Reviewby Lissa Pattillo,
Takasu Ryuuji has gotten used to the assumptions people make about him based on his appearance. With scary eyes and a rather static expression, he's always been known as a delinquent regardless of the fact that he doesn't have a rap sheet. When starting his second year in high school he doesn't expect much to change but is optimistic when he discovers he's in the same class as his best friend and crush. Things get more complicated when he accidentally gets involved with the “Palmtop Tiger” Aisaka Taiga - the school's shortest, cutest and most dangerous student.
No one expects all manga to be thought-provoking masterpieces, but there's something to be said for a work that still manages to feel rather pointless. Toradora achieves that with a claustrophobic focus on the lead characters and a plot that's shallow and cliche-ridden. In spite of all that, Toradora still manages to be entertaining anyway, proving once again you don't need to have a deeper meaning to be fun.
Takasu Ryuuji is an average teenage guy, excluding this nagging problem of looking like a criminal thanks to his uncontrollably aggressive stares. It doesn't seem to bother him much though and he's got bigger things on his mind anyway, like an OCD-driven need to have things kept clean. The new school year has begun and he's lucky enough to be in the same class as his best friend, Kitamura, and the girl he has a crush on, Kushieda.
Enter Aisaka Taiga. She's short, cute and nobody wants to mess with her. Ryuuji soon learns she isn't all attitude and spunk however, no matter what the rumors their classmates circulate say. A love-letter acts as a catalyst to expose her cute insecurities, and she fiercely wields a boken in order to deal with them. If Taiga's dramatic introduction didn't already cinch the obvious, the events that soon follow drive home the fact that Ryuuji has gotten himself involved with a girl destined to complicate things.
There's little to say about the standard 'boy meets girl and hijinks ensue' plot line but it feels like you're really taking this cliche premise on the chin when it's revealed they live next door to one another. Revealing that Taiga is in love with Kitamura and also happens to be close friends with Kushieda presents Taiga and Taksau with an obvious opportunity as they realize they're in love with the others' best friend. Dodgeball plots, failed attempts at baking and swirling rumors about the time they've begun spending together are just some of the beasts they battle. All the while Taiga prods Ryuuji on like a slave driver as she uses her ability to get Ryuuji closer to Kushieda against him. It's funny but also a little sad.
Were women not already enough trouble in Ryuuji's life, you also have his mother. Her simple role as the busty, blush-cheeked eye-candy is as transparent as her lacy undergarments. She's selfish, lazy and just lays around the house whining cheerfully for Ryuuji to feed her. It's almost impressive that despite this, her airheaded-nature somehow makes her hard to hate. Still, you'll be grateful she's only there part-time.
Kitamura and Kushieda are prominent in the book, but even they develop little past being one-dimensional plot devices. Kitamura is easy-going and good with girls, in contrast with Ryuuji. Kushieda is the very definition of peppy and gets along with everyone, which contrasts with Taiga. The two spend quite a bit of time together as members of the student council and there's an underlying sense that they know more of what's going on than they let on. Or perhaps it's something else altogether. Either way the volume ends on a cliffhanger when readers see Kushieda being a lot more serious than we were lead to believe was possible.
By this point readers have been given just enough reason to care about how things play out for Ryuuji and Taiga. It's easy to pity Ryuuji for what he goes through with Taiga, and surprisingly easy to feel sympathy for Taiga for her earnest, tongue-tied attempts to talk to Kitamura. At the same time the plot itself still feels uninspired – haven't we read similar stories far too many times before?
Fortunately Seven Seas does a great job playing up the series' stronger points with exceptional adaptation work. There was a lot of care taken with the way characters speak, including the use of bolds and italics to put emphasis on specific words. A little bit of slang and intentionally sloppy grammar tailor the speech perfectly to teenagers as well.
This version of Toradora also benefits greatly from Zekkyo's artwork which brings an energy to the story that the plot itself can sometimes lack. It's cute, lively and oftentimes hilarious, especially given the weird expressions on the cast's faces, Taiga's in particular. The style lends itself best to her, especially when she's having scattered moments of teary-eyed sadness or an honest smile, all of which are given special attention by the artist.
Toradora won't win many points for originality yet its eccentricities make this a decent first volume. Both Taiga and Ryuuji have their own special issues played for our entertainment. It's amusing seeing how they clash. The story's romance is a little hard to care about though when there's more chemistry between them than the targets of their affections. But that's likely intentional, as we can see a relationship between the Palmtop Tiger and her servant coming a mile away. It's this feeling that Toradora is just another trope-coasting plot that holds it back. Thankfully often over the top characters and cute artwork prove how this kind of otaku-targeted material still manages to find an audience nearly every time anyway.
Overall : B
Story : C+
Art : A-
+ Charming, fun artwork and a lively story to match; contrasting elements of Taiga's personality make her entertaining alongside Ryuuji
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