I know most people call this episode “The Christmas Episode,” but to me it will always be the “Christmas Bear Episode.” That moment was the defining moment of this show for me, the one that truly encapsulated everything about this show that I treasure and value. My first watch of it was truly a precious moment to me, and I’m eternally grateful that I’m able to relive it now. This is also the end of the third disc of the original NISA release that I’m watching, which means we’ve got six episodes left of this wonderful show.
And, of course, Merry Christmas to all of you who have been reading these posts, both on Reddit and on my blog! I never would have had the drive to finish this project if it weren’t for all of your kind affirmations, comments, and welcoming words to me. I know this is a special show for a lot of people, not just me, and I really am grateful to be able to share it with all of you. Now to write this thing…I wonder if I’ll cry again writing it…
0:22—So, we start off with Ryuuji trying, it seems, to hiding the phone call from Taiga and Taiga’s voice from Minori. Right off the bat, we know something’s up with him. Even if we don’t see it this episode, the wheels in his head are turning. He knows there’s something off in this situation.
2:33—Very few relationships in this show are as heartwarming for me as Yasuko’s relationship with Taiga. I’ve talked on and off about how Yasuko, for all her immaturity as a person and a parent, has her moments. With Taiga, Yasuko is constantly at her best, showering Taiga with constant love and acceptance. This is Yasuko’s greatest strength as a parent and it’s a perfect match for Taiga’s needs.
2:38—I have to love both of their initial reactions when they first see Ryuuji. Before moving into overdrive and relief, both Yasuko and Taiga are just stunned to see how good he looks. It’s a really nice family moment of a couple people who care a lot about Ryuuji being glad to see him.
3:31—Girl power is a fearsome force.
4:04—Even as they chat with each other casually outside the door, Ryuuji is taking care of Taiga. It’s as natural to him as breathing at this point.
4:49—Once again, Toradora! starts off lighthearted, as it does with most episodes. There are varying lengths of time before the episodes turn serious, but they almost entirely begin with comedy before modulating into the drama. It’s a very effective structure because it builds your affection and reattaches you to the characters every episode before bringing the full emotional weight of the narrative to bear on your defenseless heart.
6:32—Oh my gosh, this is so high school.
7:51—Once again, Taiga and Ami’s relationship, as with most things involving Ami, is depicted through the things they do with each other, not through the words they say. You don’t do a surprise performance like this with someone unless you’re good friends with them.
8:51—”Give me your smiles.” This is the line of the song we get as we see Minori breaking herself down. It’s a lovely shot, too, with the warm colors in front of her and cool one behind her: a kind of metaphor, perhaps, for the truth of Minori’s masks. Warm and bright on the outside, cold and pale inside.
9:42—This is always how we see her. Through a pane of glass, from the outside. There’s always a barrier between Minori and the world outside. It may be invisible, like glass, but it’s very much there.
10:52—This conversation between Ami and Ryuuji is entirely hued by insinuations and implications. “You didn’t know she was leaving? Why not?” “Why would she leave?” “Maybe something’s going to happen.” Once again, they’re all supposed to be friends, but they continue to struggle communicate honestly with each other.
11:04—Instead, they plan on their own and act on their own…
11:21—And here, Ami is no better than the rest of them, because she insists on playing the game from the outside in her own isolated bubble. But she’s still playing the game.
11:26—Her frustration betrays just how much she cares about the trio of Taiga, Ryuuji, and Minori (yes, those are in a deliberate order). She can’t stand watching it happen, and she can’t interfere totally, and she can’t stay out of it. She’s certainly seen where this is all leading and is taking her own dose of suffering along with that knowledge.
12:21—Taiga sits alone, wrapped with the greatest symbol of the fact that she’s not alone.
13:01—A crushing line. Hopelessness. Disbelief that she can change, that her world can be different.
13:05—This one is even worse. She admits to herself that what she’s believed in is only a construct to keep herself upright. The UFO is just fireworks. Watching people give up is always a painful experience, and to see someone like Taiga, who has fought for hope for so long…it’s anguishing.
13:15—I’m remembering her conversation with Ryuuji about the stars and, how, although they look close, they’re truly far apart. That’s how Taiga feels, as if she’s nearby to those she loves, but isolated by a great, invisible distance.
14:02—The show just has to hammer us again and again with this as she clutches the scarf.
14:19—I kind of forgot how much humor is in this whole encounter because of how desperate it feels for Taiga and how genuinely loving it feels for Ryuuji.
