Toradora: A Story of Contradictions

by eternal on January 17, 2009

It’s pictures like this that can hold the viewer back from seeing what the series really is.

In case you haven’t caught wind of the hype yet, I’ll start with this: Toradora is definitely among the more unique romantic comedies that’s aired in recent time, and it does an excellent job at playing with stereotypes. Like with everything else, there are probably a few naysayers in the audience, but by and large the show has gained its fair share of respect. With charaters that look shallow on the outside but contain much depth on the inside, skillful writing that’s both believable and entertaining, and an all-around solid presentation that accomplishes everything that one would expect from the genre and then some, it’s a show that I would recommend to most anyone.

However, something dawned on me while watching the fifteenth episode the other day. It’s a little something that’s been in front of me all along, yet took me this long to notice: a little something involving Vanilla Salt and a neatly-woven tale of preconceptions.

(translation courtesy of Words of Songs.)

If it’s just sweet
Then let’s put salt on

Because I want you to know more about me
More than anyone else, I want to bare myself
But I can’t do it, I’ve got Nothing for experience
It’s too frustrating

The more I try to show my weakness
The more I act tough in vain and everything goes the other way
I’m actually a crybaby
Though I’ve been mum about that

Taken from the rather catchy ED, Vanilla Salt, these lyrics describe Taiga – or really, most any tsundere – quite well. The almost childish frustration at wanting to convey one’s true feelings yet being unable to, which results in acting opposite to how you feel; a behaviour that requires the target of your affection to read your mind, which he or she obviously can’t. It isn’t an uncommon behaviour at all, especially in anime, and upon hearing about this story for the first time, I figured that the heroine would react like this to the male lead until the 26th episode, where we would be teased with a confession or a kiss and promised a second season.

But Taiga isn’t the only seemingly cliche character in the show: after all, doesn’t the entire cast seem perfectly ordinary at first? You have the typical male lead with not much of a social or love life, the ever-genki classmate that’s always doing crazy things, the calm, collected glasses guy that always says the right thing at the right time, and the fanboy-pandering Ami that derives pleasure from teasing guys.

However, the reality of the matter is entirely different.

“Kitamura-kun says that he doesn’t want to become the student council president…I wonder if he means the opposite…” (CoalGuys sub)

Let’s try looking at it this way for a moment: Toradora is a story of contradictions. Ryuuji looks like a fearsome yakuza boss when he can cook and knit better than the average girl at school; Taiga is bad at expressing her feelings without sounding aggressive, when all she really wants to do is get closer to her crush; Minorin looks as air-headed as can be, but she’s shown signs of depth behind her genki-ness; Ami acts like the perfect girl because of her job, but she actually just enjoys messing with people (and even beyond that, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more of her true self that’s neither perfect nor cruel). Even Kitamura seems to have some sort of inner self that he’s hidden from the world until this episode.

And just as the characters learn to see past these contradictions, these preconceived stereotypes, the audience must also challenge themselves to see past what they think they’re seeing. Just because the female lead is a loli tsundere voiced by Rie Kugimiya doesn’t make this another Zero no Tsukaima. Just because Ryuuji looks, for lack of a better word, ugly, doesn’t mean that the character designer was lazy. There’s a sublime balance going on somewhere in the background, where the characters teeter from stereotypical to the exact opposite of their stereotype, and I believe that the secret to Toradora’s success lies in this balance.

If I’m told it’s white
I’d say it’s black
I can’t be honest
I say one thing but do another
If I’m told, “I love you”
I’d say, “I hate you”
I’m happy, but what am I saying?

Like putting salt
Into sweet vanilla…

Used as the ED for a show like ZnT, lyrics like this would be near meaningless – I’d probably dismiss them as another method of emphasizing the cliche tsundere behaviour. But placed in a show like Toradora, if you strip the romantic implications for a moment, it takes on an entirely different meaning.

Aisaka Taiga: not exactly the picture of feminine. You’d never tell at first glance that even approaching her crush could turn that cold face beet-red.

Ultimately, I believe that Toradora is a story of contradictions. You look at a guy like Ryuji and think he’s going to stab you, but he’s more likely to knit you a sweater and cook you lunch. Ami would fit in perfectly in most any visual novel, but the revelation of her crudely playful self proves that perfection is impossible.

Wherever you look, contradictions lie at every turn: people are not always what they appear to be. Sometimes, you can’t help but act against your feelings; sometimes, you can’t help it if you look like you’re something you’re not. People aren’t born with personalities flawlessly programmed into them – we all have different sides of ourselves, sides that we show to different people in different scenarios. We weren’t written into the world by some sort of screen writer, so one could even say that it’s human nature to be different, to contradict the world’s preconceived expectations of you. It’s like saying the opposite of what you feel, either because you can or because you have to. It’s kinda like doing your best to show people that you’re not who they think you are.

