Observations #1: Yasuko from Toradora!

Observations #1: Yasuko from Toradora!

These Observations posts will be short and informal. The idea is to have a way to express details or connections I notice in shows that I think are interesting, unexplored, and worth bringing to people’s attention or archiving in some way. However, the details in these posts either can’t constitute a full essay or simply don’t fit into my schedule as far as researching and writing a full post about them. Basically, these will be like a deciphered form of my notes (my observations, get it?). There probably won’t be real arguments within them most of the time, just the details and thought processes I would’ve used to make my arguments in a real essay. Hopefully they’re fun to read or direct you to make some arguments of your own.

Like the title says, these are some thoughts on Toradora!’s Yasuko, a character who occupies a complicated position in relation to the rest of the cast. I feel a lot of discussion about Yasuko glides over what are actually intricate and deliberate ways of portraying her character, particularly in regards to how she relates to the show’s overall themes of maturity, responsibility, and family. The content of these notes are essentially why I feel that way (so if this post has any argument, it’s probably that). I also think there’s something to be said about the fact that Yasuko is a mother character in a Mari Okada script–there’s always something to say about Okada moms–but that’s certainly outside the range of these notes.

Anyway, Yasuko’s basic characterization is handled rather quickly by the show’s early episodes. We discover she is a teen mom, works as a club hostess, and is generally free-spirited. On rewatch, it’s clear we’re meant to assume she’s childish–an interpretation guided even further by the fact that Ryuji seems to handle all of the household chores. As a side note, Ryuji is certainly worth exploring as an anime character without a father figure (or really any male role model/mentor), which manifests in interesting ways in the role he plays within his household, his relation to Taiga’s father, and of course to Taiga herself. Perhaps that’s stating the obvious–this is largely a story about family, after all.

This early characterization of Yasuko is determinant of the appearance of her behavior throughout the series, but not the actual content of her behavior. Episode 12 is the first place I notice this popping up in a complex way. The scene starts with almost hyperbolic Yasuko behavior: she’s complaining about Ryuji coming home late and how that means he cooks her dinner later. This dialogue is naturally delivered in a fairly childish, almost whiny way. This sets up a bit of a mood and primes us to settle into our assumptions about Yasuko’s perception of the world (again, that’s she’s free-spirited and immature). This transitions straight into her story about Taiga moving, during which she calls Taiga’s father “selfish.” Her whiny impression bleeds into her complaints about Taiga’s father, and the voice acting really emphasizes a bratty tone whenever she says it’s “awful” or “terrible.”

Ryuji counters this with what he thinks is mature logic and an almost rehearsed line about how nice it is for family to live together. However, Yasuko vehemently disagrees. On paper, she sounds like a kid who doesn’t want to go to the dentist (“I don’t want Taiga to leave!”), but it becomes clear by the end of the arc that her understanding of emotions and family is significantly more mature than Ryuji’s. She claims that Taiga is “part of [their] family,” not her father’s, which is motivated by the fact that Taiga spends all of her time and eats all of her meals with them. Something not stated or hinted at by this scene, but that I think is retroactively implied, is that Yasuko (and Ryuji, to be fair) are looking after Taiga’s wellbeing as a whole. Yasuko’s actions during Kitamura’s crisis imply that she would step in as a responsible parental figure for Taiga the same way she tries to for Kitamura by dying his hair and sending him back to his house.

Yasuko is incredibly sensitive and responsible in this scene, even if her dialogue appears immature. It’s clear that she is a parent. The only people who make sure Taiga gets a proper meal are Yasuko and Ryuji, and those meals are repeatedly moments when Yasuko expresses that Ryuji and Taiga are her family and that she loves them/they make her happy. And honestly, if you had to reduce it down to the most basic formula, the person who puts the most effort into making sure you eat a proper meal is probably the person you can most confidently call your family.

There is more to “observe” throughout the series, but for the scope of this post I’m just jumping ahead to Episode 24. Yasuko’s anger at Ryuji and her sense of betrayal stem primarily from the fact he lied to her about getting a job. Even though there’s more to be upset about, and even though this argument develops into Ryuji running away and planning to elope, the conflict is always centered around Ryuji taking on responsibilities that Yasuko wants to shield him from. From Ryuji’s view, families should split their burdens and help one another out, but Yasuko once again firmly disagrees. She doesn’t care about other families, she wants him to focus on studying.

This push for “studying” isn’t a stereotypical parental pressure, but rather a shorthand for Ryuji taking his time growing up. She wants him to take the time to “figure out what [he wants] to do,” instead of rushing into adulthood–studying, keeping your educational options open, and not joining the workforce are the most practical ways of slowing down the transition from youth to adulthood. Ryuji’s opportunity to take his time is obviously a contrast to Yasuko herself, who had a child at 16 and had to become an adult before she ever grew up. I think part of what Toradora! is getting at is that Yasuko still isn’t grown up, despite being so adultlike at times. This idea gets more or less affirmed by the final episode in which Yasuko returns to her parents and returns, in a sense, to childhood. Her parents can tell her she’s done a “good job raising Ryuji” even as they essentially engage in the process of raising her by scolding her now. 

This kind of psychological dynamic can’t be ignored in a show that’s filled to the brim with teenage characters who want to be adults but repeatedly slam into their own immaturity. To fully dig meaning out of that psychology would require a full dive into Yasuko as well as pivotal characters like Ami, Ryuji, and Taiga, which isn’t the objective of this post. However, I hope these notes point to a way of understanding Yasuko that isn’t simply: “she appears immature but is actually very adult-like!” It’s not just about contrast for the sake of contrast. There’s an argument here about our ability to be both children and parents, both grown-up and childish, simultaneously.

Via some interpretation that’s definitely beyond the reach of this post, we can even relate symbols and discourses that seem to be about the love/relationships of the teenage characters to the relationships of family members. If you’re feeling adventurous, I’d recommend taking a look at Taiga’s Christmas star in connection to the show as a whole. The star’s importance to Taiga’s relationships with Minori and Ryuji is somewhat straightforward, but the conversations surrounding that star can also impact our understanding of many of the familial relationships in Toradora! Maybe that will be a full essay for me to write one day…

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