Sunday, May 5, 2013

5/5/13 -- Vanilla Salt and Vinegar

Because at this point I'm really just biding my time until I can jump ship on Hayate like the first white bitch off the Titanic. That might be perceived as a spoiler for my opinion about the most recent episode of Cuties, but I've got some more things to talk about that'll make up for the negativity of that relatively tiny contribution to my week of anime watching.

Instead I'd like to talk about something that's actually good. It's a show whose first episode I've reviewed already, but the promise of an interesting story brought me back. Now I'm about fourteen episodes in and I still can't stop watching it.

Hey, we're going to talk about Toradora! Because Hayate made me sad and I wanted to watch something good to cheer me up. So let's brighten up this dreary Sunday by talking about Taiga's daddy issues.

Toradora! -- Ohashi High School Culture Festival Parts 1-3

Unfortunately it's not nearly as nice as it looks.

Let's start at the beginning. It goes without saying that I'll be spoiling the HELL out of this fantastic story arc, so if you haven't seen Toradora then man, what the hell is wrong with you? Go watch Toradora up to episode 13 and then come back to me. I'll wait.

Summer break is now over as are Ryuji and Taiga's adventures at the beach. With summer behind them, it's time to buckle down and focus on the most important thing in the world:

C U L T U R E  F E S T I V A L

A staple of the school life anime, culture festivals are opportunities for the general public and students from other schools to take in the social climate of a school. Apparently they're a huge deal, and I sort of wish that schools in America did something like that. Sure you probably can't get away with half the stuff they do in anime and TV dramas, but it would probably be a fun chance to strengthen morale and show off how nice your school is. You'd even get to hang out with friends while you do it.

Granted, high school in Japan isn't required like it is in the states, so "selling" your school probably isn't as necessary as it is there. Oh pipe dreams, how you tease me.

With or without hot puzzle action.
Wait, we're talking about anime. That means that none of what I just wrote matters. What the culture festival is really about is high school boys pervving out to try and get girls to wear clothing they wouldn't ordinarily wear. Though in this case I do have to credit Ryuji for recognizing the fact that Minori could really rock a chinese dress.

After that enlightening conversation, we cut to Taiga, who seems to be getting frequent phone calls from... someone. She seems annoyed, and later that night, Ryuji calls her out on it.

We find out that it's Taiga's dad who's been calling Taiga over and over again, but more important than that we discover that there's some bad blood between Taiga and her old man and there has been ever since he got remarried and sent his daughter away to live in an apartment all by herself.

You know. Parenting.

Though unfortunately not the worst that I've seen.
Meanwhile, back at school, Taiga is roped into being class 2-C's representative in the school pageant. She's about to destroy the class until Kitamura talks her down and assures her that she has a pretty good chance at winning. The more immediate concern is finding something for the class to do as their culture festival exhibit. Amidst the commotion resulting from the boys' cosplay cafe idea, Minori's suggestion for a haunted house (and the resulting nosebleed) goes unheard by the masses. But not by me.

Because I know what the kids like.

If this doesn't sound terribly exciting, it's because this is all setting up for the real plot of this story arc.

In a show of stupidity, the festival event is chosen by luck of the draw rather than by majority vote. And so it came to pass that class 2-C would be putting on a live professional wrestling style show staring Ami as the heroine and Taiga and Ryuji as the villains.

After school, Taiga is venting to Ryuji as she attempts to withdraw money from her account only to find that her father has drained her account, likely because she's been ignoring his calls.

Ruyji continues to try to lecture her about the importance of family and how she shouldn't be so cruel to her father. This character dynamic is crucial to the drama of this story arc. Keeping in mind Ryuji's situation with his own father, his behavior seems unusual and vaguely self-serving. This trend will get worse before it gets better.

Taiga ultimately takes the call, but refuses to meet with her father. Instead she sends Ryuji. Immediately, I start to think that this was all just a ploy by Taiga's dad to go on a date with Ryuji.

