We've been unceasingly impressed by the English language release of Toradora's manga adaptation so far, and as it enters its fourth volume the true feelings of its pair of main characters begin to show themselves as Ryuuji and Taiga's respective masks begin to slip a little.
This is all by the by as the volume begins however, presenting us with a decidedly tight focus as the school's swimming pool opens up early for the summer. This news presents Taiga specifically with two problems - firstly, that she can't swim, but perhaps more importantly for her, a shopping trip to buy a new swimsuit reveals that her... particularly bodily proportions perhaps aren't best suited to the revealing contours of swimwear. Enter Ryuuji and his usual unique range of abilities to save the day, although even his efforts threaten to be all for naught as things get rowdy during the class' first session at the pool.
Even in the aftermath of this however our focus remains poolside, as Ami Kawashima's demands lead to a head-to-head contest between Taiga and Ami - a contest which looks to prove hugely problematic for the proverbial "hammer" that is our diminutive protagonist here. Once again it's left up to Ryuuji to try and fix the mess created by his two friend's rivalry, but in doing so he unlocks more than he could possibly have bargained for as the relationship between himself and Taiga begins to take on an entirely different light.
Despite revolving primarily around a couple of story arcs created largely for fun and entertainment, there's still a beautifully realised backbone behind them both in this volume of Toradora, as we see Ryuuji and Taiga's relationship continue to grow, and occasionally fracture, on account of the close proximity of the two to one another, and perhaps more importantly Taiga's reliance on her next-door neighbour when the going gets tough. Given this, it's no surprise that the focus on these two characters to the exclusion of almost everybody else works wonders, delivering comedy, drama and plenty of great reading in-between, helped on only occasionally by the supporting cast.
On top of that, by this point in the series it feels as if illustrator for this manga, Zekkyou, has pretty much perfected his work here - the overall quality of the artwork is top-notch and occasionally outright gorgeous as it goes about capturing its characters and their emotional states, and the series' drops into super-deformed or incredibly basic illustrations for comic effect within panels feel both more considered and better utilised than they perhaps were in early volumes.
The whole endeavour is backed up by Seven Seas Entertainment's good translation, which some may argue feels a little too westernised but nonetheless fits in perfectly with the characters, their mannerisms and figures of speech to my mind to create a reading experience that is both effectively and easy to scan, with translation notes handily included on the relevant pages as and when they're required.
While I'll be the first to admit that I'm an unashamed fan of Toradora, even taking a step back to look at the series from a distance this manga adaptation is a top-notch take on the romantic comedy genre - its outright romance angle often takes a back seat in this volume but its presence is still felt in the background throughout before jumping to the fore when required, while there's no doubting the comic teeth of the series when it comes to getting a laugh. Coupled with its seemingly ever-improving artwork, Toradora creeps ever closer towards my all-time list of "must-buy" manga, even though I get the distinct impression that the best is yet to come.
Another great instalment of comedy and smatterings of romantic drama that is paced and illustrated almost to perfection.