14:35—But, of course, she has to ask. She has to know if she can believe again.
14:46—Because this means everything to her. It means so much that all she can do is laugh at how absurd the whole thing is: being alone, getting scared, finding a Santa Claus bear hanging outside her window. This could be fine comedy material, worth a laugh. But it’s not.
15:07—It means everything to her because her dream came true. “It was a very happy dream,” she said last episode. So she embraces it with everything she has, because she knows it won’t last.
15:27—It means everything to her. And this is the purest expression of love that Ryuuji has made in all the time he’s known her.
15:34—So much so that she’s reduced to a simple “Wow,” as if she’s in awe.
16:00—But she knew all along that it was a “make-believe Santa Claus coming to a make-believe good girl.” But she still had, for those few minutes, something to believe in! It didn’t matter whether it was a boy in a bear suit or a UFO or really Santa Claus or just fireworks! All that mattered is that she had something, someone to literally cling to in her loneliness. Even if it wasn’t real. Even if she knew it wasn’t real. Even if could never have been anyone else but Ryuuji. She still had it. Something eternal grasped in a moment. So the emotion she expresses internally and out loud is gratitude. Because even just the moment is worth having for her.
17:04—And so, Taiga lies. And lies and lies all throughout the rest of this conversation, even as she tells him she didn’t want to lie to Minori. She closes up, tries to be self-contained, internalizes the pain.
17:14—As she does this, she acknowledges that change is coming.
17:41—”Santa already came!” And she pretends that’s enough, that only a glimpse of the moment is all she needs. I’ve taken all I can from you, let me give it back. But that’s a selfish, isolated way to think. She never stops to ask if this is what he really wants or needs.
17:47—Her desperation is bubbling so close to the surface, though, that Ryuuji very nearly grasps it.
18:21—A perfectly symmetrical shot, divided between the lonely sky and her empty apartment. All that’s left is Taiga and the symbol of Ryuuji’s care.
19:01—And then we’re privileged with the excruciating experience of watching Taiga go through the consequences of her actions, step by awful step.
19:24—Until the lies finally break down around her, until the dam breaks, just like it did in her fight with Kano. It is the supreme moment of honesty from Taiga in the series, a total admittance that she cannot do this on her own, that she wants her dream to be more real than just a dream, that she wants Ryuuji and she needs Ryuuji and she loves Ryuuji. The star once again is knocked off the tree, but this time she’s done it herself because she’s lied for so long.
19:51—But it’s not her fault. That is the most heartbreaking thing of all. Taiga never understood how much she cared for Ryuuji until she realized he was about to leave her. It’s only through the results of her lies that she’s been able to see truth. But how else was she to know? How could this image of her screaming on the streets after a boy who is long gone been avoided? There was no way to do it. It was impossible for her to know until right now.
20:14—As if seeing Taiga in her own, raw pain wasn’t enough, we now get to see Minori do the exact same thing that has brought Taiga to this point: cover up her own feelings and lie.
20:51—She can’t even wait to hear what she already knows. Her only thought is to “end” everything right there and then to run away.
21:12—So, she tells the biggest, saddest lie she’s told yet. This is worse than Taiga saying she realizes Santa Claus isn’t real. This is Minori saying that she still believes that her UFOs and ghosts are out there, but she has chosen to stop looking for them. It’s one thing to accept the reality that your dreams of love aren’t out there; it’s another entirely to know that they are and refuse to pursue them anyways. The fact that Minori has pushed herself to this point…it’s a horrible, horrible thing to do to yourself, and yet she does it because she wants to protect someone.
21:35—The falseness of her mask is brutally revealed here. She mimics her own happy actions, but her salute is half-hearted, her eyes covered with her hat. Everything we’ve seen of genki Minori is shown to be a sham because the illusion can’t persist when she no longer truly wants to keep it up.
21:52—”It’s Christmas. Give me your smiles.” Hahaha…haha…ha…ha…
Yeah, so Merry Christmas everyone! Feeling the Christmas cheer after that episode? Yeah, me too…
I’m going to try to have a post scheduled for Christmas Day, but forgive me if I don’t quite get it up on time. Likewise, the post on the day after Christmas might come in a little bit late as I don’t anticipate I’ll have the time necessary to watch the episode, take notes, and write the post on Christmas Day. But, we’ll see! I’ve made it this far; it’d be a shame to fall off the pace now.