Kinda like pouring salt on vanilla.


{ 22 comments… read them below or add one }

Ryan A January 17, 2009 at 8:25 pm

Salt on vanilla ice cream is gud! Also, I’ve seen sea salt dark chocolate… serious stuff. These contradiction often make things yummier. As for TD, it gives it a flavor a little bit different from the norm, and it’s received quite well; it doesn’t taste like everything else… or what we’d suspect it to taste like.


Ryan As last blog post..Effort in the Season Preview


lelangir January 17, 2009 at 8:38 pm

I also noticed the ED title was a double entendre, coalguys translated it as “banira soruto” and “burning love” (banin ra). The lyrics were: banira soruto de, banin ra.

lelangirs last blog post..collected notes on Rideback 01


Aizen January 17, 2009 at 9:00 pm

Totally true. I haven’t noticed that at all but just accepted things as it unfolded. The people in Toradora are wearing a mask just to cover their real self – or are actually given a mask to wear to hide their real self. Sad – but as Ryan and you (Eternal) said, it’s what makes the show more unique and great. It kind of reminds me Suzumiya Haruhi, if you ask me (I mean, Haruhi kind of did exactly that right?)


lelangir January 17, 2009 at 9:42 pm

@Aizen: Well, the “mask” is part of the “true self” – the “true self” is really just the entirety, both the outside and inside working against each other which synthesizes as a complex process of revealing and development. That’s one way to look at the “identity as a journey” concept. It’s not just that the outside is false and the inside is true – it’s “the space between” that’s important, though that “between” metaphor is slightly misleading…


M12 January 17, 2009 at 10:26 pm

If Vanilla Salt’s lyrics described a tsundere, Taiga should have sung the song XD.
Anyway, I like Taiga a lot. Rie did an excellent job of voicing her.

M12s last blog post..Departure – Audio Drama – Track 2


Mike January 17, 2009 at 11:09 pm

Good analysis. I think you showed well how these characters are more than they appear to be, which is one of the essences of good storytelling and good characterization.

Mikes last blog post..Anime Diet Radio Episode 30: Baby, We Were Born to Love


shirokiryuu January 17, 2009 at 11:26 pm

I thought Ami was a little bit more complex. I don’t fully understand myself, but I don’t think it’s her hidden mean part/messing with people is what matters. I think it’s sorta like wanting friends who’ll be with you despite knowing you aren’t the perfect girl in the magazines.


FuyuMaiden January 18, 2009 at 4:00 am

Wow. This is really so spot on with ToraDora. It’s something that was ocurring to me (just a little bit lately too). The contradictions I was thinking about mostly concerned Ami. Since she was recently (episode 14 or 15?) told by everyone how mature she was, but was then told by Ryuuji that she acted like a little kid.

Hmm, which rbings to mind, Ryuuji is kind of the one who gets to see everyone’s hidden side first, isn’t he? Or maybe it just seems that way because he’s the main character and we pretty much see it through his perspective.

But my goodness. Even though I love Vanilla Salt so much I never took a good look at the lyrics before. Will do so now to see more fun tsundere lyrics~

FuyuMaidens last blog post..SoraKake Girl – Kawai Honoka is awwsome.


Captain Arepa January 18, 2009 at 8:37 am

@FuyuMaiden: I don’t think Ryuuji is that observant so to know other’s hidden selves. Remember the episode where Taiga’s father talked to him, he didn’t realized what kind of father he really was. But it also might be because of him being all excited about Taiga and his father getting reunited and yada yada. Other case would be that of Minori’s: I think that, after what she said while looking for Kitamura (ep. 15), he’ll understand her a bit more, or at least begin to understand, since he’s been always “blinded” by her.

It’s a shame that next week there’ll be new op and ed… I liked Vanilla Salt so much =( But I have it in my iPod anyways xD

@ETERNAL: Man, I think this post was a result of an epiphany, or something like that xD I never thought of any of these to the extent of the ED song being so related to the main thematic of the anime (or at least the tsundere part). Now I’m more inspired about posting anything related to Toradora. I also have to acknowledge the depth of this entry (one of the reasons why I enjoy reading this blog), and I congratulate you. Cheers =)

Captain Arepas last blog post..Habladera de paja y el “otaku hiper-sensible”


Omisyth January 18, 2009 at 4:42 pm

OGT tok on something like this a few weeks back, I think you’d find it interesting:

In the case of Toradora! perhaps J.C Staff just wanted to buck the trend that seemed to be occuring with them and any sort of romance in a show they do (I’ve only seen like 4, but eh) and they’ve certainly done that.

