I was poking around CrunchyRoll the other day, looking for a new show, when I saw Toradora! I had heard of it through social osmosis, but had absolutely zero idea what it was about. Half a week later, I’m throwing all my cherished projects to the wind to write an analysis post that doesn’t even involve philosophy!
First off, let’s get this out of the way. I really liked Toradora. Probably not top 30, but it’s very good. Sure, it’s a romance show, but it stands out quite a bit. The five main characters are each robust and unique as characters. Their interactions with the world and each other are a joy to watch, and always very interesting. Even the side characters are great! Regrettably, you know how the story will turn out within the first few episodes, but that is really not the point of the show. With all that said and done, it is time for some SPOILERS!
To me, the most interesting thing about Toradora is that it includes a character who is doomed immediately upon her introduction. Many romance shows would give her the illusion of chance, or have a relatively equal ending, giving her a fair chance. However, Toradora is not a normal romance show, and it treats Kawashima Ami very differently. Let’s step back and take a look at the situation.
Ami comes to town a beautiful, rich model. She’s successful and has a seemingly bright future. That said, she has some obviously glaring social issues, namely her multiple displayed personalities. She is a flirt with men, and she is snobby and harsh with women. This leads Taiga, as well as many viewers, to view her as a monstrous twisted individual. Yusaku wants to free her from her glittery persona so that she can be honest with her friends and find acceptance. And it works! Or… Does it?
While some viewers (and even the writer of the Wikipedia article on the series!) instantly peg Ami as a spoiled princess, I would assert that it is better to view her as under the effects of major depressive disorder. Many depressives do not reveal their true nature to the public, instead assuming alternate personalities and personas. These do not disclose their true self, and are often greatly entertaining to outsiders. Many writers, musicians, actors, and artists of various sorts are depressives. (See this list for some reference) Creating personalities for public view is an essential survival mechanism for depressives to be accepted by others and society at large. I believe that depression accounts for Ami’s actions and positions much better than the claim that she is a spoiled brat.
So did Yusaku succeed in revealing Ami’s true self? Sure, Ami accepts Yusaku’s group as friends, albeit somewhat distantly. But she is definitely not honest with them. See, what Kitsuragi doesn’t understand is that her spoiled princess personality is also just a manufactured personality. As a depressive, Ami does not reveal her true self easily. She eases back on the princess personality and modifies it to a personality tailored to their expectations and wishes. She is relatively friendly and popular, yet often selfish and vain. She gives basic cues as to her likes and dislikes, and tries to be what her companions expect from a friend who happens to be a model.
However, it is obvious that this is also just a disguise, a manufactured personality. Her true personality shows through from her monologues and some of her actions. She falls for Ryuji because he sees through her personalities for a split instant and notes that she is an immature child. (As a depressive, this is how she actually views herself) Her personalities that successfully fool the world at large were fully disregarded. She is pierced to the core, and becomes suddenly interested in this man who has seen her true nature. As someone who has seen her as she truly is, she regards him as a true equal. In direct contrast, her childhood friend is fully fooled by her personalities, and the other women of the show pay little regard to her as a person, rather regarding her as an idol or a rival.
Next, Ami tries to manufacture situations and personalities which she thinks Ryuji will find interesting. Her true self is actually excited about this person, something that obviously rarely happens. She tries to use her feminine wiles, tries to make awkward yet tantalizing situations, and she even attempts to use her body. At every move, Ryuji shoots her down with apathy or even disdain. After winning the contest against Taiga to bring him to her beach house for summer vacation, she gets to spend almost no time alone with him. He even attempts to get her to assist him in his plots to win Minori’s love! However, he refuses to be honest with her about these plots, and thus she refuses to associate with the execution of the plot. She even spells out the whole situation for him, showing that equality could be a foundation for a very strong friendship or love. Ryuji fully disregards her arguments, almost instantly. In her eyes, he has glimpsed her true nature, yet has had no empathy, no interest. He will not even treat her as a true equal! She desperately tries to bring acknowledgement, the slightest bit of interest. All to no avail.
This all brings us to what I found to be some of the most interesting scenes in the show: Ami acknowledging despair. Through her monologues and mannerisms, we see her become jaded. She realizes that she was doomed from the start, and that nothing can change her path. Her core being was in a very agitated state, searching for meaning, grasping at straws. She found another being who understood her for an instant, and desperately attempts to hold his attention. As all her efforts fail, we see her core self cool off, and settle down into gloomy apathy. Her personality projections become more subdued, and she falls into a maintenance state. She has given up on love altogether. She lashes out a few times as she cools off, sabotaging Minori and attempting to transfer schools. She is angry that Ryuji has not acknowledged her, and angry that the other girls do not even acknowledge themselves. They will not come to terms with their inner selves and desires, and (to Ami’s eyes) needlessly hurt themselves when Ryuji acknowledges them. This is infuriating and depressing to her, as she has acknowledged herself for what she is and what she wants, and yet Ryuji pays no attention. In many ways, although Ami thinks of herself as childish and immature, she has exceptional insight into interpersonal relations that do not involve herself. Again, this is a survival mechanism for depressives. Being able to read the people around you is key to maintaining your personas. Ami is not yet fully aware of her skills, and is frustrated that nobody else sees the obvious.
Towards the end of the show, Ami has calmed down. She has obviously given up on love, and is attempting to find contentment in just having been noticed. She thanks Ryuji for this, and basically admits everything to him. The show ends on a high note, but Ami has fallen to the wayside.
Toradora is a show about love. But where Elfenlied is a manga about the beauty, purity, and tragedy of love, Toradora is a show about the pain, guilt, and absurdity of love. I applaud its creators for encapsulating that so well, and especially for the writing of Ami’s character. While not even my favorite character of the show, her portrayal was especially poignant to me as a depressive. Feel free to leave comments, let me know what you think of this interpretation!
Beverage consumed while writing this post:
Sencha Yabukita Organic #2