Summer is over, school is back, and there are two interwoven threads in this episode: the class trying to organise their event for the school’s cultural festival, with the boys scheming together to vote for some sort of costume café that gives them an excuse to dress the girls up super cute (which fails spectacularly); and the sudden appearance of Taiga’s estranged father. Remember how I said this show was a varied platter? This also promises to be “part one” in the episode title, so I can only assume we’re diving deep from here on in. Shit’s about to get real. I mean, alongside the costumed wrestling match.
Excitingly, I remember basically nothing about this arc. The gist of the cultural festival plotline is that each class has to put on some sort of event, and the hot-blooded lads of Taiga’s class vote for a maid café or something similar… but their ringleader bungles it by drawing a voting card at random rather than counting the submissions and letting the majority win. So now the class’ act is a scripted Ultimate Fighting… thing, in which Taiga plays evil incarnate and Ami the valiant leader who will save them all. They have, shall we say, natural chemistry for their roles. And Taiga has a lot of pent-up anger today, since she keeps trying to ignore the other plotline: her dad is trying to get back in touch.
Ryuji encourages her to pick up the phone, but she just says some stupid bastard—literally, she has that as his contact name—is trying to call. It’s time to recall what little we know about Taiga’s family life: she lives in a fancy apartment all on her lonesome, can’t swim, can’t ride a bike, and can barely keep the place clean, and has once before growled in frustration that her parents never understood her. This episode we get a few more details, both from Taiga’s side of the story and her father’s. According to Taiga, Stupid Bastard remarried and Taiga no longer fit in with the family, so he kicked her out.
It sounds a little harsh to be true, and may well be, given that a grumpy Taiga is prone to exaggeration… but like with the swimming thing the harshness seems to hold some truth, since she goes to withdraw cash and finds her account empty. Taiga immediately reasons that her dad has taken all her living allowance because she won’t talk to him on the phone. Which is horrifying, both that it happened and that Taiga instantly knew that was the reason. Like, what kind of manipulative asshole do you have to be to passive-aggressively take away all your child’s money to get what you want from them??
Ryuji is still set on the idea that Taiga should talk to her father, and so she says “fine, YOU do it” and sends him as her ambassador. Taiga’s dad, it turns out, is a casual and nice sort of guy (that she seems to have inherited a lot of her looks from) who really just wants to reunite with his daughter. His version of the story is that he married a woman much younger than him and she and Taiga kept getting into fights, until it became clear that either Taiga or his new wife had to go… and so Taiga went, and he’s been supporting her solo apartment living ever since. But now he’s splitting up with his wife, so he wants a second chance to live as a normal family with his daughter. Ryuji doesn’t quite know what to make of it, and neither do I.
I mean… it’s all very well realising that you messed up and wanting to reconcile with your child, but has he really realised that he messed up and is trying to repair things? It seems awfully convenient that he’s only asking her to come back now that he can be sure there won’t be any stressful bickering between Taiga and his second wife. And also, as if it wasn’t bad enough showing up out of the blue and suddenly saying “come home!” after presumably years of separation and the emotional bruising that would cause for Taiga, he hasn’t earned her trust or even her attention—he literally blackmailed her. He has the money he took out of her account and was going to give it back when she met up with him, and is a little bummed to hand it to Ryuji instead. Ryuji is a little thunderstruck to receive it.
But Ryuji still thinks Taiga should listen to the guy. Taiga is furious with him for even suggesting this, and gets even more upset when her dad shows up in front of the apartment building. She kicks him in the crotch (because she’s Taiga) and runs not for her flat but for Ryuji’s house, which would be symbolic enough without her shouting at him to go away. But Ryuji still refuses to let her snub him, grabbing her and stopping her, reasoning that he’s still her family and she should give him a chance. Isn’t she glad he came back, when she was so lonely? Taiga bursts into angry tears, unable to believe that Ryuji is on her asshole dad’s side when she was counting on him being the one person on hers.
In the end though, she gives in and walks back down to see her dad, who is still lying buckled on the ground where she left him… just as Ryuji realises maybe, just maybe, he was so adamant about Taiga getting her dad back because Ryuji is never going to get his dad back, no matter how hard he wishes. Which is an interesting new bit of information, considering he supposedly resents his dead father a lot, but it’s also a kick in the ass emotionally. In projecting his personal Daddy Issues onto Taiga, Ryuji realises he just might have messed up bigtime—he watches her reluctantly go to her father and fall into his hug without returning it, looking limp and lifeless, and thinks “this was the right thing to do… wasn’t it?”
Well, isn’t that a loaded question? Ryuji seems to be of the mindset that family by blood is ultimate, and you should embrace them even with all their faults… which, logically, stems from his attachment to his mother, who, while she’s a bit hopeless and is by no means the responsible adult of the house, is the only family he’s got given the death of his dad. Ya-chan might not be a traditional picture of motherhood, but it’s implied by this that she and Ryuji have always had a good enough relationship since Ryuji has never considered some people might want estrangement from their parents. He and Taiga’s situations are suddenly very different, and he’s being forced to see the concept of family a different way. By projecting his own ideas of what parenthood is onto her father he’s clearly read the whole thing wrong and may have given her some terrifically bad advice… that she now seems intent on following through.
We’re heading into weighty territory with these new developments. How will this gel with the slapstick subplot of the wrestling match? Only time will tell. Maybe theatrically beating the stuffing out of Ami will provide a symbolic backdrop for a storyline about the roots of Taiga’s issues… or at least be cathartic for her.