While I’ve often compared this series to Hikaru no Go, it’s obvious that there are going to be some stark thematic differences. Whereas HnG was totally devoid of “relationship” drama unless you count bromance (enough with the longing gazes, Hikaru – just kiss Akira and get on with your life already…) that’s clearly going to be a strong subtext at the very least in Chihayafuru. If there were any doubts that Taichi is hopelessly in love with Chihaya this episode dispelled them. He accompanied her on the 4-hour train ride to Fukui (Shinkansen to Maibara, switch to Shirasagi, 14000 yen – not cheap!) to visit Arata, he came very close to holding her hand, and he shot her with enough hints to knock out a bull elephant.
Problem is, it’s becoming increasingly clear that Chihaya is still very much a little girl. While all of the leads are showing their emotional immaturity, it’s Chihaya who seems most frozen in time as a 12 year-old. She still worships her big sister, she appears to be totally oblivious to the subtleties of relationships, and more than anything she wants things back to the way they were, when she could play Karuta with her friends and that was all that mattered. She’s an odd girl in many ways, a creature of impulse – as demonstrated by her odd choice of yanking Arata off a moving bicycle when calling out to him would have made a lot more sense. She’s fast at least, I’ll give her that – she does run track, after all.
So we have Chihaya stuck in sixth grade, Taichi hopeless for his childhood crush and still with his current girlfriend because he’ hasn’t been able to confess outright and get an answer, and then we have Arata. He’s got problems of his own, starting with the fact that he has indeed quit Karuta. I’d hoped the reason might be a little more surprising, but the most obvious reason was indeed the correct one. Between the slow demise of his Grandfather due to a stroke and the fact that he missed his death due to a Karuta tournament, Arata simply finds the game too painful to play now. Ironically the last thing his Grandfather would have wanted was for Arata to give up the game over him, but it’s easy to see that from a distance.
Given all that, it’s no wonder the visit to Fukui was a disaster. Arata has at least one friend, a neighbor girl who seems to have a crush on him, Yuu (Anzai Chika, the same seiyuu who plays Taichi’s girlfriend, interestingly) but generally seems to be about as unhappy as you’d expect. Arata is punishing himself, Chihaya is stuck in the past, and Taichi is silently seething over Chihaya’s cluelessness and doting on a memory. It’s a mess, as adolescence usually is – but I don’t get the feeling this is going to be a series that fixates on the depressing, soap opera aspects of its teenaged heroes. As witness Arata’s change of heart at the end of the episode (who could resist Chihaya’s heartbreaking notes to herself), it’s obvious he wants something better than the life he’s been leading. And we know that Taichi is going to be forming the Karuta club with Chihaya – indeed, they even have a prospective convert from the archery club already lined up. So as bad as things are now, they’re obviously going to get better.
The big question remains, what happens with Arata? If he’s to move back to Tokyo the mechanics of that aren’t clear at the moment. And if he does, well – at this point we don’t have any hard evidence that either he or Chihaya see each other in a romantic light. But they’re high-schoolers now, not sixth-graders, and this isn’t Hikaru no Go. So it’s hard to escape the notion that a triangle is inevitable. Right now the only one whose feelings are clear on the matter is Taichi, but first-in doesn’t always win, even in anime. In the meantime I look for the focus to swing back to Karuta for a bit, and the show to get back to a somewhat lighter and more upbeat tone.