Episode 19 is kind of a pivot episode for a lot of people, an iconic and emotional one that, as I wrote, was Toradora!‘s defining moment for me. But because that episode was such an emotional watershed for the series, it’s easy to forget how intense the penultimate arc of this show is as we watching everyone try to cling to the status quo that is radically different, even opposed, to the way their relationships are now. That’s the game Ami’s frustrated with—that, with all the evidence to the contrary, Ryuuji, Taiga, and Minori continue to insist that the way things were before was the right way to be.
0:01—This is such an abrupt change in place and time from where we were at the end of last episode: from Ryuuji laying alone on his back in the dark in front of the familiar school to Taiga in the bright day at a crowded shrine. Even though it had been a full day for me since watching episode 19, the change was jolting, probably in part because this is a location we’ve never seen before. Like the shot where we saw Class 2-C from the side for the first time, we’re being signaled that things are much different now than they were.
This also seems a good place to talk about another element of Toradora! that I think makes it such a relevant and timeless experience. Other than this episode, which locates its events at
Okinawa in the mountains, Toradora! very consistently refuses to locate which Japanese town it is set in. While natives perhaps could guess at where Ohashi High’s hometown is modeled after, the lack of a defined real world location (in the anime) gives the whole show a sense that this story could take place anywhere. It is both everywhere and nowhere.
0:15—There’s a similar scene that takes place in Blast of Tempest at a shrine following the big shift in the middle of the story after Mahiro wakes up. It’s a time of spiritual renewal, new beginnings, and a time for the characters to decide what they are going to do next.
0:59—In the first OP, Ryuuji and Taiga turn back to look at each other when they pass, but not here. Here, they don’t face each other until the very end of the OP.
2:26—Both the episode title and Ryuuji’s line here are screaming “Stasis!” at me. While Ryuuji’s been sick, nothing’s happened. No one’s been able to move on or change. They’ve all been in suspension, which is another reason the shift to the shrine at the beginning of the episode is so jarring. Things ought to have changed, but they haven’t.
3:09—Even though it’s drawn the same (I checked) suddenly the space between their houses feels like a gap, not like a place where they connect. Fascinating how the same physical space can change based on the relationships of the people who occupy it…
3:26—The line kind of blew my mind. Like, how can she even say that, given her own feelings for him? And with a face like that? It’s such a mask, and the shot is composed with all the staged presence that can be mustered: as if she’s posing in profile with chopsticks held still.
3:52—Except she didn’t.
4:14—”Believes,” in other words, “she’s wrong.” Taiga’s trying to assert independence between her and Ryuuji, to create a non-existent space between them.
4:41—I’ve been arguing that Taiga’s been regressing ever since the culture festival arc, trying to return to the same person she was at the beginning of the show, and I think this line finally confirms that. She says “survive,” but it’s pretty hard not to hear “be.” Or, perhaps, “be an adult.” Which is, of course, nonsense, because Taiga was never more childish than when we met her at the beginning of the show.
4:59—It is always easier to give advice ourselves than to follow it.
5:17—”Forever…” Echoing her lines from last episode when she was sitting in the chair. It’s like, for Taiga, Ryuuji’s appearance as the Christmas Bear was truly something like a dream, the brief flash of hope that she can have something she thinks she doesn’t deserve. Tragic, tragic, tragic.
6:26—Planning out what you’re going to say when you see the girl you like…man, have I been there haha
7:33—This is just more proof that Taiga is no longer the person she’s trying to make herself be. People all around her, even side-characters and acquaintances, are constantly breaking through her isolation as if it never existed.
8:08—If she can’t be supported by Ryuuji, she’s going to flip the circumstances so that she’s supporting him. Which, you know, is like…a huge freaking deal. Before Taiga started making distance between herself and Ryuuji’s support, they had a very unequal relationship. Even though Taiga’s going about this in the wrong way, she’s still unintentionally started to correct that balance. To put herself back on equal ground with Ryuuji.
8:16—Wow, this is some kind of awful non-funny comedy we’ve got going here. A rom-com? Ha. That’s almost as funny as Minori’s fake face here.
8:24—It’s embarrassing how straightforward this shot is given all the nonsense that’s really going on. But, the lighting has changed here from all the previous shots in the hallways, from bright and warm to cold, bright tones. Kind of like ice.
8:51—Okay, phew, some comedy that’s not being totally undercut by the ongoing tragedy of the situation (including the funny crowd faces!).
9:38—The main theme of Toradora!, folks.
