In the chaos I totally forgot that the school festival also has a beauty pageant portion, which everyone, of course, wanted Ami to compete in… but since she’s the MC, she self-disqualified and nominated Taiga instead out of spite. Because it’s well-established by this point that it’s entirely in-character for Ami to pull the biggest dick move available to her at any given time.
But even Ami is sympathetic for Taiga when she learns that her dad didn’t show up—she asks if Taiga wants to change their agreed introduction, and Taiga flatly says no, and so they both go up on stage and Ami exuberantly tells everyone that Taiga’s one-and-only father is in the audience, and can he please give her a special shout out? This is met by ringing silence, only made worse by the fact Ryuji has just gotten a text from the guy… saying that he’s busy and can’t come, and “some things have come up” so he’ll need to do some travelling for work and won’t be able to move in with Taiga.
Motherfucker just dumped his daughter by text. A text to someone else, asking them to please pass on the message. Like. This is a new level of unbelievable. Staring at his phone, Ryuji finally fathoms how blind he’s been throughout the whole thing—Minorin was right and Taiga’s father is a hopeless case who’s not to be trusted, no matter how fancy his cars are or how good his intentions might seem on the surface. “Isn’t always being there what a father is meant to do?” Ryuji wonders, and yes, in theory, but it doesn’t mean you can stamp that ideal onto him and make it work. The old man is not here, leaving Taiga alone and pathetic on the stage.
Except that she still has her family—family defined as Ya-chan put it. Ryuji applauds her, shortly joined by an even more enthusiastic Minorin. And slowly the crowd catches on, clapping for her, working up into cheers. Taiga ends up winning the pageant (possibly for originality, since she was basically the only one not dressed as a maid), but Ryuji can’t even be excited about that—even with all the praise from the crowd, he sees how alone she is up there in the cold spotlight, and resolves that he must get to her. He must be there for her, like he hasn’t been for the rest of the arc.
He gets an optimal chance when the student president arrives on stage and announces that now it’s the boys’ turn to work—the final event of the festival is a race, where the winner will not only get to crown Taiga but will get the president’s study notes for the past three years of exams. Everyone goes into overdrive, either because they’ve gained a new appreciation for Taiga or because they’re hungry for any reprieve from final exam stress, but Ryuji has tunnel vision. Screw the crown, screw the notes—he’s going to beat everyone else and get to Taiga, because she needs him, because he needs to show her that he cares, and because frankly screw all you guys who were terrified of her until she showed up in a cute dress.
Just as a quick note on costuming, I spent all of last episode appreciating that not only did the wrestling stageplay look realistically furnished and costumed for a school event, but the outfits weren’t even that fan service-y! Aaaand this time they throw Ami into a leather-and-fishnets bondage ensemble, as if to make up for lost time. Thanks, guys. For what it’s worth, at least Taiga’s angel dress is very cute.
Taiga, now queen of the school, sits and waits for the race to end looking entirely nonplussed… until Ryuji, having successfully beaten and superhero-leapt his way to the front of the pack (those scary eyes are finally coming in handy, if only to get weaker men out of the way), rounds the corner and seems likely to win. But then he encounters an unexpected challenger—Minorin, who’s outrun all the boys and is hell-bent on getting to Taiga. Her biological father might be missing in action, but the two people who love her most in the world are sprinting together to Taiga’s side, and it clearly moves her deeply.
We get the wrap-up of several threads here: Minorin and Ryuji wordlessly reconcile through this mad dash, even holding hands and making sure they cross the finish line and crown Taiga in tandem; we get a definitive answer on how to best define family, the clear winner here being the people you choose over the people who you happen to be related to; and Taiga is as far from the volatile tsundere as we’ve ever seen her—she is practically serene. In the dying sunset, watching her friends care for her so much, she looks like she’s home.
I’m waxing lyrical in this post because this episode left me sappy, and there’s a genuine air of emotional catharsis in that—as Ryuji says, even if it’s just for that night, it feels like everything is going to be alright. Gathered around a bonfire, Minorin explains that Taiga’s dad did almost exactly the same thing the previous year, so she had an educated guess that he’d pull the same shit when he turned up again. She kept this bit of information from Ryuji because she didn’t want to upset Taiga, who has clammed up about her family life ever since that happened… at least, she makes the important distinction, to Minorin. Ryuji knowing about the Aisaka family mess is suddenly weighty, putting him on the same level of trust and involvement as Minorin. One of the reasons Minorin suspects she got so mad at him was because she was jealous.
Minorin also makes a throwaway, ponderous comment that maybe she prefers girls, which shocks Ryuji right out of his shorts, so I have no idea whether to interpret this episode’s displays of love as The Magic of Friendship or a Hidden Lesbian Love Story. I would support gay/bi Minorin 120%, if not just for the representation, but because Minorin and Taiga ending up together would somehow be even more ironic than Minorin and Kitamura ending up together. And Kitamura steps forward into all this and invites Taiga to dance, leaving the two heroes in a bonding moment with their respective crushes in the firelight. It looks entirely hopeful on the matchmaker front, which is a surprising and uplifting bit of progress given how much this arc emotionally trashed about 90% of our main cast and their relationships.
Taiga’s okay. Taiga’s happy. She’s dancing with Kitamura, and Ryuji is repairing his burgeoning relationship with Minorin, and Ami is… enjoying walking about in leather and fishnets, I guess. This was an important arc because it told us a lot about Taiga and the kind of family she’s come from, contrasted nicely with the kind of family she’s found—Ryuji and Minorin, and to some extent Kitamura. Moving into the future with that realisation and that support, and her promise to do them all proud by taking care of herself, we may very well see a different sort of Taiga.
This was a good arc, and I’m glad I remembered nothing about it because it punched me in the stomach all over again. I think this marks the halfway point in the series, and so much has already grown and changed in gradual, beautifully slow-burn ways… anything could happen from here on out. As much as it would solidify his character as a douchecanoe, it would be a bit of a waste to have Taiga’s dad never appear again, so perhaps we can expect another visit from the flighty man… Hopefully not for a while though. This starlit contentedness can’t last, but I kind of want it to just for now.