When it comes to beloved anime shows, I have yet to discuss one of my all time favourites: Toradora!
It could not have come at a more appropriate time for me considering my age when I was first exposed to it, and maybe I’ll cover the everlasting impact it had on me as a show another time. Because today, we are celebrating one of the best parts of the anime as this week’s Waifu Wednesday: Minori Kushieda!
Who is Minori Kushieda?
First and foremost, Minori Kushieda (or Minorin if we’re addressing her affectionally as she always deserves) is initially our main boy Ryuuji’s object of affection. She is also the best friend of the other main character, Taiga, who has a crush on their fellow classmate, Yusaku.
Then throw in the sublimely confusing yet confident Ami as the transfer student who also has an interest in Ryuuji, and we have the main cast of the show.
Toradora! is not at all dissimilar to any other rom-com, with the characters forming a close-knit bond and friendship, where love rivals are formed as each individual learns to understand what their feelings of affection really mean by the end of the show.
With sudden and strong feelings blossoming during their time in school, Toradora! is an immensely emotionally charged and relatable take on teenage romance, capturing what these seemingly insignificant yet everlasting moments of unexpected and uncertain feelings were during our developmental years — and nowhere is this clearer than from Minori’s perspective.
It’s hard not to appreciate everything that Minori seemingly stands for, especially when her happy-go-lucky, energetic and enthusiastic personality hits you in the face with every single frame she occupies. It’s infectiously charming, effortlessly uplifting, and quite literally makes Minori the sunshine of the band of friends.
But the more we get to see Minori, the more layered, hypocritical, and flawed she becomes, resulting in one of the best character development arcs within the show — and a great representation of many of our own teenage years.
In Toradora!, where every character is as fake as one another, nowhere is this more troublesome than in Minori’s case. At the very worst of times, her insecurities and ability to shoulder her own issues alone in favour of someone else’s happiness is a seemingly honourable and noble trait. But it’s also a potent reminder that being wholeheartedly kind to others while denying your own wants is not healthy behaviour.
Why we love Minori
I have previously spoken of my fondness for the slice-of-life/sci-fi manga, Orange, and how it presented an accurate portrayal of how young adults learn to understand and grow from experiencing love for the first time. In Minori’s case, she is arguably the most complex and tragic character of Toradora! when it comes to processing, confronting and accepting love.
The cast of Toradora! each share a nasty habit, which is easily recognisable and relatable to the audience considering their young ages in school — the masks that they each hide behind to protect themselves with.
Each character does this for various reasons, with the majority of the show’s cast members having built up walls to protect themselves from pain, or out of fear of misunderstanding their own feelings during their developmental years and newfound experiences. And each provides a varying perspective on the current issue at hand – Ryuuji and Taiga’s relationship.
Minori’s decisions and choice of wording across the show has made audiences continually question their opinion of her ever since the anime first reached the west. It is is simply because there is far more to Minori than the “genki” (an overtly happy and positive character) front she permanently has on.
Her reason for this is explicitly mentioned at the start of the show: her fear of change. Specifically, the fear of losing out on both her established friendship with Ryuuji or a romantic chance with him, and the distancing of herself from her dearest friend Taiga due to either of those things happening.
Minori is a deeply flawed individual, and it is that which makes the result of her character growth all the more bittersweet, yet impressive and memorable. Her journey in Toradora! leaves me with a similar impression of Fruits Basket’s very own protagonist, Tohru, for both being impressive and providing a brilliant role model for the viewer. Minori is a genuinely kind person — yet such extreme kindness teaches us a valuable lesson we should remember in our daily lives.
It left a massive impression on my younger years, and has resulted in Minori being one of my most influential fictional characters within any medium ever. She is layered, memorable, and most of all, teaches us that our flaws and mistakes only ever help us to grow, even if it is a bitter pill to swallow. We’re only human, after all.
Why you’ll love Minori
Minori is, without a doubt, a hard worker, as evident from her passion and drive as the captain of her school’s softball club, and the way in which she works multiple part time jobs. However, both instances highlight particular weaknesses and insecurities Minori continuously attempts to hide, such as her falling into depression when losing a softball match because she blames herself, and when she admits she works multiple jobs to avoid being a burden to anyone.
It is, once again, yet another reminder of how relatable her own insecurities are for the viewer, while still acting as an encouraging friend to not only the characters, but also as reassurance for the viewer by providing relatable inner turmoil.
Her fear is incredibly understandable considering her age and her still being in school, and it never fails to deliver on the emotional conflict of her situation despite her continuously putting on a brave face. However, the true horror of Minori’s character is in her selflessness. Minori’s emotional journey throughout the show has her experiencing pain and heartbreak such a decision caused on her, and when the main pair of Ryuuji and Taiga encounter difficulties in their relationship, it is Minori who steps in and guides them to their happier ending despite understanding and accepting her own feelings on the matter.
It is an entirely selfless act, and it takes a shocking amount of courage for her to finally accept and move on from this moment as everything finally does change, even with such significant events occurring as a result of her own actions and words. Many times in the show we witness Minori spouting inspirational and motivating words to her friends, while also acting as a way to teach herself that she’s doing the right thing for her own benefit. Her confrontation with Taiga is the best example of this, and her personal growth is confirmed during the hallway chase in its climax.
Her acceptance of her own feelings, attempts to correct Taiga’s self-harming actions, reaching her own understanding that she can and will find happiness through her own means, and blatant willingness to finally unmask her true self in front of even Ami solidifies Minori as Toradora!’s best character. She has a complete turn-around from when we are first introduced to her character, and it is such a subtle yet impactful progression to witness for what we might initially assume to be a mere supporting character.
Minori happens to be one of the first exposures I had with the “genki” archetype within any Japanese entertainment medium, and she has stayed with me for well over decade (and probably greatly influenced my sheer adoration for the type in other formats). Her happy persona was instantly captivating and encouraging, only to occasionally slip and falter to show how truly vulnerable and human she really is despite her best wishes and efforts to play the part she believed she should be playing for the sake of others.
She may at first appear as the heart of the show, and somehow never does manage to lose her spark, but she also ends up being the individual with the most important message and personal growth arc. She is sympathetic, sad, confused, and painfully human. A picture-perfect representation of many of us, who also also demonstrates how we can do better not just for others, but for our own sake and well-being.
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