Nothing makes you feel old like realising you watched and enjoyed something nearly a decade ago, and realising too that you remember a lot of it.
ToraDora! rocketed into my heart circa 2008, with a hilarious and moving coming of age story, great character development, the plotline that got me hooked on the delicious disaster that is matchmaker quests, and, if not a deconstruction, then at least an interesting prod at the tsundere trope that took it beyond cutesy business. This is what I remember, anyway. This summer I’m taking it upon myself to rewatch the whole thing and see if it resonates as much as it did back then. Like an emotional geek fish I’m already re-hooked after the first episode, so let’s peer into the depths of that, shall we?
(Note: these posts will be episode-by-episode examinations and won’t contain spoilers for anything ahead in the series, so ideally you can read along without having seen the show before like I have. You can also watch along on Netflix and Hanabee!)
So, in an ordinary town, a boy is glaring into his bathroom mirror, disgruntledly trying to emulate a soft, cute hairstyle open in a magazine spread. Resigned that it hasn’t worked the way he wanted, he tosses the magazine into the trash, only to have his eye drawn to the mould creeping along the bathroom wall… at which point a ferocious zeal overtakes him and he dives down to scrub it away. Meanwhile, a girl sits up in a lavish four-poster bed in the middle of an absolutely filthy room, and sneezes a few times, all under a cryptic and poetic voiceover about “something that does not often reveal itself”. The immediate picture painted of both their lives is a bit of an ungainly mess, and this is the establishing character moment for the stars of our show.
We soon learn more about the boy, Ryuji, who seems to be our focal point—we follow him as he steps over his underwear-clad mother, asleep on the floor, to get ready for the first day of a new school year, and share his grumpiness at the lack of light in the house… caused, we soon learn, by an enormous apartment building that sits like an awkward behemoth right next door to their little traditional house. Ryuji heads to school and it quickly becomes apparent why he was trying so hard to get that cute and soft hairdo right: one look at his face, and two students immediately freak out and hand over their wallets as if they’re being mugged. Several people remark that he has the eyes of a killer, except, of course, for his mother, who happily says he has the eyes of his dad.
Whether his father was a literal gangster or just looked like one isn’t made explicit in this episode, but it doesn’t take much to discern that Ryuji hates that he resembles the dead man as much as his mother loves it. At least he has one friend at school, mild-mannered glasses-sporting Kitamura, who reassures him that he won’t have to get his story straight with everyone because Kitamura knows the real him and will always have his back. This is basically the only characterisation we get for him so far, but it’s enough to cement that he’s a helpful wholesome lad, which is really all we need to know for now. Besides, there are much more important characters to focus on, like the tiny angry girl that Ryuji bumps into in the hall.
Her name is Aisaka Taiga, popular alias “The Palmtop Tiger” among the student body, who seem, weirdly enough, to be just as terrified of her as they are of the guy who’s inherited the face of a Yakuza murderer. Ryuji notes that she has a certain intensity about her, which I think perhaps comes from having all the rage of a normal-sized adult compressed into a body that’s about five feet tall. Ryuji gets a perfect taste of it when he goes back to class after the end of the day to get his bag, and… finds the classroom looking like a bomb has hit it, and Taiga rolling out of a locker in the middle of it all. As you do.
With the sunset lighting and classroom setting, oddly enough it reminded me of the Spooky Scary Skeleton arc in Fate/Stay Night, at least visually, except that the great battle here is nothing supernatural—what Ryuji has to face as he grabs his stuff is the horror-channelled-into-aggression of a girl who’s realised she’s put something in the wrong guy’s bag. Ryuji successfully wrestles his satchel away from her and escapes with his life, wondering what the fresh hell that could have all been about. That night at home, in his bag he finds an envelope addressed to his friend Kitamura, who was sitting the next desk over… with a love heart sticker on it. Ah, the teenaged crush—there is no force more debilitating or destructive on this mortal earth. Taiga was writing him a confession, but gave it to Ryuji to find by mistake, and now has no idea how to handle the consequences of this mess-up on her part. Naturally, she decides the best course of action is to break into Ryuji’s house in the middle of the goddamn night and attempt to whack him with a wooden katana.
It’s worth noting that all this slapstick violence and bursts of anger, juxtaposed in the vessel of a tiny cute girl, are all very capital A Anime and textbook tsundere with a bit of mania thrown in for kicks, but it’s also made quietly clear, through both Ryuji’s reactions and the way things are framed, that there’s something not quite right about Taiga. Her wildness has an air of perplexing mystery to it, leaving it as kind of a question to pique the viewer’s interest as opposed to just another moe factor, which is only heightened by her remarks about being sick of living on convenience store food and, of course, the state of her huge and empty apartment. Ryuji visits her (turns out she lives in that horrible building next door) the next morning and is not only kicked into overdrive by his compulsive cleaning habits, but is baffled that a single teenaged girl seems to live in this massive ritzy place all on her own. There’s stylish furniture, but no real sign of personality but for the mess she’s left everywhere, and he remarks that she’s like a doll in a dollhouse.
He’s over at her house, though, because of the most important part of the episode: the inciting incident of the whole series. Seeing Taiga both enraged and strangely vulnerable in the wake of her revealed crush, Ryuji tries to make her feel better by showing her his stupid secret crush, and the box of bad poetry and mix tapes he’s made for the fantasy version of the world where he’s brave enough to confess to her. Taiga figures out through this that his crush is on Kusheida Minorin, her best and perhaps only friend, who we met briefly in the scenes at school and saw Ryuji blush all over. It seems apparent that these two are in love with each other’s BFFs.
The tangled beauty of a matchmaker plot hasn’t quite kicked off yet, but Ryuji has promised to help Taiga out with the Kitamura situation in return for her getting out of his house and not waving her goddamn sword around. So their relationship starts on at best rocky and at worst utterly bizarre and awful grounds, but it’s the start of something that I remember being quite interesting.
Honestly this entire half hour was a nostalgia trip (especially the opening theme, which I turned up to full volume), but it’s nice to see that I don’t recall everything in detail and will mostly be able to look upon this with fresh eyes. Will it stand the test of time? Will we find out why Taiga is so bad at both household cleanliness and dealing with her emotions? Did anyone at school hear the colossal crash of the desks flying everywhere and did they think to do anything about it, or were they just like “it’s probably some over-the-top anime bullshit, let’s not get involved”? Stay tuned to find out!