Toradora!, Vol. 10

By Yuyuko Takemiya and Yasu. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by Will Holcomb.

It might come as a surprise to those who have read the last three or four volumes of Toradora!, but there was, at one point, a large element of comedy in this series. As things have turned far more serious that’s mostly been repressed, but there’s a wonderful moment here where it returns… and yet we also don’t let go of the soul-crushing despair that both leads are going through. This leads to my favorite scene in the book, where, after having accidentally thrown 24,000 yen into the river, Ryuuji and Taiga finally kiss… then he jumps back onto the edge of a bridge, and she suddenly thinks he’s trying to kill himself, so she grabs at him, but slips and accidentally sends him over the bridge into the river (it’s winter), and then he asks her to marry him, and then SHE jumps off the bridge, and then the two have a giant screaming fight/confession scene in the rover while slowly freezing to death. It’s a bit unnerving to read… but also very like these two.

The first half of the book made me worry that the two of them might actually make good on their running away, which is, let’s be very clear here, a VERY BAD IDEA. Their friends have gotten so invested in giving up on their own denied love and supporting the couple that they’re willing to go along with this, though at least Ami is there to point out the foolishness before giving in anyway. Even their teacher, who literally bets her job that the two won’t run away, can’t stop them from making their escape. In the end, what stops them is actually the actions of Ryuuji’s mother, herself estranged from her parents after a high school relationship ended in pregnancy, who has ALSO run away from home. This leads to Ryuuji reuniting with his grandparents, and he and Taiga seeing that nothing is unrecoverable.

One thing I very much appreciated about this final book is that it does not try to redeem Taiga’s own parents, who have both been portrayed as emotionally and mentally abusing Taiga most of her life. Her dad is finally unable to run from his creditors, and I feel grateful we don’t see him. We do see her mother, who is there to remove Taiga entirely from her friends and love. Their teacher at one point can’t help but compare mother and daughter – they have similar mannerisms, and you can certainly see the family resemblance. But, thankfully, Taiga has emotional depth and the ability to care for others that we really don’t see in her mother here, and it’s why you feel so pained when she finally gives in and leaves with her. Of course, this story is not going to have an unhappy ending, fear not. But I do like how, in the end, Taiga is able to stand up for herself and demand her own right to be happy rather than being yanked around by her parents.

Toradora! is a relatively old series in light novel years, and at times it did feel rather quaint compared to some more modern examples of the genre, which certainly would have added three or four more girls to the Ryuuji mix. But even if it did, no one would be able to get past the destiny of the main pairing. It’s literally in the title. It’s also a terrific read.

Toradora!, Vol. 9

By Yuyuko Takemiya and Yasu. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by Will Holcomb.

The character arc of Toradora! as a whole has generally been each of the characters trying to save each other from jumping off a cliff by jumping off the same cliff first, and that reaches a crescendo here, in a volume that might as well be called “Toradora!: Everyone Hates Themselves SO MUCH”. Ryuuji is the poster child here, of course, shouting into the void that no one will let him sacrifice his life and future. To be fair, he has very real concerns. His family are indeed poor, and his mother, despite being a comedy character for almost the entire series to date, is working herself sick so that he can have a better life. But his solution in the course of “realistic ideas” is stubborn, petulant and bad, and you want to strangle him. Things are not helped by Taiga being absent from the first part of the book, dealing with her own drama, which doesn’t become apparent till the climax. Hell, even Ami is super angsty here. Everyone wants to run away.

We’re back at school after the events of the last volume, but everything is not back to normal, no matter how much Ryuuji tries to make it happen. He’s having nightmares about Taiga dying at the ski slopes… while in class. The class is sympathetic, but this is a far cry from the Ryuuji of the start of the series. His main concern is the career survey he hasn’t turned in, though: he’s determined to get a job so that his mother can take it easy, and he might do college later. His mother is adamant that no, he will be doing college, even if she has to work a second job to earn more money. Taiga does eventually show up, having recovered from a head wound she got from her fall, but she too is reluctant to complete the career survey, and, when it’s eventually revealed that it was Ryuuji who saved her and heard her confession, shows she’s just as unable to deal with the fallout. The book ends with the two, confronted by their mothers, literally running away from everything.

