NOTE: THIS ARTICLE CONTAINS SPOILERS FOR TORADORA!
Hey everyone, this time, after some procrastination, I’m going to be writing about Toradora’s character development and relationships. This isn’t going to necessarily be a review of the show itself; it’ll be looking more at the specific aspect of how the characters developed and how they formed their relationships (which is a gigantic part of the story anyway, but not quite all of it). Anyway, I’ll be looking at each character for this article and then trying to look at the relationships. The “order” is going to be which characters/relationships I felt were the best fleshed out throughout the series, saving the best for last. I’ll be looking at the 5 main characters and their relationships with each other mostly, besides when talking about those people that had effects on the characters themselves.
We’ll start with Kitamura. He’s most definitely the least developed of the main five. He gets about two episodes of character development and then is continued to be treated as one of the “quirky” characters with only a few more instances of his relationship with the previous president.
So we have episodes 14 and 15 as the major development poitns for Yuusaku. Before these episodes we had seen him be the shameless student council vice president, with almost no mention of his own problems (the only time we get a mention of his problems is when Ami asks him if he’s okay with how everything is going at the student council, during the beach arc). Now obviously the show’s focus is on Taiga and Ryuuji but even Minori and Ami get more development throughout the show than Kitamura does.
What happens in the arc then? Kitamura tries to run away from his problems, which is definitely a common theme within the show. He tries to run away from the responsibility and the expectations that HE HIMSELF has built up thanks to the student council president. On the other hand, the president also runs away from her own feelings about Yuusaku because she knows he’d give up everything to follow her which she doesn’t want. But that confession doesn’t come until after Kitamura confesses to her.
This whole arc tells us that Kitamura has moved on from his interest/crush in Taiga. He confessed to her a year ago and was rejected and the president came to comfort him. He fell for her instead and when he realized it wasn’t going to work out, he ran. Away from his home, away from his problems, away from his responsibilities until Ryuuji was able to bring him back to his senses.
Overall there’s not too much to speak of here. Kitamura got his own mini arc and it was resolved quickly without too much distraction from the main two characters. Overall it wasn’t as satisfying as it could have been.
Even though Minori is fourth on this list I believe personally that she’s a gigantic step up in development from Kitamura, meaning the rest I believe are well developed as well. In Minori’s case, we get to see more of her personality and definitely more of her struggles thanks to the beach arc, the Christmas arc, and the final arc. Her development is largely thanks in part to her liking Ryuuji as well and not confessing until it was too late; Yuusaku was able to separate himself from any further complications in the group by making it clear his focus wasn’t on Taiga. But Minori never did that.
Why is that, anyway? Why did she choose to ALWAYS go back to the status quo and put on her “genki” personality? Well, she says it a few times during the show. She doesn’t want anything to change. She refuses to accept that things DO have to change and will change whether she likes it or not. So she doesn’t want to get together with Ryuuji because it’ll risk their friendship with Taiga and she doesn’t want to let Taiga get with Ryuuji because, as it clearly shows at the end, she thinks that they’ll be taken away from her.
She’s also incredibly arrogant, which ties into both what she said and what the show presents. Always refusing to admit that there’s a problem because that would mean something would have to change. She always has her cheerful personality on because she thinks that she HAS to act like that. Whenever she drops her guard she asks Ryuuji to forget what she said or act like it never happened.
This is all on top of being dishonest and hypocritical. She doesn’t want anyone to help her but she goes out of her way and puts in so much extra effort to help other people. This is evidenced by why she lets her team down in the softball game; it puts her in a huge depressive state that only gets doubled down on when she breaks the Christmas tree. She blames herself for everything and refuses almost any help until Ryuuji fixes the star with her and tells her it’s “not for her sake”.
But she grows up and accepts the fact that things have to change. Her whole speech while she’s running through the hallway confirms that. She’s not running away anymore, she’s trying to run TOWARDS her problems to confront them and she straight up finally tells Taiga that she doesn’t need anyone’s help to make her own happiness; she’s confident she can do it herself. She’s able to admit that she wants to be looked up to, she knows she has her own problems and that she puts on a mask to hide her own insecurities.
