If you don’t obsessively check my twitter, you may not know that I just re-watched Toradora. Just in time for Christmas! Yay! Wai! Well, has that whole Christmas sequence that’s, you know, full of feels, so it seems appropriate to write about. I’ll hit a few things before we talk about that – I did watch the entire show without a post (this time around), so bear with me.
The first time I watched it Ami really bugged me. As I got nearer to the end, I understood her better and liked her more, but she frustrated me partly because she appears to clearly like Ryuuji, but never acts on it at all. She appears to grow, but is first presented as someone who doesn’t act, and that doesn’t change at all. In a show pretty much about people learning to grow up and improve themselves, that bothered me. It still does, but…
I think I like her a lot more now. What she said to Ryuuji pretty early on resonates really strongly with me: she (though she is infuriatingly vague, of course) would be better for Ryuuji because both Minori and Taiga rely on him, in some way, like children do. Maybe a sibling in Minori’s case. Ami is the one who is his equal in some way. After 4+ years in a relationship and seven months of an engagement, I think mutual respect and equality are the two things that actually are necessary for a healthy relationship. At the moment Ami says what she says, she’s absolutely right, Minori and Taiga aren’t anywhere close to Ryuuji. Now, don’t get me wrong; the end of the show teaches us that Ryuuji has growing to do as well, and obviously, as I said before, there are problems in Ami’s selfhood. But still, they can function on their own in realistic ways – not Minori and Taiga’s self-abusive loneliness.
Oh, did I never mention I’m engaged? Yeah, maybe I should have said something about that. There. Just did.
Pontifus wrote, long ago, that when Ami punched Minori, it was his feeling and his punch. I loved it then, but now I, too, want to punch Minori. She is hurting everyone because she wants to be a martyr. Hurray, martyrs? I totally forgot she gives her life savings to Taiga and Ryuuji when they try to run away together. Hell, I forgot entirely about the running away together thing. Oops?
Toradora is obviously about family as well, and nowhere is that more clear than that ending I forgot about. Taiga has a really shitty family life, but it’s a true one. She actually does see her family very clearly, as Ryuuji learns during the cultural festival story. Ryuuji has an excellent family life, but it is based partly on a lie: his father isn’t dead, he ran off with another woman and – chillingly, now that I’m more politically aware – everyone tried to convince Yasuko to abort Ryuuji. That is one loaded fucking conversation I’m not really going to touch. But basically he was damn near an orphan, since he’s been taking care of his mother like she was his sister. My translation of the episode doesn’t say exactly what form it is she has in the final episode, but I’m assuming it’s a school application of some sort. Ryuuji’s final – next to final – transformation comes when he meets his family, his grandparents, and realizes he looks, not like his father, but like his grandfather (who, by the way, is awesome).
Well, what does it mean to give gifts? Who gives them?
Parents give them to children. Lovers exchange gifts. Friends too. In Japan Christmas is more of a romantic holiday, a bit like we think of Valentine’s Day over here in America – mutual gift-giving between lovers, rather than the one-sided gift giving of Japanese Valentine’s Day (to be reciprocated a month later). What do these people have in common? It is assumed they are able to give gifts. Children do not give gifts to parents. We might have made things for our parents when we were kids in grade school, but most of us probably didn’t take the money from our jobs and pick out something they wouldn’t have bought themselves (life advice from uncle Cuchlann, kids – the best gift is something someone wants, but can’t or won’t buy for themselves).
So what? Even though Christmas for the Toradora cast isn’t exactly the same as it is for an American, gift-giving is still important. And none of these characters are capable of giving gifts, or receiving gifts from the other characters. Sure, they can receive gifts from friends, or from their parents perhaps, but that barrette is the symbol of the emotions this show shifts around. It, too, shifts around, like a manifestation of emotional capital.
Minori receives the gift, misses entirely who it must be from (why would Taiga get her a gift like that?), flashes it around unknowingly in front of the person who did buy it, and who accompanied the gift with a failed confession of love.
However, by the time Ryuuji tries to give Minori the barrette, he no longer really loves her. The transformation has already happened; he loves Taiga. Everyone around them can see that pretty well. So he’s trying to give an empty gift to a person who purposely empties the space between them, so it’s uncrossable vacuum (hence her “airheaded” behavior and “spacing out” episodes). The hair clip is damn near the single most important symbolic element in the show, rivaled (and, I admit, bested) only by the Christmas star. But Taiga nearly dies to retrieve the hair clip.
She nearly dies trying to retrieve the hollow love that is killing her because it’s smothering her own emotions, just as the snow nearly smothers her. Characters in this show couldn’t possibly suffer risk of death by fire or falling. They don’t burn, they don’t lose control. They smother themselves into cold heaps of their former selves. Each one, in turn (including Maruo, the student council president, and even the cast of side characters) deny themselves constantly, and so they begin to freeze to death.
Only admitting their feelings warms them up, like Taiga and Ryuuji forgetting the cold water as they nearly admit aloud that they love each other. But they are already so close they do it without words. Taiga reminds him of it later.
Oh yeah. I also forgot a year passes where they never get to see each other. That was fucking harsh. I don’t even know what to do with that, except to say it’s the final trial to prove they are self-sufficient. Lovers who actually do need each other are co-dependent, which isn’t really healthy. That is, they can’t get out of bed, can’t eat, can’t do anything without the other near. They deal with each other’s absence. They’re healthy. They are capable of giving and receiving gifts, like each other’s love. And that’s one fine Christmas present.