Yasuko rushes to her parents’ house under the impression that Ryuuji was involved in an accident that put his life in danger, but she finds him perfectly healthy and waiting for her. Realizing that she’s been tricked into coming, Yasuko starts to cry when her mother comments on how well she raised Ryuuji. She gets lectured by her father afterward, and as they watch secretly, Ryuuji and Taiga notice how Yasuko is like a little girl, but she seems happy to be back with her family. That night, Ryuuji talks to his mother about how he heard that she never married his father, and so she tells him about his father running away with some other woman while she was still pregnant with him. Everyone told her to get an abortion, but she wanted to keep him. Yasuko feels bad about how she wasn’t able to hold onto Ryuuji after all and ruined a lot of things, but Ryuuji reminds her of how her own mother had complimented her on raising him to be so big. This leads to Yasuko revealing that she noticed how big his back was when he was running away from her, and she had been scared because he hadn’t seemed like the Ryuuji that she knew. In light of this, Ryuuji tells his mother that running away won’t lead to anything, and he’s decided to grow up into an adult in front of her where she can see him. This causes Yasuko to cry even more.
Later that night, as Ryuuji and Taiga – who are going to be sleeping in the same room – look out the window at the star-filled night sky, Taiga admits that she had been worried about eloping and marriage. Ryuuji feels that they only have to start from here, and he thinks that it’d be best if everyone could give their blessing, including Taiga’s family. Taiga knows that this will probably take time, but Ryuuji doesn’t mind if it means that everyone will be happy instead of just them two. For the time being though, Taiga uses the bedsheets as a veil, and after Ryuuji has trouble figuring out what to say, Taiga reminds him of how he had once said that they were the tiger and dragon that have stood together for a long time, so they’ll be beside each other even if they don’t have vows. When Ryuuji then gets closer to her, Taiga comments on how a kiss would be painful, so he gives her a quick kiss. She complains, but she also notes that it was very hot, and since she’s cold, she asks him to do it again. Taiga barely is able to get this out before Ryuuji kisses her again, and since she keeps whispering him for more kisses, he keeps kissing her.
Yasuko, Ryuuji, and Taiga head home the next day, and Taiga decides to go over to her own apartment first. She expects her mother to be there, but there’s actually no one around. Checking her voice mail, Taiga finds numerous messages from her mother that get increasingly exasperated until finally her mother angrily declares that she’s going home and that Taiga can do what she wants. Laughing at how childish her mother was, Taiga ultimately decides to write a letter to Ryuuji and leaves her apartment after taking a picture of the night sky. In the letter, she talks about how she had once felt that she wouldn’t be loved by anyone and how he had loved her as she was. Because of that, she’s decided not to run away anymore and to change. Ryuuji recounts that Taiga never showed up for dinner that night, and his teacher informs the class sometime later that Taiga has quit their school and gone to her mother’s place. She uses this as an example to tell the class that they’ll encounter various crossroads from now on, and they’ll have to choose a path. Minori catches up with Ryuuji afterward and slaps him since she doesn’t understand what’s going on, so he tells her that he didn’t want Taiga to go himself. He’s frustrated that she decided things on her own, but because she believes in him, he feels that he has to accept all this for now.
Going through Taiga’s apartment later, Ryuuji finds a bag that has a lot of things, including Taiga’s passport and student handbook. Inside the handbook, behind that picture of her and Yuusaku during the festival, is a picture of her with him. Ryuuji’s cell phone then vibrates with a new mail from Taiga, and she reminds him that he technically never said that he loved her. She then sends him another mail with which she attaches a certain image. Taiga sends this image to everyone in their class, and it’s what everyone is talking about the next day because they can’t figure out what it is. Minori knows that it’s a picture of the night sky with a single star, and she thinks that it’s Taiga trying to tell them that she’ll do her best. Minori explains that the star is in the dark sky somewhere, and if that star shines more brightly, then they’ll be able to see it. In that same way, if they can each shine brightly, then no matter how far away they are, they’ll be able to see each other doing their best. The class likes this, and on Ami’s suggestion, they decide to reply to Taiga with a picture of the Christmas tree star. While looking for it, Ami tells Ryuuji that she had been envious of how it seemed like Taiga was able to be herself and still be loved. She knows that this wasn’t really the case and that Taiga had actually not wanted to show her true face, and she realizes that she was the same way. Ami admits that she hated the part of herself that pretended to be an adult, but when she saw Taiga, she realized that if there is even one person who understands you, then things will be okay, even if it’s not love.
Ultimately, it’s Minori who finds the crystal star, and everyone in the class gets in on a photo around Ryuuji holding it. As the seasons pass without Taiga, Ryuuji thinks about how he’s the dragon and she’s the tiger that stand together. Even if she’s not there now, Ryuuji is firm in his feelings that he’ll be beside her no matter the distance or time. It soon becomes graduation time, and everyone is ready to move on, including Yuusaku who is set to go to America to study. On the day of the ceremony, Ryuuji notices someone who resembles Taiga by the window of their old classroom, so he runs all the way up. Both he and Taiga know that there’s something in this world that no one has seen, something that’s gentle and sweet. Everyone would want it if they could see it, and for that reason, it’s not easily obtainable. However, in time someone will find it, and the person who should obtain it will find it. Ryuuji arrives at the classroom to find no one there, but he knows enough to check the locker in the corner, and indeed, Taiga is inside. Since he hadn’t before, he finally confesses that he loves her, and this gets her flustered enough to knock her head into his chin.
Even though I’m pretty sure it diverged in several key places with what happened at the end of the novels, this was a pretty good ending. They covered everything they needed to, including a very sweet kiss scene and even some stuff about Ryuuji’s father and about Yasuko deciding against an abortion (the second time in as many months that this topic has come up in an anime). They also included the handbook photo from the post-festival arc that I had long since forgotten about, and while it was obvious that the photo was of Ryuuji, it was good to finally get confirmation of that.
All of that made for what I thought was a very satisfying finale with a decent amount of closure for the characters. I liked that they stuck with the themes of not running away and having to choose your own path for framing Taiga and Ryuuji’s relationship. And since they had put in the kiss earlier in the episode, having Ryuuji finally confess at the end was a nice touch, as was the little speech that Taiga and Ryuuji had together. The one character that I thought got shortchanged in the ending was Ami because it seemed like they glossed over her problems in favor of just making it seem like she’d do alright with things as is. In the end though, I didn’t mind too much because it’s been clear for a while now that they weren’t planning on focusing on her much more.
Thinking about it now, Toradora ended exactly how I expected it to end from the get-go, yet it turned out to be a really good and very entertaining series because of the journey to get there. In fact, what I said several times in talking about episodes past is that I was impressed that the characters and relationships here actually moved forward and evolved. That doesn’t sound like such a novel concept, but given how many romance/drama/comedy series don’t advance much at all, Toradora was quite refreshing to watch. It was much more mature than I was originally expecting, and I enjoyed how they worked several themes, particularly Minori’s idea of seeing and not seeing, into the very fabric of this series, including this ending. A lot of the credit for all that goes to author Takemiya Yuyuko, but J.C.Staff did a nice job with the overall production quality as well, and I would probably recommend this series to anyone.