Do you ever just want to stick a bunch of characters in a locked room together and tell them they can’t come out until they’ve told each other the whole, honest, get-it-off-your-chest truth?
Taiga is recovering from somehow not dying on the side of a snowy mountain, leaving Ryuji alone at school wondering what the hell to make of the garbled, half-asleep confession she made. The episode begins with him flashing back to it in a dream, then waking up in the middle of class yelling “TAIGAAA!!” to everyone’s general shock and awkwardness. It’s one of the first times we’ve actually seen him left alone to go about his daily routine without Taiga nearby, and he seems a little lost.
He’s also a little lost in the career department, and, highly distracted by all the snow-rescue shenanigans even when they’re technically over, fails to fill in his career goal form for his teacher. Both the teacher and his mother tell him repeatedly that he’s an excellent student so it’s odd that he doesn’t want to go to university—we even see a sweet, supportive aspect to his relationship with Ya-chan that we haven’t really delved into before. She refuses to let him work, saying that he’s smart, unlike her, so she wants him to dedicate all his time to studying and get the good education he deserves. Again, I have to stare at Ya-chan in increasing awe—this ditzy, adorable fan service mama reveals new layers to her life story every time I look and she’s so interesting. We even see a flashback to when Ryuji was little, where she’s reassuring him that they can still be the happiest family ever if they don’t have a dad.
So… Ya-chan ran away from home, fell for a gangster, got pregnant at we’re not sure how young, then had to raise that child solo after said gangster was killed. And for the whole life of that child, she’s been endlessly optimistic, supportive, and adoring of him, wanting the best possible future for him and striving for togetherness and happiness for them both. Ya-chan is actually amazing. This has been a public service announcement.
Meanwhile, Ryuji observes that Minorin is back in Happy Girl Mode, and has started another part-time job (at an unusually exuberant noodle bar) as well as being elected captain of the softball team. He asks her if she’s sure she can take all that on, and she cryptically tells him that “this is something I can see”. As opposed to ghosts, the metaphor for love, which she was having trouble seeing, and then decided it was best if she stopped looking for altogether. Minorin’s inner feelings are a tangled and opaque mess even at this late stage in the series, and I really hope she can bring herself to talk about them in something other than ghost allegories sometime soon.
She does make a valiant attempt to explain herself to Ami, or at least, only partly in the ghost metaphor, but Ami shrugs any attempt at explanation or apology off with possibly the best and worst line in the whole show: “Talking to you makes me feel like I’m on my period.” Oh, the spiciest of burns. I’d say “Ami you dickhead” but she seems to still be genuinely down in the dumps and furious, rendering her a much more realistically vicious version of herself. This quiet mulling rage is not any of her personas in particular, it’s just Ami. Interesting that her beef with Minorin would be the thing to finally bring this out…
Their relationship dynamic is quite fascinating to me given that the show has suddenly made it so important. I suppose they’re an ideal clash: self-centred and selfless, both eager to point out the flaws in the other’s ideologies. Both harbouring feelings that they won’t fully express, because no one is fully expressing their feelings. Guys. You can’t and shouldn’t bottle that shit up forever. Did I mention that Ryuji also explicitly told Kitamura to, if Taiga asks, lie to her and say it was him that rescued her, and that she definitely didn’t say anything weird? Kitamura agrees to this, and Ryuji, the poor foolish lad, goes home to harbour the weight of Taiga’s confession of anguish and love, which only he knows about.
Granted, one of the things that makes this show so satisfyingly slow-burn is that characters tend to mull over their confusing feelings in great depth before they rise to the surface and directly impact the plot or their relationships—hence why we get Taiga’s softer side quite late via her feelings on Christmas, for example, and hence how a sort of genuine emotional suspense was achieved by leaving the viewer wondering, for episodes and episodes, what was up with Minorin. But the drawn-out quiet, while realistic, is reaching a point where it’s starting to grate on me, if only because we’re now three episodes from the end and surely something big has to happen soon. Maybe it’s the anticipation of that something that’s driving me crazy, because the something refuses to happen as the characters shy away from expressing their plot-propelling feelings.
And Ryuji gets to reflect on his plot-propelling feelings when he looks through the box of mixtapes and love letters he made for Minorin, flashing back to the first episode, which by now seems worlds away. When Taiga appears on his doorstep and he attacks her (comically, demanding to know where she’s been, whining that he was worried) and she retaliates, their weird and weirdly wholesome mutually-slapstick dynamic is miles away from where they started. Taiga says she’s been staying with her mother, but is coming back to her apartment now… only thing is, she doesn’t have her key, so she’s going to climb in via Ryuji’s bedroom window. She says this as though it’s an ordinary and simple thing for anyone to do. I guess for them it is.
Taiga also says she had this totally weird dream that she was carried through the snow by Kitamura, and announced all the embarrassing stuff. Ryuji, knowing full well he’s lying through his teeth, assures her that she did nothing of the sort. “Phew! It felt so real!” laughs Taiga, and jumps across into her apartment leaving Ryuji gazing after her with a melancholy and frustrated sort of longing. Taiga looks back at him for a strained little moment too, before shutting her curtains. Did I mention they also had a classic “our faces are suddenly close and that’s distracting enough to make us blush” moment in the middle of their tousle? You see what I mean about something building undeniably under the surface, and the audience being left to screech into a couch cushion when the episode ends without this bubble popping?
Will Taiga admit, while conscious and aware, her feelings for Ryuji, or just keep them bottled up for Minorin’s benefit? Will Minorin admit what’s really been on her mind, or keep it bottled up for Taiga’s benefit? Will Ami snap and knock everyone’s heads together? You see what I mean about an at-this-point-unbearable breakdown of communication?? All the talk of career plans in the background the whole thing has an air of foreboding and future-stress, which ties kind of nicely into the issue of having to deal with the consequences of your feelings. I can only assume and hope that when it does come to a head it will do so in a spectacular way that makes all this waiting and ambiguity worth it…