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 Will Holcomb.
It might come as a surprise to those who have read the last three or four volumes of Toradora!, but there was, at one point, a large element of comedy in this series. As things have turned far more serious that’s mostly been repressed, but there’s a wonderful moment here where it returns… and yet we also don’t let go of the soul-crushing despair that both leads are going through. This leads to my favorite scene in the book, where, after having accidentally thrown 24,000 yen into the river, Ryuuji and Taiga finally kiss… then he jumps back onto the edge of a bridge, and she suddenly thinks he’s trying to kill himself, so she grabs at him, but slips and accidentally sends him over the bridge into the river (it’s winter), and then he asks her to marry him, and then SHE jumps off the bridge, and then the two have a giant screaming fight/confession scene in the rover while slowly freezing to death. It’s a bit unnerving to read… but also very like these two.
The first half of the book made me worry that the two of them might actually make good on their running away, which is, let’s be very clear here, a VERY BAD IDEA. Their friends have gotten so invested in giving up on their own denied love and supporting the couple that they’re willing to go along with this, though at least Ami is there to point out the foolishness before giving in anyway. Even their teacher, who literally bets her job that the two won’t run away, can’t stop them from making their escape. In the end, what stops them is actually the actions of Ryuuji’s mother, herself estranged from her parents after a high school relationship ended in pregnancy, who has ALSO run away from home. This leads to Ryuuji reuniting with his grandparents, and he and Taiga seeing that nothing is unrecoverable.
One thing I very much appreciated about this final book is that it does not try to redeem Taiga’s own parents, who have both been portrayed as emotionally and mentally abusing Taiga most of her life. Her dad is finally unable to run from his creditors, and I feel grateful we don’t see him. We do see her mother, who is there to remove Taiga entirely from her friends and love. Their teacher at one point can’t help but compare mother and daughter – they have similar mannerisms, and you can certainly see the family resemblance. But, thankfully, Taiga has emotional depth and the ability to care for others that we really don’t see in her mother here, and it’s why you feel so pained when she finally gives in and leaves with her. Of course, this story is not going to have an unhappy ending, fear not. But I do like how, in the end, Taiga is able to stand up for herself and demand her own right to be happy rather than being yanked around by her parents.
Toradora! is a relatively old series in light novel years, and at times it did feel rather quaint compared to some more modern examples of the genre, which certainly would have added three or four more girls to the Ryuuji mix. But even if it did, no one would be able to get past the destiny of the main pairing. It’s literally in the title. It’s also a terrific read.