If the previous episode was all about showing us a lovestruck Ryuji, this one is about demonstrating a lovestruck Taiga. It is… probably meant to be endearing, but as always it’s more than a little ridiculous.
Ryuji finds an album full of blurry photos of Kitamura in Taiga’s apartment, and she finds him finding it, of course, and sets out on the cartoonish warpath. Ryuji only fends her off by promising to take some better pictures for her, a concept that delights Taiga and baffles me. Does he not have a problem with her sneaking around taking photos of his friend? Any concern seems to be outweighed by the hilarity of them all being really bad quality, as if photographic stalking is less weird and horrifying when the pictures don’t come out clear. The entire basis of this plotline is skeevy, but it’s a thing that happens, so let’s just begrudgingly accept that and start overthinking it, shall we?
They go to school as normal and Taiga gets to the business of embarrassing herself: she blabbers out a hello to Kitamura, who good-naturedly says hello back because he has never done anything wrong in his life, then heads off to stand beside the student council president at the morning’s assembly. It’s a somewhat militaristic endeavour that introduces us to a new character. The student president barks orders and reprimands at the assembled students and has to have Kitamura whisper corrected facts in her ear, both of which piss Taiga off enough for her to lunge forward and give the president a piece of her mind. She causes enough of a scene (naturally, she’s Taiga; frankly I’m surprised this doesn’t happen all the time) that Kitamura comes and literally carries her away from the assembly so it can continue in peace.
Taiga can’t decide whether to be enraged about the president’s dictatorlike behaviour or ecstatic that Kitamura touched her, and Ryuji observes that the whole damn thing is ridiculous. He can’t really talk, though, because though he hides it much better than Taiga he gets equally flustered when his crush appears, and when Taiga and Ryuji end up getting roped into eating lunch with Kitamura and Minorin the whole classroom basically fills with the steam coming off their blushing heads.
Something I’ve realised that I want to make a note of is that while we have a good idea of why Taiga and Ryuji like each other, having spent so much time with them, we don’t really know why Taiga and Minorin or Ryuji and Kitamura like each other. They’re clearly close enough friends to hang around each other all the time, but apart from seeing basic interactions we don’t really see any of the friendship itself. Minorin is a child of sunshine, as we established last episode, but what makes her and Taiga get along? How did they meet and bond? What do they do when they hang out? The same question goes for Kitamura; who still has no real characterisation beyond Nice Guy Who Says Nice Things, not even after the bombshell this episode drops re: all his cryptic conversations with Taiga.
See, they do manage to get some photos of him (though Taiga, dissatisfied with Ryuji’s slowness, steals the camera and takes most of them herself), and Taiga drools (literally) happily over the pile, but she can’t seem to find something she seeks in the images. This makes her cranky enough to ditch Ryuji after he makes her tea, with no explanation… which, thankfully, Ryuji gets grumpy about, as opposed to letting it slide because it’s Cute Girl Antics. Taiga offers no solution when he asks her about it the next day, but Kitamura comes out of nowhere and does, revealing that he carries around his own… photo of Taiga. It’s in notably better clarity and resolution than her blurry shots of him.
Ryuji asks why the fresh Hell Kitamura has a picture of Taiga in his notebook, and, as if discussing the weather, Kitamura nonchalantly explains that a year ago he was in love with her. He walks off as if he hasn’t dropped a massive drama bomb with this information, leaving Ryuji’s internal narration to scream what the hell?! to the evening sky. And frankly, dude, me too.
Ryuji asks Taiga about this, and she admits that Kitamura confessed his love to her a year ago… standing on a roof, with dramatic flair to rival even Minorin, shouting to the heavens that he loved her passion and her refusal to hide her anger. Taiga got flustered by this surprise announcement and turned him down, but since then started paying more attention to him, as you would to a guy who cornered you on a roof and declared that he adored your rage. I mean, either that or you’d get a restraining order on the dude, but that wasn’t the case here—baffled and moved that someone actually appreciated her raw personality, Taiga started falling in love with Kitamura. Meanwhile, though, if his rejection of her in episode 2 was anything to go by, he was falling out of love with her at the same time. Their affection for each other swung in opposite directions like opposing magnets.
What Taiga really wanted was a picture that captured the look on his face when he said how much he loved her, because she’s not sure someone’s ever looked at her like that before. And well, the photo-hoarding is still creepy even if neither Ryuji, Kitamura, or the story itself seem to think so, but that concept in itself is sort of sweet. Has no one appreciated Taiga for simply who she is before? Given that her parents parcelled her into a stylish and soulless apartment and the entire school is kind of terrified of her, maybe not. Surely Minorin has expressed her own platonic love for Taiga just as she is? Again, this would be answered if we knew how any of the platonic relationships worked and weren’t spending so much time on the romantic ones, but I guess for now the (un)requited crushes are what’s driving the actual plot so it’s important to understand them. Perhaps friendship will come later, and be equally as bittersweet in the things it reveals? I can only hope.
In any case, Kitamura’s still a happy-go-lucky pain in the ass with no depth, which continues to frustrate me. Given that he wasn’t at all rattled at reminiscing about his rejection by Taiga, I would hazard a guess that he forms a mirror to Minorin and quite possibly is covering up some deeper emotions with a positive façade because he’d prefer not to let things get to him. There’s been more than a few lingering shots of the piece of pastel pink paper covering the hole Taiga stabbed in the wall, so I can’t help but wonder if “concealing ugly emotions with pretty fronts” is going to be something of a motif (I can’t accurately remember from my first watch, so I’m excited to find out).
In any case, the three people he seems to like most in the world are the terrifying Palmtop Tiger, Ryuji who looks like he has the face of a serial killer, and the boot camp sergeant that’s possessing the teen girl body of the student president. If we learnt one thing about Kitamura today, it’s that he has a type.