At the end of the show though it’s obvious to the viewer (and Ami) that Minori has grown up. She calls out Ryuuji when he tries to maintain the status quo; she gets REALLY angry and flips out on him for lying to Taiga yet again. She has realized that maintaining the same old, same old isn’t going to cut it; to move forward you have to accept that things are going to change whether you like it or not.
And obviously Minori isn’t nearly happy enough with herself to think she deserves to be in a relationship with Ryuuji. The constant references to the “ghost story” makes that clear. At first she says she doesn’t know if she wants to see them then she says that she SHOULDN’T see them then she admits that she’s seen one but it wasn’t the right time for her to. She has the talk with Ami while shouting down the hallway that she’s changed.
So this is a bit hard to rank; the three remaining main characters are kind of hard to judge in development status because they were all done really well. I think Ryuuji fits into the third place spot though, at least for me. His problems weren’t always made as evident as everyone else’s. He always seemed to be the “generic nice guy who helps everyone”. But of course there is more than that.
Thanks to a strong episode 1 we’re able to get rock solid establishment of who Ryuuji is as a person. He comes from a slightly poorer household, he’s the “nice guy who looks scary”, and he loves to clean and do housework. So we’ve got his hobbies and insecurities already highlighted by this point. What do you go off of then? Well, his issues are brought up subtlety by Ami later on in the series.
We learn that Ryuuji cares too much about other people. Not really for selfish reasons like Minori but he does so much for other people that he often ignores his own problems. When Ami constantly brings up the “playing house” scenario, Ryuuji brushes it off and focuses on other things. Which of course, only causes more problems for him down the road. When Taiga confesses that she loves Ryuuji during the ski trip, he ignores it because he actually honestly thinks she wants to not be in love with him.
Ryuuji also tries to project his own family situation onto Taiga because he thinks it’s ideal. He doesn’t realize that everyone has their own situation in their family and he’s trying to force Taiga into the “ideal” family situation because he thinks that it’s “right” and “how you should be treating your family”.
It’s the whole concept of “running away” again, which he then ACTUALLY LITERALLY DOES. He doesn’t understand that his mother is trying her best to give him a good life and all he cares about is helping her, so he tries to run away to make it easier for her, since he’s convinced that he caused her problems. Only once he actually talks to her about it does he realize that sometimes it’s okay for other people to help you.
Of course he’s got his good points. He’s able to help ALL of his friends through their problems by knowing what to say and when to say it. He supports his mother and himself and is always there for Taiga. He finally wises up to the whole thing and realizes exactly what love is and realized it was Taiga he loved.
The FRUSTRATINGLY well done character. The pretty little liar. Ami is a catalyst for a lot of what happens during the show; she pushes and pushes until things spill over. She helps in her own way but is able to remove herself from the idea that she’s going to be “hurting” anybody. All she cares about is getting Ryuuji to fall for her and of course she hates that she made a shitty first impression on him.
Ami’s development is probably the most in your face within the show. After she’s introduced we see her stop pulling the “good girl” routine within a few episodes thanks to the stalker arc. Taiga helps her realize that you have to confront your problems sometimes; it’s the running away thing again. Ami “ran away” from her home to this school because she thought it would solve everything. But no, she was followed.
Besides that, she obviously wanted to be liked by everyone. She constantly plays up her “perfect student” routine to impress her teachers and the other students and only drops her guard around her friends although she would probably never call them as such. Unlike Minori she realizes that putting on the mask and keeping it on all the time isn’t a good thing. It only causes her more problems in the long run.
Strangely enough she also doesn’t seem to enjoy being the mature one. She doesn’t really care too much for other people (at least when compared to herself) and when you’re the mature one everyone is always coming to you for advice. She’s constantly told she’s mature and adult-like without anyone realizing that the weight of the responsibility of those titles might be getting to her.
