Chihayafuru – 123

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What a long, strange trip it’s been.

Sometimes in our anime lives, we have our own fated meetings, just like the characters do – meetings that are destined to change our lives together.  This was the first paragraph I wrote about the Chihayafuru anime, back in 2011:

It’s always a little scary waiting for that first premiere of the season that you love – what if it never comes?  But it’s also pretty exciting when it does – and for me, Chihayafuru is that series this season.  It’s love at first sight.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Chihayafuru was obviously special right from the first moment.  So began an emotional roller-coaster of a journey that’s lasted more than two years, through 50 episodes of anime and many chapters of manga.  I can’t honestly say I’ve enjoyed every minute of it – few series can make with writhe in agony and make my blood boil with frustration and rage like this one can – but even those are experiences I wouldn’t trade for anything. Only a truly great series can make you care as deeply and profoundly for its characters as Chihayafuru can.

When the first season ended, I very consciously made a decision not to read the manga.  This was made easier of course by the fact that most of it was unavailable in English, but there was also the fact that a second season always seemed like a pretty decent possibility.  The manga is a powerhouse, its sales spiked after Madhouse’s brilliant adaptation, and for a shoujo (though this series is so much more than simply that) it sold decently on Blu-ray and DVD.

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So why read the manga now?  For starters, while the second season actually sold a little better and the manga hasn’t lost any steam, there simply isn’t enough material for another season and won’t be for another 18 months at least.  A third season is a real possibility, no question, but if it happens it won’t for quite a while.  There’s also the fact that the chapters depicting what happens after the second season are now all available in English, and within a couple of weeks of their publication (I heartily encourage everyone to buy the Chihayafuru manga – the dual Japanese-English editions are a great tool to learn Japanese).  Given the choice of following the story monthly or depriving myself for that long, my resistance simply broke down.

I’m going to spoil some of what happens in the manga after the anime ends (somewhere around Chapter 90), so if you’d rather not know what happens, please stop reading here.

As you’ll know if you followed my episode posts, I wasn’t as fond of the second season on the whole as I was of the first – though “fond” is relative, and we’re really only talking about degrees of love here.  And that season ended on an emotional cataclysm, the tectonic plates at the heart the story finally releasing some of their built-up friction in a 9.0 earthquake that left the story forever changed.  So really, there was no way I was going to stop and wait.

I’m happy to report that – for me at least – the chapters after the end of the second season of the anime are, for the most part, more exciting and better-paced than the ones that made up the second season.  In fact I think they’re some of the best in the entire series – I can’t tell you how many times I’ve thought “I can’t wait to see this animated!”.  Madhouse and Asaka Norio have been very faithful in their adaptation, and I think the material that they covered in S2 is actually probably the weakest in the series as a whole (again – relatively).  There’s been a ton of character movement, and the Karuta has been some of the most exciting in the entire series.  In fact, I’ll go so far as to say the matches involving Harada-sensei – yes, he becomes a true star here – are possibly the most emotional and thrilling matches in the series so far.

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As this chapter begins, Harada-sensei is preparing for his long-awaited appearance in the Meijin match against Suou-san.  Chihaya and Taichi have just played a series of practice matches against the Meijin (and Sudou, also a student there) at Todai (Tokyo University), and Chihaya tells Harada-sensei that she’s found a weakness in Suou’s game (though we’re not told what).  Those practice matches were fascinating to watch – Suou has emerged as a great and even sympathetic character, although he seems to have his sights set on Chihaya.

Perhaps the most interesting thing to come out of that session was the fact that Suou told Taichi his game was “nasty” – for though Taichi lost (no one has come close to beating the Meijin yet) he’s the only one who never committed a fault.  Suou’s lesson to Taichi – there are “four ways” in Karuta.  You can take the card, the opponent can take the card, you can fault, or the opponent can fault.  Most players, Suou says – Chihaya, Arata, even tricksy Harada-sensei – rely in the first method.  But Taichi is different, and his style “fascinates” Suou.  And it takes a lot to actually pique the Meijin’s interest on the tatami.

Yes, Harada-sensei is playing Suou-meijin for the title.  Watching Harada struggle through the Eastern Final and the Challenger Final, his knees balking, exhausted, was utterly engrossing.  Even his old, hated rival was in tears when Harada won – and yes, he beat Arata in the Challenger Final.  A man in his fifties playing a young person’s game, it was truly inspiring – not even Arata putting on his grandfather’s yukata could throw him.  That last bit was a bit of controversy, as Arata did so at Chihaya’s (indirect) suggestion – and given that Chihaya is a member of the Shiranami Society and worked to help Harada-sensei prepare, some (myself included) feel she shouldn’t have offered any advice to Arata during the match.

