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Never Underestimate A Paper Tiger

When an anime ranks in the top 150 out of the 6000+ entries in Anime News Network, I know I am in for something good, and Toradora! (2008) is one such case.  Though this might look like yet-another high school drama harem anime, it is actually anything but.  It is a tale of five friends whose young hearts are so convoluted that even they do not know what they really want.  In other words, it is one of the more realistic treatments of characterization to be found.
Clockwise, starting at the top center: Ryūji, Yasuko, Inko (the parrot)
Ami, Taiga, Minori, Yuri, and Yūsaku.

The anime centers on Ryūji Takasu, our main male protagonist, he is a pretty typical, decent guy but he has a difficult time fitting in because his spooky eyes make everyone think he is a gangster.  He is a real neat freak who annihilates unfinished housework with quasi-religious zeal.

Only slightly off the central focus is our female protagonist, Taiga Aisaka, who lives next door to Ryūji in an upscale condo that overshadows his home.  Although Taiga is 17, about the same age as the others mentioned here, she is unusually small for her age.  Despite this, she has a fierce personality, speaking plainly and even outright physically attacking people at the slightest provocation.  This has earned her a high school nickname, "The Palmtop Tiger."

Minori Kushieda is Taiga's best friend.  This space case is a real font of energy, her perpetually bubbly, cheerful personality drives her to perform well in extracurricular sports activities and particulate in numerous part-time jobs.  Ryūji is enchanted with her vitality and positive attitude, he wants to make her his girlfriend, but he could never work up the guts.

Yūsaku Kitamura is Ryūji's best friend.  Yūsaku is the always-upbeat class representative of their classroom and student council vice president, selflessly dedicating himself to enriching the class experience of his fellow schoolmates.  Always approachable, you would be hard pressed to find anything wrong with this fellow.  Taiga has a total head-over-heels crush on Yūsaku that leaves this normally fierce girl paralyzed and tongue-tied in his presence.

Entering late into the picture is Ami Kawashima, a high schooler whose choice genetics actually allow her to make a pretty good living as an internationally acclaimed supermodel.  With natural tact and guile, she can instantly charm just about everyone she meets.  Yūsaku is a childhood friend of hers and quickly makes Ryūji aware of the fact that Ami actually has a pretty spoiled personality under that flawless exterior of hers.

So it would seem these five friends are simply composed of an unjustly stigmatized everyboy, a pint-sized bully, a ditzy genki girl, a goody two shoes, and a conceited diva, right?  Wrong: nobody here is what they seem.  While many animes would be happy to shoehorn in a few tropes and stick to them like clockwork, what makes Toradora! so great is that this show is a tropebuster, everything that the characters wear on the surface is just a mask for some genuinely unique characterization beneath the surface.

I can not say too much about what happens in this anime without spoiling it.  Suffice it to say, it begins with Taiga and Ryūji learning they have unrequited crushes on each other's best friends and agreeing to help each other confess.  As the story continues, we come to learn more about every one of the characters, and most importantly that none of them really know what they really want.  There is a great deal of lying involved, both to others and to themselves, usually with the sweetest intentions, but these lies almost invariably come back to hurt someone.

Despite all the drama, Toradora is actually a pretty upbeat romance that I could recommend to anyone.  Toradora earned an Excellent (10/11) on the Anime News Network scale from me.  It does not quite manage Masterpiece (11/11) due to lacking the kind of cinematic enchantment I associate with that score (something I have thus far only really given to certain Studio Ghibi films, Princess Tutu, and My Ordinary Life) but this is about as good as non-fantasized slice-of-life gets.  It is currently available for watching on Crunchyroll.

Although the anime settles things pretty well, it does leave a few loose ends about what happens to many of the characters.  Looking into it, the light novel in which Toradora was based spun off into a whole separate series literally called Toradora Spin-off!, but for the most part these stories are not related to the original story, rather they just take place in the same world.  The Toradora manga is still ongoing.

Bonus: The Adventures of Mini-Goddess (1998).

Though I am attempting to keep these blog entries to one thing at a time, I suppose it technically makes sense to bundle The Adventures of Mini-Goddess in a a segue considering that is literally what this series originally was: a seven and a quarter minute bump to be aired as segue between other shows.  (The intro and extro took up a full two minutes of that, so you could fit four episodes in one 24-minute time slot if you only used the intro and extro once.)  There were 48 episodes altogether.
Left to right: Belldandy, Skuld, Urd, and the rat is Gan-chan.
A little while ago, I was talking about Ah My Goddess (a.k.a. Oh! My Goddess) and The Adventures of Mini-Goddess is basically a lighthearted cartoony spinoff involving four characters going on many silly adventures while (with their goddess powers) shrunk down to palmtop proportions.
  • Belldandy - Although she was the main goddess character in the original series, she actually does not have a very big role in The Adventures of Mini-Goddess.  She usually claims to be off-screen to prepare a meal, but sometimes they manage to rope her into their adventures.  She is a bit ditzier here than she was in the original source material, but generates no negativity whatsoever.
  • Skuld - Belldandy's little sister, Skuld's love of constructing high tech gizmos really gets a workout in this series.  Very few of the zany premises in The Adventures of Mini-Goddess would have even have been possible were it not for Skuld's handiwork.
  • Urd - Belldandy's half-demon big sister, Urd's antics introduce quite a bit of spice and energy to the undertakings.  Her talents for coming up with magic potions and pills are sometimes a plot point too, but not nearly as frequently as Skuld's inventions are.
  • Gan-chan - A unique character to The Adventures of Mini-Goddess, Gan-chan is just one of the rats at the temple who happens to be good friends with the goddesses.  Being a rat, Gan-chan's main motivations in life involve eating and sleeping.  Skuld and Urd often force him to go along with their various adventures, though they do sometimes do him favors.  Gan-chan has a hopelessly unrequited crush on Belldandy, probably because she treats him much nicer than her sisters do.  Though generally liked by everyone, Gan-chan catches a lot of abuse, probably because he is essentially a freeloader.
It is implied that The Adventures of Mini-Goddess takes place while Keiichi (Belldandy's mortal hearthrob) is at the university and the goddesses are trying to amuse themselves while he is away.  Although, like other things in the series, this goes against the original canon a bit: Belldandy usually accompanies Keiichi wherever he goes as a part of his, "Be with me forever" wish, and that includes being a classmate at the university.

The main thing to say about this series is that the episodes were remarkably zany.  For example:
  • One the episodes has Gan-chan spontaneously growing into a man-sized Godzilla monster and engaging with various anti-monster countermeasures that Skuld coincidentally constructed.
  • Many of the episodes are two-parters.  An episode has Gan-chan becoming a pilot with the help of the goddesses and then stating he wants to be a space explorer.  This becomes the basis of the following episode. 
  • There is regular forth-wall breaking: one episode has Gan-chan's problem solved too quickly by Urd, so he is sent back in time to solve it in other ways in order to fill episode time.  
I rather enjoyed the creativity on display, they may only have had 5 minute episodes, but they sure packed a lot into it.

Overall, I ended up ranking it as "decent" (7/11) because, while the shows were fun and zany, they did not have a whole lot to do with the original story, and they left a lot of the depth to the characters on the cutting room floor in order to appeal to a younger audience.  I really do not need to worry about how it ended, it is likely that the idea of the series actually came from a humorous little side-comic that was sometimes included in the original manga.
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