Anime x Lit Crit: Vampires & Valentines – Toradora! 05

My intro just becomes shorter and shorter, so I might as well skip it. You can check out last week’s Shiki review and find a links for our previous collabs on Primes’ website!

toradora osananajimi childhood friend

Finally, Ami Kawashima. When I Googled “Toradora,” Ami was the first suggestion to pop up for some reason. Is she a popular character? I don’t get people…
Primes: In my family, we have a tongue-in-cheek prayer: “God, save us from perfect people!” πŸ˜€ Meaning, people who seem to have it all together, apparently flawless. Because it’s just the nature of things that we are all wounded on the inside, that we all have our cracks and scars. It’s only prudence to keep these flaws under wraps to a degree in public settings; the people who pretend to have no flaws at all, though, are often the most deeply wounded, it seems to me. They try to protect those wounds with a veneer of flawlessness. And that’s Ami’s persona (at least towards guys) in a nutshell, early on in the series.

Right, I should probably have given an overview of Ami’s “perfect” personality before going into anything else. Ami is so gentle and submissive (submissiveness should raise a red flag already!) that she barely seems like a real person. I’m not sure if her entrance fooled any other viewers, but I certainly saw past that. 5 episodes into the show, I’m a seasoned Toradora! watcher…
Primes: I’m as surprised as you to find that Ami might be so popular among online fans of Toradora. Like all the cast, though, her character evolves in complex ways throughout the series, and I bet that’s the cause.

She’s also kind of cute, I guess.

Ami and Kitamura are childhood friends! Childhood friends in anime usually implies single-sided affection on one friend’s part, but that doesn’t seem like the case here. The relationship between childhood friends is a pretty beautiful thing though. I know that I do speak the most openly to friends from my toddler years, even if we only meet once a year. Kitamura knows Ami’s true side (manipulative and spoiled, according to him), and wants to introduce that side of her to friends that he trusts so that Ami can live an easier life without all the pretenses. I wonder if Ami knows that side of Kitamura that we haven’t seen yet? Because surely, Kitamura has another side to him too. He’s so nice and senpai-like it’s suspicious…
Primes: And once again TD upends our anime expectations! And you’re right, the “childhood friends” relationship is darn beautiful. Their relationship is also beautiful inasmuch as you have a young man and young woman who know each other well and are friends, and their lovely friendship is without romantic tension. I’m not knocking romanceβ€”I am married after allβ€”but I think that sometimes it gets valued inordinately over friendship. The very term “friendzone”, for instance, is a pejorative, as if a friendship without romance is somehow incomplete; and that just isn’t the case.
This trend carries over into anime, too. How many other really good examples of this kind of relationship can you think of in anime? I’ve seen a lot of conversations discussing and debating the excessive and over-the-top and frequently unbelievable romantic relationships in anime. But I’ve never heard anyone say, “You know what anime needs? Fewer friendships, more romance!”

Yes, I have friends who see romance as “a higher level of friendship,” while I personally find if difficult to see the two as the same type of thing, differing only by extents. Many more people think that a pure friendship between a man and a woman can’t exist, if at least one of them is attracted to the opposite sex, and anime often confirms that. Hail friendships!

toradora 5.2 demon ami

Kitamura calls Ami a typical evil princess, but Ryuji says that she’s “possessed by a demon.” A tiger, a dragon, and now a demon! Now, there are many words for “demon” in Japanese, and not all of them refer to the same thing. “Youkai” (ε¦–ζ€ͺ) are the colourful, traditional stuff in Natsume Yujinchou and Inuyasha; “youma” (ε¦–ι­”) are the stuff in Claymore and Sailor Moon – more sinister and potentially humanoid; “ayakashi” (ε¦–) is a general term for youkai near water; “obake” (γŠεŒ–γ‘) is a general term for ghostly youkai; and “bakemono” (εŒ–η‰©) more often translates to “monster” and is used as an insult towards abnormal characters in anime. Ami is an “oni” (ι¬Ό) – a type of youkai more accurately translated as “ogre,” commonly used as an insult for sadistic people.

