Review for Toradora! Complete Collection
I reviewed Toradora on DVD back in 2014, and at the end of the review I stated that I loved the show so much that I could just go back to episode 1 and watch it all over again, then and there. Well, here we are, almost four years later, and I finally get around to re-watching Toradora. Best intentions and all that... This time around though, I’m looking at the show on Blu-ray, which given that it’s apparently an up-scale shouldn’t make too much difference. Then again, there are up-scales, and there are up-scales. I just hope that this is one of the good ones.
Ryuji Takasu has a problem with his appearance. He’s a kind, pleasant, thoughtful guy, who from his father has inherited the looks of a delinquent. He might wish to convey a mild-mannered gaze, but it always comes across as a defiant glare. That’s made making friends a little difficult. On the other hand Taiga Aisaka may be petite, cute, and to all intents and purposes adorable, but she’s got the personality of a firebrand, and a tendency to emphasise her opinions with a dropkick. For neither of them is there a lot of success when it comes to love, but by coincidence, Taiga has a massive, shyness inducing crush on Ryuji’s best friend, Yusaku Kitamura, while Ryuji simply worships the ground that Taiga’s best friend Minori Kushieda walks on. It only makes sense that the two team up to help each other with their respective love lives, even if Taiga doesn’t see it as a team, so much as a master-dog relationship. But the path of true love never goes smoothly, and it’s made even more complicated when Kitamura’s childhood friend and professional model Ami Kawashima transfers into their school.
Twenty-five episodes of Toradora, plus extras are presented across three Blu-ray discs from MVM.
1. Tiger and Dragon
2. Taiga and Ryuji
3. Your Song
4. That Look You Had
5. Ami Kawashima
6. True Self
7. Pool’s Open
8. Who Is This For?
9. When You Go to the Sea
11. Ohashi High School Cultural Festival 1
12. Ohashi High School Cultural Festival 2
13. Ohashi High School Cultural Festival 3
14. Palm-Top Tiger of Happiness
15. Distant Stars
16. One Step Forward
17. Mercury is Retrograde at Christmas
18. Underneath the Fir Tree
19. Christmas Eve Party
20. Stay Like This Forever
21. Can’t Help Myself
22. When You’re Around
23. Path to Take
OVA. Bento Battle
Toradora gets a 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer on these discs. I’ve read previously that the show got an upscale to Blu-ray. If that is the case, then this is one of the best upscales I have seen. The image is clear and sharp throughout, there are no issues with glitches or visible artefacting, and the animation comes across smoothly. There is hardly any digital banding, and stairstepping is also absent while the colours are rich and vibrant. It’s a very appealing animation, with memorable and distinctive character designs, fluid and detailed movement, and a likeable world design. The animation serves the story well and the quality of the transfer does the show justice. That said, I did feel that the opening and closing credit sequences were unduly soft in comparison to the show, but that might have been by design.
While Toradora lacks the absolute pin-sharp detail of a full HD transfer, I suspect that the Blu-ray was created from the original animation, instead of an upscale of an SD source. Perhaps the animation was created at something higher than 480 lines (the way Bones animated Full Metal Alchemist Brotherhood at 540), and scaled up from there, as the show looks a whole lot more appealing than some SD upscales I have seen.
You have the choice between PCM 2.0 Stereo English and Japanese, with translated subtitles and a signs only track locked during playback. I was very pleased with the original language audio, after all, when you have the queen of all things tsundere, Rie Kugimiya cast in the role of Taiga, then there really is no other option. Indeed all of the voice actors are suitably cast for their roles, and it’s very much an enjoyable experience to watch the show in its subtitled form, especially as the subtitles are accurately timed, and free of typographical error. I gave the dub a try, and I chose to pass. This being the Blu-ray, the animation is presented at the correct frame rate and without speed-up or pitch correction. Believe me, that is the correct way to listen to the Vanilla Salt theme song.
You get three discs in a BD Amaray case, with two either side of a central hinged panel. The inner sleeve offers the episode listing.
The discs are presented with static menus, and it’s notable that there are no English language credits for the episodes. You’ll have to resort to the Encyclopaedia on Anime News Network to know who’s who.
All of the extra features are on disc 3.
The Hurray for Gourmands 1-4 short animations are here, with chibi versions of the characters debating whatever food takes their fancy for that episode. There is 22:06 of material here, and it really works the one joke to death. This is available in dub as well as subbed form.
You get both of the textless openings and textless closings.
Ami’s Impressions (2:17), is ostensibly a scene deleted from episode 6, although I tend to see it as an extra created after the fact given the paucity of animation. It’s available in subtitle form only, and the subtitles here aren’t perfectly in sync. The rough visual quality of this extra presented in 1080p is a useful comparison to indicate just how good the series upscale is.
You get 24 TV Spots, just over 6:40 worth.
Finally you’ll also find trailers for Ground Control to Psychoelectric Girl, Medaka Box, Majestic Prince, and Gatchaman Crowds.
