I’m fascinated by the unusual choices Chihayafuru is making as it hurtles towards the gut-wrenching conclusion of what’s likely to be its only anime season. I’ve already been faked out a couple of times about what the focus of the final arc will be, and there’s always the possibility that Madhouse will go for an anime-original ending altogether (though I rather hope not). It now seems likely that Karuta won’t be the star attraction, but relationships – at least that’s the sense I got from this episode. While we’ll surely see the Master/Queen title matches all of the main Karuta storylines were settled with Arata and even Harada-sensei losing, and though there’s some interest in Yumin’s quest to reclaim her throne and the series has shown a willingness to focus on side characters, I can’t believe that would be the centerpiece of the anime finale.
I’m really at the point now where I care almost too much about the main cast here, and my emotions twist and turn with every jolt in their lives. I count Harada-sensei among that core group – I’ve always loved the character (his greatness was evident as early as episode 3, where he gently made Chihaya realize how selfish she was being in wallowing in her own grief), but he just becomes more and more heroic as the show progresses. It’s no wonder he stole Chihaya’s heart, and now Kana-chan’s as well? Poor Tsutomu – and while Taichi was worrying about Arata, the real enemy was right under his nose with a wife and kids. He defended Chihaya’s honor – and hair – by stomping Sadist-kun, and soldiered his way into the semifinals on strength of will, even as his body was giving out (I feel your pain, Harada-sensei!). But he found time to scold Chihaya for not thanking Yumin after their match, and to console Hiroshi after he lost in the finals of the Master qualifier. It says something about the writing of this series that this scene, involving Harada and a minor character, was arguably the most emotional of the episode. There are no throwaway characters in a show like Chihayafuru – they’re all real people, even bit players like Hiroshi – who wanted so badly to make Harada’s dreams for the Shiranami Society come true, and Arata’s sempai Murao-san. And as for Harada, I thought he’d reached the peak after the incredible scene on the platform with Taichi, but he just keeps getting better and better as a character.
But of course this show always comes down to Chihaya and Taichi and Arata (and Kanade and Tsutomu, too) and there was plenty to gnaw on there as well. To hear Taichi come right out and admit – even if it was just to himself – “I’m hopelessly in love with Chihaya” is progress. And he certainly lives the part, even if Chihaya is too dense to see it. He stays behind with her as she sulks in a locker after her loss (note that already here Kana sees that Taichi wants to do this job alone). Even as he frets that only Arata can get to her, Chihaya reveals that Taichi has reached her with his words – and later he gives her his jacket to warm herself in the cool Kyoto night. When a boy scams her number at the train station, Taichi off-handedly tells her “go for it” – then promptly blocks his number and declares that the two of them will ride together from now on. Chihaya still hasn’t realized, but Kanade certainly has – she’s the most romantically inclined of the group by nature – and if nothing else, Taichi at least has an ally (“I understand!”) now in his uphill battle. Yet of course, she’s blind to the feelings Komano has for her. Kids!
I can rage at Chihaya and Taichi both, here, no question. Chihaya continues to reveal herself as the most immature of the group – shame on her for hiding in a locker after her loss. When her teammates lose, they get over it – and they support each other. She shouldn’t have needed Taichi to shame her (and bribe her with Arata’s contact info) into coming to support Harada-sensei – that should have been the first thing on her mind. But shame on Taichi, too, for keeping his feelings to himself for all this time. Dammit, Boy, just TELL HER ALREADY! Ano Natsu has spoiled me for directness in anime romance this season, I guess, but Taichi’s love for Chihaya is eating him alive and he knows better than anyone that her cluelessness isn’t an act, it’s just who she is – it’s as if he’s waiting for Arata to come and steal her away from him because he thinks that’s what he deserves. And it’s not – he deserves a chance to be happy, and he’s put in the hard work and been as loyal and devoted as anyone could ever be. If he’s striving to be a person who doesn’t run away, seems to be that this is the place where Taichi needs to start, as it’s the most important thing in his life.
Ah, well – I suspect we won’t be getting satisfaction on these fronts in the anime, but that won’t stop me from caring deeply about what happens. Arata’s arc actually seems to have the most life left in it in anime terms – he’s confronting the regret over his own act of running away, and getting an unwanted taste of adult concerns in watching Murao drift away from Karuta. He has no one at his level to practice with (seems to be that coming to Tokyo could fix that) and is reduced to terrifying small boys for sport, and seems the most isolated of all the main cast. That theme was the highlight of the Christmas party scenes that provided a lovely coda to the episode, with the Mizusawa club members realizing that they’ve grown as people and gained the respect of the school, but also that they’ve come to love each other as family. Even as Taichi is at his party surrounded by girls he has no interest in, Kanade lectures on hot pot, Nishida bowls and Chihaya and Tsutomu realize that the rest of their schoolmates exist too, their thoughts turn to each other. Arata doesn’t seem to have that with anyone, and that’s a sad thought.