If you stop by the Twitterverse from time to time, you may have noticed the term “Taichi Tuesdays” has gone a little viral. About time, I say, because I’d really like to see Chihayafuru get a little more love (and yen) from the mainstream fan community than it seems to be getting. In terms of pure viewing enjoyment, this series is hard to beat. It hits the sweet spot when it comes to intensity and complexity, easy to watch but always involving and developing. There are other shows I love, but this one is probably the most fun to watch – and the most fun to write about. I wish each episode could last an hour.
This week’s ep is a perfect example of how a show can have a “breather” episode that’s still intense and moves the plot forward. The headline moment was probably Taichi’s ultra-casual breakup with his girlfriend, “Girlfriend”. I’m sure the haters will hate that he didn’t take it more seriously, but it’s been pretty obvious from the beginning that Chihaya is the only girl on Taichi’s mind. He should have done it sooner, but at least it’s done – and one theoretical obstacle removed for the development I’ve been pulling for since day one. Indeed, it seemed for a while as if we might see some real movement on that front, because there were a couple of moments where it looked as if Taichi were ready to reveal the truth to his beloved. But still, for all his character growth (the most of any in the cast, I’d argue) Taichi is a guy who holds a little of himself in reserve. He’s still inclined to play it safe when under pressure, and so it happens again, even when Chihaya is asleep virtually in his arms on the train.
I’m also inclined to believe that Taichi feels he has to prove he’s Arata’s equal at Karuta before he can confess to Chihaya – which seems a little silly to me, but clearly not to him. Thus, he’s putting himself on the line – but at Karuta, not love. He’s finally committing – to win a qualifying tournament and make Class A, to join Chihaya and Arata at the Master/Queen tournament. Ironically we find ourselves in the position now where Taichi is the one chasing Arata, and Chihaya is chasing Shinobu. To this end Taichi goes to a qualifying tournament in Kanazawa, only to find Nishida has sneaked off to the same tournament – and both of them get their lunches handed to them, presumably in the first round. They’ve got a long way to go.
The great thing about this show is that everyone is always in transition, and none of their journeys are neglected. Of Nishida we’ve probably learned the least, and he remains the biggest puzzle – he wants to get to Class A too, but his deeper motivations remain hidden. His moment in the sun came at the beginning of the episode, where he used his Tennis Club skills to anchor the Karuta Club to a surprising win in the sports festival track meet (though it was Taichi and Kana that attracted most of the attention), proving looks are deceiving. But despite wearing “Recruiting New Members” T-shirts, they get nothing more than a few curious onlookers easily scared off by the intensity of their practices.
Some of the most wonderful moments of the episode featured Kana and Tsutomu, who continue to grow closer together as they make their Karuta journeys. As always, Chihayafuru takes great pains to show respect for the different ways each kid approaches Karuta. For Tsutomu it’s a matter of diligence and study, carefully charting every match. For Kana it’s a deep and abiding love of the poetry itself, which makes her see Karuta as an “art, not a sport”. Each of them faces the same challenge in terms of physical strength, sport or no – smaller and weaker than the others, they have no choice but to keep working to try and grow stronger, and to try and compensate by nurturing their own strengths. I wish Tsutomu would confess already, because a more compatible pairing I haven’t seen in anime this season.
Where all of these threads come together is in Chihaya’s story, and she is the name in the title after all. Each team member is bumping against the ceiling that relying on their own strength alone imposes on them, and though Chihaya is the strongest player, she’s no exception. As noted here and elsewhere, she’s always relied on her athleticism and instincts, and disdained strategy – but it takes her crush Harada-sensei to make her realize the limits this places on her. “Stop relying on your speed” – simple advice, but vital – and it’s only through seeing herself and game through the chibis eyes that she understands what it means. Tsutomu shows her the power of observation and analysis, revealing the patterns that opponents can exploit – and Kana shows her how an understanding (and love) of the poems themselves can help her see the “colors” in difficult three-syllable cards, and be able to rely on her memory and not just her reflexes. It’s clearly not a natural thing for Chihaya, this studying and thinking – when The Empress sees her in the library her reaction is to ask “Do they have manga in here?” But it’s some of the most self-aware insight we’ve seen from Chihaya, and a real step forward for her character.