Toradora!, Vol. 6

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.

Sadly, I’ve caught up with when I started to review the manga version of this series, hence the annoying 2 at the end of the URL. In the meantime, we were always going to get a book devoted to Kitamura at some point, and this is the book. Like Minori, he’s a seemingly goofy and eccentric friend, though his iss more genuine and less of a mask than Minori’s. The start of the book sees him devastated by a (hidden to the reader) declaration from Sumire, the current Student Council President. Unfortunately, after he snaps out of it he seemingly goes off the deep end, dying his hair blond and stating he’s not running for student council. thus shocking the entire school. Ryuuji and Taiga may be the only ones who can help him, but what is that help going to entail, and will it mean that the new student council president actually has to be Taiga?

That’s Sumire on the cover, and I suspect that fan opinion of her may be divided. She’s shown to be a flawed character whose reasons for doing what she did are in character but also immature. Unfortunately, we’re not shown that till the very end of the book, in a fantastic and brutal fight with Taiga (which ends with Taiga suspended for two weeks); till then, we’re told over and over again how perfect she is, and when she’s not absent from the book she’s making the situation worse. I liked her arc, but many might think “too little too late”, especially as she’s seemingly also written out here. Speaking of divided opinion, Kitamura gets this book for character development, but just like Sumire that involves being an immature child for most of the volume, doing things like “becoming a delinquent” as a cry for attention from someone who won’t give it to him. You sort of which Taiga would have beaten him up as well, though that’s not going to happen.

Much better handled are the rest of the main cast. Minori is still clearly recovering from the events of the last book, and still trying to find her feet around Ryuuji. I have suspicions about that, but will save it till it’s more obvious. Ami is simply fantastic, being at her bitchy arrogant best while also showing that she too is changing, though she’s not very happy about it at all. (Minori and Ami is a fan ship, and there’s a nice, if short, scene here for that ship). And then there’s our main couple, Taiga and Ryuuji, who have not yet realized that they love each other but both have independently realized that they can’t imagine living without each other. The series is now in its second half, so we need to start heading towards endgame. Taiga too has matured… though perhaps not enough to avoid getting suspended for beating the shit out of a fellow student.

So an excellent volume of Toradora… except that the two characters at the center of it are being very difficult and stubborn. Still worth reading.

Toradora!, Vol. 5

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.

This is a light novel series that is coming out in America well after both the manga and the anime (though the manga remains unfinished as it crawls along in Japan), so to a certain degree there’s very little “surprise” involved in the contents. I knew that we would eventually be dealing with the volume with Taiga’s father, and here it is. As such, a good deal of the book consists of the reader yelling at Ryuuji “NOOOOO, DON’T TRUST HIIIIIM, YOU IIIIIDDDIOOOOOTTT!”, which to be fair Minori does as well. It’s actually rather refreshing, as usually Ryuuji is the sensible, down-to-earth core of these books, so it’s somewhat startling to see him so taken in by Taiga’s dad. Of course, it’s spelled out why he is; he longs for a relationship with his father he can never have, and now he can sort of get it via Taiga. Of course, this means it’s not about what Taiga wants at all, something that he realizes in a horrified sort of way when everything goes wrong.

Before we move on, I want to note that, while Toradora! is quite funny and has some excellent gags, it does lean on one running gag through this book that I wasn’t very fond of. Yuri, the class teacher, turns thirty in this book, something that she and the author make you very aware of. There is a bit of sympathy for her near the end (bless you, Ami), but for the most part the joke is that she’s 30 and unmarried, and the constant (30 years old) tags after her name grow annoying. Of course, without that we would not have had the class wrestling play, which has to be read to be believed, although I admit I think it worked better in more visual mediums. Taiga and Ryuuji really do make an excellent evil duo. And then there’s the race at the end, where Ryuuji and Minori, both incredibly furious with themselves, get involved in a nasty little race to see who can crown Miss Taiga with a tiara of “I’m most important to you!”. The race is fantastic, though I do wonder, given the apparent injuries that occurred during it, why no one got in trouble.

Ryuuji and Minori have a huge fight here, of course, Ryuuji coming from a position of ignorance and Minori from one of having been here before. She withholds that from him, though, deliberately. Minori is upset that Taiga is not only closer to Ryuuji these days, but seems to be getting herself hurt again by making up with her father purely for Ryuuji’s sake. The series to date has been about Taiga and Ryuuji having one-sided crushes, and in the last book we wondered if Ryuuji’s was really one-sided after all. Now we see Minori wondering, out loud, after her struggle to be the one most dear to Taiga, if she’s a lesbian. Leaving aside Ryuuji’s response, which is understandable but won him zero points in the fandom, it’s an interesting question, and I wonder if the author will develop it later on or if it merely serves as an odd coda to this excellent volume.

Toradora!, Vol. 4

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.

This fourth volume of Toradora! does a very good job of playing to the series’ strengths. The core of it is getting the five main characters to become closer and bond as friends, and it achieves that. That said, there is also the romantic comedy/drama part of it, and that’s even better. It was always going to be hard for a series where the winning pairing is literally in the name to try to have “who will they end up with?”, but this volume comes closer than any so far. Ryuuji is still crippled by his awkwardness around Minori, but when he tries to can actually have a really meaningful conversation with her where she opens up (obliquely) about her own insecurities. As for Ami, not only does Ryuuji force her to open up a bit more (a very little bit more) about her own insecurities, but she also flat out states she thinks Minori and him would be a bad match, and that he should hook up with her. As for Taiga? Well, there’s the puppy dream.

The puppy dream is great. Starting off as ridiculous, with both Taiga and Ryuuji completely disgusted by it, the reader is immediately thinking “they’re sharing dreams now!”. By the end of the book, Ryuuji is seeing how the dream could also be taken as really sweet and familial. That said, for the most part the Taiga/Ryuuji antics take a backseat here… or at least the boil settles down to a mild simmer, as there are no shortage of scenes showing them being each other’s perfect halves. Taiga fares far less well in the romance department here, partly as she’s still cripplingly shy and partly as Kitamura is even more Kitamura than usual, complete with accidental flashing. I do sort of wonder how clued in he is to everything going on around him – like Minori, he thinks that Ryuugi and Taiga are meant to be a couple, if not already, but it’s not clear that he’s realized Taiga’s feelings.

That said, this is Minori’s book in the end, as she shows off a fragile vulnerability here, and there’s the first signs that she may feel something for Ryuuji as well. Unfortunately, both are the sort to back off at the last minute – as Ami bluntly points out, they can’t get close to each other. But we also have lots of Minori acting goofy, and of course the giant “let’s try to scare Minori” horror movie plotline, which gives us the opportunity for some great laughs. Toradora! holds up over a lot of other comedy romances in that the comedy does not feel forced or cliched, a la “whoops I just fell into your boobs”. The humor is natural, realistic, and both situational and character-driven. But it’s the drama that readers may take away from this volume. Will things change when they go back to school? Will Ami press her suit/ Will Minori do anything? Will Taiga yell at Ryuuji? At least one of those things is guaranteed to happen!