Ami also likes to manipulate everyone around her and she’s very good at it. She knows how to get information and she knows how to use that information to press people’s buttons. During the ski trip she presses Minori too hard. She doesn’t ever push Ryuuji about his situation, probably because she realizes he has to figure it out by himself.
She’s just glad that she can be completely honest around Ryuuji. This is a blessing and a curse because of how she acted initially around him; she enjoys that someone understands her but of course it’s the person that is completely uninterested in having anything more than a friendship with her. It bothers her some but never to the point where she starts crying. She’s able to keep herself separated almost always.
Ah… the one I was waiting to write about. We get a good mix of establishment and conflict from Taiga. As the series progresses we learn in clear terms what her insecurities are, what her family situation is like, what she enjoys doing, and her issues with interacting with other people.
So to start with her issues, the obvious one is the violence. She’s clearly not just violent towards Ryuuji, she has a reputation from before episode 1 of being violent and something of a delinquent. Why did she initially become this way then? She mentions that she went to an all girls Catholic school and was rejected from the high school because of her violent behavior. So maybe it has something to do with her unstable family situation and her parents going through a divorce (at least, that’s what I gather from what the show was trying to tell us).
This leads into another issue. Because she deals with her problems by lashing out, no one wants to get close to her. It’s mostly only through coincidence that Ryuuji ends up spending time with her anyway. But the problem is that she doesn’t have many friends to spend time around so she never learns how to form those social connections. There’s never any mention of friends from her past and Minori is obviously friendly with everyone, although better friends with Taiga than most.
We also learn that Taiga is insecure generally about how she looks. This is something that haunts her because she realizes she can’t fix it and of course when people point it out she ends up getting angry about it.
Getting back to the running away idea though, Taiga did this to end up in her initial situation anyway. She ran away from her home life with her father to live on her own. This isn’t resolved until the very last episode when she decides to confront her issues and is mature enough to deal with them calmly instead of lashing out.
Taiga constantly also runs away from and ignores her own feelings. She refuses to admit she ever needs help and only accepts it when it’s offered to her although she accepts it begrudgingly. She honestly believes during the Christmas arc that no one is ever going to want to stay by her side because she thinks Ryuuji is going to leave her for Minori. It ends up being a huge point for her thought because she finally admits to her feelings. She doesn’t want to lose Ryuuji.
These things all point to Taiga being an extremely insecure person. Insecure about her appearance, about how to act around others, about what she wants… all of it. In order to combat this she tries to help her friends get together because she thinks it’s the right thing to do; she never even considers her own feelings on the matter in this way until she’s confronted by everyone. During Christmas we get more evidence of this; she wants everyone to have a good opinion of her despite how she’s acted in the past. And she’s terrified of being left alone.
In the end she turns out to be a much more mature person because of everything that’s happened to her. All of her friends helped her grow as a person and learn from her mistakes, Ryuuji most of all. She confirms her father being a shithead but manages to patch things up with her mother. By the end of the series everyone is sad when she’s gone; no one is terrified of the “Palmtop Tiger” anymore. They just miss their friend Aisaka Taiga.
So now that I’ve talked about the main five characters, I’ll try to look at the character’s relationships (briefly for some, more in depth for others).
Yuusaku and Ami
Ami and Yuusaku were friends before the series started; in some ways the show makes that a little bit prevalent. Yuusaku was a good way of introducing Ami into the show and a rare case of a “childhood friend” that doesn’t have a relationship with the main character. She was never really a love interest for Yuusaku though despite him mentioning that he didn’t dislike her.
The way we see their relationship really pan out is when Ami helps him out during the presidential election arc. She laughs him off at first but after she sees Sumire pretending to not give a shit, she goes out and confronts her directly. She probably wouldn’t have done this if Kitamura wasn’t a friend; she’s only able to laugh at him while everyone else is concerned because she knows how ridiculous of a response it is for him. She knows sides of him that the rest of the cast doesn’t.
