I’m glad I actually waited until episode 18 came out to watch 17 along with it. The buildup of 17 and most of 18 really, really pays off by the end.
Had I tried to consider episode 17 by itself, my thoughts would have been dominated by three words: “out of character.” It is an episode full of role reversals: Taiga being happy and helpful, Minorin becoming withdrawn and melancholy. This Taiga, of course, was only made possible by Ryuuji’s slow melting of her heart–though the transition to this side of her still feels abrupt and perhaps overcompensating. I would not be surprised if episode 19 reveals that to be the case, at least to some extent–we get a hint of this when Taiga acknowledges that her faith in Santa is based on an unreal dream. Toradora! excels at these little character revelations, these cracks in the facades.
Perhaps this is my theological side talking, but I couldn’t help but see a subtext about God/faith in these Christmas episodes. Taiga speaks of Santa in much the same way believers talk about God; while this isn’t the first time this has happened in anime, it functions in her life the same way religion functions for many people, which is to give them a sense of moral order and something to look forward to, even if they do not take it literally. The otherwise superfluous mention about her time in Catholic school and orphans makes sense in this context. Christmas, for her, is a time to clarify things and to start with a cleaner slate–to be “good” and to have some joy in her life for a change.
For everyone else, though, it is a time for clarity and honesty. Ryuuji finally has people who are seeing through his own denial and confronting him about his odd relationship with Taiga. Ami, once again, ends up being the most perceptive person in the bunch–she accuses him of playing house, with Taiga as the child and Minorin as the (potential) mommy. It’s totally within character of her to be so blunt, but it also makes a lot of sense: Ryuuji, after all, is from a broken home where he has to play “man of the house” to a mother who seems far less mature than himself, and many of his actions in the past–like his inability to see the jerkness of Taiga’s dad–all stem from his own longing for a real family. The show seems to be coming to the startingly sophisticated conclusion that while friendship is sustaining and important, it really isn’t quite the same thing as a family. It is never a complete substitute, and at some point it must break down as such.
And yet, the characters are doing the best they can, despite their hurts and their brokenness. This is so beautifully shown at the end of episode 18, when Minorin’s baseball shatters Taiga’s treasured glass ornament. Not only does this give Minorin genuine motivation to feel guilty and unworthy (something anime characters get forced to feel for little reason at all), the way the pieces were glued back together, incomplete, but still sparkling: I can’t think of a more appropriate metaphor for the lives of all these characters. “It will never be the same as when it was whole”–this is true. That we can be put back together again, into something still beautiful, but only by glue–this is also true. It is as playwright Eugene O’Neill once said:
Man is born broken. He lives by mending. The grace of God is glue.
And as Ryuuji calls out to Minorin to join the party, you could almost hear him say Frederick Buechner’s words:
Here is your life. You might never have been, but you are because the party wouldn’t have been complete without you.
I see that episode 19 is already in the pipeline with the raw reviewers, so I guess we will see the resolution of this arc soon. I can’t wait.