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Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Manga Review: Toradora! GN 1

Toradora! volume 1
Author: Yuyuko Takemiya
Artist: Zekkyo
Seven Seas Entertainment
192 pages
Meet Ryuuji. He'd probably have more friends if his face didn't make him look like a juvenile delinquent. In fact, Ryuuji is pretty nice! But his looks throw people off and make them afraid of him. Ryuuji has one friend, Yuusaku, who is pretty popular despite his bespectacled nerdy exterior. He has a crush on Minori, the girl in his class, and has for a while. It's the first day of his new year of high school. Certainly nothing could get worse?
That is, until he meets Taiga, the 'palmtop tiger'. Their unlikely first encounter will change the course of their lives. How will the dragon and the tiger exist together, especially when they live next to each other and Taiga the tiger is best friends with Ryuuji's crush? This first volume sets up what is sure to be a series of comedic hijinks as these unlikely protagonists explore school life, romance, and friendships while figuring out each other in the process.

Taiga is tsundere personified. To the world, she's the palmtop tiger, who snaps at everyone and is a spitfire when provoked. She's cute but don't let that fool you; she can really take a chunk out of you. But at the heart of her is a klutzy romantic, a ditz who fails at leaving love letters and has crushes on boys and doesn't know how to do domestic correctly.
Her foil is Ryuuji, who is a perfect domestic man. He makes dinner and cleans the house while his host club mom works all night and sleeps all day. He makes an apron look natural on him. However, his outer exterior is gruff and mean, and rarely anyone gets close enough to see Ryuuji's good nature. But even though he's nice, Ryuuji isn't a doormat, and he and Taiga often squabble about relationships and cooking and cleaning and whatever comes next.
Art by ButtercupBabyPPG @ DeviantArt.
Some of the plot points are rather silly. How has Ryuuji's house survived for so long when others would have been bulldozed in the same scenario? How did Taiga and Minori become friends if Taiga has this outlandish reputation as the palmtop tiger? What's the deal with all the absentee parents in this series? I have a feeling many of my questions will never be answered, because a good portion of this story relies on turning a blind eye to the more non-realistic aspects.
The strength in Toradora's opening book comes from the interactions between Ryuuji and Taiga as they help each other out, even if they don't realize how much they're helping the other person. It reminds me a bit of the Haruhi/Kyon relationship from Suzumiya Haruhi no Yuutsu, except that Taiga has actual redeeming qualities as a human being and Ryuuji isn't a total heel. Whoops, shots fired? But seriously, if a tsundere/tsundere relationship turns you off, Toradora will not be for you.
It would be so easy to call Toradora a slapstick comedy and move on. After all, a lot of its humor is physical in nature and reminiscent of the bokke/tsukkomi routine from classic Japanese theater. But Toradora is also a story of young people fighting others' perceptions of them while they figure their own selves out. Both Ryuuji and Taiga are judged by their appearances before their true personality is able to shine through, and it's this common misconception that draws them together and makes them friends, even if their friendship is so weird at times.
The story itself is not terribly advanced, and the plot twists of who has crushes on who serve to further complicate the plot. Of course Taiga has a crush on Ryuuji's nerdy friend! Of course Ryuuji's own crush is besties with Taiga! And of course this means Taiga and Ryuuji spend more time together than usual to make their respective crushes like them! So far, most of the humor has revolved around this or the main protagonists' living conditions. The series has barely crawled past these two sticking points, and it's going to have to increase its scope a bit if it wants to go on.

Right now, Toradora is content with watching the screwball days of Taiga and Ryuuji, making convoluted plans to rescue the other's love life and eat dinner together. Which is all fine and dandy, but eventually it's going to have to expand beyond that. If Toradora wants to be the tiger and dragon show, go ahead then. But it's going to take a bit more than that to keep me for the long haul.