By Yuyuko Takemiya and Yasu. Released in Japan by Dengeki Bunko. Released in North America by Seven Seas. Translated by Jan Cash & Vincent Castaneda. Adapted by J.P. Sullivan.
Having had a first volume that could easily stand on its own, Toradora! now has a second that has to extend the series. So Taiga and Ryuuji are still spending their every waking moment together and even eating the same bentos, but they aren’t actually together, they are supposedly scheming to help each other get together with their crush – something no one buys for a minute, and nor should they, given the ridiculous chemistry of the two leads. And so naturally, in the second volume, we need an antagonist. She’s got to be something that will drive Taiga absolutely crazy with rage. She’s Kitamura’s childhood friend. She’s a tall, long-limbed beauty. She’s a famous teenage model. She acts “oblivious” in a cutesy way. SHE’S GOT THE SAME FIRST NAME AS SAILOR MERCURY. Clearly she is evil and must be punished. And, while technically there is a punishment scene, the beauty and wonder of this book is that it is not about taking down Ami at all.
I think Takemiya is well aware of the fictional tropes involving “new girl as rival”, and she leans on them in her writing to make for greater impact later. Because Ami and Taiga really do not like each other at all. I’ve mentioned Taiga’s reasons, but Ami has heard a lot about her from Kitamura as well, and Taiga is also beautiful in her own, slightly furious way. So seeing Ami rip Taiga apart in the family restaurant, we are not at all inclined to be favorable to her. Showing up as a new transfer student was possibly the most predictable thing that could have happened as well. And so, at some point, we knew the “mask” was going to come off and that Ami would be taken down in front of the class. Technically this does happen, as Taiga and Minori (who has been laying low this entire time to make the payoff better) humiliate Ami in front of the class by mocking her being blase about dieting.
But then there’s the real, genuinely serious plot. Ami is being stalked. And it’s really unnerving and scaring her. And so when Taiga sees the girl who’s been belittling and mocking her all this time beg her and Ryuuji for help… she immediately helps. Yes, this help might also involve having Ami do karaoke for six hours at her place and recording it for future blackmailing material, but Taiga is well-aware that being creeped on by a stalker is bigger than a petty feud. As things escalate, meanwhile, it’s Ryuuji rather than Taiga who is able to wear Ami’s mask down to the point that she finally snaps and goes after her fan in one of the more cathartically satisfying scenes I’ve ever read – even if Ryuuji correctly points out how foolish it actually was. So now the core cast is in place, and I really can’t wait to see how the third novel shakes out.
This isn’t perfect – it ends far too abruptly, in a scene that almost cried out for a sad trombone noise. What’s more, it runs a bit short, so there’s an extended short story attached about a new first-year student with absolutely terrible luck who somehow gets told that touching Taiga will make him lucky. (I think this was adapted to the anime and he DID end up lucky in a way. Here he’s just sort of a shmoe.) That said, those are the only two minuses in an excellent volume.