended love interests, but Minori and Yusaku get a some good development regardless. Both seem to be comparatively more sure of themselves than the title pair, with Minori active in sports and a great number of part time jobs that she explains away as “keeping busy”, while Yusaku’s somewhat nerdy appearance and school standing belies a very self assured and confident persona.

image of minori snapping photos of mostly nude kitamura
Who says only guys can be pervs?

Ironically, the increased amount of time that Ryuji and Taiga spend in helping one another cause both Minori and Yusaku to believe that their friends are are a couple, further frustrating their efforts. Their own feelings toward the pair are shown to be more complex than the series initially lets on, though. Like Ryuji and Taiga, they find difficulty in going after the things they really want. As the series progresses the viewer begins to see the small cracks in their polished outward personas, made worse when outside situations or other characters push them into uncomfortable territory.

The final main character, Ami Kawashima, comes in a bit further into the first half of the series. Introduced to the group as Yusaku’s childhood friend, she plays at being a bit of a stereotypical airhead. Her true nature is revealed to the viewer quickly as a vain and manipulative girl, keenly aware of her attractiveness, who tries to lure boys’ attention for her own gain. Setting her sights on Ryuji, however, instantly earns her Taiga’s enmity. Their rivalry provides for a lot of comedy, and gives Ami an outlet to be her true self among the group of friends. Despite her childish games, she displays a sense of maturity in her understanding of relationships that the others fail to grasp, either naturally or willfully. As viewers get to know her better they may begin to wonder whether or not there is something more to the ‘act’ she puts on in trying to charm Ryuji.

With so much attention spent towards these main characters, it stands to reason that the supporting cast is somewhat weak. Most of them are one-note characters at best, though a few of them do provide some funny additions to the show. One of the better support characters is Ryuji’s mother Yasuko. Hopelessly in love with his absent deadbeat father, she works a night job to help support their family alone. Her often sleepy/drunken commentary is rather amusing, but her strained relationship with her own parents is used for some meaningful development later on. Considering how many anime involve completely absent or nonexistent parents, it was nice to see one where a mom puts in a great deal of effort into doing her best for her son.


Animation

image of toradora characters

The colorful and vibrant art style in Toradora! helps it stand out among its contemporaries (Earl and Fairy, Black Butler), and the animation holds up quite well despite it being a 2008 series. I didn’t know a lot about J.C. Staff prior to this series, aside from the popular Azumanga Daioh way back in 2002, and a somewhat guilty pleasure, Prince of Tennis, the year before (don’t judge me). Recent work from the studio includes Lostorage Incited WIXOSS and the beautifully animated Amanchu!, if that gives you any indication of their aptitude. The same moe style character designs found for some characters in Azumanga can be found in Toradora! as well, but the thicker lines and bolder choices in color make the the style seem less ‘cute’ and more ‘fun.’

Like most slice of life anime there isn’t a huge challenge in animating Toradora!, with plenty of scenes where the characters do little more than sit around and talk. With that said, there are a fair number of action scenes that feature Taiga’s violent outbursts or some amusing displays the students put on during the cultural festival. The animation builds well as the series progresses – with a few exceptions. One noticeable issue does arise where there is a lot more action than normal. Without going too deep into spoilers, there is a scene involving a fight where the art style slipped more than usual. While it may have been made to appear messy on purpose, the marked decrease in detail and less vibrant coloring were clearly apparent.

badly drawn picture of taiga fighting
Are.. are we still watching Toradora!..?

Sound

image of taiga and ami singing

OP1: Pre-Parade by Rie Kugimiya, Yui Horie, and Eri Kitamura 
OP2: Silky Heart by Yui Horie 

ED1: Vanilla Salt by Yui Horie 
ED2: Orange by Rie Kugimiya, Yui Horie, and Eri Kitamura 
ED3: Holy Night by Rie Kugimiya and Eri Kitamura (ep 19 only)

The music for the series features a number of catchy opening and ending themes, each alike in style but slightly different in tone. The voices sounded similar to me in all the songs, but only later did I find out that it was the voice actresses themselves who provided the music, like I mentioned in my Umaru-chan review, though these actresses are more experienced. Opinions vary on which opening or ending was better, but they’re all good songs that capture the somewhat playful tone of the show well. The openings have a light techno feel to them, befitting their place at the beginning of the show to build energy.

The BGMs cover a decent number of styles and situations, though they stick to a somewhat generic mix of pianos and strings. The standout track among them is a song called Lost my Pieces, which the show seems to play at just the right times to bring the viewer into the scene. It’s emotional and moving, really driving home the sadder parts of this otherwise cheerful and funny anime.

