My main gripe with Toradora and the underlying issue driving my frustration is the weak and unconvincing motivations, personalities, and relationship dynamics, which make the characters feel empty and shallow with little meaning to back up their actions. The plot depends on you believing and justifying the actions of these characters in order to move forward, but it is difficult to become invested if you do not believe that they are genuine or realistic. It is greatly exacerbated by the fact that reactions and displays of emotions are so overemphasized and overstated. This can be great if the intentions and the reasoning are reasonable and funny, and as a side plot or comedic relief, but in TD it is way too overused and is one of the only things moving the plot forward. It also takes everyone forever to accomplish anything meaningful, because no one is forward or open with their desires despite very, VERY obviously showing them.
All of these factors make it feel as if their resulting illogical and irrational decisions are solely used to create drama for the sake of creating drama, instead of depicting a more natural progression of events and obstacles. Simple problems, that have simple solutions that should be as obvious as the sun is bright, are dragged out for hours thereby resulting in a plot that barely goes anywhere for well into two-thirds in. By that point, where the plot finally starts seeing some progress, it is hard to have any stake in the outcome as any credibility to the realism of the character relationships has been destroyed. The rest of the show feels rushed and speeds through finally progressing on a relationship on which the foundation is shaky and unconvincing.
I honestly do not understand why this show is so highly rated. There are a few good moments scattered throughout, but every single character except Ami (who is the exception to most of what I said in this opening) is irredeemable and undeserving of a happy ending. Spoilers from here on out.
So let’s start with Taiga and Ryuuji. First is the fact that their relationship is built upon their desires for other people; which, in the case of both crushes, are poorly defined and justified from the beginning. However, this is definitely not my main complaint with their dynamic. Ryuuji is a complete doormat to Taiga and her verbal and physical abuse, and selfish, ungrateful, conceited, and downright nasty attitude. A little masochism in small doses can be great. However, there is absolutely no logical reason for Ryuuji to put up with it for that long as it would reasonably drive anyone away, and it is also way too overplayed. It may be funny the first few times, but it relentlessly drags on well into +16 episodes. And sure there are people who love cooking and cleaning for other people, but the level Ryuuji takes it to is absurd. I guess what makes their relationship insufferable for me is that I don't enjoy the quirkiness or the eccentricity of these characteristics because they're just not convincing for me. Taiga reciprocates nothing, it is a completely one way relationship. The reasons that have been explained to me of why Ryuuji likes Taiga, such as understanding, compassion, and someone to vent and act natural to around, are not only not believable, but can also be said about Minori and Ami. I can understand that others may enjoy or even relate to Taiga and Ryuuji’s relationship, but I find it way too unrealistic and frustrating. This is the underlying problem I have with TD. It just falls apart if you do not find the main relationship of the plot to be believable from start to finish, since everything revolves around and is built upon it.
So now onto Kitamura, who is honestly pathetic. He spends a few episodes brooding and running away from an extremely simple problem in the most pathetic way possible. We later find out that it was all a pitiful stunt to try and win over the sitting student council president. A cry for help should not drive the plot of over 40 minutes of screen time. Again, completely unconvincing motivation since we have very little backstory and reason for why we should be invested in his crush, and absurd over personification and overreaction. While this arc of his is more of a side story and easy to separate from the main plot, it does become the motivating factor or foundation for many of the events between Ryuuji and Taiga. This adds another layer of unconvincing motivation which makes everything that follows that much harder to believe and justify. Back to the story; so now this goes back to Taiga who finally realizes that the guy she has been creaming herself over for the past +16 episodes loves someone else and not her - something that a chimp would be able to deduce after his repeated ignoring of her being publicly aroused to the point of near aneurysm. After about 6 whole hours of this extremely frustrating and largely stagnant plot, she realizes that Ryuuji is the one she loves. How convenient and lazy of a motivation is that? Sure Taiga may have seen Ryuuji as a father figure before this, but that's a thin wall to hide behind considering the little amount of time it takes for her to change her view. The quickness of it (especially compared to how long and drawn out the plot was before this point) makes it seem forced and not very natural or realistic of a progression at all. And the kicker is, Ryuuji welcomes it even after the downright abuse, ungratefulness, and contempt that Taiga has inflicted upon him relentlessly. Repeating what I said before, just seems ridiculous that the ending and payoff of the show depends on you believing in the validity of their initial relationship.
But the main conflict of the show is that Ryuuji likes Minori and now she starts to like him back - a bit before Taiga but at around the same time regardless. This is more than 15 episodes in, where before it was long and dragged out line of X loves Y who loves Z who loves etc. Within that time by the way, the whole plot could have been easily solved if someone actually said something, ANYTHING. So much time spent on nothing, driven by everyone not wanting to say anything but showing it so obviously that it numbs the brain how it goes unresolved. So anyways, now we actually have a love triangle and Minori also starts liking Ryuuji, but the problem is that Minori is extremely loyal, obedient, and submissive to Taiga. Trying to pass this dynamic off as believable is another aspect that the plot is hinging on in order to move forward, and is the main focus of my frustration with Minori. Again, extremely unconvincing motivation and reasoning behind it. Taiga deserves basically none of the affection she gets, both from Minori and from Ryuuji. Oh boo hoo her dad is rich and pays for all her shit which she, by putting in the slightest amount of effort towards, could live a wonderful life. Father not around? Neither is Ryuuji's. Got family issues? So does literally every single one of the 5 main characters to varying degrees.
So now we get to Ami, the only redeemable character. She makes decisions that for the most part make sense, has a great character arc, and reasonable, well explained plot development that adds substantial depth to her character and is not just used for a plot device. She seems to be the only one of the group who has eyes and uses them to perceive the world around her. The only one who actually confronts people and talks about things, trying to take action to accomplish what she or the people around her wants - to no avail thanks to the denseness of everyone else. The only who does not let their blinding emotional desires overpower simple decision making. The only one who calls out the sheer stupidity of the conflicts stemming from the emotional attractions within the group, which are poorly defined but are the only things driving the plot forward. Sure she starts out as a terrible person, but literally the next episode her entire motivation and backstory is explained in a way that makes sense and explains her behavior, and she pretty much stops being such a terrible person. Her attraction to the MC is one that grows over time instead of a blinding love seemingly popping into existence at just the right time to move the plot along.
Not everyone needs a happy ending - I am perfectly fine with that. However, Taiga definitely does not deserve one being the terrible person that she is, especially at the expense of both Minori and Ami. They are much better and more redeemable characters whose motivations and decisions are more reasonable, and whose attraction to the MC is much more believable and convincing. I realize now after having it explained to me, that the last few episodes with the eloping (as weird as they were) do show Taiga's arc and ultimate motivations. I will admit that it does make some sense, but I still have issues with the show. It is such a departure from her personality and her behavior from the previous +20 episodes, and feels extremely rushed compared to slow and stagnant progression up until that point.
The ending, actually the entire show really but the ending to a greater extent, requires big jumps in logic and assumptions to be made; putting trust in both the changing and unchanging motivations of the characters that I personally like seeing instead of believing. A fitting end, where the outcome relies on superimposing your personal belief that these characters have grown and progressed. Making the assumption that you will just believe it and go along with it without showing the effort and the self reflection that relationships take, instead opting for derivative, trumped up drama and showing you the result, hoping that you will fill in the gaps yourself and believe it to be convincing. While I can understand some of the appeal in that, in my opinion; the situations and character personalities presented compared to the outcomes of the plot are just too big of gaps to fill in.