*Caution: Thar Be Spoilers*
Over the weekend I decided to binge-watch Toradora!, a slice-of-life anime that features the quintessential tsundere heroine, Aisaka Taiga. The series is light-hearted and silly like a lot of schoolyard anime and it slowly lays out a mushy love story without the mush, something I greatly appreciate. It is clear from the start the characters have multifaceted personalities and won’t fit into one trope-Taiga is very prickly yet clearly vulnerable and her determination to stay closed off only draws her screen partner as well as the audience further into her true shyness and insecurity. As someone who goes through life with a permanent turtle shell by nature, I identify with Taiga’s fierce desire to keep her true feelings close and know how easily they can slip from her the harder she tries to hold them at bay.
The characters’ interactions with each other throughout the show highlight just how disorienting and contradictory new romance can be. Toradora! primarily revolves around the mission of Taiga and a male classmate, Takasu Ryuuji, as they work together to confess their love to their ultimate crushes–who just so happen to be each other’s’ best friends.
However as I was watching I could not help but hone in on the relationship between Taiga and her best friend, Kushieda Minori. Taiga and Minori have very opposite reputations in school but still maintain a very solid connection. Where Taiga is dark and brooding, Minori is bright and sunny. Minori is outgoing, talkative, and ambitious–splitting her time between sports, odd jobs, and excitable gesturing. Most of the time when Taiga is gesturing, it is to punch someone in the face.
As much as I identify with Taiga, Minori reminds me of my own best friend of over ten years, Stephanie. Growing up Stephanie was the prototype of a Class President. She was one of those students that teachers practically bowed to and was always on a committee or in a club. I, on the other hand, wore as much black as our school uniform code would allow and spent most of my class time writing stories instead of listening. We were an unlikely pair but we clicked and it stayed that way. Stephanie knows the person that I am when no one else is around and I know that of her. When we are together it is like we take part in a different world, one only we know and understand the language to.
In Toradora! Minori is initially the only character Taiga displays affection, even tolerance for, and is widely known as her only true friend. The girls never waver in their friendship throughout the series despite Taiga’s increased time and attention spent with Ryuji and the complications that unfold in the story. One of my favorite aspects of Taiga and Minori’s relationship is that the show pays no credence to the idea that a romance would come between their friendship. Too often the trope plays out that two girls fall for the same guy and their relationship crumbles as they fight over him or one friend gets a significant other and their friendship suffers and dissolves. When rumors begin to swirl that Taiga and Ryuuji are involved, Minori confronts Ryuuji in the middle of class and asks to speak to him. While at first it appears she is angry she ultimately implores him to make her friend happy and treat her well, unabashedly throwing her full support behind them in a truly awkward yet hilarious moment. Later on in the series it is revealed that Minori also harbored romantic feelings for Ryuuji but after seeing the positive influence he had on her friend, decided not to mention or act on them and ends up rejecting him. Similarly Taiga assists Ryuuji with getting closer to Minori despite her own growing feelings for him, even going so far as to create opportunities for them to talk and disappearing when Taiga felt she was getting too far between them. Both girls chose to uplift their friends’ happiness over their own and while that could be considered sacrifice to some, neither treats it in that way. Towards the end of the series the girls have a confrontation in which Minori refuses to let Taiga dismiss her feelings about Ryuuji to Minori or to herself. While Taiga predictably hates this as a tsundere and runs away, it does not damage their friendship and draws them closer. While the show is not focused on Taiga and Minori, their genuine care for each other is apparent and steadfast and to me stands as one of the more underrated anime friendships.
There are times when your best friend becomes your mirror and has to show you the things that you do not want to admit. There are other times when your best friend will be that person to walk the hallways with while everyone else turns away. Sometimes your best friend is the one who accosts the guy everyone thinks you’re dating and takes him to the school roof to threaten him into being a good boyfriend or gives you extra fries when she’s working her 20th part time job. Luckily for Taiga, Minori is all of these things. Luckily for me, Stephanie is too.
As if the anime gods heard me, I received a phone call while I was watching the show that my maid of honor dress for Stephanie’s wedding is now ready to be picked up. I can’t say whether or not Ryuuji and Taiga would have gotten married as the series was a only one season (I am still mourning this.) But I know if they did Minori would be right there by her friends’ side as I know Stephanie would be for me and I will be for her.