I’ll be honest, I was a bit nervous when I saw the teaser for this week’s episode of TONIKAWA. The “trip to the amusement park/zoo/etc.” formula has been done to death—Wotakoi, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, and Nagatoro immediately come to mind—and I was worried this week would just see Nasa and Tsukasa going through the motions, without any deeper character growth or reflections on their relationship. Thankfully, “Before the Fireworks Go Out” rises above the formula and offers some pleasant surprises. It does a fine job developing some of Season 2’s themes, but the unexpected highlight is the budding romance between Yanagi and Taniguchi, which is equal parts amusing and wholesome. Like TONIKAWA in general, “Before the Fireworks Go Out” is a sugary sweet episode that will definitely make you smile.
In traditional sitcom fashion, Season 2’s third outing has three separate parties wind up in the same place at the same time—in this case, “Muffy Resort,” a popular theme park. Ginga has offered Nasa and Tsukasa a pair of tickets as a wedding gift, while Yanagi and Taniguchi go on their first date. Chitose and her maids, meanwhile, have coincidentally decided to visit as well, seemingly because they felt like going (oddly, it’s never explicitly mentioned why). And while Muffy Resort might be a huge place, they keep crossing paths at exactly the wrong moments, leading to all kinds of shenanigans. Sure, it’s arbitrary and unrealistic Full House-level writing, but it comes with the turf, so I can’t complain much, especially since two out of the three parties make it all worthwhile.
Yanagi and Taniguchi’s interactions are unexpectedly the best parts of the episode, in part because it’s a well-crafted arc that sees them gradually overcome their initial nervousness and genuinely enjoy each other’s company. Taniguchi’s reluctance to make a romantic gesture or admit his feelings, along with Yanagi’s obliviousness to Taniguchi’s intentions, make for charmingly awkward scenes, and Nasa and Tsukasa’s observations and reactions to them are just as funny. Having Nasa and Tsukasa call the date like a soccer match, complete with a cutaway to them in an announcer’s booth, is a creative touch. And there are some great “tables have turned” moments when Taniguchi panics after Yanagi unexpectedly makes some moves on him.
Still, credit to the episode for not leaving us stuck in “awkward date comedy” territory. The sights of other couples in the park finally allow them to let their guard down, which results in some thoughtful conversation between the two in the episode’s final stretch. Taniguchi’s observation about one couple—who have just gotten married at the park and look blissfully happy together, despite the rain—ties back nicely to Yanagi’s newfound desire in the previous episode to look for happiness and connection. It’s also the first scene in the episode when we feel like these two have really had a personal moment together. You can practically feel them beginning to recognize their mutual attraction for one another, and it’s way more meaningful than having the date crash and burn for laughs at Yanagi and Taniguchi’s expense. This is a respectful treatment of the characters, and a welcome one.
While Yanagi and Taniguchi take center stage this time around, the main couple still has more than enough to do. In particular, “Before the Fireworks Go Out” does a great job of continuing TONIKAWA’s trend of highlighting how different Nasa and Tsukasa are as they continue to adapt to each other’s quirks. It’s especially good at contrasting Nasa’s “analytical-but-socially-inept” approach to life with Tsukasa’s emotional intelligence and better ability to read the room. Their first encounter with Yanagi is a great case in point. While Nasa bluntly asks, “are you here with your boyfriend,” much to Tsukasa and Yanagi’s discomfort, Tsukasa immediately sees the situation for what it is: Tanaguchi is interested but reluctant to open up, and Yanagi doesn’t realize it yet. The buffet scene is equally notable, with Tsukasa’s carefully-crafted plate for Nasa at stark odds with the haphazard meal Nasa put together for Tsukasa—complete with the cake brushing up against the curry sauce. All of this works, though, because the misunderstandings are honest and grow from their different personalities rather than malice. And, all throughout the episode, Nasa’s number one priority is Tsukasa’s happiness, and that his plan to bring her to a Muffy Resort succeeds at that.
Despite the episode being pretty packed at this point, it tries to work Chitose and her maids into some scenes, with mixed results. They initially plan to spy on Nasa and Tsukasa to get a sense of their relationship, but spend most of their early scenes just going on rides and getting distracted, which is pretty superfluous and doesn’t add much. They redeem themselves a little later as they watch Nasa and Tsukasa at the buffet and comment on Nasa’s disastrous plate, but even here, it’s basically just them narrating the action we’re already watching. It’s not the deepest use of the characters so much as an excuse to have them appear. At the very least, though, there are some funny moments that give us a break from the other couples, so it’s not a complete waste.
“Before the Fireworks Go Out” ends, fittingly, with the couples watching a fireworks show—a rom-com anime trope if there ever was one—and while we don’t have any fireworks between Yanagi and Taniguchi yet, there’s definitely a spark, as they finally admit their mutual attraction to each other. It’s an appropriately fuzzy ending for a fuzzy episode, and with all the earlier tension and awkwardness left behind, it’s certainly satisfying. Is “Before the Fireworks Go Out” a grab-bag of “amusement park episode” tropes? Admittedly, yes. But do you pretty much forget how formulaic it is because of how genuinely this show treats its characters and their relationships? Absolutely, and that’s one thing that has always made TONIKAWA special.