The end begins with Ya-chan bursting through the front door of her parents’ house, because Taiga left her a fake phone message saying Ryuji had been injured in a car accident. Ryuji is fine, and because nothing brings people together like casual deceit, suddenly three generations of his family are all stuck in one place where they manage to reconcile and grow.
We cement Ya-chan’s backstory and the fact that, as I’ve said before, she is a fascinating and strong woman who has been through the garbage compactor of life—turns out she and Ryuji’s much-worshipped dad were never even married, in fact he dumped her for another woman while she was pregnant. So maybe he’s not even really dead, just an asshole, and she turned him into a legend to shield her son from this. Yasuko was advised not to keep the baby, but felt that she wanted to protect her child no matter what. She laments that in the end she messed it all up anyway, and Ryuji corrects her: he’s here, isn’t he? Even her mother said that Yasuko raised him well. Nothing has fallen apart yet. In fact, things are more together than they were before, with Ryuji and Ya-chan reunited and Ya-chan back in touch with her estranged parents. Taiga, whose family situation is still comparatively bust, watches all this with a serene expression.
The blush reappears (in both protagonists) when Taiga and Ryuji are sent to sleep in the same room. Why wouldn’t they, if they’re going to get married? This sort of forces them both to realise how much they’ve rushed into things, and Taiga admits that she never really thought running away to get married would work. Having heard his father’s treacherous tale, Ryuji is kind of enthused about the idea of actually getting married properly and staying by the side of the girl he loves, and knows that his family at least would approve. Taiga’s part of his clan now anyway, this was decided long ago. Taiga proposes a practice run, and wraps a bedsheet around her as a makeshift veil. And, after much bantering and blushing in what has become their trademark way, they share a sweet and meaningful little kiss scene.
Everyone returns home, with Taiga mulling over the concept of family and a place in the universe. She returns to her apartment expecting to find her mother camping there, but finds it empty, and instead is faced with a stream of voicemail messages that are by turns angry, upset, then accusing and petty. Taiga just smiles knowingly as her mother screams “I don’t even care about you, do what you want!” down the phone at her, and tuts that her mother is childish. Having seen this kind of immature and emotionally manipulative flip-flopping in both her parents now, it’s fairly easy to see why Taiga was perhaps not too well adjusted. At the start of the series, anyway—she’s come a long way since then.
Taiga soliloquises that she never thought anyone would truly love her—she never dreamed of or wanted anything because she assumed it would only end in disappointment, and she pushed people away (except for Minorin, but we still don’t know how that happened) and made herself into a figure of terror because human relationships are awful and she didn’t want anyone to see her true self. And then came Ryuji, who has, over the course of 25 episodes, become someone who truly understands and loves her, for who she is. Taiga holds this love to her heart, and resolves not to run away anymore.
And… then literally runs away. Uh. She’s not back at school when Ryuji returns, and the homeroom teacher announces that she’s officially transferred schools. Which sends the entire class—and me, the viewer—into an uproar of confusion. Because… uh??? Taiga?? Girl what are you doing???
Ryuji is the one everyone comes to for questioning, and he can’t answer adequately because she ran off on him before anyone else. He’s clearly torn up about it, but his resolution to this is to think of something they talked about all the way back in episode two: they are tiger (tora in Japanese) and dragon (“dora” being the first syllable of “dragon” as it’s spelt in katakana), opposites but equals since ancient times. So even if she isn’t physically there, they’re together in spirit and nothing can break their bond. It’s this bittersweet note that the series ends on, until a timeskip scene where all the main cast is graduating, and Inko-chan, the darling ridiculous parrot, finally says her own name instead of a curse word.
Taiga appears mysteriously in a classroom window, dressed in what is presumably the uniform of her new school. Ryuji sprints inside to get to her, and overlaid is an echo of that same monologue from the very beginning—the one about how some things in the world are so precious that they cannot be seen, but with the addition, this time, that sometimes that thing can be revealed when the right person comes along. Ryuji finds Taiga standing calmly in a classroom closet, and she tuts that she wanted to surprise him. It’s a neat callback to how they first properly met, when she rolled out of the locker, which only makes the difference in their positions and everything it represents all the more interesting. I love me a good cinematic parallel.
Ryuji says “Guess what? I love you” and Taiga goes her characteristic shade of pink. Those reoccurring symbolic birds fly off together in the background, also a visual callback to the start of the series, and lo, ToraDora! reaches its conclusion.
So, lots to unpack here. I remember this ending being bittersweet, but I don’t remember it falling so… flat on me. Taiga leaving the school seemed like a very odd direction for things to go in given that she’d spent the last few episodes, and low-key the entire series, reaching a place where she was more confident and emotionally healthy due to being around people she loved. The class all came to love her too, and she and Ami worked their feud out, and she was all but formally acknowledged as part of the Takasu family by multiple generations of it. And instead of having her make the decision to stay with this support network that has enabled such character growth, she resolves not to run away from her problems anymore and runs away.
Is she in a long-distance relationship with Ryuji now? How far away is she living, that her suddenly appearing at the graduation is such a big deal? He acts as though they haven’t seen each other in forever, and his admission of love is in response to a text she sent before the timeskip, which implies maybe they haven’t even spoken. There’s a lot left unanswered here, and that’s before we even get into side plots like Minorin’s and Ami’s. We get a resolution of sorts for Ami, when she admits to Ryuji that she’s realised she doesn’t need the world to love her, just for one person to understand her, even if he doesn’t love her (yes, that’s you, Ryuji). Kitamura isn’t really touched on beyond his usual, and Minorin is distraught by the idea that Taiga didn’t come back but seems to eventually accept it.
The ending scene on its own is delightful as a “things aren’t perfect but we’re going to be okay” conclusion, but in the full context of Taiga’s decision to leave out of the blue it feels a little contrived. It almost feels like she’s put on a bus so the ending won’t be too sappy—is it meant to be a mature and selfless decision? And is Ryuji’s decision to let her go meant to be his own version of maturity? It feels a little like heartbreak for heartbreak’s sake, even though a bittersweet ending definitely suits the show itself. I’m sure there were better ways to demonstrate her character development that don’t involve her nonsensically leaving everyone she loves behind.
I swear this isn’t just me being mad that she and Ryuji didn’t get a happily ever after—it felt genuinely strange and out of place, and left most of the cast in the lurch. Heavens, she’s gone the way of the Manic Pixie; inducing everyone’s character development then disappearing into the ether… which feels entirely unfair for such a well-defined character whose story was first and foremost about her.
I’m going to have to do a wrap-up post because there is so much left to talk about. My lord. Watch this space!