Christmas episodes of anime series tend to be disposable affairs that lean towards slice-of-life, but not so with Toradora! There is a run of three episodes that focus on Christmas celebrations, and they build up to a pivotal moment in the series.
Mercury is Retrograde at Christmas establishes the premise of this trio of festive episodes. The students have exams just before Christmas and then they are going to have a party on Christmas Eve. This might just be the opportunity Ryuji has been looking for, to engineer some kind of a romantic moment with his crush Minori, but things are not looking too promising:
“I don’t have time to be merry.”
Meanwhile, Taiga is determined to be a good girl for Christmas and she absolutely loves the festive season. She seems to have a childlike level of excitement about it all. In Under the Fir Tree, Taiga’s love of Christmas is explained, and it’s all because of a happy moment in her troubled past, when Santa came to visit her. She isn’t even sure if it was just a dream or not, but that doesn’t matter.
“It doesn’t matter if you grew up without parents, and it doesn’t matter if you don’t believe in God. There’s someone out there watching over you. I’m trying to let them know that at least one person in the world cares about them. I do it as much for me as for them, but that’s because I want to believe that someone out there is watching over me.”
What she does is to send presents to orphans, and also send some home to her parents, despite an uneasy relationship with them to say the least. What better time is there for an olive branch, if not Christmas?
Taiga sees Christmas as a time when “everyone gets to be happy”, but in contrast we have Minori’s negativity, after she accidentally smashes Taiga’s special star decoration on the top of the Christmas tree. It reflects the light even more enchantingly after it has been repaired, but Minori keeps moping about it and refuses to go to the party.
Christmas Eve Festival is the moment everything changes for this series. Taiga cuts a lonely figure in her apartment after she leaves the party, until Ryuji shows up to make her Christmas dream come true. Bless him, he tries to be her Santa Claus, but turns up in a giant bear costume wearing a Santa hat, but Taiga is delighted. I think this ties in very nicely with her speech about somebody caring, in the previous episode. Ryuji’s actions show that he cares very deeply about Taiga. She sends him off to go and have his planned romantic moment with Minori, all smiles… and then the tears start to flow. This is such a true moment, which many viewers will recognise and understand, because at first she doesn’t know why she is crying… but then the realisation dawns, and this is why it’s such a pivotal episode. If Ryuji gets together with Minori, Taiga’s relationship with him will have to change.
“I can’t be the one by Ryuji’s side, and I can’t bear that.”
… and then she finally understands the depth of her feelings, and they flow out from her on the street in a flood of tears. Those tears are witnessed by Minori, who heads off to break Ryuji’s heart, rejecting him in the nicest way possible before he can even get a word in. Everyone needs somebody to watch over them, and it looks like Minori realises who Taiga’s somebody should be.
We end with a reprise of Holy Holy Night, a song sung by Taiga and Ami earlier in the episode on stage at the party. It’s a moment where we realise how far Taiga has progressed over the last 19 episodes. The character growth in this series is a joy to see.
These three episodes give us the magic and happiness of the Christmas party, with the beautiful Christmas tree topped with Taiga’s star, and the moment of childish joy when Ryuji turns up to be Taiga’s Santa Claus. But it also gives us sadness, with Taiga in breaking our hearts with her tears and Ryuji rejected by the girl of his dreams. Happiness tinged with melancholy: how very Christmas. And in the ending this Christmas represents for Ryuji and Minori, there is also hope of a new beginning for Taiga. As we learn from the incident with Taiga’s star, things that are broken can sometimes be put back together in an even more beautiful way…
Merry Christmas from the Junkyard. In the words of Taiga, I hope you are another happy face, lighting up the Christmas night. RP