"I'll give Taiga her money back. But only if you eat spaghetti
with me like Lady and the Tramp. I'll be Lady. ;)"
In the process of wining and dining Ryuji, Daddy Taiga tells Ryuji the story of how his remarriage to someone much younger than himself caused some friction between him and Taiga. Now, though, he wants to live with his daughter again and make up for lost time. He plans to divorce his wife and spend time with Taiga.

This leads to a fight between our favorite Tiger and Dragon. Ryuji wants Taiga to reconcile with her father, while Taiga wants nothing to do with him, steadfast in her refusal to forgive him.

 The next day, everyone begins work on the wrestling show, which Minori takes as an excuse to wear a bald cap and an eyepatch like Danpei from Ashita no Joe, as though her role in the show were scientifically formulated to confuse Ryuji's penis.

Visual Approximation
After school, Taiga's dad is waiting for her outside of the apartment. It's an emotional reunion, and certainly tensions are high. Naturally, Taiga opts to greet her dad in the most sensitive way possible.

She cracks him in the nads.

Ryuji scolds her for this, pinning her by the arms as he yells at her for treating her father like crap. In the heat of the moment, he reveals his true intentions behind his interest in Taiga and her father, saying that Taiga needs to take the chance to make peace with her father because no matter how much he begs, his father is never coming home.

Uh oh.

He quickly realizes what he's been doing and apologizes to Taiga, but she decides to give her father a chance before he can finish what he's about to say. And so the episode ends with Taiga's father hugging her as Ryuji attempts to reassure himself that everything will be okay. After all, what possible harm could come from a reunion between father and daughter?

So throughout this entire story arc, Ryuji attempts to live vicariously through Taiga, trying to force on her the chance to start over with her father the way he never had the chance to with his own dad. It's actually kind of depressing to watch Ryuji use someone he really cares about in such a selfish way. The events of this arc will challenge the character dynamic, yet will ultimately strengthen it if Taiga is able to forgive him in the end.

Of course, all of that is assuming that something bad is going to happen. Which come on... When have bad things ever happened in a show that I like?

In the second act of the culture festival, everyone is in high gear to be ready for the big day. Class 2-C is rehearsing for their big show. There's heavy pressure for them to do well, as the culture festival will be a class competition event, with the best class event winning a fabulous prize. Even Taiga seems to have gotten into the swing of things while Minori is still being Minori.


Taiga's been spending a lot of time with Daddy, as he's been faithfully picking her up after school every day to go out to eat. Ryuji pats himself on the back for spurring her on to make up with her father, as both parties seem to be trying their best for each other to make up for lost time.

There's now only a day until the big festival, and Taiga has a favor to ask Ami, a fact that makes her stomach turn just thinking about it. See, she wants to switch places as the main character for one of their showtimes. This fact comes as a surprise to Minori, who asks why she's interested in playing the lead. Ryuji very happily answers her, explaining that her father is coming to see the show.

Minori is not okay with this. She has a little more experience with Taiga and her family situation, being her best friend, and is upset that the old man came slinking back into her life. She's about to go have a talk to Taiga about her father, but Ryuji stops her. This leads to a huge fight between two characters who, until now, have gotten along very well.

Again, this is a huge deal, because Minori is his "primary love interest". Sure we know that Taiga and Ryuji will ultimately end up together, but until this point Ryuji has worshiped the ground that Minori walks on. The fact that they wind up having a fight like this shows how far their relationship has come. I think it shows that Ryuji has grown closer to her and now views her not as an unattainable icon of love, but as a person he respects as an individual, at least he thought he did until the return of Taiga's father drove a wedge between them.

At the very least, even if Taiga's father isn't directly interfering with her life like Minori claims, his return has managed to break apart Taiga's closest friendships in a very real way. And if that wasn't apparent enough to Ryuji, he soon finds out that Taiga will be moving out of her apartment. Ryuji is, at this point, the only person who can't see how selfish Taiga's father is being. The man suddenly reappears and starts meddling in her life, breaking apart her friendships as well as her status as an honorary member of Ryuji's family, and all of it is happening because Ryuji is still bitter about his dad ditching him and his mom all those years ago.

