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Toradora! DVD/Blu-ray Complete Series Premium Edition Anime Review

13 min read

Toradora Blu-rayTeenage romance in all its energy, passion, silliness and glory.

What They Say:
Ryuji Takasu is cursed with his father’s threatening face and is labeled a “delinquent” because of it. Even though this makes it difficult for him to meet people, he is madly in love with Minorin, the one girl who does not flee from him in terror. Taiga Aisaka is a notorious hothead with the nickname “Palm-top Tiger.” She also happens to be Minorin’s best friend, and what’s more, Taiga has a crush on Ryuji’s closest friend.

This unlikely duo strikes a tenuous agreement to assist one another in stealing the hearts of the ones they love. They will face many hurdles along the way, but perhaps true love is closer to them than they think.

The Review:
Audio:
The audio presentation for this release brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo as well as the new English language dub, both of which are done using the uncompressed PCM format. The series is one that works the forward soundstage well for a high school comedy because it has a fair number of antics along the way that keeps it hopping and moving. The dialogue is generally well placed and it has a good bit of energy to it that definitely makes it engaging regardless of which language track you’re listening to. When it bumps things up a bit with the action as it sprawls across the screen, it definitely has a very good energy about it as well as some fun depth at times with the way characters get knocked about. Whether big and bold or quiet and subtle, the mix captures things well and has a smooth, clean presentation to it.

Video:
Originally airing in 2008, the transfer for this TV series and OVA is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The show is spread across four Blu-ray discs in a nine/four/nine/four format that’s fairly standard for high definition releases. Animated by JC Staff, the show has a very good look to it in general, and we liked the DVD release a lot, but here everything has a stronger sense of color definition and solidity as well as smoother and clearer backgrounds that gives it all a lot more pop. The upgrade in quality here is definitely good and adds a lot to the show overall. Some shows like this just come across better, especially on a big screen, in this format. There’s a lot to like here and definitely worth an upgrade for fans of the show that are using large displays.

Packaging:
I’ll easily admit that I’m disappointed to some degree with the premium edition packaging here since it’s so different than what all the NIS America releases have been so far. But it also works really well for this show and certainly sets it apart from the previous editions. The heavy chipboard box is smaller and more standard sized for a DVD sized case as it holds a hardcover book and an oversized case that holds all eight discs that the release has. The box is the same quality I expect overall as it has a great colorful wraparound that uses the opening sequence designs with the characters and cutouts behind them as well as the colors. The front panel has our two leads while the back cover provides the supporting cast with Taiga alongside them, making for some fun uniform fanservice. It all has some good text along the background in all the different colors that gives it a very high school kind of feeling.

The disc case inside the box is similar overall in design, though it goes with a simple white background wraparound without the text of the box. We get some different character artwork for the front cover which has most of the main cast while the back has the breakdown of what each disc has in terms of episodes and extras by format as well as some cute Taiga and Minorin artwork. The case itself goes with a kind of litebox approach with a lot of stack discs on hinges inside as there’s multiple for each format. There’s also some cute artwork underneath it on the reverse side that has the main cast inside various colored circles spread around it.

The other piece of the package is the art book, which is like the previous editions in that it’s a hardcover piece but now down in standard book size. Just like the previous books, it’s fantastic with what it does here as we get interviews, character artwork, promotional pieces and more that explores the show in a great way. There’s a lot of detail to be had here and material to pore over for fans that want to delve into the production more. I love the inclusion again of all the promotional artwork since there’s some great pieces there, even if they get a bit fanservice heavy.

Menu:
The menu design for this release works really nicely overall as it has a good bit of animation to it but also works in the color theme well. With the expanding color circles from the opening sequence used as the main piece, we get static color cutouts of the cast used across it that adds in more pop and color since they’re done with the vibrant colors from the logo. The menu uses circles a lot with the logo and navigation as well as what’s in the animation piece but it all comes together really well to make for a proper mood setting piece. It’s also easy to navigate – though I hate that NIS America menus still can’t seem to go left and around to loop, as submenus load quickly and the whole thing looks nice when used during playback as a pop-up menu.

