Apparently getting pre-emptively rejected by Minorin was such a shock to the system that Ryuji caught freaking pneumonia. Or maybe it was plot-itis and an excuse to start this next arc after the break but believably have everything still fresh from Christmas Eve, given that time has passed but the characters still haven’t talked about it. Ryuji might have been out of it for weeks, but Taiga, we can only assume, has been bubbling over with heartache throughout the whole timeskip. She’s also done some thinking, though, and concluded in her wisdom that Minorin does like Ryuji, but doesn’t want to interfere with his relationship with Taiga.
So, Taiga concludes, if Minorin is worried that Taiga needs Ryuji too much for her to take him away, the logical next step in her matchmaker quest is to make it seem like she doesn’t need Ryuji. This has all the hallmarks of a Zany Scheme but the entire business just feels sad and heavy, with Taiga promising to look after herself and not come round to Ryuji’s place anymore. Ryuji agrees, but pretty reluctantly. Wow, dude, why could that be? Could it be that you genuinely miss her and value her company and closeness, perhaps even more than you value your slim romantic chance with a girl who has already turned you down?
Ryuji can’t face Minorin at school, even though she seems to have gotten her pizzazz and optimism back. He hides, mortified, and wishes out loud that “everything would burn down”. Then returns to class to find out that hotel the class was going to stay in for their school trip to Okinawa… burnt down. So instead they’re going skiing! No one is pleased by this news, least of all Ryuji, who starts genuinely wondering if he just willed a building to spontaneously combust with his romantic angst.
Ami hears about the Minorin kerfuffle (she and Taiga have cemented their relationship status as weird bickering frenemies) and knowingly says “So somebody finally got hurt.” Ami, I mention again, knows everyone’s secrets before they do, and rather than being smug, right now she’s bored and pissed off with the whole thing. Taiga tells her that both she and Ami should stay away from Ryuji on the ski trip so that Minorin doesn’t get thrown off, or so that he looks available, or something. Ami rolls her eyes like “y’all are only making this worse” but agrees. Ryuji himself just kind of sits awkwardly through the whole conversation, looking less and less sure that getting a chance to be alone with Minorin to Confess His True Feelings is actually what he wants.
He does get to walk with her for a bit though, when Taiga b almost literally throws them together in a confusing drive-by feat where she tosses her bag into Ryuji’s face. They seem fairly amicable, so the question then is, is Minorin still being consumed with guilt from the inside out, or has rejecting Ryuji gotten whatever was on her chest off it? She seems mostly back to her old happy self, even messing around doing funny voices and speaking to Ryuji through a dinosaur oven mitt (which, quite frankly, I would love to have in my house). They go over to Taiga’s to work on a group project of some sort, making guides for the ski trip, and the two of them end up alone together preparing tea. It’s a callback to their kitchen scenes at the beach house, and it’s a little weird to notice that they’re basically back at square one relationship-wise.
We learn two things about Minorin this episode: she got a haircut, which leads into her telling Ryuji that she had a legit buzzcut as a kid, to match her younger brother; and that she hasn’t been to Taiga’s flat in a year. The “I think it’d be fun to get short hair like a guy” comment is probably throwaway and just to cement her tomboy archetype, but if you read into it you could scrounge up a story where Minorin’s experimenting with gender norms and presentation as part of her adolescence. Hey, perhaps as part of the same narrative that had her wonder if she “prefers girls”. Minorin also enjoyed wearing a bald cap for the festival, so maybe going Furiosa-style and trying out the butch-but-cute sporty look would make her happy?
Unfortunately, that’s all me extrapolating, the same way I’m pretty sure they’re not going to go down the road that Minorin secretly likes Taiga and that’s why she turned Ryuji down (though it’d be awesome, and ironic), so let’s move onto the other point: Minorin hasn’t been to her best friend’s house in a year? Ryuji is shocked by this, and Minorin sheepishly admits that after the kerfuffle with Taiga’s dad—the first one, not the one at the festival—Minorin gave Taiga plenty of space so Minorin would have less risk of messing up with her. There’s the guilt, again. It seems to be something Minorin carries in her pockets at all times, and this situation kind of reminds me of the broken star: maybe Taiga said she was fine and actually wanted her bestie back, but Minorin was so consumed with the breakage being her fault that she obsessed over trying to fix things instead of having a mature conversation.
Indeed, she makes a passing mention of “obsessing over not getting things wrong” to Ryuji, before skipping across the room and avoiding a serious conversation like she tends to do. Someone give this girl a self-esteem boost, Jesus—the more we get to know her, the more she seems to need it. Though if you did try to emotionally validate her, like Ryuji did in the Kitamura Hell arc, she’d probably just deflect it. God, what a mess. Me, and Ryuji it seems, are far less concerned with winning Minorin’s heart so much as understanding Minorin and making sure she’s okay.
Still, as they drive towards the snowy mountains, Ryuji promises internally to confess his feelings properly and find out how Minorin really feels. Not just for himself, he says, but for Taiga, because she’s put so much work into this. Which… kind of sounds more like obligation than love for Minorin, which isn’t good, and isn’t at all the direction you’d have thought things would go in given he was so smitten with her to begin with. I never thought I’d say this, but you guys should be listening to Ami more.