Omisyths last blog post..Toradora 14 and 15: ORE NO TURN.


rangerroh January 19, 2009 at 3:28 pm

Now that you mention it, I do see all the contradictions in all the characters in in toradora. Amazing, that you connected the song with the show! It fits all of the main characters perfectly (taiga especially). Now that I think about it, all of the main characters are starting to see everyones real inter-self and their problems regarding their sterotypes. Which, I ultimately think, it helps brings them closer together as friends as they help one another in solving their dilemmas.


slpless January 21, 2009 at 11:03 pm

Its funny I understood the connection of the ED lyrics to the series some time ago, but didn’t realize the most obvious till you pointed it out…. Vanilla Salt -> vanilla = dere and salt = tsun XD


jinstevens January 23, 2009 at 9:35 pm

Spot on with the Toradora analysis. I was going to write almost the same thing on my blog, but stopped after I read your article. Like you, I’ve enjoyed Taiga’s character a lot since the show started to show that’s she more complex than your typical tsundere. Ryuji, I’ve always liked – he’s likable from the get-go. Juries out on Minorin – strangely, I find her the least appealing character there since they haven’t spent as much time with her development. Overall, it’s been a fun show, especially the last episode involving Kitamura.

jinstevenss last blog post..New Star Wars:TOR screenshots


Michael January 27, 2009 at 9:43 pm

I just discovered this blog. Thanks for your comment by the way.

I totally agree. Most people see Toradora merely as a rehash of the run-of-the-mill romantic series, but it’s far more incisive and perceptive than that. It utilizes irony (as what you’ve noted) in the portrayal of its characters that proffers a fundamental fact: no one is perfect as everyone is human.

Of course it’s unfair comparing this series to Honey and Clover, but it stands on its own merits. This is a truly great show, and I hope it will maintain its quality.

Good post.


Blowfish February 11, 2009 at 6:10 pm

Somehow this post went under my radar.
I gotta agree with you that theres much more behind those cliched character designs.In the beginning ive expected the usual school romance series without any depth.Im glad that i was proven wrong.I especially hated Amis design in the bgeinning since i thought of her as the prototype antagonist.As of now shes my favorite female character out of the bunch.

I didnt give any real thought about the ED since i thought of it as the usual tsundere behavior. Nice Analysis!

Blowfishs last blog post..Melon?Pan!


Hellrei April 6, 2009 at 8:04 am

A very well said analysis! I, too, think the same! When I first heard the ending theme and the translation, I thought, “Ah! Very Taiga-ish!” :)

I am a very big fan of BL anime so I don’t pay much attention to boy x girl pairings, but THIS!!! When I see anime with boy x girl relationships, I just say, “Nah, that’s boring.” But Toradora has caught my eyes from the first episode! I must say, the plot was very well made, with the twist and turns not only as the story progresses, but as the characters themselves grow and develop.

I was very moved after watching Toradora.
My thumbs are not enough to show how great this anime is!

*claps her hands for the excellent analysis*



Jayp June 3, 2009 at 6:43 am


too short of an anime… and it’s really addictive.. like a piece of ecstasy!

hoping for more.. even if it is impossible..(sad.. sad.. sad.. just only 25 episodes..)


Aydz June 21, 2009 at 11:47 pm

Toradora is one of the only anime I’ve watched (and that was after reading most of the light novel translations) so perhaps I’m biased or ignorant, or perhaps I have a different view of things since now that the series has ended.

But isn’t it a whole lot more than that?

I can’t organise my thoughts properly into something that can be conveyed to others in a sensible manner, however I don’t think that this high school romance drama is to tell a story of contradictions. Sure, I agree there are many and varied contradictions in this series, but under that, or perhaps overshadowing that is, without a doubt, something that is termed reality.

That is, the author or the adaptation writer, was only trying to do what most anime’s have to do to be successful, and make it more realistic. Although it’s a well written piece in this case I feel you have left out the conclusion to it. I think Toradora was never a story of contradictions, but more a story of how life can be. This is all the more amplified by the Suzuka-ish ending.

I can’t think of what else to write but I’m sure there’s more lurking in the recesses of my mind.


yoshi-chan September 3, 2009 at 12:56 am

all i can say love is truly amazing.
anime is like a real performance of a persons love story.


roy December 20, 2010 at 9:55 pm

loved the show, pity it had end, really like the toradora gals esp dressed in Christmas costumes


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