That’s more than fitting for Ami! Wikipedia suggests this for the etymology of “oni”: “the word derives from on, the on’yomi reading of a character (隠) meaning ‘to hide or conceal’, due to oni having the tendency of ‘hiding behind things, not wishing to appear.‘” Ami Kawashima – a living horror under a charming facade.
Primes: Wow! As always, I’m glad to have your insight to explain the deeper cultural details that illuminate TD!

Um, thanks (thank Google, actually)! But Ryuji’s claim is that she is “possessed” – that the oni element of her isn’t a part of her original nature, despite Kitamura’s claim of the opposite. Is Ryuji simply in denial, or is Ami’s sadistic side another barrier to protect a more fragile self?
Primes: Again, I think this is a reflection of a larger discussion taking place in post/modernity: To what extent is there a “natural” self, and to what extent is the self constructed? Can we mould ourselves (or others) to be whatever we wish, or is that “you were born this way”? Nature or Nurture? And the answer is, well, a little bit of both. Actually, a lot of both.

Right, we went over that last time! Judging by the word choices of Kitamura and Ryuji, both of them believe in the binaries of natural vs. acquired. At this point, I can’t argue with “a lot of both”!

toradora 5.3 airhead

And Taiga speaks the truth again! Honest people wouldn’t call themselves an “airhead”… This makes sense, because in calling yourself one, you’re demonstrating too much awareness regarding yourself and how you match up to others, which a true airhead isn’t supposed to have. Taiga’s words really are sharp sometimes…

The episode juxtaposes Ami’s fake airheaded-ness with Minori’s sincere…adorableness. While Ami is an “airhead” who’s secretly too smart, Minori is a natural fool who happens to be wise in her own way. She seems to be sensitive towards genuineness/niceness in people, and fails to detect it in Ami.

toradora 5.4 minorin
I’m interested in purchasing that fancy gadget of yours

Perhaps the defining difference between them is that Minori doesn’t care about people’s judgment, while Ami’s existence is built around it. Well, I don’t know the extent to which Minori is free from a fear of judgment, but somebody who shares images of her failed pudding-in-a-bucket to others and wears a “cute girl detector” in public probably has a very different view on appearances than the typical human.

But then Minori is able to answer firmly (and passionately) that an airhead doesn’t call herself an airhead, so… is she truly an airhead herself, if airheads aren’t supposed to have awareness of a lot of things? While, I did say that she’s wise in her own way, so I guess not? Minori, I still don’t get you. (Still waiting for her story)
Primes: I love the way you contrast Ami and Minori’s characters here! We do have to wait a long time for Minori’s story, actually: at least, longer than I wanted to wait!

Darn…I’ll have to be patient then…

Apologizing for how long it took me to put up this review! I’ve unintentionally gone into a 10 day hiatus. I’m hoping to come back fully soon, but it’ll depend on a few things. Look forward to an update post, maybe!


7 thoughts on “Anime x Lit Crit: Vampires & Valentines – Toradora! 05

  1. I’m going to start watching Toradora! today. Love your insights and you make this show sound just what I want to start watching right now.
    My best friend is a man. I agree many people don’t understand or agree that true friendship can exist between a woman and man. Although, I think it’s mostly because genders never been equals. Women’s role in life was mainly to be a romantic partner and mother and haven’t been considered as individuals with interests, passions, and goals. I think this changed a lot and still changing and eventually this ‘no real friendship can exist between girls and boys’ will die out with many other things.
    I think most anime watcher like cute, soft anime girl characters. Probably because most of them also shy and introverted. So they can identify more easily with these characters. Especially girls. Most girls I know have a vastly cute and shy favorite anime character. Although, I LOVE when there is a strong, unique, quirky girl character in shows. I don’t mind soft characters but enjoy a show a whole lot more if they create an exciting, different female character.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh my, I’m so sorry I missed this comment! It got moved to spam. Yes, Toradora is a wonderful show in which there are multiple strong and quirky female characters. And don’t you just love these beautiful friendships?

      Liked by 2 people

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