Yuusaku and Minori
Not terribly too much to say here either. They’re the goofballs. They’re the comedic relief and seems to mesh together way better than Yuusaku does with any of the other main five. Of course they end up helping each other for the small stuff but not necessarily for the big stuff.
Yuusaku and Ryuuji
Ryuuji ends up helping Yuusaku a lot during the student council arc. He’s able to push him into seeing that he can’t just run away from all of this; even though he’s there to help and house Yuusaku when he runs away from home he doesn’t really approve of it. They’re shown to be good friends and they always seem like they’ve got each other’s backs, but that seems to be the extent.
Yuusaku and Taiga
Definitely Yuusaku’s most interesting relationship at least out of the main five characters. After failing with Taiga during freshman year he apparently gets over her to focus his attentions on the president. But he’s willing to help nudge her and Ryuuji together even from the beginning. During Taiga’s initial confession he asks her what she thinks of Ryuuji and she gushes a little bit, in her own way. At that point, in episode 2, he realizes that they’d work together better and ends up working towards that goal. Even though they end up doing stuff like going out together on New Year’s and dancing during the cultural festival, Yuusaku never hints that it could be more than that.
Taiga in this relationship wasn’t even able to talk to him normally until the last quarter of the show. She always turned into a blubbering mess which made me feel like she wasn’t “in love” with him, but more like she was infatuated and starry eyed whenever he was around. Even to just imagine them together early on is odd. They could have never talked to each other equally; it was never natural between them.
Minori and Ami
Ami and Minori had a kind of forced relationship in terms of the show. Of course Minori always was okay with being around Ami because she was “okay” with being around anyone. Meanwhile Ami just got pissed off with how Minori approached every conflict and finally it all blew up during the ski trip. But for whatever reason Minori chose to confide in Ami during the running away scene and even broke down and cried in front of her. Maybe it was something that only Ami could have understood in that situation. She wasn’t even comfortable doing that in front of Yuusaku and definitely not Taiga or Ryuuji.
Minori and Ryuuji
The other relationship that never would have really worked if they were together. Minori was never happy enough with herself to give herself the pleasure of being in a relationship even though she liked Ryuuji. And Ryuuji always put Minori higher than himself. She was almost like an ideal to him; he didn’t really know anything about her but he thought she was cute and knew she was really nice to everyone.
There were definitely heartfelt moments between them, enough to hint that Taiga had competition. Minori lowered her guard to Ryuuji because she was comfortable around him. The only problem there is that every time she lowered her guard she asked him to not talk about it. She was never comfortable enough to talk to him straight out about her problems and avoided him when awkward moments arrived. She even cursed Taiga for making them walk together to school. It always felt like a romantic relationship between them would have been extremely awkward and unnatural.
Minori and Taiga
The counterpart to Ryuuji and Yuusaku. They’re best friends as well but just like Yuusaku and Ryuuji there’s things that they didn’t tell each other. Even though Minori claims to know everything about Taiga during the ski trip episode, Ryuuji tries to counter that by asking if she’s sure. The relationship between them was solid enough that they didn’t want to hurt each other but rocky enough so that they were both trying to make each other happy without fully understanding what the other wanted.
Ami and Ryuuji
Arguably the relationship that spurred Ryuuji on the most during the whole thing, besides the direct relationship with Taiga herself. Ami Always spoke in indirect terms around Ryuuji about how he should wake up and realize that he likes Taiga because she wanted him to see it himself.
She heavily regretted making a bad first impression as well. Whenever her and Ryuuji talked after Ryuuji had an established opinion of her, he never gave the impression that he was interested even though she was practically confessing several times over throughout the course of the show. She even says she wishes she could go back and do it over so they’d have another shot, although he doesn’t hear it. But even through all this she’s able to help him because she still has that “outsider” perspective. She never got in the drama as deep as Taiga and Minori did.
