If Taiga is a black hole of anger and resentment, Minorin is a constantly exploding supernova of happiness. Perhaps between them they reach some sort of cosmic medium, and that’s what makes their friendship work…
In any case, it becomes clear through significant glances from Taiga that these two girls care about each other a lot, and if Ryuji wants even a glimmer of a chance at getting romantically close to Minorin he’s going to need Taiga’s blessing. Which means, at the very least, he’s going to have to hold up his promise to set her up with his best friend Kitamura. Also feed her, apparently, because much to his shock and his mother’s delight, Taiga has started showing up at their house for breakfast every morning.
And so the Zany Schemes commence. Even with what should be clashing personalities, again, Taiga and Ryuji form a happy medium that is weirdly compatible, or at least, share a passion for Zany Schemes that brings them together. In sports class, they hatch a plan to hit Kitamura’s exercise partner with a ball, so that Ryuji will then volunteer to take them to the nurse’s office in a fit of remorse, leaving Taiga and Kitamura with no choice but to pair up for the rest of the activity. The plan goes south when Kitamura partners with a cute girl and Ryuji gets a case of moral panic. Taiga tells him not to be sexist and just destroy her, because that is really the kind of thing that gender equality is all about. Anyway, the whole debate gets derailed when Ryuji misses the girl and smacks Taiga upside the head instead, leaving no one winning the moral argument, and so they move onto their next plot.
Taiga bakes some cookies for Kitamura, as a token of her affection, which, really, is a great start, until Kitamura has Places To Be and a literal chase scene (with techno music and everything) begins. Taiga trips at the top of the stairs mid-pursuit, crashing into Ryuji who catches her safely, for a strangely tender moment. The cookies sail out a window and get crushed to crumbs, presumably from landing on some poor student’s head from three storeys up and providing a concussion in the process, and Taiga laments that she’s hopeless at all this. Ryuji, ever the gentleman, tries to make her feel better by eating all the biscuit fragments and saying they’re delicious. This was, it turns out, a bald-faced lie since Taiga tasted one herself and knew they were salty and awful, but she’s moved and a little confused by the affection and support in the gesture.
Though this, too, ends up backfiring, since all the time they’ve spent together plotting has led to the flying rumours that Taiga and Ryuji are dating. Minorin dramatically calls them both outside, where, exhibiting her thus far in-character inability to express any emotion without exaggerating it to ridiculous heights, crashes to her knees and begs that Ryuji be good to her best friend. Kitamura, for some godforsaken reason that is never touched on, is standing on the roof observing all this with a hearty laugh, and effectively gives them his blessing too. Taiga and Ryuji both collectively short circuit.
In a fit of frustration about these misunderstandings, the utterly unsuccessful mess of the day, and several other things in life, Taiga starts taking out her anger on a pole on the way home. Just straight up kicking the crap out of it, yelling, hopefully not causing any neighbours to call the police. It’s over-the-top as we’ve come to expect from Taiga, as always in contrast to Ryuji’s cool collectedness. I honestly wonder if I was watching this for the first time if I’d find Taiga, and Ryuji’s apparent okay-ness with being dragged around by her, sufferable or insufferable. It’s pretty textbook “I’m obnoxious but you WILL find me endearing!” leading lady silliness, complete with the contrasting moments of adorable vulnerability like the cookie scene to defang Taiga and make her violence and anger less meaningful than funny. It kind of helps alleviate it that in this case Ryuji—so far our most relatable point in the story—acknowledges that the pole-kicking is ridiculous. But, in a fun twist, also says “what the hell” and joins in, shouting his own frustrations into the night. Rather than just a “oh, that Taiga” scene with him observing, it turns into a weird bonding moment that actually furthers their relationship and the plot.
So, short of just being tsundere antics, Taiga’s method turns out to be genuinely cathartic for both of them, and she resolves to stop dicking about and confess to Kitamura the next day. Mid-kick she also answers one riddle from the previous episode: she “doesn’t get on” with her parents, which is why they bought her that fancy apartment to live in all on her own. Another little piece of the Taiga puzzle falls into place, and you begin to wonder what on earth happened to this girl to land her in a state where she’s so emotionally vulnerable yet so goddamn bad at dealing with her emotions. It turns out to be a force for good, sometimes, as she uses her ability to strike fear into the hearts of mortals the next day at school: we are led to believe she holds a classroom hostage and fiercely demands that they stop spreading rumours about her love life, that she and Ryuji are not dating, and that he’s not a delinquent or even that scary, damn it.
So, she… is, in fact, paying Ryuji back for his support, attempting to create balance in what has as yet been an unbalanced relationship. She’s just doing it Taiga Style. In a bout of unexpected maturity she does confess her feelings to Kitamura… which ultimately, though I hate using this phrase, backfires as badly as the Zany Schemes and leaves her stranded in the friend zone. But not before Kitamura says some cryptic stuff about something that happened a year ago, and how Taiga looks much more free and fun now, so that’s one more mystery for the spiral of them that surrounds Aisaka Taiga. Kitamura is a bit of a puzzle to me too, but that’s probably just because he’s one of the least dimensional characters in the core cast so far. What’s going on with you and your flat bowl cut, man?
Ryuji meets up with Taiga after her rejection, and Taiga grumbles that he doesn’t have to do anything for her anymore… though her recent outburst to Kitamura about how Ryuji was her closest and most helpful friend—intended to dissuade him that they were romantically involved—kind of implies she doesn’t really want him to leave. So Ryuji vows to stay by her side, not as a loyal dog but as a dragon, which is mythologically the only creature who has ever stood on equal grounds with the tiger. And so, matchmaker plot bruised but not yet busted (I feel like I should find Taiga’s insistence to pursue a guy who’s already said he just wants to be friends creepy and uncomfortable, but the show clearly doesn’t think that), they set off into the sunset with an authoritative bark from Taiga to work hard. She hides a smile, clearly stoked that Ryuji actually likes her enough to stick around, and Ryuji smiles to himself too, clearly onto her bullshit but letting her be. Maybe one of these days we’ll break down these anime trope walls and they’ll smile at each other…
It was an interesting move, to me, to have the confession and rejection so early in the story, but given that there seems to be some sort of hidden meaning in the whole conversation—and hints of a relationship dynamic that’s as yet unknown to us—the scene feels like it’s where it’s meant to be. And, of course, it also establishes that Taiga and Ryuji are hanging out because on some level they do get along, and aren’t just forced together by a contract or whatever, which could get thin, unbelievable and obnoxious if it stretched on for too long. Both love interests remain as flimsy as each other character-wise, but the next episode promises to be all about Minorin so perhaps we’ll get a sense of who she actually is beyond Cute Energetic Girl (the Manic Pixie to balance out whatever nightmarish brand of moe Taiga is) and why Ryuji and Taiga respectively like her. Let the shenanigans begin!