Taiga is celebrating the end of her suspension—you know, for beating the actual living shit out of the student president—by shopping with Ryuji, and is also celebrating the Christmas Spirit because it turns out Taiga McFreaking Goddamn loves Christmas. She’s also, it seems, entirely convinced that Santa is real and won’t give her presents if she’s bad, so she resolves out loud to be significantly less of an asshole for the holiday season. Taiga is weirdly infantilised through this whole process, both the literal believing in Santa and the flighty, adorable and child-like way she’s running around with Ryuji… which probably stems from the same casual neglect that means she can’t swim or ride a bike and is ultimately part of her emotionally stunted tragic backstory, but I know that anime gets weird around little girl-ish characters so I am intensely wary.
Anyway, that gross undertone aside, Taiga’s also resolved to play Cupid for Ryuji and Minorin, who she’s disappointed to find out haven’t hung out at all while she’s been away from school. Minorin doesn’t seem to want anything to do with Ryuji, though she’s being as polite about it as she can—something is very clearly dragging on her though, and she’s distracted, aloof, and obviously hiding some deep and complicated emotions throughout the few scenes we glimpse her this episode. Indeed, the opening scene is her recalling Ami’s line about being guilty, then being so out of sorts that she messes up a catch in her softball game, effectively making her team lose. She turns down the invitation to the class Christmas Eve party with the excuse of practicing and working and having no time, which is pretty accurate to her timetable as we know it, but also reeks of something sad, heavy and unsaid.
Kitamura, meanwhile, is having a whale of a time. He’s become something of a love guru in the eyes of many students since his confession (and rejection) to Kano, and many are seeking his advice and his shoulder to cry on as they try to muster his level of confidence (including their homeroom teacher, who is still a hilariously desperate young woman on the quest for love). Kitamura seems back to his cheerful, sensible self, even rolling out his traditional flair for the dramatic by lying on his face to thank Taiga for fighting for him. Just bowing wouldn’t be low enough, you see.
It occurred to me that, given Taiga basically challenged Kano to a duel on behalf of Kitamura’s honour, the fight in the previous episode was actually an unusual gender-flip of the “two love interests get into fisticuffs over the person they both like while that person can only watch and cry” trope. The fact that Kitamura cried, and so much, too, could even be considered subversive given how traditionally manly it is to bottle up and never express your emotions. As usual, I’m not saying that this show is doing anything miraculous and groundbreaking with representation of gender—this episode does feature a nonsensical fan service scene with half the class either semi-nude or in Playboy bunny suits, that turns out to be a classmate describing a dream he had and serves no real purpose—but occasionally it does these little things and I enjoy them.
In any case, if the previous arc was the “let’s put happy-go-lucky Kitamura through emotional Hell!” arc, perhaps this one might play into the same pattern but for Minorin. She’s had a lot more buildup, quiet as it is, for some sort of emotional reveal of what’s eating away at her, so it may even somehow be more hard-hitting than the literal swordfight. Kitamura’s arc did essentially manage to feel balanced in its reveal of his inner struggles, as opposed to being like “ha! This cheerful character was actually SUFFERING ALL ALONG! Do you feel PAIN, VIEWER?” and didn’t come off as too cheap.
And look, I’ve been harping and hooting for so long about wanting to see Kitamura’s inner character beyond his happy exterior, but it turns out that optimism is his character. He has flaws (putting too much faith in one person and one goal and crashing down without it) and he has feelings (that crying! That turmoil!) but he’s also just… a cheerful, optimistic character. Sometimes those exist!
Kitamura is lovable. I can honestly believe that both Taiga and Kano (though obviously for different reasons) fell for him, because he’s just a charming individual. And… other classmates can also believe that Taiga would fall for him, because they think they’d make a cute couple and are trying to set them up. Glasses Dude (whose name unfortunately escapes me, but who is becoming a much more major recurring character alongside Hoodie Dude and Ami’s two friends) secretively whispers to Ryuji about their matchmaker plan, and are toootally surprised he didn’t notice. Ryuji refrains from pointing out that Taiga liking Kitamura is literally how they met and the entire point of the series and humours them. Though he feels… a little weird about it.
It’s Kihara, Ami’s red-haired friend, who may also have a thing for Kitamura, who asks Ryuji if he’s really okay with this matchmaker plot. Again Ryuji doesn’t mention that he’s been trying to set Taiga and Kitamura up for the past however many months, but he does balk at her reasoning for why he might not be: she asks if he’s in love with Taiga. Ryuji would be surrounded by cartoonish question marks if this wasn’t such a heartfelt and strangely serious scene, and seems genuinely shocked when Kihara tells him not to give up, to keep fighting for her, then runs off to join the expanding friend group and leaves him contemplating this in the dark.
He knows Taiga likes Kitamura. He’s known forever, was probably the first person to know; it’s what kicked off the entire show. So why does it feel so weird to have it put into words, to hear it from someone else? To see other people trying to pair them up? Is it because before this was his and Taiga’s thing and now other people are in on his turf? Is it because this matchmaker quest existence has been the norm for so long it’s weird to think that they might actually end up together? What would it mean if they did? Why is that thought weird? If other people can see it, maybe there really is potential, so…
This was another quiet post-action episode, but felt about 110% less clunky and empty than 14 did. It flowed a lot better and this arc is definitely going to be sturdy in that it’s propped up by the background action of the Christmas party preparation, with the emotional stuff overlaid… and man, there is an emotional storm brewing. Maybe all these significant looks and thoughtful half-soliloquies will soon come to a head. After all, the opening and ending themes have finally changed—usually you’d expect it to be at the halfway point in a series, but we’re definitely further through than that, so it seems to signify a shift in tone more than anything else.
Why do I feel like Christmas is about to be ruined for all these kids?