Patchwork Confession (A Toradora Analysis)
Around this time last year, I wrote about three symbols in the Christmas party episode of Toradora. Apparently cold weather and Christmas lights put me in the mood for symbolism, because I want to explore another Toradora symbol this year. Although this symbol first shows up in Episode 1, I’ll be talking about the series as a whole and assuming you’ve seen it in its entirety. You can consider this the start of my love letter to Toradora.
But hopefully my letter has a little more substance to it than Taiga’s.
Taiga attempts to put a love letter in Kitamura’s bag, but mixes his up with Ryuji’s. Ryuji then finds this letter, only to discover it is empty. All of this confusion results in Taiga attacking Ryuji and Ryuji winding up with Taiga’s empty envelope. Let’s get the obvious out of the way first: Taiga’s mix-up with Ryuji and Kitamura’s bags is a foreshadowing of her initial crush on Kitamura giving way to her love for Ryuji. I called it obvious, but this is certainly an important interpretation (and probably the main intended one). However, Toradora is not satisfied until it’s packed every bit of meaning into a symbol as it can.
The love letter is addressed to Kitamura, yet is empty of any actual confession or emotion. While, yes, this references her crush’s eventual fading, it also reflects the intricacies of Taiga’s relationship with Kitamura. Taiga doesn’t have a whole lot of reason to like Kitamura other than the fact he asked her out the year before. She has no knowledge of his aspirations for the student council or his love for the student council president—probably the two motivations that define him the most as a character. Her crush is distinctly empty, just like her envelope. What’s more, she can’t even bear to speak to Kitamura directly for half of the series.
Her confession to Kitamura in Episode 2 is really just a speech about how much Ryuji has done for her. You could easily mistake it for a confession to Ryuji if she didn’t say Kitamura’s name at the very end. To this, Kitamura replies that he’s “pretty sure [he] knows how [Taiga] feel[s],” and then reminds her of his confession last year. Considering that Kitamura has moved on from his feelings for Taiga, we can take his words to mean that he believes Taiga’s feelings for him are fleeting as well. The true substance of her love is for Ryuji—Kitamura seems to know this from the beginning. And thus, Taiga’s confession—the would-be content of her letter—vanishes in Kitamura’s eyes.
What of the envelope itself? She addresses it to Kitamura, and signs it “Aisaka Taiga. If you don’t want this, throw it away.” This is where the symbol gets interesting, and branches off into more complex territory. The language of “throwing away” pops up again in Episode 11when Taiga talks about her father throwing her away once he got remarried. Taiga feels discarded by her family, and we can see why once we meet her parents. This feeling of abandonment bleeds its way into her romantic relationships, evidenced by the writing on her letter. If Kitamura (or anyone) doesn’t want her feelings/love, she expects them to just throw the letter/her away. With this in mind, the envelope becomes less a teenager’s nervous message and more a forgotten child’s insecurity. The symbol allows us sight into Taiga’s mind, and I think it reveals a lot about why Taiga ends up with Ryuji, the person in her life who never chooses to abandon her.
Rather than connect this to symbols in my other essay (you’ll notice the “throwing away” language in that essay as well) or the fact that Ryuji plays Santa for Taiga on Christmas, I want to develop the letter even further. For that, we’ll need the help of pants. Specifically, Taiga’s gym pants. Bear with me.
Taiga rips her pant leg during gym, which Ryuji then patches up that night. Thinking back to Episode 1, Taiga put a hole in Ryuji’s wall, which he also had to patch up. Taiga actually tells Ryuji to use her love letter to cover the hole if he wants. And he does. He doesn’t just throw away Taiga’s feelings, but uses them to patch up a tear. As a result of her emotions—this fear of embarrassment and rejection—Taiga tears a hole in a house. Taiga herself comes from a broken home—that is, a torn home. Her home/family is torn partly because of Taiga’s hatred towards her stepmother. Throughout the series, Ryuji welcomes Taiga into his own home and thus his family. The vulnerability that Taiga’s letter reveals is the same vulnerability that Ryuji and Taiga bond over and patch up as they fall in love. Ryuji and Taiga’s love mends the tears in her heart, if you’ll allow me to be so heavy-handed.
To take the connection one step further, the room Taiga puts a hole in is the same room that Ryuji does so much literal patchwork in. He fixes her pants in this room, makes her bra pads in this room, and so on. Taiga’s relationship with Ryuji—from her violent outbursts to her gentle vulnerability—opens up wounds that are necessary for these characters to grow and move forward. After all, Toradora isn’t about escaping from your past, but finding the strength to accept it. For Taiga and Ryuji, this strength comes in the form of the time they spend together, patching up tears.
Still with me? Good, we’re almost to the finish line.
As one final act of symbolic grace, Ryuji doesn’t just tape the whole envelope up; he cuts it into a cherry blossom petal (which we see throughout the series). Cherry blossoms represent either fleeting moments/feelings or new beginnings in Japanese culture, or even both meanings simultaneously. The petals only stay on the trees so long before blowing away, but they are also signals of springtime. This dual meaning has a neat connection to the letter itself. Taiga’s feelings for Kitamura were fleeting, and her mistake with the letter caused her to meet Ryuji—a new beginning that led to love. Ryuji certainly is a romantic to carve that much meaning out of a simple piece of paper. He also must have had a lot of foresight…
Anyway, after talking about an empty envelope for over 1000 words, we’ve gotten a good sense for just how jam-packed every symbol (every moment, even) of Toradora is. Every object, every action shown on the screen is a chance to build additional meaning or to draw more emotion out of the audience. Toradora wastes none of this potential. The show builds its symbols several layers deep, all so that we can dive down and find something new and beautiful to think about. Toradora wants us to never stop loving the time we spend with it, and gives us gifts aplenty if we want them. And because I treasure those gifts, I’ll never throw Toradora away.
Author’s note: This is an edited compilation of parts of my daily analysis in Reddit’s Toradora rewatch threads.