Collab Projects · Episode Reviews

Anime x Lit Crit: Vampires & Valentines – Toradora! 9

Ah, how I envy anime characters’ summers. Those rich friends with seaside mansions.  Anyways, this episode has many phenomenal highlights, and I have plenty to say about it. Remember to check out Primes’ Shiki review on his blog this week!

Primes: Thanks, Moya! Of course, that’s assuming I get to it while it’s “First Impressions” time…! 

Right, first impressions time! Go check out Primes’ Summer first impressions if there’s no Shiki then! Something that’s totally not happening on my blog this season, haha.

toradora 9.1 dogs dream
Dog genes come from the mom?

The episode opens with Ryuji and Taiga having the same horrific dream of marrying each other and raising a family of dogs. Interestingly, Ryuji is the dog in both dreams, despite being in human form in his own (the only dream shown). In addition, Ryuji is the one who begs Taiga to marry him and is given with a human-sized doghouse. If you follow me on Twitter, you might know that I have a thing for dreams. In fact, I keep a dream journal, and categorize all my dreams under different labels. For a dream like Ryuji’s, I’d label it with (I) (insecurity) and (D) (desire), which often come hand in hand in my own dreams. If we are to agree with Freud that dreams are where repressed desires surface, it makes a lot of sense that insecurity is attached to the manifestations of these desires.

But where’s the “desire” component in a dream both Ryuji and Taiga acknowledge as horrifying? I think marriage (not to mention baby-making) automatically signifies a pretty high level of desire, either for a specific person, for love, or for some sort of external recognition. According to Freud’s The Interpretation of Dreams, this desire is often “distorted,” and your subconscious mind works like an author writing under political censorship. This may explain Ryuji and Taiga’s highly negative reactions within their dreams – it’s a mechanism to protect themselves from potentially dangerous desires. What’s interesting is that this defensive attitude carries on from their dreams into their waking lives, inspiring the two to work harder to avert a dreadful future together. This also suggests that both recognize a great possibility for such a future!

Primes: A very impressive Freudian analysis! I do think it’s worth pointing out that Ryuji at least probably had that dream because right before bed he watched a horror movie called “I gave birth to puppies”! Is it possible that that’s the cause of his dream, or part of the cause? Certainly he thinks it is. And yet they both respond to their dreams in a way that suggests their concerned about it being a premonition, especially Taiga.

Dreams are always partially inspired by things you experience in your daily lives, so totally. That doesn’t mean your subconscious mind doesn’t work with and work around those stimuli though! I don’t know if I buy Freudian dream analysis completely (Freud would probably spend five more paragraphs talking about sexual desire), but I do think his theories about the subconscious mind make sense.

Primes: Later on, in the conversation between Ryuji and Minori, Ryuji explicitly states that he wants to see ghosts and other supernatural things, which is why he watches horror films (like this one). In that conversation, the mystery of the supernatural is used as a symbol for the mystery of falling in love (e.g. “ghost” means “true love”), so Ryuji’s fascination with horror films can be seen as a kind of surrogate for his desire to fall in love.

On a mythic level, I find it fascinating that we had the Dragon, the Tiger, the Oni, and now… the Dog. Apart from the Oni, these are all symbols from the Chinese Zodiac—might that be important? Also, when Ryuji wins at badminton, it’s because of a dog jumping on Taiga; and later on, she growls rather dog-like at him! Are the dragon and the tiger now supposed to be dogs?

That’s very interesting. The first thing I thought of when you mentioned the animals in the context of myth is that the Dog isn’t really a mythical creature. Even in the zodiac, its order is near the very end (where most domestic animals are). I don’t actually know how significant the zodiac order is. There’s the whole myth about animals having a race, so I guess we are to assume that earlier = better. Dragon + Tiger -> Dog… I see that as some sort of devolution.

Onto the vacation part. The friends have many wonderful slice-of-life moments. My favourite was probably the jellyfish hands line-up at the train station…oh, and Kitamura going naked.

Primes: And Minori’s response is to snap pictures of him. Freud would have had a field day with this episode.

toradora 9.2 kitamura naked

There’s also an interesting scene where everyone runs off to the beach excitedly, and Ryuji stays in to clean instead. In the middle of it, he suddenly wonders, “Why am I cleaning all by myself?” I’ve totally forgotten by now, but in the first episode, Ryuji was essentially a misunderstood loner. His only friend seemed to be Kitamura, whom he didn’t even know all that well. The bonds between the five major characters formed so naturally it never seemed strange that they all became friends, but their friendship did develop over the course of the last 8 episodes! And yet, Ryuji still has a moment where he feels left out. Perhaps it’s only natural – Ami has those moments all the time (e.g. when she crouches in-between two vending machines during recess), and so does Taiga on occasion.