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As for our main trio, we’ve come so far, and yet we’re so close to where we started.  Chihaya (who’s decided she wants to be a high-school teacher, so she can coach Karuta) is certainly considering her feelings for Arata in a more serious manner than ever.  Meanwhile Taichi has announced to Suou-san that he and Chihaya are dating – though he later retracts that statement and admits the truth.  And Arata has finally been the one to confess – in fact, he does so just moments after he’s lost to Harada-sensei (on a luck of the draw – which Harada-sensei explains to Taichi isn’t truly luck).  There’s been no answer, but Chihaya’s world was certainly turned upside down.

If you’re looking for a clean resolution to that one, I don’t think you’re going to get it for quite some time.   I see no indication Suetsugu-sensei is anywhere close to the final stages of the manga, or that Chihaya is prepared to make any commitments.  She’s started, I think, to realize that she’s been taking Taichi for granted, and my sense is that she’s becoming aware that he too is in love with her – which is confusing her feelings even more.  The game is still wide-open as far as I’m concerned, and it’ll be very interesting to see what Chihaya does if Taichi too confesses openly to her – until he does, he’s fighting with one hand tied behind his back.

As for Tsutomu, he’s admitted – but only to the reader – that he’s in love with Kana-chan.  This is one of those pairings that seems so obvious (like Sasayan and Natsume in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun) that the only surprise when the mangaka acknowledges it is that they didn’t do so sooner.  Tsutomu, like Taichi, has entangled his own romantic feelings with success in Karuta to a degree that probably isn’t healthy, and he seems no closer to admitting the truth than Taichi does.

Meanwhile, Shinobu is preparing to defend her Queen title against Inokuma Haruka, a former Queen herself and mother of two who breast-feeds between matches.  The gang at Mizusawa spend Christmas at the Tsukuba home, where Chihaya plays the role of Santa Claus in a scheme to fool Tsukuba’s younger brothers (successfully, as it happens).  And when Chihaya sees the gang happily enjoying the traditional Japanese Christmas Eve dinner of (sigh) fried chicken, she imagines Arata with them – as “a member of the family”, so sorry, more mixed messages.  Suetsugu-sensei has her claws firmly latched into our hides now, and I don’t imagine she’s going to be letting go for a good long time.

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  1. H

    Sadly I don't think they've put out anymore of the bilingual manga, looks like the first two volumes are it or I'd be ordering them in a heartbeat.But in any case, a question then! If the story is up to the King and Queen matches again then it must be winter of Taichi/Chihaya's junior year right? Given that I don't see the story ending before Chihaya at least challenges the queen (and quite likely Taichi and Arata do their challenges as well), do you think that the story is going to continue to follow them past high school or do you think Suetsugu is going to find a way to wrap it up before their graduation?

  2. Considering how big a deal she's made out of Arata coming to Tokyo for college, it certainly wouldn't surprise me to see it continue. We've seen a lot more with older Karuta players this stretch, too.

    Harada-sensei really is da bomb, isn't he? I was very nearly in tears a couple of times reading his matches.

  3. S

    The story cannot end until the senior year of the threesome. In chapter 1 of the manga, there is a flashforward of 7 years in the future (equivalent of Chihaya in her senior year if I did my math right) challenging the present queen (which I suspect to be Shinobu, due to the left-handed player).

    On another note, how cool is Suou-meijin. He is the biggest enigma of the series.

  4. Yes, Suou is very cool. Loving his development. I also hate the way the governing body of Karuta hates him and keeps trying to help him lose.

    Just because the story has to reach that foreshadowed point, I don't think it has to end at that point. It could just be another step in the journey.

  5. K

    I'd rather it be the end though or at least close to the end. As much as I love Chihayafuru I agree with the saying sometimes there is too much of a good thing.

  6. Yeah, but I don't see Chihayafuru showing signs of that yet. I'd love to see these three in college, continuing their Karuta quests. But in the context of having some of the romantic issues clarified, as that would turn into too much of a slog.

    Many great manga go for a long, long time without shark-jumping. it all depends on the manga.

  7. K

    Right but they are still in their 2nd yr and there is still a lot left to go. I don't want the manga to end tomorrow but I think it is better for it to have a planned ending not to go on indefinitely. It doesn't necessarily have to end right at the queen/master competition but I think it should end close to that point because that feels like a goal for the story.

