Am I reading too much into the fact that Chihaya was wearing a “Let’s GO!” T-shirt when she and the boys visited a
Go Karuta salon for the first time? Intentional tribute or not, there’s no question that this series gives me the same feeling that Hikaru no Go at its best did. While the two series are quite different and will obviously focus on very different aspects of growing up, there’s a shared sense of finding something you love, and the joy of sharing it with friends.
Hopefully we can put all the silly Taichi-bashing of last week behind us now that we’ve seen that he’s a good kid who made mistakes. In many ways Taichi is – dare I say it – my favorite character here, because there’s a lot of complexity to him. He strikes me as the most “real” of the three heroes, because he does give in to weakness and listen to his selfish impulses sometimes, as kids just entering adolescence so often do, but at heart he wants to do the right thing.
But who am I kidding – it’s a three-way tie, really, the trio at the heart of the show are all fantastic. Chihayafuru is doing a great job showing us the hurtful things at home that drive the children to be who they are without obsessing over them. I thought it was quite telling when Chihaya’s sister said that she should “Just keep gushing about how great I am.” At least her Mom seems to recognize that the sun doesn’t rise and set around Onee-san’s schedule and it’s OK for Chihaya to blossom into her own person. Arata has the most to gain from the trio, it seems to me, because he’s never really had friends before. It wasn’t surprising to learn that his Grandfather was a “Meijin” of Kurata, but I get the sense he’s never had anyone to truly share his passion for the sport with.
I thought all the scenes at the Kurata Salon and the exciting tournament were excellent, and I thought that the Harada-sensei was a wonderful addition to the cast as the first adult with a meaningful role. He started off looking like a comic figure, but showed himself as a true mentor, and the way he gently nudged Chihaya into understanding just how painful it was for the boys to separate from her – and how dwelling on her own pain was selfish – was a superb example of the right way to teach a child. Ah, the separation – this was real sadness, as we’d only just gotten the chance to see the exhilaration of the trio together. With Arata forced to go home to Fukui and model student Taichi going away to an elite middle school, we now know why the kids went their separate ways. Their goodbye scene in Arata’s apartment was one of the emotional highlights of the season so far – very direct and heartfelt without being cloying. Is there anything more painful in sixth-grade than saying goodbye to friends you love?
Whether we immediately return to the present as of next week I can’t say for certain without a preview, but it appears as if the reason for the flashback has resolved itself so I assume the answer is yes. I’ll actually be quite sad to leave the sixth-grade versions of Chihaya, Arata and Taichi behind. These were some of the best episodes of any anime featuring kids that age since Dennou Coil. But it’s also exciting to think about the potential of seeing their story unfold as high-schoolers with all the possibilities that brings with it. There really hasn’t been a misstep so far – the pacing has been perfect, the cast excellent, and the animation (that scene in the snow especially from this week) gorgeous. So I have full faith and confidence that his adaptation is going to keep making all the right moves.