Chihayafuru thought for the day: there’s a big difference between “movement” and “progress”…
When you consider that there are plenty of long-running manga that are 300-400 chapters or even many more, Chihayafuru really hasn’t been around all that long (though of course its 130+ chapters are closer to monthly than weekly). So why does it seem like it’s been around forever? I suspect it’s because of the sheer emotional intensity of the story – it puts you through the ringer to the extent that one chapter can often feel like ten. Can you imagine 1300 chapters of Taichi torture?
I’m still not sure where Suetsugu-sensei is headed with the story – there are times (including in this chapter) where it feels as if she’s starting to set up the stretch run, but at other times it seems as if we’re barely getting started. We see a lot of benedictory-type things happening here – graduation ceremonies at the various schools that have been part of the story, goodbyes and wishes for the future. But there are also reminders that for the three leads their final year remains ahead of them, and with it the challenge of trying to be elite Karuta players as well as preparing for entrance exams.
For all the other stuff that’s happening here – those others schools, Kana and Sumire talking about Kana’s tri-lashes, White Day – the focus of the story is certainly on Taichi and Chihaya. But this is where it becomes clear that while things may be moving on that front, they really aren’t progressing. It’s striking how Taichi and Chihaya are (as always) right next to each other yet worlds apart. Chihaya is, at least, aware that Taichi is suffering and obsessing over cheering him up. But the notion of romance between them is so alien to her that she still can’t put two and two together as to the reason. It says something for the skill of Suetsugu’s writing that we can almost believe Chihaya could be this dense, because it’s hard to believe anyone could be this dense. She’s the dense shounen romantic lead on a truly awesome scale.
One of Chihaya’s gambits to try and figure out Taichi’s problems (of course she can’t possibly just ask him) is to send Hiroshi-san to try and get information out of him, which he does by inviting (Shanghaiing) him to the izakaya. This scene is really a window into just how dark a place Taichi is in at the moment, because he’s seen the depth of the gap that separates him from Arata when it comes to Karuta (and other things as well, he fears). Taichi and his classmates have just been lectured about the serious nature of being prep students with college on the horizon, but in effect Arata has been a Karuta prep student for his entire life (“and he enjoys it”). How can Taichi possibly hope to compete with that kind of single-minded dedication?
This scene closes with Hiroshi telling Taichi that it was Chihaya that asked him to speak with him – and Taichi’s telling response is that it was only because she wanted to know about Arata. In his mind Taichi has already lost to Arata, in Karuta and in love – and self-defeat has always been Taichi’s biggest stumbling block. Hiroshi (ironically) comments that Taichi is “dense” for thinking that, and he’s probably right – but Chihaya’s concern, if genuine (she does to the trouble of arranging the “Taichi Cup” for his 18th birthday), seems unlikely to be of the sort that Taichi would hope it is.
There’s a strong sense of fatalism to all this, and when Taichi suggests to Sumire (while giving her a White Day gift) that he might just let Chihaya know his feelings (she asks him to wait two weeks, interestingly) it feels more like a search for closure than a hopeful confession of love. As I’ve said before I think it’s better for Taichi to at least have certainty rather than the purgatory he’s living in now, even if it’s not the sort of certainty he wants – so even if things go badly, Taichi confessing to Chihaya probably would edge into the threshold of what I’d call “progress”. But it’s going to leave his character mired still in a pretty dark place, with no clear path before him. That’s going to be a nervous time as a fan of the series, and the character.