Toradora: What Could Have Been

Okay, so… Toradora!. A fairly popular series of light novels in Japan (ten in all), which spawned a 25-episode anime series and a pair of graphic novels. And a gajillion yen of merchandise, I might add.

Despite having no giant robots, no ninjas, no sex, no female nudity, no gunfights, only one-and-a-half swordfights, only one or two kicks-to-the-nuts (ouchie), and two, or maybe three, of the most complicated love polygons ever imagined in such a medium, it’s still a series of sheer awesomeness and epic win. It’s right up there with Yotsuba&! in terms of awesomeness: if you don’t like Toradora (or Yotsuba), there’s probably something wrong with you.

Well, maybe.

You’ll probably never know, however.

Why? Because Toradora has been, and continues to be, completely shafted in the English-speaking world. Of those ten light novels, how many had previously been (cough, legally, cough) translated? Zero. How many have been licensed for translation? Zero. The same went for the manga version, though this has since changed.

But don’t despair! Back in February, it was announced that the American branch of video-game company NIS would be licensing Toradora as it’s first ever American anime release. To, you know, test the waters, and see if there was money to be made by diversifying into other media markets, and stuff.

Anime nerds the world over rejoiced. At the time, it was one of two extremely popular, high-quality recent Japanese media franchises that had remained conspicuously un-licensed in the English-speaking world. (The other was K-On!, whose manga and anime incarnations were later licensed for release in North America.) Life was good, right?

Well… in a word, no. See, NIS only produced a very expensive subtitled edition, to save the (not inconsiderable) expense of having the show – which is to be fair a “double length” season at 25 episodes – dubbed into English.

As tends to happen, there was much wailing and gnashing of teeth. “You lose out on the Authentic Experience(TM) with a dub,” the subtitle-lovers cried. “Having to, ZOMG, read subtitles annoys me and/or distracts from the awesome art”, the dub-lovers cried. “Even if you wanted a dub, you should buy this anyway just to support the company making it and encourage them to stay in the anime market,” the socialists cried. “Why should we reward companies for being cheap and not listening to the consumers?” the capitalists cried. “Damnit,” the pirates said, “just download the fansubs for free and STFU already, would you? It’s a crappy moe-blob that only girls and pussies like.”

And they all kind of have a point, except probably the pirates.

Now, just about every time any anime series gets a sub-only release, there’s an argument about why oh why couldn’t they have dubbed it, blah blah blah. A lot of the time it’s because there’s just no market for the show – some of the cheesier/creepier nigh-plotless softcore erotica series spring, as it were, immediately to mind – and would-be fans really are “fortunate” to have any release at all available.

I mean, sheesh, more scantily-clad vampires at an all-girl’s boarding school? The market can only take so much of this stuff, you know?

Toradora is not one of those shows. A lot of people who’ve seen it (cough, fansubs, cough) – and I’m among them – agree that it’s probably one of the n Greatest Anime Series of the 21st Century, where n is an integer usually larger than 5. (And, you know, for everyone who thinks it’s one of the ten best, there are two or three people who think it could have been okay if there’d been some hot sex and crazy gunbattles, but otherwise sucks sweaty donkey balls, what’s the big deal, anyway?)

It’s an epic show. Even the (cough, badly fan-translated, cough) light novels are brilliant. Thirty years from now, when shows like Spice and Wolf, FLCL, or, (shudder) Queen’s Blade, all of which received English dubs, are completely forgotten to the mists of time (and rightly so, at least in the case of Queen’s Blade), I’m quite confident that Toradora is still going to be reasonably popular in Japan. Hell, it’s higher-rated on Crunchyroll than Haruhi, for crying out loud, a show whose success – dubbed – is undeniable.

But a sub-only version pretty much kills one’s chances of achieving any sort of widespread popularity in English-speaking parts of the world. Poor Toradora. You could have been something special. You could have been popular, well-liked. You could have been the next Haruhi. You could have been a contender. Oh, well. So sad, too bad.

I mean, here’s the deal. Just about anyone can license a book, graphic novel, or TV show from Japan, if they’ve got the money. The Japanese publishers don’t seem to really give a rat’s ass one way or the other. Giant publishing conglomerate? Some guy with an LLC and some computers in your garage? Eh, as long as the cheque clears, who cares?

And, you know, for every anime series that gets some sort of DVD license for North America, there are probably a half dozen or more that… don’t. Ever. So, yeah, in a way, I, you, we should be grateful that Toradora got licensed at all, right?