  8. k

    I was so, so happy when Harada-sensei beat Arata. Was hoping but not expecting that. And you're right, Suetsugu made a big deal of Arata coming for college, but on the other hand the first chapter of the manga foreshadows Chihaya will participate on the Queen match on her third year of high school. That could very well mean the story's 2/3 through.

    As for the romance department… Argh, why are you doing this to me, Suetsugu. Based on what we've seen so far, I'd assume Arata will be her choice and Taichi will stay in the friendzone forever, but the Japanese fandom seems to think the author likes Taichi the best from interviews and such (not that he can't be her favorite character and still don't hook up with Chihaya). One thing I dislike in josei is how unpredictable the romance can be, but Suetsugu has taken this to an extreme.

  9. I was pulling for Harada-sensei, too, I admit. She did surprise me by letting him win that match, but I don't see him beating the Meijin.

    I've always felt that Suetsugu wrote Arata as if she were in love with him herself, but whether that says anything about who she prefers deep down – and whether that says anything about who Chihaya might end up with – is another question. I think it's absolutely possible the manga ends with no clear decision on Chihaya's part.

  10. C

    I also felt the same way about Suetsugu on writing Arata's character. My favorite character is Taichi, but I think I've given up on his OTP with Chihaya. As long as Taichi's character is more interesting and well-written that's already the winning case to me, and obviously he is the best character of this manga. There were infos I've read on forums that there are hints that Suetsugu favors Arata's character for Chihaya, but of course, it's still too early to predict. Good karuta matches, more Taichi character development, more Shinobu and Suou that's what keeps me going for Chihayafuru so I'm not going to bother with the romance department any more (just to avoid being disappointed…hehehe).

  11. S

    The thing with the romance side of Chihayafuru is that both guys are actually nice guys. Sure both of them have their faults but either pairing would work. HOWEVER, what I think is awesome is that the author is clearly stating in the manga that Chihaya is NOT some prize to be won. She is her own person and will fall in love with whom she will fall in love with.

    My only issue with a possible Arata x Chihaya pairing is that both of them really don't know each other that well. They are the source of each others inspiration and in some ways idolize each other but were only together as kids for a short time. Hopefully with an extended college arc they will all actually get to know each other properly.

  12. n

    Chihaya manga is such a delight. This may be only me but I keep reading the first book where the three kids are still grade schoolers. They're just so cute there. And Harada sensei's such a great character; truly worthy of the title sensei. Actually, I haven't read the newest chapter yet, but I'm glad you're following this.

  13. R

    This is a big deal for me to see your review on the manga…thanks, Enzo. I don't think I can add anything to what you said, but I shared the same frustration when Chihaya gave Arata hints — that clearly was Suetsugu-sensei being the puppet master again and playing the love triangle card. I don't think she will give us any concrete answer — and if she really plans to — but to keep playing that card because it really works and gets the shippers, me included, all hyped up.

    Yes, I cried when Harada-sensei won. That was such a touching moment that no words can describe, or only you could. I also loved Suon vs Taichi and his feedback to him…I'm really liking him more and more, well, apart from Taichi.

    Keep the manga reviews coming, please.

  14. i

    Enzo welcome to the most beautiful dark side in existence. I cracked the day after the 1st season ended so you held up well for this long. I really do hope for more adaptations and I think we'll definitely get at least one more (though maybe not in TV form).

    As far as the Karuta goes, Harada has been awesome for a while now and I can see him taking a real fight to Suou. I still think Shinobu and him will be Queen and Meijin this year but some of their weakness will probably be brought to light. This is a sports anime so everything rides on 3rd year's a charm.

    As far as shipping goes I felt both agony and joy at Arata's confession. It often is that he who is first shall be last and I feel Chihaya is starting to realize her feelings for him are not a romantic love after all, which kills me. I still don't think we know much about how she feels for Taichi though and I think we only will if Taichi does something amazing in Karuta, namely playing Arata or getting to the East-West qualifier and beyond. And most likely Arata will play him somewhere there.

    As for longevity, I think the manga will continue for at least another 5 years so we and hopefully Madhouse are in it for the long term. I believe the ending will undoubtedly be a Chihaya vs Arata match the result of which we don't know or goes down to draw of the luck. The only question is will they face each other as friends or more than that?

  15. r

    You finally decided to review the manga!!! Thanks so much! It's always a pleasure reading your reviews right after watching an anime episodes so specifically making reviews for Chihayafuru manga chapters is more than welcome! 😉

    I also thought that Suetsugu san favors Arata more in the romance dept. But what made you think that Chihaya actually notices Taichi's feelings for her? I thought she's just looking at him nowadays since Taichi is getting more focused on karuta and lesser attention to Chihaya.

