Don’t you hate it when you symbolically break your best friend’s heart? Like, shatter it all over the gymnasium floor?
As everyone happily prepares for the Christmas Eve party, it’s clear to both Taiga and Ryuji that something is up with Minorin. She’s practicing softball every minute she’s not in class, apparently still obsessed with playing her best to make up for her mistake in the last game. This energetic dedication is normal for Minorin, but the emotional oomf usually behind it just isn’t there, and when she runs off to practice she seems less dedicated to the sport than she is to getting away from Ryuji and Taiga as quickly as she can.
So Taiga’s quest to play Cupid over Christmas is failing, but Ryuji’s side of the matchmaker plot is… surprisingly successful, thanks to the class’ efforts to set Taiga and Kitamura up. Ami, in true Ami fashion, notices and points out that Ryuji feels weird about this. “I just don’t like people meddling in other’s love lives,” he says, sounding aware of how hypocritical a statement it is. Ami drawls that he’s acting like a dad about to marry his daughter off, wanting to be happy for her but consumed with the worry that this precious girl of his is going into unreliable hands. Ryuji’s like “that’s ridiculous” and I’m like “that’s a little Freudian”, and Ami shrugs and says his relationship with Taiga is weird and he should probably sort it out.
This is capped off with her saying, quietly and quite sadly, that maybe if he resets his relationship with Taiga into something more normal, she’d have a chance at a fresh start with Ryuji. Which confirms, to me at least, that she does have a thing for him—I’ve spent the whole series wondering if her feelings were legitimate or if she was just on a mission to cause trouble, and hey, seems like that might have initially been the case, but over time their dynamic has become something more balanced and her affection has become something more sincere. And it’s making her sad.
Taiga’s also more mellow this episode, for the most part, since she’s still Being Good for Christmas, and because it turns out she has a genuine gold nugget in her little angry heart. Ryuji is shocked to see a pile of presents that she’s mailing out, some to her parents (leading to a reversal of their roles in the festival arc—now Ryuji, having clearly seen the lack of value in Taiga’s dad, asks why the hell she’d send them gifts when they abandoned her, and Taiga says they’re family and it’s Christmas), and some others with the return address “from Santa”.
Taiga tells him that she went to a Catholic school when she was little, and as part of the required charity work she and other students would help out and play with disadvantaged children. Taiga still sends those kids presents every year, a whole lavish pile, so that whatever situation they’re in they know that someone somewhere is thinking of them. Taiga likes that idea, and one of the reasons she adores Christmas so much is that it’s a perfect time to make that tangible, to spread good will and happiness. And, of course, she likes the idea of giving other people hope that someone’s watching out for them, because she wants to feel like someone is watching out for her.
She also tells Ryuji about when she was tiny and her parents were still together and life hadn’t yet kicked her in the ass, and she fell asleep under the Christmas tree and met Santa. Of course, it might have been a dream, but it made her happy, and even though it might be dumb (Ryuji, graciously, tells her it isn’t) Taiga still clings to that idea that a moment of such happiness might come back, and that Santa Claus is still watching over her. It would mean that somebody was, after all. The question on the audience’s lips this whole time has to be “but what about Ryuji? Isn’t he this watchful, caring person you’ve wished for all your life?”
It’s not answered directly, but we do get a nice scene of the class building a giant Christmas tree, Taiga glowing with innocent happiness all the while. Because she McFreaking Goddamn Loves Christmas she brings in a crystal star ornament from home to put on top, carefully handled and put in place by Kitamura. The whole thing looks utterly lovely, magical, spectacular, and Ryuji is just musing how delighted and at peace Taiga looks wheeeeen a ball smashes through the gym window and knocks the whole thing over, shattering the star into a million pieces.
And who should burst through the doors, apologising and checking on everyone with her usual optimism and energy? None other than Minorin, whose entire being quickly takes on an expression of horror.
Taiga insists that it’s alright, but Minorin is relentlessly hunched over the star fragments trying to glue them back together with hands that won’t stop shaking. Taiga eventually concedes that there’s nothing more she can say to ease Minorin’s guilt at, you know, destroying something so close and important to Taiga, her best friend in the world, and leaves. Minorin insists that Ryuji goes too, but he stays and helps her put the star back together. It can be fixed, he says. It can always be fixed. Minorin promptly bursts into hopeless tears, blurting out his name but never asking him anything.
Minorin, baby, are you alright? If this arc is following the same pattern as the last one, the third episode of it—the next one coming—is going to be where the proverbial shit hits the fan and we work out what exactly is wrong with her. And since we have a background plot, we’re also most likely going to see the Christmas Eve party come to a head, which would actually make an excellent setting for said shit hitting said fan. Ryuji tells Minorin he’ll wait for her there, even when she insists that she won’t, that she can’t go, and this moment of tension and anguish is where the episode ends.
I’m getting the sense that whatever guilt Minorin feels (that Ami alluded to before) has been drastically added to by her breaking the star. Can the other guilt that’s been eating at her be fixed so easily? I guess we’re soon going to find out, and hopefully also find out what’s causing it. Yeah. Definitely got the feeling that Christmas is going to be ruined for these kids.