Back in the day I never finished watching Toradora. Let’s remedy that now. 🙂 From this point on, I assume you’re familiar with the show and I shall sprinkle spoilers like dandelion seeds upon the wind.
Toradora has three lead female characters: Taiga, Minori, and Ami. During the opening music, there’s a quick triplet of scenes right near the end that show each of our three main female characters:
Minori swings a bat, Ami sweeps a hand through her hair, and Taiga wields her wooden sword. Once Ami got introduced in the plot and we get to see beneath her surface façade, I suddenly noticed something about this triptych:
Each girl is handling her “shield”, a symbol of how she acts to protect herself.
And by “herself” I mean each girl’s literal self—her heart, ego, sense of identity. Taiga’s sword suits her “attack before you get hurt” approach to relationships. She literally attacks Ryuji with it to avoid the shame of having her crush on Ryuji’s buddy exposed. More frequently, she lashes out verbally and physically at those around her. There are hints that she moved away from home to avoid an unhappy family life, and it isn’t a stretch to conclude that she has experienced past hurts from those who love her and hence she now habitually tries to avoid anyone getting close to her. Heck, she even turned down one guy who confessed to her—not because she didn’t like him, but because she was so utterly shocked that someone could actually love her!
Minori swings her bat with gusto, the same way she seems to approach everything in her life. She throws herself wholeheartedly into every moment, and fills those moments with all kinds of activities. But we quickly learn that it isn’t because she’s filled with a zest for life, though that’s the image she projects. When she and Ryuji get accidentally locked in a room, Minori becomes almost manic in her cheerful enthusiasm; Ryuji quickly realizes she’s battling a crippling anxiety. On the surface, this could look like courage; but Minori isn’t facing her fear, she’s trying to drown it out. She thinks if she cheers and smiles hard enough, she’ll be able to ignore it. Later on, when the friends visit Ami’s beach house, we see how easily her fears unsettle her: for example, a mere ‘spooky’ sound that Taiga has her listen to sends Minori into a lengthy and excessive panic.
Finally there’s Ami, running a hand through her hair and seemingly preparing to model. Her self-chosen role of “sexy supermodel” is part of her false self—lovely, sweet, composed—that she projects to hide her real self which she dislikes. Her real self is vulnerable, frightened, as we see in how she reacts to the stalking incident: Of course, we know that her reaction is perfectly natural, but she doesn’t see it that way. She projects false, socially-acceptable weaknesses—such as her “I’m such an airhead” pretense (“acceptable” because she’s good-looking)—in order to hide what she perceives as her true, unacceptable weaknesses. In a way, Ami is better off than the other girls in that she is more self-aware than they: she knows she’s pretending to be someone she isn’t. On the other hand, the fact that she’s deliberately trying to manipulate others makes her one of the least likeable characters in the show. Although tbh, I imagine most of us cheered when she dropped her fake character for Ryuji and vented her frustration on the stalker’s camera!
Of course, none of these false selves make the girls happy. And it appears that they will come around and be more authentic eventually. I’m about two-thirds of the way through the series, and at this point two of the girls have shown some real character development: Taiga is allowing Ryuji to get closer to her, and allowing herself to trust him and treat him kindly; Ami is at least half-heartedly allowing her not-entirely-likeable natural personality to appear to others (I’d be dishonest if I didn’t acknowledge that sometimes one’s natural personality can rub others the wrong way—it’s just that that is not cause for suppressing our true selves). Surprisingly, the one girl who hasn’t really made progress is Minori. There’s still a few episodes, however, so we’ll see what happens to her.
One of the aspects of this show that I find refreshing is how it portrays people trying to deal with their hurts in a relatively lifelike (if over the top for the purpose of comedy) way, and going through a process of healing rather than just suddenly working things out in a moment. We’re all works in progress, after all.
If you’ve seen or read Toradora, what did you think of it? Do you identify with any of the characters? Am I readying way too much into five seconds of opening animation? Thanks for reading! Peace out!