The main cast (left-to-right): Ryuuji, Ami, Kitamura, Minori, & Taiga.

I recently finished watching an anime called Toradora. It’s basically about the romantic entanglements of the two main characters, Ryuuji and Taiga. This anime was brought to my attention by another blogger and I’m glad he recommended it because it was really good. The biggest reason for my enjoyment of the anime was the characters. They were pretty well constructed for the most part (although there were a few silly stereotypical characteristics here and there) and the romance was also fairly nice. That said, the male characters were definitely what stood out most to me, especially since this is a shounen romance. It was made by men for males.

Kitamura: a bookworm that is popular with the ladies.

The two prominent male characters stood out to me because they had so few characteristics associated with manliness. I’m not just talking about Ryuuji’s cooking and cleaning, but actual personality traits. Marue Kitamura, for example, gets more upset that his crush is leaving than the crush (who also likes him). Likewise, when she rejects him (so that he doesn’t quit school and follow after her), he cries, on screen, and not just one manly tear. It’s a total reversal of the typical girl hears boy is leaving and cries her eyes out, while boy remains stoic. And it works because Kitamura is seen as expressing his sadness at being rejected and then getting back on his feet, like any person would (whereas in shoujo scenarios, it doesn’t always work because the author sometimes writes the girl as wallowing in her sadness or chasing after the boy, the latter ruins any potential character growth). To be fair, he does play into certain bookworm stereotypes and these sorts of characters are usually shown to be more “emotional” than other males, but other than this one episode, Kitamura is never really emotional. He’s cool and collected, well liked, handsome, and popular with the girls. Traits that one doesn’t usually see in the typical “bookworm” stereotype. Which leads me to believe, he wasn’t made with the intention of perpetuating the idea that males, who show visible emotion, are “weak” and “undesirable”. He’s just a regular guy who was dumped and it hurt. That’s it. And that’s what I really liked about Toradora.

Our main character Ryuuji has a similar characterization, that is, he is depicted, not as this paragon of manliness, but as a person, who thinks and feels. Typical romantic comedy “male” traits like “lecherous pervert” are quite downplayed in Toradora. We have one scene that is reminiscent of the “I accidentally touched you in a wrong place” where Ryuuji stuffs Taiga’s padding back into her swimsuit while she is wearing it, but what makes Toradora different is how that Ryuuji never thinks of this encounter as sexual. He simply saw Taiga in trouble and did what he had to do so that she would not have to own up to padding her swimsuit. He never once recalls this moment with a blush on his face and thinks, “ah that felt nice”. I was expecting that, so I was pleasantly surprised when the anime totally bypassed this common trope. There are a few other things, for one, how Ryuuji, just like a normal person, worries about what others think of him and tried to make a good impression and in general how he comes off as kind and gentle.

Ryuuji saving Tiaga when she is sad. He does this a few times.

That said, Toradora doesn’t go all the way. For one, Ryuuji’s home economics skills are often mocked by other characters. He’s called “a housewife” as an insult. It seemed to me that his “obsession” with cleaning and cooking is almost supposed to be a joke to the viewers, like “haha, this guy sees a dirty toilet and has to clean it, isn’t that funny?” This undermines a bit of his character as it doesn’t really make it ok for Ryuuji to do what he does. He’s a “housewife” and his drive to clean is funny, not normal. He also exhibits typical manly traits like going out of his way to save Taiga. That in and of itself would be fine as people should help other people out, but the problem in Toradora is that Taiga doesn’t ever save Ryuuji, which creates a rift between those who save and those who are saved. A rift that has existed in depictions of romance for quite a while and a rift that makes “protecting” the exclusive talent of male characters and the quintessential manly trait and what distinguishes masculinity from femininity. If Taiga had an equal share of this ability to save Ryuuji, then Toradora would have really cut open the idea that men express their love in acts of protection and women in accepting that protection. It’s especially glaring because Taiga is supposed to be an outspoken tough hot head (traits often associated with masculinity) yet the show takes great pains to show her as the one in need of assistance. It’s almost as if they show is going, “strong and independent females are great, but let’s not make them too strong and independent.” It’s obviously that the show’s director(s) and writer(s) still are unable to let go of one crucial aspect of masculinity: it is the male who takes care of the female. He is defined by his ability to protect the weaker female. Like I said, this isn’t a bad thing (especially when the female isn’t painted as weak). It’s only bad when this becomes the sole defining trait of one gender. I like to see male characters go out of their way to help their love interests just as much as the next person. It’s sweet, but I like to see some give and take too. Hopefully this step in the right direction leads to more give and take between future heroes and heroines. I’m going to remain hopeful.