After lots of seaweed spirit pranks, house-cleaning, and spicy curry, Taiga and Ryuji each gets time to be alone with their love interests. I’ll skip Taiga’s bit for now because not as much happens there, but wow, Ryuji and Minori… Ryuji basically tries to ask Minori out by asking her whether she has a boyfriend. Funny how that’s so often the go-to line even in real life huh, as if the other person being taken is the only valid reason for one to give up on their romantic pursuit.

Primes: Is that what kids these days say?! Anyway, one of the enjoyable nuances of Toradora is precisely that it sets aside the presumption that you always have to either be in love or trying to find love. Minori may be off in her own world, but there’s no doubt she’s tuned into her heart very well in this regard at least. I’m glad that they included a main character who is comfortable with not being in love or a relationship, and that she doesn’t let it get in the way of her living life to the fullest. 

Hmm…don’t you hear that tossed around often? “Single means available”? Minori is comfortable enough, but she may possibly still be insecure about it at times. I think her response shows that.

Minori responds by asking if Ryuji has ever seen a ghost. They proceed to have a conversation where “ghosts” are used as a metaphor for romantic love, during which Minori expresses a desire to see ghosts but a resigned disbelief in them. As he watches his matcha ice cream sandwich melt, Ryuji says with a hint of desperation, “I hope you become someone who can see ghosts, because I believe there’s a ghost who wants you to see them.” If this isn’t the cutest scene I’ve seen all year!

toradora 9.3 minori ghosts

Both of them are talking in terms of an idealized version of love – something you can only stumble into with the help of fate and magic. While Ryuji does mention that some people put effort into “being able to see ghosts,” he still thinks of “ghosts” as something with a true form that humans lack control over. In other words, Ryuji and Minori both believe (though with skepticism on Minori’s part) in “true love.”

Primes: Ranks right up there with my favorite flirtation scene of all time: Zuko and Mai in Avatar: The Last Airbender! (Forgive me if I’ve already quoted it: “You’re beautiful when you hate everyone.” “I don’t hate you.” “I don’t hate you, too!”) But the Ryuji-Minori scene is sweeter.

Ryuji declares his beliefs, and for the most part, nothing he does seems to contradict it. Minori, despite her supposed lack of faith in ghosts, demonstrates a tremendous fear for the supernatural, and has an eye out for ghosts or UFOs everywhere. Is all that an act? It does kind of seem so at points (Minori’s reaction to the “UFO” feels just a tad forced to me), but regardless of what she believes or tells herself to believe, Minori is definitely someone who still yearns for an encounter with the supernatural. Minori would be on the camp of “I don’t believe in ghosts, but I really want them to be real,” according to herself.

One problem with the analogy of ghosts is that love is not the same for everyone. If you decide to label someone your “soulmate,” that doesn’t automatically mean that they’ll see you the same way. What Ryuji thinks is an important ghost for Minori to notice may not be visible to Minori at all. Can two people ever see the same ghost? I’m not sure what the deal is with Minori – if she’s truly just too skeptical to allow herself to be in love as Ryuji hints at, or if it’s something more complicated than that.

toradora 9.4 taiga x ryuji

By the end, Ryuji and Taiga find themselves more comfortable in each other’s company. Taiga and Ryuji each chase their own ghosts, but they fail to consider the question “what can I do after coming face to face with it?” Unless you’re the protagonist of some supernatural YA romance, you can’t spend your life with a ghost. Toradora!, regardless of its name, certainly isn’t one such story.

Primes: So true—and yet, we spend our whole lives accumulating ghosts to live with… 

It feels odd to be discussing adolescent love like an outsider when I only ceased to be a teen less than 3 months ago, but chasing “ghosts” sounds about right. Frightening, alien, stimulating and impermanent. You’re not completely unaware of its elusiveness, but want to be in chase anyways.

Primes: Hmm, I’m not going to say how long ago it was since I was a teenager! Or a twenties-ager for that matter…

Re-watching this episode, it’s funny to see it start with Ryuji and Taiga in fictional horror stories (a movie and dreams); then they try to create a horror story in real life by scaring Minori, but it’s in order to get her to fall in love with Ryuji; and finally the episode ends with the two of them in their own real-life horror story, as ghostly, sea-weedy things appear in their beds and poltergeists begin hammering on the door and wall! Is love a horror story? Or can it appear to be one if we read it incorrectly?

Ooh, I love this. For the audience, at least, the episode is far more comedic than it is horrific. In love, you scare yourself. In ten years’ time, you’ll look back on it and laugh. That’s probably the closest interpretation I can come up with at the moment, albeit a little simplified. What do you think?

The next episode is going to be a fireworks one, so I sure look forward to it. I may not be able to work on this collab in a while, but we’ll definitely be back sometime.


5 thoughts on “Anime x Lit Crit: Vampires & Valentines – Toradora! 9

      1. The palmtop Tiger is definitely in my list of people I’d want in my harem if I were 40 years younger. Need someone with an edge to keep me in line.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Nonono…you don’t want her in your harem. You’d get beaten to death if you have a have Taiga and a harem at the same time. Better be faithful…


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