As for the supporting cast, aside from one of Those Two Guys showing off he’s had a girlfriend all this time (which reads as somewhat out of nowhere), it’s all about Ami and Minori. Ami is almost as bad as our two leads in the “why am I so terrible?” sweepstakes, bemoaning that she let things like friendship stop her from transferring out like she planned to earlier in the year… and is now planning to do again, without confessing to Ryuuji or patching things up with Minori. As for Minori, she admits (in an extended rant while chasing Taiga) that she’s loved Ryuuji all this time, but that’s no excuse for Taiga to sacrifice everything for her. In fact, that’s the theme of the whole book: Self-sacrifice for the sake of others is painful and dumb.

The next book is the last in the main series (there are three side-story novels as well, but I wouldn’t hold my breath), and I’ve no doubt things will eventually work out. For now, though, enjoy everyone being very, very sad and flagellating themselves.

Toradora!, Vol. 8

By Yuyuko Takemiya and Yasu. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by Will Holcomb.

Last time everything was terrible, and I asked is some of that could be fixed by the end of this book. The answer is mostly no, though we do get one major revelation that I expect will eventually lead to the endgame. Till then, though… this was a good volume, with lots of relatable teenage angst, but I have to admit that it feels very much like an author being told to stretch out a series to a nice round ten books and therefore just having everything continue to disintegrate. Minori in particular is still making all the wrong choices, trying to pretend that everything between her and Ryuuji is still exactly the same. Sadly, she’s much better at pretending than he is, so he assumes that his almost-confession meant nothing to her. Ami calls her out on her bullshit, which leads to a major fight between them. And then there’s the ending of the book, which I’ll get into later but leaves Minori sobbing alone in a corner. This is not a wacky fun Toradora! volume.

The tone of the book is set up right off the bat, as the much-awaited trip to Okinawa is cancelled when the hotel they were supposed to stay in burns down. As such, the class trip is a much shorter skiing trip, which pleases absolutely no one. As for Ryuuji, he’s still devastated by events of the previous book, and only JUST manages to get back to himself by halfway through the book. This thankfully allows for the brief bit of comedy we get – the tracksuit outfits picked out for the class are deliberately tacky and awful, and there’s various “Ryuuji and Taiga can’t ski” jokes that are a lot of fun – at least till the end. The main plotline remains the love septangle going on. Taiga is trying to distance herself from Ryuuji, and has also gone so far as to give Minori the hairclip Ryuuji was going to give her. She’s really pushing Ryuuji/Minorin hard. As for her crush on Kitamura, well…

As with the previous book, events in the last twenty pages of the volume almost consume everything else. After another fight, Taiga ends up disappearing off a cliff, and Ryuuji is the one to go down and rescue her. Unfortunately, Taiga, who is groggy from concussion and blood loss from the fall, sees Ryuuji’s goggles and thinks it’s Kitamura. We’ve heard that Taiga and Kitamura had a talk at New Year’s (which Ryuuji, in the hospital with flu, missed) and now we get the pretty obvious answer of what it was about – Taiga is incredibly devastated that despite her best efforts, she still loves Ryuuji. Naturally, she’s unaware she’s telling this TO Ryuuji. It’s so sweet and sad and heartwarming and terrible all at once, and I do feel that Ryuuji made the right choice for the moment of pretending that he was not her rescuer, but this isn’t going to go away.

If you like Toradora! and its teen comedy-drama, this one is almost all drama, but should definitely appeal. Next time, one hopes, Minori will finally open up, but I suspect nothing will really be resolved until the final volume.