    Chihaya noticing Taichi's feelings had been a debate before at the MF forum and I'm one of those who think otherwise. That's why I'm wondering if you saw some hints or scenes that maybe I overlooked.

    I'm also rooting for Harada sensei but Suo losing his title is somehow impossible. Suetsugu san mentioned before that the real karuta genius in the manga is actually Suo. But depending on the narrative, the author already proved that she has the ability to make the impossible believable.

    Thanks again and I will be religiously looking forward to more of your Chihayafuru manga reviews.

  16. It's hard to put a finger on anything specific. I've just had the sense over the last 8-10 chapters that she's looking at him a little differently than she was before. Perhaps (ironically) as a result of Arata's confession causing her to consider her own feelings more directly, in a general sense.

  17. r

    I thought it started after the Yoshino arc especially when she learned Taichi's "karuta situation" from Tsutomu. Chihaya is always perceptive when it comes to karuta related matters. But yes, she really did become more attentive towards him. But i don't think it's because she noticed Taichi's feelings.

    Sorry, I hope your "sense" is wrong, otherwise I can't believe Chihaya still acts normally towards Taichi knowing such hints. 😉

  18. c

    I'm really so happy you are reviewing the manga!!!! I really missed those Chihayafuru reviews! And yeah so much has happened, so many great things to be animated: Sakurasawa sensei's karuta camp, the match between Taichi and Chihaya, the qualifiers! I just can't wait to see that all in mouvement, coulor and with the best OST in the background!!

    When it comes to the romance section you are really giving me some hope……..because like Ravenanne chan i haven't seen much reactions from Chihaya regarding Taichi: the only moment was when he went to the qualifiers while she was on the school trip but it more looked like she was jealous of him playing karuta. I like to think she was actually missing him a bit but i'm not sure that is justified…….I hope like you say that Arata's confession has triggered a new awakening in Chihaya……..

  19. a

    I'm surprised you decided to read the manga. I had Chihayafuru withdrawal symptoms after the second season so I couldn't help myself and ended up reading up to Chapter 115. I had to stop because I might expect and want too much from season 3. But from the spoilers you've posted, the new events are certainly much more interesting than I hoped for. The chapters after season 2 ended were indeed amazing. I can't wait till season 3 comes out and hear your impressions on how it was adapted.

    Chihayafuru is a very special anime since it brought back my dwindling love from anime in 2011 and it was the anime that led me to reading your randomc posts and eventually following your blog. Can't wait to read your future posts on Chihayafuru! 😀

  20. K

    I am reading the manga as well, although I am not quite as caught up as you. I am actually trying to take my time to savor it all. 😀

    "I'm happy to report that – for me at least – the chapters after the end of the second season of the anime are, for the most part, more exciting and better-paced than the ones that made up the second season"

    Completely agree, it isn't that I disliked the 2nd season but the arc that so much of the season focused on (the team tournament) was quite weak. There was too much focus on minor characters instead of our core & supporting cast. However right after the anime ends things get really good. Well actually I think things started to get really good during the individual HS tournament but it was over before it began.

    I certainly hope there will be a 3rd season, but I am happy to be able to continue the series in manga form. I actually prefer watching anime, but Chihayafuru is definitely a series I make an exception for.

  21. k

    I'm a little surprised that you've only just decided to start blogging the manga now. If you can, I would recommend reading it directly in Japanese, because I've found that it does make a difference in terms of interpretation.

    Others have already commented on what I thought of your interpretation of Chihaya's feelings towards Taichi (I also think she's only noticing him more in terms of karuta – I really don't see her having any sense that he's in love with her yet), so I'll just focus on a couple of other things.

    "not even Arata putting on his grandfather's yukata could throw him."

    Arata was wearing his grandfather's kimono and hakama from the start – he did not go to get changed, he just spent the hour getting into the mind of his grandfather, apparently to the extent that he took on his persona. (And it's not a yukata – they wouldn't wear a cheap(er) and less formal 'summer kimono' to such a formal, traditional event.)

    "But Taichi is different, and his style "fascinates" Suou."

    I'm pretty certain it's the other way around – it's Taichi that's fascinated by Suou's style of causing others to commit faults. Taichi hasn't really done this much yet (the only instance we've seen, if I recall, being in his match against Fujisaki's Eromu).

  22. H

    Where can I purchase the Chihaya Furu series? I've been looking with no luck.

  23. In Japanese or English? The originals are always on Ebay somewhere, plus through Amazon's import system.

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