Ami and Taiga
This relationship doesn’t have too much meat either. Taiga does help Ami realize that she has to confront her problems instead of just running away but the two of them always are at each other’s throats. They help each other in small ways, but Ami is the one who doesn’t go out to help Taiga in the snow when the other three did. SHe always had realized that she had “lost” Ryuuji to Taiga as well and didn’t enjoy that at all. It frustrated her to see her rival in love ignoring her feelings.
Taiga and Ryuuji
Yep, the big one. The one all those 25 episodes were for. This relationship always felt wonderful. It left me feeling warm and fuzzy by the end of the series and even though I wasn’t 100% happy with the show’s ending scenes the light novel put my mind at ease. These are the two who were meant for each other from episode 1. Even the first two episodes were hinting at their relationship (Tiger and Dragon, Taiga and Ryuuji).
So early on, as early as episode 2, we see that Taiga is happy that Ryuuji called her name. This episode also laid the groundwork for how their relationship was to be laid out; they were each other’s equals, despite how one treated the other. They always felt comfortable around each other and could talk about anything. If nothing else this is what the show is trying to tell us a relationship is like and I agree.
There was a slow build here as well. They kept reverting back to normal after almost any big event, the first notable one being the pool scene. Ryuuji shows a close enough connection with her to reach under her bathing suit to save her from embarrassment even though he realizes she’ll probably punish him. Additionally, the follow up pool scene is when the viewers start to realize that Taiga really loves him; she abandons her swimming aids to save him by herself, gets angry at everyone for not realizing that he was in trouble, and doesn’t let anyone else help him because she’s acting irrationally and is deathly afraid of losing Ryuuji for any reason.
Taiga also got jealous when Ryuuji would talk to another girl. She got jealous when he drooled over Minori or when Ami was coming onto him, which Ami tried to exploit. She maintained that she was “disciplining” him for being a pervert but of course she would never admit to her feelings when it was that early on.
It’s what Taiga always wanted as well. She wanted someone to take care of her and pay attention to her and Ryuuji was the one to do all of that. He was always taking care of her and they were ALWAYS together. As a matter of fact they were together so often that when they were apart during almost any scene it was surprising to me (besides when they were in their houses, obviously). You FEEL the separation between them when Taiga’s dad takes her out every day. When Taiga tries to distance herself from Ryuuji to help Minori and Ryuuji’s relationship you realize that she’s suffering.
You see this again when Taiga mentions that she went out for tea with Kitamura during New Year’s. It’s something Ryuuji didn’t know happened. He’s upset that she did something that he didn’t know about, since he knew almost everything about her at this point. He feels a bit betrayed although he’s more confused as to why he is thinking about them being together so much (he hasn’t admitted to his feelings at that point in the series).
They were both leaning on each other throughout the course of the series. Taiga was leaning on him while learning how to support herself and walk on her own two feet and Ryuuji was leaning on her to help further the relationship between himself and Minori; later on after Kitamura’s arc, Ryuuji stopped pushing as much to give Taiga and Kitamura chances to be together while Taiga kept pushing for Minori and Ryuuji.
In the end the reason their relationship worked so well is because it all felt so natural. Neither one put the other on a pedestal, neither one became unable to function around the other. It was the small things, like Taiga resting her feet on Ryuuji’s back, or Taiga constantly coming over to Ryuuji’s house, or the two of them talking outside their windows every night. It was something that they couldn’t see but something that brought them immeasurable happiness when they finally could.
So that’s it. Those are all my thoughts on the characters and the show itself. I’ve exhausted any writing I could muster; I thought it might end up being this long but I’m surprised I actually was able to type all this out. I’m glad I chose this topic; Toradora is very close to my heart and is the only series I’m sad I can’t watch again for the first time. I’ll be starting on my panel for Anime USA 2015 as well, which covers this topic in a slideshow format.
As always, thanks for reading. I hope you all enjoyed this article. I hope to write more frequently in the coming weeks. 🙂