Perhaps Ryuji should have listened to the words of the wisest man I know: "Dads leave. Don't be a pussy about it."

On an unrelated note, guess what movie I saw this weekend.
The next day at the festival, the wrestling show is a huge hit. There's just one problem.

That's right. Her dad's seat is so empty that Clint Eastwood started trying to have a debate with it.

"What was that?... No, I could never tell my waifu to do that to herself!"
At the end of act two, Taiga never got her chance to play the lead because her dad never showed. And in the midst of the jubilation at the success of their wrestling show, Taiga is left with the knowledge that she's been fooled again.

In act three, all that remains is the beauty pageant. Taiga is still down from the wrestling show, but is doing her best to put on a strong face. Meanwhile, Minori is nowhere to be found.

Ami tries to break it to Taiga that her dad probably isn't coming and that they should change the introduction they were going to use when she comes onstage, but Taiga insists that he's probably just late from work and that they'll do the show just like they rehearsed.

At the show, Ami is attempting to steal the show in a revealing leather outfit as MC of the pageant. As she's introducing no-name contestants who aren't important to the plot, Ryuji gets a text message out of the blue. It's from Daddy Taiga. Apparently he's unexpectedly been called out of town on business and won't be able to come see Taiga.

Unbelievable. Not only is he content to deceive and ditch his daughter once again, but he doesn't even have the balls to tell her himself. Instead, he's going to have Ryuji do his dirty work for him. And after sharing that romantic meal, too! I guess there really is no such thing as a free lunch. Dinner.

He wonders why he ever believed the old man in the first place when all the evidence was staring him straight in the face. He's ashamed that he allowed himself to get so lost in Taiga's father's eyes that he wound up setting his friend up for heartbreak.

Just as he's contemplating how to tell Taiga, Ami introduces her to the crowd as she makes her grand entrance.

At risk of sounding like one of those creepy anime fans, I have to say that the contrast between the Taiga we've come to know and how she appears in the pageant is strikingly beautiful. The dress is simple, but she wears it well, and it really hurt my heart to see her trying so hard for a man that won't give her the time of day. Come on! She even straightened her hair!

The crowd is speechless, not sure how to react to this side of Taiga. Despite the beauty standing in front of them, they're used to the aggresive, hot-blooded Taiga that terrorizes their school on a daily basis.

Ami, having not been told otherwise, continues with the introduction and announces that Taiga's father is in the audience to cheer her on. Again, heartbreaking. The crowd becomes restless at the awkwardness of the situation. Some even shout that they should just bring in the next girl because her dad clearly isn't there.

Taiga storms offstage, dejected and betrayed once more, and trips on the hem of her dress as she tries to leave. In a rage, she tears off the lower third of the dress and tosses it to the ground.

Ryuji tries to start a slow clap to cheer her on and is joined by a tearful Minori who is furiously clapping in the back of the room to support her friend. Eventually the rest of the crowd joins in, filling the room as they cheer for the Palm-Top Tiger in her darkest hour. She plays it off, telling the crowd to shut up as she plays the part of the villain yet again, insisting that she was the one who cast aside her father yet again.

In the end, Ryuji wasn't able to do anything for her, but he desperately wants to make things right. He tries to push through the crowd to be with Taiga while she's at her lowest point, but is interrupted by a surprise announcement by the Student Council President: The final stage of the culture festival is a foot race around the school campus. The winner of the race gets to crown and dance with the winner of the pageant, i.e. Taiga.

They also get access to all of the presidents notes and answer guides to the exams for the past three years. Ryuji doesn't care about any of that, though. He only has one goal: win the race so that he can get to Taiga.

In a brilliant display of machismo, he fully embraces his image as a delinquent in order to destroy the competition and win the race.

Dude knows how to get stuff done.

