Anime review: Toradora! Volume 1
August 06, 2010

I hadn't heard about "Toradora!" before NIS America announced that it would be localizing the series for a North American audience. A bit of reading on wikipedia explains that a little. Though based on a manga series, "Toradora!" is new enough that it hasn't had much time to develop a proper following outside of Japan and production seems to have been limited to 25 episodes. Of those, 13 are featured in the "Volume 1 Premium Edition" collection that made its way to my lowly apartment. The remaining 12 episodes will be released later this month, as well. Or so I hear.

"Toradora!" tells the story of Ryuji Taksu, a young gentleman who seems roughly equivalent to your North American high school junior in terms of age and responsibilities. He lives with his mother, who spends her nights working at a club and her days sleeping or making groggy pronouncements. Ryuji's father is out of the picture and left behind one gift for his son: "evil" eyes. Despite his cuddly neat freak interior, Ryuji is typically mistaken for some sort of anti-social menace by most of his classmates and even the faculty at the school that he attends.

As the first episode begins, Ryuji memorably bumps into Taiga Aisaka, a pint-sized girl who you might say has the attitude to match Ryuji's evil eye. The two students don't get along at all from the moment they bump into one another in that crowded hallway. Taiga clearly is cut from the "spunky anime girl" mold and Ryuji isn't used to sticking up for himself, but that dynamic works just fine.

Subsequent episodes reveal depth in the characterization and they expand the plot to focus more extensively on other characters, such as Minori Kushieda (a red-haired vixen who Ryuji fancies) and Yusaku Kitamura (a serious classmate who is best friends with Ryuji and who also serves on the student council). Ryuji and Taiga wind up pairing up as allies, with each of them working together to help the other make strides toward romantic conquests. That odd little relationship square is soon further complicated by the arrival of Ami Kawashima. She's a gorgeous student who models on the side, the perfect ingredient for the writers to toss into what already was an interesting mix.

Though it's difficult to say that "Toradora" is a particularly eventful show, even with the odd romantic pairings and the struggles the students face as they come to grip with what they really want from life and each other, the are at least interesting ones that benefit from engaging writing. The characters seem mostly willing to adhere to anime stereotypes, but there is about them a degree of unpredictability that keeps them entertaining and allows them to come across as a great deal more human than you might suppose. I was hooked from the first two episodes and now that I've finished the 13th (with embarrassingly moist eyes, it pains me to admit), I find myself looking forward to the second volume while regretting the fact that it will serve as the conclusion to a story that I am enjoying a great deal.

"Volume 1" features over 5 hours of good fun, doled out on two DVD discs. There's not a single bit of English voice work, but I was able to quickly adapt to the subtitles without missing much or any of the quality animation in the process. The characters really come to life with vitality and if you miss any of that, NIS America has helpfully included a deluxe hardbound book in the Premium Edition that includes plenty of character portraits, profiles and key terms. There also are interviews with the actors who voiced the show, so it's definitely a nice collector's item if you find yourself loving "Toradora!" as much as I do.

If you're having trouble finding where the series can be purchased online, it is currently available from NIS America's online shop. I tried and strangely had no luck. The premium edition I have is apparently a limited run that'll be gone once it's gone (fancy that), so you might want to look into it sooner rather than later.

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