Both the English dub as well as the original Japanese version are voiced very well for this series, drawing on seasoned actors to play roles that they fit into quite nicely. I tend to steer clear of the dub vs sub argument in most cases, but for this series I have to profess a preference as it was one of the only ones where, after starting it in Japanese, I couldn’t really watch it the same way in English. This has everything to do with Rie Kugimiya‘s performance as Taiga. Having played a huge number of roles, including Alphonse Elric from Fullmetal Alchemist, her take on Taiga is perhaps one of that most spot on castings in terms of characterization I have seen. Able to handle the range of emotions a tsundere like Taiga expresses, Rie absolutely nails her forever slightly annoyed tone and defiance despite her small voice. Add to that the rolling r’s of her “Ora!” and the way she stubbornly stutters words her character is unfamiliar with (listen to Taiga say “morgue” after first learning it… it’s adorable) adds a lot of charm to her part.


Overall Appeal

image of taiga's tearful smile

To understand what makes Toradora! an entertaining and fulfilling show, one needs to have a reasonable understanding of the way slice of life narratives works. I complained in my previous review about the characters tackling their problems like small arcs and being led around by the story rather than driving it. In this series, there is absolutely no outside force that compels these characters to act. Rather it’s the choices they make and their decisions with regard to their relationships that dictate their actions, as well as provide for most of the drama and comedy in the series.

I had mentioned in the Characters section above that they felt genuine, and I’m reiterating that point here because it really adds to what makes this anime compelling. While the viewer may not agree with a character’s course of action at any given point, they can clearly understand why it takes place. It helps create an easy flow that pulls the viewer in without resorting to sudden twists to keep their attention. Far from being predictable, however, it allows the narrative to spend more attention on how things happen instead of surprising with what those things are.

The easiest to spot case of this is the initial relationships that Ryuji and Taiga pursue. While some might consider this slight spoiling, there is nothing really taken away from the series in pointing out that their crushes don’t exactly work out. It’s a realistic portrayal of high school life that defies the all too common ‘love at first sight’ trope. High School kids don’t have everything figured out. The people that they like don’t always like them back, and feelings that they thought they could simply cast aside find a way to bubble back up to the surface without their fully realizing it. The series simply does a great job of portraying these emotional twists and turns.

All that said, there are some minor problems with pacing and direction near the very end that might throw some viewers off. The resolution to Ryuji and Taiga’s struggle to put up with one another, while secretly filling a void in each other’s lives, is a little abrupt. In the very same episode where they are (literally) forced to confront their feelings, they act with a surety that doesn’t quite match up with the rest of the series. That and the final dramatic arc, which seems almost as if it’s tacked on to provide the final piece of character development, feel out of place in an otherwise well crafted story. But these drawbacks are lessened by the fact that the romantic part of this story has an actual conclusion that doesn’t end with halfway commitments or light confessions. As messy as the road was in getting there, the ending is both satisfying and beautiful.


Summary and Recommendations

Toradora! starts as a typical romantic comedy but draws viewers in with its quirky characters and generally entertaining approach. Using the metaphors of the tiger and the dragon to depict its main characters, the story follows their quest to gain the romantic attention of each others’ best friend.

The characters are well written, realistic portrayals of high school students with varying predominant personalities. While they fulfill certain archetypes that you would expect to see in a romance or school based drama, they are all complex individuals who have underlying difficulties. While the main story revolves around Taiga and Ryuji’s efforts to win over Yusaku and Minori, respectively, all the characters are revealed to have some hidden feelings and receive meaningful character arcs.

The animation is done well and holds up despite the series’ age, featuring plenty of color and action amidst the tame high school setting. While it is fairly consistent it isn’t perfectly so, showing a lack of attention/budget in certain spots, but still provides an enjoyable viewing experience.

The openings and endings of this series are more iconic and memorable than most of the other music, relying on the Japanese voice actresses to make them stand out. The voice acting is great no matter if you watch in English or Japanese, but Taiga’s performance in the Japanese version is something special.

Though the end result might be predictable, the real charm of the series is the journey by which it arrives there. With slight problems in the final resolution of the series, along with a couple of not completely resolved character arcs, parts of the story might disappoint. Still, it is written intelligently enough for the majority of its run to keep viewers interested with compelling and naturally flowing narrative.

Watch if you:
Love romantic comedies
Like seeing stereotypes played differently
Enjoy well crafted relationship stories

Don’t watch if you:
Are bored by slice of life stories
Hate tsundere characters
Dislike abrupt resolutions


My Rating

A really great series with remarkable few imperfections that is deserving of the praise it normally sees. My score comes in at 4.5 out of 5 Taigas.

image of 4.5 Taiga faces


Final Thoughts

I normally reserve this section to talk about a particular theme or concept that I can take away from the anime and think about well after I’ve finished it. For this series, in part due to the absence of any overly deep concepts, my observation comes from the series as a whole rather than any particular part of it. I had mentioned at the beginning of this review that I watched this series based on my wife’s interest rather than my own. Based on what I mentioned already, you can probably guess that I didn’t think it a bad idea.