Except… let’s draw an analogy.

Let’s say that you happen to be Panaraguan; you live in Panaragua, and only speak Panaraguan. Now, Panaragua is a pretty good-sized country that has, historically, been a lucrative market for localized versions of foreign films, especially big-budget Hollywood blockbusters of the sorts that the local movie industry really cannot compete with.

With me so far?

Now, let’s say that a foreign company sets up a branch office in your country, because it wants a cut of the potentially substantial media market in Panaragua. They think they can do what needs to be done better than all the many, many other local companies already established in the marketplace.

And for their first product, this foreign company realizes that for some inexplicable reason, nobody – nobody, can you believe it? – has ever legally licensed or sold, say… The Matrix in Panaragua. So they go to the studio, and they buy the Panaragua distribution rights for The Matrix, and they get a pretty good deal because it’s several years old and nobody really gives a rat’s patooie about Panaragua, where the hell is that on a map, anyway.

And you, and all your movie-loving friends in Panaragua, rejoice. Because The Matrix is, like, one of the two or three most awesome big-budget blockbuster movies that have never been distributed in your country, and you just cannot freaking wait, the excitement is palpable, there’s already an illicit secondary market trading in opening-day movie tickets at four or five times face price, oh my God will you hurry up and release the damned movie already, we’re freaking dieing to understand what all these internet jokes about red pills and blue pills are all about, you know? We tried Wikipedia but Google’s English -> Panaraguan machine translation is really horrible, so… come on, already.

And then months go by, and you’re finally able to get a ticket to a screening on opening day, and it costs you the equivalent of a full day’s pay – about three times what a normal movie ticket costs, but that’s okay, it’s the freaking Matrix, you’re so psyched you just wet yourself – and you get in there and the lights go down and the movie starts… and the movie is in English with some fucking little six-inch-high white subtitles in a hard-to-read font down at the bottom, and there’s so much freaking dialogue in the movie that you spend the whole damned time reading and can’t hardly appreciate the cinematic awesomeness that Hollywood now considers passe but your country could never produce in a million years.

Licensing Toradora for North America and only producing subtitles is a little bit like that.

It gets worse, though. The first pressing of Toradora DVDs were… suboptimal. Oh, most people didn’t notice anything wrong, but the raging fanboys who obsess over these things ranted at length about poor picture quality, to the point that a replacement program was instituted. And some people even complained about the quality of the replacement disks.

Toradora is not the only show NIS America has licensed; all the others were subtitle-only, and most of the others have been accused of having video problems, as well. But still, because of the sheer awesomeness that is Toradora, fanbois argued that people should buy the subtitled DVDs – the two box sets will run you over $130, by the way – to demonstrate that Toradora is a viable North American media franchise, and encourage NIS to produce, at some point down the road, what a lot of people really want, and what Toradora should have gotten in the first place: a dub.

This sort of reasoning pretty much never works, and I think it’s clear that it isn’t going to work for Toradora. Why? The entire (subtitled) show is now streaming online at a very bargain-basement price. Good, perhaps, for the site streaming it, and people who don’t want to pay the insane price of the DVDs, but not something that suggests, to me, that NIS is in any way particularly impressed with the show’s commercial potential.

Within a few months, I suspect, the DVDs will be out of print and unavailable, due to the trifecta of poor quality, ridiculous price, and less-than-spectacular profits, once you work the replacement disks and returns into the equation. Just as the manga will be hitting the shelves (the original medium, the light novels, being doomed to never see a legal English-language release, ever) the anime will be slipping into undeserved oblivion, fated to obscurity and underappreciation among English-speaking people.

And why? Because a struggling company decided to use it for their half-assed and probably short-lived exploration into a market they had no clue about.

Thanks, guys.


For what it’s worth, the original media of the franchise – the novels – are very, very good, even in the pirate translations. Since their odds of ever being published in this country are zero, I don’t feel too bad about linking to where you can read them for free. And if you happen to have a Kindle, or a Nook, or an iPad, or something else that works as an ebook reader, I don’t mind linking you to EPUB files of the first ten novels, for your reading pleasure:

Volume 01
Volume 02
Volume 03
Volume 04
Volume 05
Volume 06
Volume 07
Volume 08
Volume 09
Volume 10

All are between 600KB and 1.2MB, DRM-free EPUB files. Enjoy.

Published in: Geekiness | on November 24th, 2010| No Comments »

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