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Toradora’s Christmas Episode Slayed My Heart

(This post is part of a series of posts covering Christmas-themed anime episodes. For more posts like these, check out the 12 Days of Anime tag.)

Goddamn it.

vlcsnap-2014-12-22-12h49m16s169If you were to gather a hundred anime fans in one room and ask them what their favourite Christmas episode in anime is, chances are most of them would respond with Toradora. This is no surprise. Toradora is a popular anime, and the Christmas episode (episode 19) is a giant wrecking ball of FEELS.

What makes the final moments of this episode so effective is how carefully and meticulously the emotions are built up over the course of three episodes. It all starts so innocuously. Our protagonists arrange a Christmas party, and while Ryuuji is hoping to use that as an opportunity to patch things up with Minori, she’s been refusing his approaches. But this all vanishes from Ryuuji’s mind as he realises that it’s Taiga who needs his company and support the most during Christmas Eve. The choice he makes is one that causes heartbreak to both Taiga and Minori.

This is the culmination of a love triangle and at this point, Toradora makes no effort to restrain itself. It’s easier to accept the high running emotions, though, when the relationships between the characters are depicted with nuanced detail. There’s never any doubt that Ryuuji and Taiga care about each other deeply, but theirs is by no means a static relationship. As Taiga changes and becomes more self-reflective, Ryuuji is left clinging to their old dynamic where he is the one who must take of her. But this, as Ami points out, is a farce. Taiga and Ryuuji are both lying to themselves by pretending their friendship will remain the same forever.

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This is why the moment when Ryuuji pretends to be Santa for Taiga hurts as much as it heals. Ryuuji chooses to be with Taiga – he understands her, he knows her. But just being there for her is no longer what Taiga needs from him. He doesn’t get this, though, perhaps willfully so. That’s why Taiga is so pained by the realisation that she loves him romantically.

If there was ever a moment where Toradora, in all of its silliness and theatrics*, manages to hit upon something resembling genuine human truth, it’s in the pathos between that exists between two people who are more than friends but not quite lovers. It’s not as if Taiga chooses to fall in love with Ryuuji. I think if she had it her way, she’d have an untainted platonic friendship with him forever – but relationships don’t really work out like that. People don’t remain frozen in time. Even if Ryuuji did not have his crush on Minori, I think Taiga would have had immense difficulty being honest with her feelings. Because feelings of love are scary – they feel like a betrayal of everything friendship stands for.

What makes all of this even worse is when Minori, realising Taiga’s feelings, puts her own crush on Ryuuji aside and decides to reject him. Maybe it’s an attempt at being selfless for her friend’s sake, but there’s something comforting about not being forced to face one’s romantic feelings. As much as it hurts Minori to turn her back on Ryuuji, I think a part of her is relieved as well. It’s not such a hard decision to make because it’s the “right” one.

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The night ends on a strong note of ambivalence. Nobody is sure about how they feel about each other now. And it hurts, oh it hurts so much.

The kicker to all this misery is the cheerful Christmas song that plays at the end. As much as these characters are all hurting over the choices they made that day, it’s still Christmas. It’s another chapter in their bright, sparkling youths – a day I’m sure they’ll look back on with a wistful smile.

“What happy fools we were, back when everything meant so much!”

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Of course, I like Toradora very much, but it’s a very idealised and larger than life depiction of high school and growing up. Just writing this post made me feel strangely nostalgic over something I never even experienced personally. See also: my post on Honey and Clover.

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Posted on December 22, 2014, in Reviews and Impressions and tagged , . Bookmark the permalink. 7 Comments.

  1. -sigh- I might have to rewatch Toradora sometime in the future.

  2. “Of course, I like Toradora very much, but it’s a very idealised and larger than life depiction of high school and growing up. Just writing this post made me feel strangely nostalgic over something I never even experienced personally”

    That’s probably the reason why we watch it, love it, hate it and argue so eagerly about it. Most, if not all of what we experience in anime and other kind’s of art are things that we never lived. We pick a proxy and we try our best to absorb as much as we can from the moment. Resonating with some rare moments of familiarity and experiencing the new ones.

    Toradora for me was a rather painful time for me. It felt like my heart was tearing most of the chapters and it was just unusually real. Not a fan of the ending really, never had a sense of closure with it.

    • That’s probably the reason why we watch it, love it, hate it and argue so eagerly about it. Most, if not all of what we experience in anime and other kind’s of art are things that we never lived.

      Yep. Although I’ll add the appeal of Toradora isn’t just escapism. It tries to make you feel as if you have experienced all these things before, even when most of us didn’t have a high school life nearly that dramatic. When you say it felt “unusually real”, that’s what I’m talking about.

      fwiw, I wasn’t a big fan of the ending either. Seemed absurdly rushed and never really solved anything.

  3. I think the reason this particular episode of Toradora sticks out to me is because of the fact that Taiga and Ami both end up working together so well for that Christmas song. As I recall, they try working together in a previous episode for the play and kinda fail at the whole teamwork thing, yet here they are, finally putting aside their differences for real. It’s a genuinely beautiful thing to witness.

    • Honestly, can’t remember much about that part. I’ve pretty much forgotten everything in Christmas arc except for what happened at the end and that I felt kinda(read:extremely) sad for everyone in the trio. Starting from when Taiga runs after Ryuuji after realizing that she loves him and breaking down in front of her house, to Minori noticing her from a distance as she screams Ryuuji’s name, to finally Minori cutting Ryuuji’s confession midway and saying that it’d probably be better if she “didn’t see ghosts”(that one was a sucker punch, even Ryuuji felt it T_T), that sequence is the biggest FEEL throughout this episode of FEELS… Since that’s the only part I remember. :P
      Toradora becomes more and more dramatic after this though, the school trip in snow comes after this if I recall correctly.

      • “Toradora becomes more and more dramatic after this though, the school trip in snow comes after this if I recall correctly.”
        Even more FEELS. I don’t know why but Taiga’s “accidental” confession during that arc is still pretty memorable for me.

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