ToraDora! has a way of messing with its stock episodes. Two people nearly drowned in the pool arc, the beach episodes were haunted, the school festival was rife with heartbreak and melancholy, and the hunt for a missing person somewhat soured the class field trip. It’s reasonable to expect that the Valentine’s Day episode shouldn’t go any better, and though nobody comes close to death, that would be a pretty accurate assumption…
Well, nobody comes close to death, but Ya-chan faints from overwork—she’s gotten sick, and Ryuji blames himself because she’s working two jobs to support him and the college aspirations he doesn’t have. Both Ryuji and Taiga are brought aside by their homeroom teacher (who, go figure, starts the episode by grumbling about Valentine’s Day because she’s thirty and single and unhappy about it and this is still apparently hilarious) to talk about their lack of goals. Taiga never handed a career form in and Ryuji hasn’t updated his, and though the teacher admits that not wanting to go to university is a valid option, she wants her students to think hard about it and make sure they’re making the decision for the right reason.
Ryuji is in a bit of a twist thinking about his future, his happiness, and what he wants out of life. Taiga gives a great “pfft” to the entire situation by saying “I’m rich, so I won’t need to work” and throwing her form out the window in paper plane form. On a more sombre note, she explains that she can’t worry about her future and university and whatever now—she has too much else on her plate. This is a particularly cryptic phrase given that Taiga seems to have been in better spirits than usual since she arrived back at school, and Ryuji isn’t quite sure what to make of her.
Taiga is the one, though, that gets Ryuji to pull his stuff together. Ya-chan faints and he blusters out of the house with the vague idea of buying food for her, but forgets (or deliberately neglects) to bring a coat or his wallet. Taiga chases him down with both of these, and with the accusation that he’s beating himself up on purpose. Which is fair enough as analysis, because Ryuji seems to have become a stiff, melancholy robot, mechanically reciting “This is my fault; if only Yasuko would depend on me; I must be more reliable”. Taiga grabs him and makes him see sense, not only by yelling encouragement but by holding his hand. He blushes. Naturally.
But it seems to inject some logic into him, because instead of walking blindly into the freezing night, he goes to Ya-chan’s work—the bakery, not the hostess bar—and explains that she’s sick. He and Taiga volunteer to cover her shift the next day so she can get some rest, which finally gives the show the opportunity to plant Taiga in a maid outfit even when she so expertly avoided it during the cultural festival. She’s not even cranky about this, surprisingly enough, just adamant that she must help out to make it up to Ya-chan. She even uses her unique sphere of influence—i.e. her weird and acidic friendship with Ami—to boost the business by calling her over and getting her to advertise.
Ami and Ryuji have a couple of stagnant little heart to hearts this episode, and the topic of her leaving the school comes up. She had originally intended to leave after the stalker thing got sorted out since that was why she moved in the first place, but oddly enough she cites Taiga as one of the main reasons she stayed. She felt like she understood her, and wanted to protect her. Which is a very interesting turn of events that I hope we look into more, soon—for now the focus is mostly on her stilted relationship with Ryuji, which is still stuck in the same emotional mud it has been since Christmas. Ryuji says that Ami shouldn’t move schools because everyone likes her, and Ami, out of his earshot, mutters that she doesn’t want everyone to like her. The implication being that she just wants him to like her, demonstrating once again the wonderful and heartbreaking flip-flop her crush on him has undergone over the series.
After success with the chocolate-selling at the bakery, Taiga takes some spare boxes home and does the traditional cute anime girl thing by melting them down and mixing them into her own creations. She summons her nearest and dearest to a classroom to hand them out, happily gifting a box to Minorin, Ami, Kitamura, and Ryuji, who of course goes into a teeny tiny internal flap because even though they’re obviously not romantic in this context since she’s giving them to everyone else, the idea is still there and he’s still not sure how he feels about this.
And oh boy, it only gets more muddled from there. Taiga says the chocolates for Kitamura are a thank you gift for carrying her up the mountain. Now, Ryuji knows this isn’t true, and Kitamura knows this isn’t true but agreed to roll with it, and Ami knows because she just knows everyone’s shit, but… no one told Minorin. So while Taiga gushes and laughs about how she must have said so much embarrassing stuff, haha, good thing nobody heard (“Yeah haha definitely!” the boys agree, while sweating), Minorin is just staring dead-eye at Ryuji. And she snaps. She demands for Ryuji to tell the truth about that day, and she demands that Taiga tell the truth about what she said and why she’s so afraid of people hearing it. And chaos drops.
Taiga, who had spent the whole scene being giddy and adorable, explodes into anxious tears and yelling. Ryuji just turns to stone. Minorin shouts that Taiga needs to stop messing about, for God’s sake, and to stop using Minorin as an excuse—the only one responsible for Minorin’s happiness is herself, she says, which ties neatly back into all that talk of responsibility and goals from the start of the episode. Taiga panics like, well, a caged tiger, not helped by the fact that Ami and Kitamura have literally barred the classroom doors. They’re offering themselves as human shields, blocking Taiga in until she speaks her mind.
Did they intend for this chocolate gifting ceremony to become an intervention? Unlikely, but they certainly have a good instinct for what to do should that situation arise. Taiga breaks free and bolts when Ami steps to the side, and Minorin chases after her, leaving Ryuji staring at his chocolate box having a not-so-tiny crisis. I’d say it’s the same size as Taiga’s, but hers is externalised and his is internalised. Does he run after the girl? Does he allow himself to confront his own feelings? And even if they do tell the honest truth about the feelings they’ve grown for each other… what then?
Ah, love is never as simple as Valentine’s cards make it out to be.