As he rounds the corner, Minori surprises everybody by claiming the lead on the last leg of the race. It's a close race, made even closer when two members of the track team show up out of nowhere and, in an act of douchiness I've not seen since I was in high school, knock down both Ryuji and Minori.

The crowd boos the douchebags for violently shoving a girl to the ground, but it's worth noting that in my experience with girls, Minori would likely be dating one of those douchebags by the end of the week due to their "strong personalities".

Anyway, Minori isn't about to have any of that. Someone in the crowd tosses her a softball, which she violently pitches, hitting both of the douchebags in the back of the head. When another group of runners start looming over them, she sacrifices herself by clotheslining them with a flying jump, knocking them to the ground.

In a selfless display, he helps Minori off the ground and takes her hand. Together, the two cross the finish line, having now forgiven each other for everything that happened.

This means they both get to place the crown on Taiga's head.

I really loved this story arc. I thought it represented a high point of a series that is already very good and successfully emphasized what I love about this series. The characters feel real, even when we're talking about a cast as quirky and eccentric as the cast of Toradora. 
Funny how the show that features a goofy redhead who's very excited about wearing a bald cap is better at portraying a compelling character drama than most of the "serious" anime out there.

I'm even starting to warm up to this style of Rie Kugimiya tsundere, as this show even does that character archetype better than most. I liken the experience to eating sea salt and vinegar potato chips. By themselves, each ingredient (Rie Kugimiya and Tsunderes) is objectionable and barely palatable, but together they're a flavor that you grow to love.

That's how I feel about Taiga and Toradora. It had all the symptoms of a show I didn't like, but I was able to find a delicious treat hidden within. Now I'm at about eighteen episodes out of twenty six, and I can't wait to see where it takes me.

The reason I bring all of this up, why I wasted your time with this whole tirade is to contrast it with that other show I've been watching for the past month: Hayate the Combat Butler Cuties.

This week's episode focused on Isumi and Sakuya, two characters who, theoretically, should have delivered an entertaining episode. For whatever reason, though, the show demonstrated a complete inability to deliver a compelling episode centered around two characters who, up until this point, had a delightful character dynamic that was fun to watch.

Of course, this is Cuties, so we're not allowed to watch something that we would enjoy. Instead, this episode opts to keep these two best friends separate, despite naming the episode after both of them.

I'm beginning to think that this series was developed in conjunction with Can't Take My Eyes Off You as an afterthought. The real effort went into CTMEOY while Cuties was made up on a drunken dare by someone who read through the manga while only paying half-attention. I guess that after CTMEOY, I was expecting for this show to deliver strong, original episodes centered around each character in a way that would supplement the story of the manga.

Instead we got Cuties, a half-hearted attempt to loosely string together stories from the manga that have nothing to do with each other.

There's no heart, no interesting stories to tell, and the whole thing comes across as being less of a Hayate anime and more of an attempt to rip off K-On! and Lucky Star while somehow coming across as more emotionally bankrupt. Again, that is a sentence that physically painful to write.

And yet for whatever reason, people seem to be responding better to this show than to Can't Take My Eyes Off You. To be fair, you can't put much stock into the opinions of the anime fandom as a whole. These are the same people who make shows like Aria the Scarlet Ammo popular.

Anyone who legitimately thinks that Cuties is superior to its predecessor, please comment or contact me in some way, because I honestly don't understand why. I mean, Cuties didn't even have the narrator character to keep things funny. Can't Take My Eyes Off You didn't have the narrator either, but at least it had a compelling story arc to make up for the loss of a series staple. Cuties has nothing. I can say with no regrets that I do not plan to watch this show after this week's Hinagiku episode, which based on episode previews seems to center around the beach volleyball game Hayate and the gang play during the Mykonos arc of the manga.

Hey, the Mykonos arc. Too bad they never made an anime based on that!

I'll see you next week to finish off this travesty at last as well as look at some new shows. This is the season of spring premieres, after all. It's about time I looked at something new.

I'll see you next week. Until next time, remember to eat plenty of Clementines to fend off scurvy.

No comments:

Post a Comment