There’s one scene, or rather one point of trivia about a scene, which encapsulates all that makes Toradora special in my eyes. It’s one of those clichéd school rooftop scenes, where so many Japanese school students tend to escape from classes, have lunch, confess their feelings, or just act out their angst. One of the characters early on in this series has gone up to the roof to wallow in a fit of depression, which is when the student council president appears, atop the roof of the stairwell, the one roof higher than the main roof, to declaim a speech of inspiration and enthusiasm, striking a triumphant pose in the process. It’s an utterly clichéd scene that has happened in countless other high school anime. What makes Toradora different is that someone has drawn in a ladder. Someone has taken the time to ask, just how did the student council president get up there? And they’ve taken that into account in the animation.
That’s what’s so special about Toradora, on the surface just another anime romantic comedy, replete with unrequited love, quirky characters, and awkward situations. Toradora manages to invest its situations and its characters with a degree of realism beyond that of any similar anime I have yet seen. Despite all the silliness, the jokes and the pratfalls, there’s a heartfelt honesty to the emotions and feelings of the characters that the viewer can really invest in, and you may have tears of laughter at some scenes, but then it can turn at the drop of a hat, and you’ll suddenly have tears for a wholly different cause. The main reason is that it develops its characters so well. There’s no single note character here, no simple comic relief, and no delineation between protagonist and antagonist. All of the characters are developed to a greater degree than you would expect from an anime, you learn about all of them, warts and all, and no matter which pairing you wind up rooting for, you’ll care about them all.
It’s a great set-up for a romantic comedy. You have Ryuji, a boy who so looks like a delinquent that everyone is scared of him, but he has a kind and sweet disposition. Then there’s Taiga, who’s small, cute, adorable, and has a vicious personality, so much so that she’s earned the nickname, Palm-Top Tiger. She’s got a crush on Ryuji’s friend Kitamura, while Ryuji’s head over heels for Taiga’s best friend Minori. It turns out that Ryuji and Taiga are neighbours, so they make a deal to support each other in their respective quests for true love.
It’s never as simple as that, as Kitamura originally asked Taiga out, and she turned him down flat, before developing her crush. And when Minori sees Taiga and Ryuji start spending more time together, she gets the wrong end of the stick, and decides to support her best friend’s ‘romance’, despite the fact that she might actually have feelings for Ryuji herself. And if that isn’t complicated enough, Kitamura’s childhood friend Ami transfers into the school, a gorgeous, professional model, who puts on a sweet, adorable personality in public, but has a cynical catty side to her, which Taiga happens to bring out in the worst possible way. While Kitamura knows her true personality, when Ryuji sees through her facade as well, she begins to see him in a new light, which only complicates matters further.
The characters are so wonderful. Ryuji’s got a world worn edge to him that contrasts with his positive attitude. He’s not had the easiest of upbringings, with an absent father, and a young mother whose personality and lifestyle really make him the parent figure in the family at times. His family is completed by the oddest parrot in fiction, which gives him a mission to teach it to say its own name. Taiga is a classic tsundere, hard on the outside but soft on the inside, but her back-story gives her a reason for it, coming from a broken, if wealthy home. Her father simply pays for her to live alone in a grand apartment, next door to Ryuji’s run-down dwelling, and it turns out that she’s a slob. Which suits Ryuji just fine, as he’s OCD about hygiene. Nothing makes him happier than a stubborn bit of grime to clean, and after he sees Taiga’s junk food diet, he’s soon cooking for her as well.
Kitamura’s a ball of enthusiasm, he’s what you would expect from a grade-A student, hardworking, likeable, on the student council, but he has the oddest sense of humour that crops up at the unlikeliest of times. And it turns out that he’s moved on from Taiga, and has his own crush on someone else, that declamatory student council president I mentioned earlier, and when things don’t go well for him, we see that he doesn’t react all that well. Minori Kushieda on the other hand is my favourite character in the whole show, an off-the-wall oddball who has the goofiest attitude to life, but who wears most of her feelings on her sleeve. You can see why Ryuji would fall for her. It’s as if you take Mako Makanshoku from Kill la Kill, and tone her down enough to be realistic.
The path of true love never runs smoothly, and that is certainly true of Toradora, where the tensions between friendship and romance are explored. Of course it would be rude of me to spoil the story, but suffice it to say that despite, or maybe because of Ryuji and Taiga’s secret scheme, their respective romances aren’t plain sailing, and there are many unexpected developments along the way. Toradora is funnier than you’d expect from an anime romantic comedy, but it’s more realistic as well (certainly very little in the way of fan service), and it draws its characters with an emotional honesty that gets the viewers invested in the show. The episodes too are written just as well as the characters, with so much story and narrative that you can hardly believe that each episode is merely some twenty minutes long. It really is a perfect little show, one which transcends what we’ve come to expect from anime by a wide margin. It’s only the OVA episode that actually feels like an anime.
Normally when it comes to upscales of SD shows on Blu-ray, I can offer one of two opinions, either the show looks as good as the original DVD, in which case you’re advised to upgrade for native progressive frame-rate, uncompressed or lossless audio, and a more robust disc format, or you get upscales where they’ve tried to make it look faux-HD through the use of filtering, DNR and sharpening, and have lost detail in the process, in which case, stick to the DVD. Toradora is that rare animal, where the BD upscale of an SD show looks so much better than the (excellent) DVDs that it feels like a genuine HD show. The colours are strong, the detail levels are excellent, and there is no sign of the DNR and filtering that there simply has to be to make the show look this good. It’s the one time that the studios got their job right. The Toradora Blu-ray takes a great show and makes it look and sound even better.