(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.)
If 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.
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.
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!”
* 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.