From the day we are born, there are expectations of us. Based on how we look, talk, and act, people make judgements about the type of people we are and the type of people we should be. While we cannot truly change the faces we are born with, we can control the faces we wear. Toradora presents an interesting examination of faces and expectations.
For the uninitiated Toradora is a anime series which follows a boy named Ryuji and a girl named Taiga who agree to help each other gain the affections of their crushes. Ryuji is a boy who grew up in a single parent household. He inherited the aggressive features of his mobster father, so people believe he is angry and violent even though he is a fairly domestic man. He has an obsession with cleaning and cooking. Taiga on the other hand is a small girl who appears delicate but makes up for it by being an aggressive and angry girl. This earns her the nickname of the Palmtop Tiger. Taiga lives by herself in the apartment next to Ryuji due to her differences with her divorced parents. Her angry aggressive attitude is also a face to disguise her own broken heart over her parents by and large abandoning her. They meet her financial needs but nothing else,
By the second episode, these two characters have already become inseparable in their own way. In one particularly powerful scene, Ryuji sees Taiga kicking a poll angrily. He joins her as well and they both shout about how unfair it is that people judge them. They also ask what’s so wrong about not being normal in the first place. Yet, even then, the two characters still put on their faces. Even as they begin to realize their true feelings for each other, they maintain the face of friends so as not to get in the way of them pursuing their “true crushes.” Yet these crushes are little more than fantasies. Both Taiga and Ryuji put their crushes up on pedestals and can barely even talk to them.
Yet another layer of the show are the expectations the parents set for the children. Ryuji’s mother is rather childish but she still works herself extremely hard with the hope of Ryuji one day going to college even though he doesn’t want to go. Taiga’s parents also have expectations that she will want to be close to them even though they have broken her heart over and over.
It is only when Ryuji and Taiga acknowledge that they are not necessarily normal people and there’s nothing wrong with that, that they can truly move on and begin to connect with others.
We all learn from birth to put on certain faces in certain circumstances. In some cultures, such as the Japanese one that Toradora takes place in, this has a far greater emphasis. In time, we may have difficulty finding out what we truly think or believe because we put on faces for so long.
We try to meet the expectations of others, the expectations of normality. But in the end for many of us, we only wind up in agony because we cannot accept ourselves. The Golden Rule implies you have to accept and love yourself first before you can love others like yourself.
Sometimes, our ideas about normality can also be downright dangerous. Taiga and Ryuji’s notion that normal love is this kind of adolescent worship for an unreachable person is a dangerous idea, but it is one that is normalized through much of culture. Love isn’t just a feeling, its an action. CS Lewis once argued that you should never try to like or love your neighbor, because sometimes your neighbor is a complete jerk. You should simply act in a manner that is loving. The same goes for romantic relationships, as people much smarter than I have said.
In the end, we must choose whether we are going to live in accordance with expectations or by our true nature. We must recognize the faces we wear and have the courage to take them off and see what is right in front of us.
In the end, it’s okay not to be normal, because normality is nothing more than faces and expectations.
Or as your parents always said, “Just be yourself.”