Extras:
The on-disc extras for this release are pretty cute overall. We get the clean opening and closing sequences as well as the specials, the Toradora SOS! pieces with the installments split on the first and third discs. These run about five minutes each and essentially deal with simple silly situations with the cast overall taking them in a cute form and running with it. They’re fairly inconsequential in the end and not all that memorable, but they’re cute and fun. The special endings in this set also get their respective clean versions which is really very useful since they can go on a bit for some of them.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the light novel series by Yuyuko Takemiya, Toradora is a twenty-five episode series animated by J.C. Staff which has a good bit of fun with the high school romantic comedy drama field. As NIS America’s launch title alongside Persona a few years ago, Toradora got quite a bit of scrutiny at the time because of that but also because it’s a popular title. So it’s only appropriate that after quite a few releases and experience, it marks their first dubbed title and re-release going from DVD to Blu-ray. They also did it up well here by making a premium edition that gives us the whole run of the series rather than putting us through the half and half aspect to fill it all out. The fans who want this title will go all in for it and others will surely be tempted by it based on all the positive reaction to it and the new dub as well, which from what we sampled is a good bit of fun that largely captures the intent and style of the characters and original actors.

The series focuses around second year student Ryuji as the year starts and he’s doing everything he can to get things on the right track this year. Ryuji’s a character that’s easy to like because he’s a good guy and he’s got some very good qualities about him. He cares about his friends, he’s very much into living in a clean space and he does pretty good all around at being sustainable with what needs to be done around a house. He’s got some daddy issues since his father is long gone, though that angle isn’t covered much, so he lives in a simple apartment house with his mother. One of the things that seems to hold him back is that he tends to look a bit like a delinquent because of the way his face is shaped, but it’s pretty light overall. For all intents and purposes, he’s a good guy.

What alters his fate is the recent construction that finished next door that brought in a large high rise apartment complex. Right across from his window is a girl in his year named Taiga who is living on her own. Taiga’s a bit of a fiesty one, somewhat introverted but she ends up finding herself very comfortable with Ryuji as the two slowly work out a basic relationship that has them supporting each other. With her short stature and quick temper, she has only a few friends really but like Ryuji she’s full of potential and that’s what solidifies the show in a sense because they’re both alike and can see it. And along the way they start to see little things in each other that could work for a real involved relationship. Like Ryuji, she has daddy issues as well though hers are because her father ended up moving in with a young woman and Taiga felt out of place in all of it, though it goes deeper than that as it progresses and Ryuji learns how she’s been hurt.

What really draws them together for awhile is their mutual attraction to other people. Taiga has quite the crush on a friend of Ryuji’s named Yusaku. Yusaku’s a decent sort who actually tried to get in Taiga’s good graces the year before but was rebuffed, partially because of her nature and likely things going on in her life at the time. Since Ryuji is a friend with him, she tries to figure out a way to get him to help her get closer to him. What makes it easy for Taiga is that Ryuji really likes the hot redheaded girl she’s friends with, Minori. Minori’s the bouncy, upbeat girl whose about having fun and experiencing life so she gets along well with Taiga as they play well against each other, similar to Yusaku being the very scholarly type with a smile who gets along with everyone plays well against Ryuji.

With the basic trappings of the four primary characters, a little extra is brought in after a few episodes in the form of Ami, the daughter of a fairly famous actress who is actually the childhood friend of Yusaku. Ami’s working on her own modeling career and is moving her way up slowly but surely and she has the bright and outgoing personality that will help carry her far. As Yusaku points out in a less than discrete fashion to Ryuji, it’s just a ploy though as she’s actually fairly mean and vicious and she tries to use men to her advantage. Amusingly, Rjyuji goes along with it for the most part because there’s a certain fun to it and he’s aware of what she’s doing, but he’ll avoid certain things that she wants done. Ami brings in a bit of drama along the way as well as a touch of money because of her family which allows the cast to do the occasional trip to someplace really nice.

Toradora runs through a lot of familiar stories. Towards the end of the first set they spend about three episodes dealing with the culture festival, from coming up with the right idea and executing the play performance and dealing with all the associated drama with it. A bit of time is spent with personal drama as Taiga has to deal with her father entering her life again and Rjyuji projects his own daddy issues onto her and she gets pressured into trying to deal with him again. There’s some nice layering in here as issues that one has, someone else has a shade or two of it. And when Taiga deals with her problem, one that Minori is familiar with since she’s been friends with her for awhile, it causes a rift between her and Ryuji since she feels like he’s pressuring her into something bad, even though he doesn’t know the whole story.