10:31—This is such a cool shot. Ryuuji’s backgrounded by a calm, consistent green, while Ami’s framed by harsh light and unsteady shadows. You better believe that she’s truly angry right now, so much so that she doesn’t even bother putting on any sort of mask for him.
11:03—YES DUH. Ugh, he’s so clueless sometimes…Taiga and Ami are legitimately close now, even if Taiga’s going to pay her for the gift.
11:39—This is a cute trick with the camera. Ami looks away from her conversation with Ryuuji and Taiga, but as she does, she basically looks straight at the camera. It’s like she’s cluing us in to how much of a falsehood this is.
11:45—I think she’s actually surprised here.
11:53—And I don’t think she’s even guessed all the way to Taiga’s real feelings; all she knows is that Taiga relies on Ryuuji a whole lot.
12:12—But I think Taiga’s insistence on getting Ryuuji and Minori together is enough to give it away to Ami. And so, like the fantastic friend she is, Ami really cares for Taiga by giving her a second chance here, as she’s done time and time again.
12:27—Whoa, she’s seriously mad at him.
12:59—Street sign symbolism is pretty basic stuff, but at least Toradora! used a sign I had to go look up. This is a “No Entry” sign, one that signals this is a one way street. Now that they’ve taken this path, there’s no going back. They’re going to have to see it through until the end.
13:43/13:46—In other words, Taiga has pretty much no actual evidence of Minori’s feelings for Ryuuji (how would she? Minori certainly wouldn’t have spoken to Taiga of this), only her trust in her own experience with him.
14:45—Such a great shot. If you look at the street behind Ryuuji, you can see that the world has literally (okay, not literally, but you know what I mean) tilted at the moment Minori touched his hand. Toradora! doesn’t have a lot of these shots, so when this one happens it’s visually telling us that this is a Big Deal.
15:04—There are lots of places this is coming from: embarrassment, annoyance, and probably a hint of jealousy. Even as Taiga works to bring them together, her actions basically reassert her closeness with Ryuuji, something Minori really doesn’t have.
15:09—She’s stretching her mask so thin. She’s not making any sense at all here and can’t even come up with any sort of excuse.
16:12—Taiga’s still in between them. She’s the thing holding them together.
16:41—More of the icy lighting to go along with Ami’s frigid words. She has to be so mad to see this: Taiga, a close friend, hurt; Ryuuji and Minori holding hands via Taiga’s bag; her own feelings for Ryuuji impossibly blocked.
18:43—Please, Ryuuji, now?
19:07—No matter where Minori goes, she’s reminded of Ryuuji’s presence in Taiga’s life.
19:35—She’s just opening a cupboard, but it’s like she’s hiding her face as she recalls this embarrassing moment in her friendship with Taiga.
19:41—She hasn’t been here in a year for fear of screwing up again? You can bet that hurt Taiga big time, yet Taiga’s clearly forgiven her for it. This also means that the first time Minori came back to Taiga’s apartment after staying away out of guilt was…the night she saw Taiga wailing in the streets over Ryuuji.
20:20—There are two reasons Ami would prod Kitamura like this: 1) she wants to find out how he’s doing, or 2) she already knows he’s over it and it won’t hurt him. We don’t actually get to see Kitamura’s reaction, but we do hear here repeat a line she said to Minori a while ago: “It’s only a picture.” It’s not the real thing, only a representation of it. Does the memory of it hurt you?
21:05—More signs of his impact on Taiga’s life.
21:18—YES YES YES. This shot, one we’ve seen dozens of times to this point, finally makes sense to me. Right outside Taiga’s house is a playground, the ultimate symbol of childhood. But we haven’t seen it in a while, and when we do it’s juxtaposed against Ryuuji declaring that things can’t stay this way forever. They have to grow up.
21:39—Ami is too glamorous for your silly bus games, you plebeians.
22:04—”Every little effort counts.” But those are some big mountains out there, Ryuuji. Your little efforts might not be able to stand up to the big efforts that others are making.
There’s a ton of stuff going on in this episode, but the highlight for me was, without question, Ami’s simmering rage. No matter what she does, her fury at Ryuuji, Minori, the whole situation, and perhaps herself is bubbling near the surface. Throw in Nagai’s penchant for using visuals to accompanying lines for both purposes of irony and parallels and you’ve got one heck of a tense episode, where comedy is bleak and character conversations are laced with nuance so subtle that the characters are sometimes barely able to comprehend what the others are saying. There are more ways to mask yourself than by just hiding your true feelings…