Ever since that scrap between Taiga and Sumire, Toradora! seems to be on an ever-deepening emotional spiral when it comes to the relationships between the major characters, and despite being quite a slow-paced instalment episode eighteen moves things on a little further in this sense.
Of course, the main focus is the continuing preparations for the school Christmas party, with Taiga continuing to try her best to be as good as gold, while Minori seems to be trying her best to avoid both the party itself as well as Taiga and Ryuuji. During this period we learn a bit more about Taiga's past, the reason for her unswerving belief in Santa, and see a rather generous side to her (even though she sees it as being self-centred herself).
However, the important moments of this episode come courtesy of Ami and Minori. Starting out with the former, Ami continues her knack for telling it like it is as she discusses how he feels watching everyone's attempts to set Taiga up with Kitamura, while also dropping what seems to be a not so subtle hint about her own feelings towards Ryuuji. Then there's Minori, who is still clearly deeply troubled by something, but we still get no real clues as to what this might be, despite an accident during softball training potentially bringing her closer than ever to Ryuuji.
As I've come to expect from this series, Toradora! continues to be nothing if not a triumph in characterisation - Even in a relatively quiet episode, the behaviour of both Ami and Minori could easily fill of a volume of a book on psychology and body language, with their words and actions often telling very different stories, and offering an added layer of depth to the series. The character growth on show here is well worthy of note - Take Ami as a perfect example of this, an initially hateful character who has, as the series has progressed, grown up to reveal a lot more about herself, in turn becoming more than just your generic bitchy good-looking girl. It really is compelling stuff.