Preparations are underway for the Christmas party, but Minori still isn’t planning on attending and is avoiding Ryuuji. Despite this, his spirits remain high, and the preparations bring him to the gym storeroom where Ami and the others are working on ornaments. Ryuuji ends up alone with Ami after Noto pairs off Yuusaku and Taiga to do other work, and when he starts talking about how Taiga and Yuusaku are being brought together by everyone, Ami wonders if he’s jealous. He denies it, but that leads Ami to suggest that he’s like a father who is giving his daughter away as a bride. She knows that he’s not Taiga’s father, but she thinks that he treasures the woman he decided not to lay a hand on. Ami goes as far as to suggest that he’s playing house with the wife set in his heart and with Taiga as the child, but she also notes how unnatural that relationship is. She thinks that he should stop, start over, and include her this time, but he doesn’t hear that last part and she doesn’t repeat it. She ultimately decides to tell him to forget everything she just said, and before walking off, she notes how everyone understands themselves the least.
On the last day of final exams, Taiga tries to invite Minori out to lunch so that she can help bring her and Ryuuji together again, but Minori claims to have softball practice to go to. Taiga actually has something she needs to do as well at the post office – something that she doesn’t want Ryuuji tagging along on – but he goes with her anyway in order to avoid having to have lunch with Maya who wants to talk with him. It turns out that Taiga needs to go to the post office because she has a huge pile of presents to send out, including ones addressed to her father and step-mother. She’s not sending them presents though because she wants to start over with them – she’s doing it because it’s Christmas and they’re her parents. As for the rest of the presents, they all have Santa Claus written as the sender, and the reason behind those goes back to Taiga’s days in Catholic school.
That school required volunteer work, and Taiga is now sending presents to the less fortunate children she used to work with. More specifically, she wants to let them know that, even if they don’t have parents or don’t believe in God, someone is watching over them and cares about them. Taiga wants to believe this herself, and for her, that someone is Santa Claus. She explains to Ryuuji that she really loves Christmas and all the happiness everywhere, and she wants to be part of that. Taiga also claims to have actually met Santa Claus once when she was young and had slept under the Christmas tree. Back then, Santa Claus had given her a present and had promised to come again if she was a good girl. Taiga knows that it might have been just a dream, but it was a really happy dream, and that’s why she wants to be a good girl now. She’s okay with it because she feels that this is a dream that isn’t real, and she’s not relying on someone real.
All this remains on Ryuuji’s mind later as he and the rest of the class are assembling their giant Christmas tree. Watching Taiga in the middle of everything, he thinks to himself that, unlike her life up until now, she now has friends plus himself and his mother. Taiga meanwhile gives Yuusaku a crystal star she brought from home to put on the top of the tree, and when they finally light the tree up, it’s beautiful. Unfortunately, a ball comes crashing through the window moments later and knocks over the tree. Taiga can only watch in shock as her crystal star falls onto the gym floor and shatters. It turns out that the ball was hit by Minori during her practice, and although Taiga doesn’t blame her, Minori shoulders all the responsibility of breaking something important to her best friend. Thus, while everyone else works on putting the tree back up, Minori gathers the shattered pieces and desperately tries to put them back together again.
Minori doesn’t want Ryuuji’s help in doing this, however he insists on it – he claims that he’s not helping her but is rather doing this for his own sake. This leaves Minori in tears, and Ryuuji answers her each time she calls out his name while crying. He is eventually able to put back together most of the shattered star, and he uses it as proof to Minori that broken things can be fixed. When she points out that it won’t be the same as it was originally, he counters by noting how it’s still shining. In the end, the reassembled star goes back on top of the tree, and Minori and her teammates apologize to the class before leaving. Ryuuji runs after her to tell her to come to the party and to say that he wants to spend his time there with her, but Minori still feels that she can’t. Despite this, Ryuuji vows to wait for her.
There was a surprisingly even amount of coverage this week for each of the main girls. If nothing else, that suggests that all three of them will have equally big roles to play in the finale of this arc (which I assume will be next week). For Ami, I found her suggestion that Ryuuji is acting as the role of father to Taiga really interesting. Despite initially sounding odd, the way she framed it makes a lot of sense in that it explains why Ryuuji would care about Taiga so much yet not be romantically interested in her, thereby answering the questions of if there could be a RyuujiXTaiga ending. It’s a shame though that Ami herself isn’t more forward with her feelings towards him. She can’t stay this way forever however, and something’s eventually going to have to give.
Taiga’s belief in Santa meanwhile wasn’t exactly due to her misplaced hope in her parents like I suspected but rather it turned out to be more centered around a complex belief about the importance of knowing that someone is watching you. Even though she still claims to have met Santa once, the explanation made her seem relatable and kind, which was a contrast to how weird and awkward it was to see her just smiling all the time. Minori, on the other hand, is becoming kind of a depressing character to watch, especially when considering how she used to be such a fun character. I liked though how the whole shattered star thing was like a metaphor for what Minori is afraid of if she hooks up with Ryuuji (i.e. breaking something that Taiga treasures) and how Ryuuji approached the issue by showing that it can be repaired. Too bad Minori didn’t get the message (or refuses to accept it) and still won’t go to the party.
Finally, on a somewhat different note, after criticizing Clannad for its choice of ED last week, it’s only fair that I comment on how the lead-in to the new ending song here is also a bit too upbeat for the serious episode finishes that this series tends to have. It starts appropriately low-key, but it was jarring to hear the song reach its first high point right as Ryuuji says that he’ll wait for Minori. I think the reason they did it this way was because the actual episode went a little long and thus cut into the ED’s time, so they had to start the main part of the song while the episode was still going (yes, I realize I think about this stuff way too much).