While there are some nice foundation pieces being laid down here, a lot of this half of the series is fairly by the numbers. What helps elevate it a bit is the really solid job done by J.C. Staff as the animation here is really top notch. The character designs are well detailed and stand out against a sea of familiar designs as they have nice little quirks and hooks that draw you in. The real world style to it is very attractive as they take that and up the whole thing with a lot of vibrant colors that really makes it feel alive, from the sunsets being incredibly rich to the blues of the sky or the ocean looking quite beautiful.

Toradora’s second half boils down to dealing with all the relationship issues that have been coming to a head. The group that’s involved here certainly have had an interesting time so far and we’ve seen some elements worked through such as Takasu getting involved with Taiga’s father issues and the way he essentially abandoned her again. The mix of characters here has a few crossed wires to be sure as there are interests across the board but a lot of them not returning it. Kitamura works through his time and interest with Sumire in an amusing way when he learns that she’s leaving the country as he goes all rebel, bleaching his hair and more. His attraction to her definitely comes across as real, especially after Taiga rejected him the year before, and seeing him go through it again is tough and his reactions make sense, even if some of it is a touch forced.

That experience is tough for Taiga to watch, especially as she works through her own issues. With her strong interest in him, his pain gets to her and it’s unfortunate that she gets so much support from Ryuji since that just has her thinking about him more in a way she doesn’t want. A good portion of this set starts to narrow in on the core triangle that’s come about, though there are other angles to it as well with those who have their interests. What becomes the main problem is that Minorin is having her issues in wanting to be close to Ryuji but finding that there are stronger bonds forming between him and Taiga and she’s very conflicted about it. These emotions play out among all of them, including an awkward ski resort moment that has Taiga confessing many things in her state of delirium.

There’s a lot of emotion to all of this as well, not something that’s given a surface level look. Taiga, Minorin and Ryuji all have their hearts in pain for different reasons and seeing how they handle it is just as painful. It is fairly realistic as some try to run away, others hide everything and pretend nothing is going on and the friends all watch on hoping it will get resolved. They eventually do get involved, but all of it kept going back to one point for me that I couldn’t completely wrap my head around. While I can see the relationship between Taiga and Ryuji, it just never felt real here. It never connected in a way that made you feel it. I like the characters, and I can see how Ryuji would be protective of her and how Taiga would harbor some feelings in the background simply because she was spending a huge amount of time with him during a stage where she feels very vulnerable, but over the course of the entire series I never really saw them as a potential couple that would be deeply and truly in love.

In Summary:
Toradora has a lot going for it with a number of relationships at various stages of potential that never seem to really get anywhere. Like many shows, it takes quite a long time before people reveal their hearts and a lot of it goes rather predictably. The core relationship is fun to watch with Ryuji and Taiga, but a good part of that for me came in rooting for them to get the ones they were actually after. Revisiting this show a few years after my original experience reinforces my enjoyment of the characters and their interactions in a big way as it does leave me wanting more of our Palm-Top Taiga in a sequel series to see how their lives go beyond all of this. Getting to experience it all at once without the wait between two half season releases is also a big plus in seeing it all come together in a better way. It’s all wrapped up in a great package this time around with a smaller box that has pretty much the same material, condensed with both formats and a really solid feeling to it all. There’s a lot for fans to love with this release as it again comes across as a package that does just about everything right, particularly in finally joining the dub club and providing fans of dubs something that I wish more of their titles had for viewers.

Features:
Japanese 2.0 PCM Language, English 2.0 PCM Language, English Subtitles, Clean Openings and Endings, Toradora! SOS! Hurray for Gourmands 1-4, Bonus Clip, TV Spots

Content Grade: B+
Audio Grade: A-
Video Grade: A
Packaging Grade: A
Menu Grade: B+
Extras Grade: B

Released By: NIS America
Release Date: July 29th, 2014
MSRP: $129.99
Running Time: 617 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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