Never trust a dude in a marshmallow-pink fashion cravat.
To reiterate: we’re not sure how long Taiga’s been living on her own in the apartment, but it’s an apartment funded by her father, who also has access to her bank account and the ability to take money out of it. Which he does, essentially bribing her to come talk to him. Ryuji, despite realising at the end of the previous episode that he’s probably projecting his own paternal abandonment onto Taiga, is still feeling pretty positive about the Aisaka family reunion, and vocally appreciates, more than once, how hard Taiga’s dad is working to earn back her love. You know, when he’s not leaving her bankrupt and forcing her to be dependent on him. I imagine when he’s not being massively emotionally manipulative he’s quite a sweet guy!!
Ryuji also appreciates that Taiga is making an effort to connect with her dad, a mature course of action in place of the grumbling, kicking and screaming from before. They go out to a different fancy restaurant each night, driving there from the fancy apartment in his fancy convertible. On surface level, Taiga’s life seems to be less of a continual disaster than when we first met her, but Minorin is not convinced. In fact, she’s furious with Ryuji for encouraging the reunion, and that he can’t see what a slimeball Mr Aisaka really is. They get into a genuine argument over this where neither will budge on their stance, and not even Taiga, the subject of the fight, can get them to make up. It effectively undoes all the hard-won emotional bonding that happened on the beach trip, which tears Ryuji up equally as much as what Minorin has actually said.
Ya-chan is against Taiga’s dad too, it turns out—but this is mostly because she has a brand new and frankly quite shocking bit of information. While taking a nap (she works nights and sleeps during the day) she was woken up by commotion next door, and saw a bunch of cleaners and removalists banging around Taiga’s apartment. Mr Aisaka apologised with his trademark flair and explained that Taiga would be moving soon, since that little flat would be too small for both of them to live in. Which implies that he doesn’t have a house or bigger apartment that he’s inviting her to, perhaps indicating that he’s not as well-funded or well-set-up as he’s making out to be, but if Ryuji thinks of this he shoves the thought aside. Isn’t that great, that they’re going to be living together again?
Ya-chan says of course not, and brings up the counter-argument to Ryuji’s strong Biological Family is Everything thought train from the last episode: she says “but Taiga is part of our family”, defining family then as the people who care about you, support you, and who you spend the most time with, as opposed to her blood relations who… have done very little of any of those things as far as we can see. Ryuji mulls this over, still adamant (at least out loud) in his support for Taiga getting back with her dad. Though surely he’s rattled by the idea of Taiga, who’s been such an ingrained part of his life for the past months, suddenly not being there?
Parallel to this mounting emotional tornado is the cultural festival—the class is practicing their performance and Ami is lapping up the spotlight, until Taiga, unexpectedly, approaches her and asks if they can switch roles for at least one show. I say “asks”, but she really bribes her with expensive macarons… wonder where she picked that sort of material blackmail up from, hmm? Her dad is coming to see her on stage, and Taiga wants to impress him by being star of the show. Ami relents, macaron in mouth, and agrees that when Mr Aisaka is in the audience they’ll switch: Taiga will be the bold heroine, and Ami will play the villainous brainwashing Palmtop Tiger.
As it is, the wrestling match is suitably ridiculous and delightful, and it’s a big hit around the festival (if only because the gossip promises you’ll see Ami in a miniskirt). Everyone is generally having a great time with all the food stalls, costume cafés (which several other classes picked as their act, in yet another bout of hilarious irony), and pro-wrestling smackdowns, except for Taiga, who is glued to her phone and entirely distracted. Which is odd, seeing as we’re shown repeatedly that she has no new messages. When Ryuji asks what’s up, she deflects and tells him he should be more concerned about apologising to Minorin… which he hasn’t worked up the courage or moral backbone to do all episode, leaving the two of them in awkward, angry limbo.
Minorin is also bald for most of the time she’s onscreen, since it’s part of her costume as well as fake teeth and an eyepatch. She’s clearly in her element, having been given full permission to be weird and dramatic, but even this doesn’t seem to lift her spirits when she notices Ryuji’s around. Oh man, guys, you were doing so well! Honestly this makes me want to know (again) how much Minorin knows about Taiga’s past, how well she knows Taiga, and if, perhaps, she had any role as an early vessel of emotional support long before Taiga attached herself to Ryuji? We’re seeing a friendship rivalry, almost, in place of a romantic one for the first time—they clearly both care deeply about Taiga, but their versions of “what is best for her” take very different, clashing, forms.
Taiga couldn’t resolve this tension even if she tried—she’s too busy being heartbroken that her dad never appeared for a single show. She never needed to swap places with Ami, because he never came to see her.
This announcement is where the episode ends—as to whether Minorin will be like “ha! I was right!” or Ryuji will go “oh man I was wrong!”, or if both of them will be drowned out by Taiga’s turmoil in whatever form it takes, remains to be seen. Perhaps not showing up to one school event isn’t the biggest deal in the world, but it’s certainly symbolic of bigger broken promises. How will everyone react to this? What will it mean for how Ryuji feels about family, and what will it mean for Taiga’s already fragile self-esteem and sense of place in the world?
As I predicted, shit got so real. Alongside the wrestling match.