Welcome to another episode discussion between me and Negative Primes.
All that roleplaying talk from the previous episode have escalated into costume disguises. Definitely not the first time people have dressed up in Toradora!, but this episode’s costumes did surprise me! “Christmas angel” Taiga with a flight attendant bun and daddy Ryuji in Mr. Aisaka’s suit. The latter made Ami’s accusation that Ryuji was playing a father figure even more of a burn.
Primes: A burn for him and for Taiga. She’s the one who decked Ryuji out in her dad’s suit.
I feel like Taiga manages to be more authentically herself when she’s dolled up on stage than when she’s out of her “costume”: Just look at that winsome wink she gave Ryuji, and compare it with the game face she puts on to encourage Ryuji to meet Minorin. Which one is the authentic Taiga?
Difficult question to answer, but more on that later.
These roles are not just chosen by themselves, but reinforced by people around them through the adorable “Ya-chan magic” (perfume for Taiga and watch for Ryuji), their enthusiastic friend group, and the cheering of the whole school. Anime high schools students are always unanimously eager to celebrate holidays. Wish I went to one of those schools.
Primes: Life would be better as an anime, wouldn’t it? Wait, no. Cancel that.
You’re right: The roles the characters enter into are socially influenced. The very word “role” implies a dramatic context, and drama in turn always implies multiple roles: audience and actor at its simplest, and usually with multiple actor roles as well. I would venture to say that roles cannot exist in isolation or without a social “play” to inhabit. Of course, the actor is not typically the playwright, and so the roles we inhabit are not ones we’ve written for ourselves…
So what role is each of our characters inhabiting, and what kind of play? Taiga, for example, acts like she’s in the role of a supportive daughter towards Ryuji–except when she’s singing on stage. Ironically, that choreographed performance, while she is decked out in makeup and not ordinary clothing, allows her to enter briefly the role of Ryuji’s (potential) lover instead of surrogate daughter. She’s able to literally be her own dramatist, her own playwright if you will: actor and author all at once.
Minori? The role she tries to play is always team captain, the one she’s carved out for herself on the baseball field–which is fine, but she tries to treat her whole world like the diamond, and all her peers like her team. Ryuji’s push for a romantic role with her threatens the team roles she’s comfortable in.
The nuance in Taiga’s performance is one thing I haven’t given enough thought to until you brought it up. I agree that Taiga is more “herself” on stage, but I don’t know if she accomplished as much as authoring her own play. I feel like it’s more similar to how actors can pour their souls into a scripted performance, but struggle when tossed into real life conflicts unrehearsed.
On stage, Taiga is adopting a role that she prefers (the lover), as opposed to the one she feels responsible for (the daughter). Ironically, the former was likely imposed upon her (by Ami and others?), while the latter is a choice she makes on her own against her greater desires. The former is an excuse to be free, while the latter is a decision to repress. And we all find it easier to be excused than to excuse ourselves?
Something that this episode made me think about is the existence of different kinds of love. Taiga performing the role of Christmas angel is a demonstration of generous love for others, and the same can probably be said for Ryuji’s gesture of getting into the bear suit as Santa. But then with the costumes get removed and implications of romantic love are gradually revealed (Ryuji choosing to go after Minori, Taiga being heartbroken, Minori rejecting Ryuji, etc.), things get ickier.
Is it because romantic love is exclusive rather than magnanimous? Because choosing Minori = not choosing Taiga, and vice versa? Because something has to go wrong if any two pair up in the five-person gang (that’s Ryuji, Taiga, Kitamura, Minori, and Ami)? The exclusivity of romantic love is honestly such a problem, and I can’t even think of how to solve it in real life.
Primes: Is the exclusivity the problem, or is it that the exclusivity of romance threatens the roles we feel safe in, as I suggest is the case with Minori? That in itself need not be a bad thing.
Exclusivity certainly limits roles and forces excluded characters to adapt. But what about the ones who choose to pursue love, to do the excluding? The answer is probably adaptation once more – interpreting this newly specific role and integrating it into the conglomeration of roles that make up who you are. But the problem is that not all your roles are compatible; therefore, you must sacrifice and assimilate. That’s not easy, like ever. On a rare holiday when everybody is free, do you go to girls’ night out karaoke with your besties, or Netflix and chill with your significant other? Exclusivity is a catalyst that can’t inherently be a bad thing, but subjectively, it sucks.
Ultimately, Toradora!‘s characters each fail to be magnanimous. Happy-go-lucky Kitamura had a breakdown several episodes ago, and now genki girl Minori has succumbed too. In this episode, it’s Taiga who wallows in a self-sacrifice before and after the “Santa” intrusion. Because even after being Santa for a week or so, she still hopes for her own Santa to come; after setting Minori and Ryuji up, her pain only worsens.
And now Ryuji faints… I do feel bad for chuckling at the dramatic moment. Cut to the lovely Christmas song that’s been stuck in my head for the rest of the day. Makes me feel like I could have procrastinated some more on the collab so that we can actually review these episodes around Christmas.
Can we just take a moment to appreciate that duet, “Saa Christmas,” that Ami and Taiga sing? I could listen to it over and over. Tis the season anyway, almost!
Right, I’ve taken so much time to compile this discussion that we’ve officially reached the time when certain radio stations already play Christmas carols all day. Merry Christmas, everyone!