I was really surprised by how much I enjoyed Toradora!, as it centered around a few things that I wasn’t particularly thrilled by: school, slice of life, and romance. Looking back on the series I chose for myself this year, with emotionally powerful shows like Your lie in April, fun concepts like Girls und Panzer, or the insane genius of Kill la Kill, this series just seemed too tame to hold my interest. But even from very early on, contrary to my expectations, I was drawn in by its quality. Romantic comedies these days are a dime a dozen, but this might have been the best I had ever seen – anime or otherwise.

What I’m really saying in this section is a warning against writing off a show based on the premise or the genre. Any series has the potential to be decent, great even, including those that you might not give a second glance normally. With more anime than anyone can reasonably watch to completion available to people these days, I understand the need to filter things out, but it would be sad for anyone to pass over Toradora! this way. While watching everything is nearly impossible, reviews and recommendations can lead you toward shows that might not catch your interest at first, but are considered ‘good’ for a reason. Unless you’re absolutely sure you hate certain types of shows, I encourage people to try different things. Better yet, give it a three episode test.

This year alone, My Little Monster, Ouran High School Host Club, and now Toradora! greatly exceeded my expectations for enjoyment despite never straying from their initial ‘boring’ premise. It might be the well executed humor in each one that drew me in, but I can honestly say I loved each of those shows. Slice of Life may even be turning into one of my favorite genres, and I’m looking forward to the other ones on my list for this year.


More Reviews

Havn’t had enough tsundere romance? Check out these articles from other great bloggers:

Toradora Review: No Holds Barred by infpotato at WITH LOVE AND LIGHT, WILROSE
An in depth look at the different characters with a focus on what the reviewer liked about them and what they didn’t.

Toradora! Anime Review by The Anime Prince at AnimePrinceBlog
A succinct but well written review similar to the format I used but with individual ratings on each of the aspects. He covers a few things I missed as well.

On Tsunderes and Toradora by Ani Catalyst at HOMEOFANIME
A really interesting look at why some people balk at tsundere characters and what makes Taiga Aisaka stand out regardless.

 

For more from me, you can find my other reviews on my Reviews Page or click on the tags below to see posts on similar shows. As always, thank you for reading.

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15 thoughts on “The Art of Tiger Training or How to Become a Dragon – A Toradora! Review

Add yours

  1. Ok, you sold me on this one – I’ve seen so many people raving about Tora Dora on my twitter and facebook feeds, and didn’t get why. I’m a sucker for well done slice of life, and a character development stories so I think I may give this one a chance. Great review, as always!

    Liked by 1 person

  2. This review is so detailed and intriguing. It has definitely sparked my interest in the anime, though I haven’t seen a lot of slice of life. Thanks for this amazing review!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Another great review. I love the way you take time for these posts. Besides the story synopsis, it gives a great and comprehensive overview of the show itself and really sells you on whether or not you should watch it or not. Keep up this great way of doing reviews, they are greatly appreciated. Ps: I have nominated you for the Sunshine Blogger Award: you can find it here https://raistlin0903.wordpress.com/2016/11/04/ive-been-nominated-for-the-sunshine-blogger-award/

    Like

    1. Thank you so much for reading and for considering me for that award! I’ll definitely try to make some time to do that, but these reviews you like so much take up a lot of my time. Maybe if I can finish my next one soon I’ll have a chance to catch up.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. What really stood out for me in this show was its realistic portrayal of love, which is something you mentioned several times. I still rewatch a few scenes from this show every now and then and I still get misty eyed.

    Great show and great review!

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I hope Slice of Life becomes your favorite genre! It easily became mine after watching some of the shows you have, such as Toradora! and Ouran Highschool Host Club.

    Toradora! still remains as one of my favorites. I am glad you pointed out the music, as it is one of my favorites parts to analyze in any show. Lost my Pieces is definitely the go-to track of this show, especially because, as you mentioned, it really drives home those sad and emotional moments in the show. I also agree that the dub was pretty well voiced. Having seen both the sub and dub, you’ve gotta give it to the sub simply for Rie Kugimiya. But the dub was still pretty good, and Johnny Yong Bosch played a good Kitamura.

    If you liked Toradora!, I recommend Golden Time, as both shows’ source material (light novels) are written by the same author. You’ll also notice a lot of character similarities. I prefer Toradora! personally, but Golden Time is still worth a watch, especially if you are trying to get into even more slice of life shows.

    Nice post, and thanks for sharing your thoughts!

    Liked by 1 person

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