I thought about adding this into my review for Toradora or adding it to my podcast review, but I thought this would be better written out in it’s own post, as it basically is an editorial.
I’ll say it right front: I was a Ryuji/Minori shipper in Toradora until the very, bitter end of the show. Of course, it became increasingly obvious as the show drew closer to the end that this would not come out to be, and I knew it was a longshot from the start. However, I had hoped that the show may dare to not follow the predicted path, but alas, the ending was once again predictable from the time the first episode aired.
However, this editorial isn’t going to be about my complaining about a lack of Minori ending, per se. Instead, I think the main problem with the ending of Toradora is that Taiga and Ryuji’s transformations from liking Kitamura and Minori to liking each other is sudden and largely without any obvious foretelling other than, simply put, that it was their destiny, as the two leads in an anime, to do so.
There is no doubt that Taiga and Ryuji are indeed very close friends (at least) in the show. They walk to and from school together. They often eat together. They go shopping together. They spend much of their free time together. These are certainly possible indications that their relationship is beyond mere friendship.
My problem lies here: consider the following situation that the two are friends and merely friends – good friends – but just friends, and don’t harbor any romantic feelings for each other. Considering that they live next to each other, attend the same school, and Taiga lives by herself, is any of Taiga and Ryuji’s behavior from the show (barring the final couple of episodes, of course) inconsistent with such a scenario? Without going back and rewatching the entire series in it’s entirety again, my recollection is that, no, it wouldn’t be inconsistent. And this is why I make the claim from the before that there was no obvious foreshadowing or indication that the two’s relationship was anything beyond mere friendship.
Indeed, the two spent whole episodes trying to urge the other to go after their respective crushes. This is explained via the idea that each wanted the other to be happy, and thus urged the other to go after who they thought they liked, in spite of their own feelings.
However, the problem with this is twofold: first, again, there is little indication that either Taiga or Ryuji have any second thoughts or resistance in going after their respective crushes. Indeed, they more often than not relish the chance to try to finally make their feelings known. If they were confused about who they liked, they sure didn’t seem to show it. Second, if part of the point of the show is to “find your own happiness,” then why in the hell is it not OK for Taiga to push Ryuji to be with Minori (or for Ryuji to push Taiga to be with Kitamura) but it’s just fine for Minori to push Taiga to be with Ryuji despite her own feelings for him? Yes, I realize she has other things she want to accomplish, but losing Ryuji clearly doesn’t appear to be something that she is able to merely shrug off as an unfortunate casualty of her greater goals. She seems to want to be with Ryuji as much, if not more than, Taiga, yet she is the one for which it is OK to ignore her feelings.
Also, while Taiga at least appears to go through 2 or 3 episodes of angst before being forced to confront her feelings for Ryuji by Minori and friends, Ryuji’s change in position from liking Minori to liking Taiga appears to be so smooth that one could have flipped a light switch to bring about that change. It was too sudden. It was like he sat down for 2 minutes and was like “oh, I guess I like Taiga after all. Heh, imagine that.”
I understand where the writers were coming from: Ryuji and Taiga’s shallow crushes over Minori and Kitamura were just covering up their deeper love for each other. However, they appeared to pull the transformation from “shallow crushes” to the “deep love” rather badly.
Now, I had to admit that I have been caught on the other side of a similar storyline before – in this case, with the Junta, Ami, and Karin love triangle in DNA2. In that instance, Junta had a crush on Karin while essentially blowing off Ami as just a childhood friend, really up to the end of the series, and Junta never seemed to have a true “oh man, I really like Ami” scene in the show. Yet, I was firmly on the Junta/Ami side there all the way through.
I’ve been trying to figure out why I had different opinions in those two shows, and I think the base circumstances in each series helps explain a lot of it. First, in DNA2, Karin has come from the future, and it’s pretty clear she’s going to have to go back, so right there is a sign that any Junta/Karin relationship would be untenable. However, beyond that, Junta and Ami were childhood friends. It’s more explainable that their feelings for each other wouldn’t be obvious because, since they had known each other for so long, it was basically just an every day part of life, even if the two didn’t necessarily acknowledge it as such. I also kind of personally felt that Ami was the better fit as well.
However, in Toradora, Ryuji and Taiga first meet in the first episode, and thus there is no previous relationship. The entirety of the growth of their emotional attachment is there in front of us to see, and, as I stated above, I didn’t see anything to suggest that Taiga and Ryuji actually had romantic feelings for each other, while there was a plethora of evidence that Taiga liked Kitamura and Ryuji liked Minori. Second, there is no practical reason why Ryuji and Minori couldn’t get together, other than the fact that Taiga was the main female lead. And, I thought Minori was overall a better fit personally. Obviously other people will have different opinions about that.
Having said all of this, once all this was out and the two finally realized they liked each other, did the series end up finishing up well? I can probably say yes it did. I dislike how they handeled how they got to that point, but once they got there, I think what they did from then on was fine. However, I still get this feeling that the only reason Ryuji and Taiga ended up together is the mere fact that in anime series such as this….that’s just what happens. This is truly unforutunate for a series which was largely very, very good.