Be careful what you wish for, indeed.
Well, I wanted “progress” – and I guess I got it. And in pretty much exactly the form I speculated on in my post on Chapter 136, too – a disastrous confession with disastrous results. It was definitely “movement”, anyway, and at this stage in Chihayafuru I guess that’s a good thing.
These are two separate chapters, of course, but it’s the nature of reading translated manga that sometimes (usually) we read it on a very different schedule than it was published under. Reading these in one sitting was a real emotional roller-coaster even by Chihayafuru’s whiplash standards, because they’re about as Yin and Yang as two chapters could possibly be.
Starting with 137, it was notable in that for the first time in quite a while, I found a Chihayafuru chapter really fun. There was serious stuff going on, absolutely, but the pall that’s been hanging over the series since the last few chapters of the Meijin match was lifted and for the first time in ages I sensed the same energy and whimsy that was once a hallmark of the series. This was Karuta as we haven’t seen it lately – full of abandon and youthful energy (even from Harada-sensei).
I loved the rules Chihaya devised for the Taichi Cup – 12 teams of three (what a turnout!), with the prize going to the individual who takes the most cards. There is a 5-point bonus for the winning team, but the dynamic is fascinating – too-strong teammates are a liability, as they steal cards you might otherwise take. And there are no dead cards – all 100 are used, but many are out of reach. It’s Karuta quite unlike any these players have experienced, and that was really fun to see.
There’s serious business here, though – the prize, which (because Chihaya ran out of money) is a kiss from Taichi. It would have been interesting to see what would have happened if Harada or one of Tsukuba’s little brothers had won, but I figured all along it would be Chihaya – and in fact, Chihaya and Taichi end up tied for the lead. The prize is glossed over in the immediate aftermath of the tournament, but it’s certainly an important seed planted (and it will sprout in Chapter 138).
As bright and breezy as 137 was, 138 was a complete and total heartbreaker. As soul-crushing as Taichi’s confession to Chihaya was, there was actually some part of me (and Taichi too, I’m certain) that was relieved he’d finally gotten it out. It was doubly heartbreaking because leading into that moment Taichi has been thinking about those early days in sixth-grade – the good moments and the bad. It’s a stark reminder of how much less simple life becomes when a few short years take us from 12 to 18, and the sort of bonds that once were possible are now a mere memory.
It was very fitting that Taichi prefaced his confession to Chihaya by finally coming clean about the glasses incident – both because it was self-defeating and Taichi is the master of self-defeat, and because for him this is all about not running away. Stealing those glasses was a great moment of cowardice, and never admitting the truth another – but not as much as hiding his feelings from Chihaya for all these years. The burden of all this on Taichi is so great that it literally knocks him over – he can only bring himself to reveal the truth while lying down, his face covered with his hand.
Chihaya reacts about how you’d expect her to react – stunned more than anything, but clearly not receptive. I think some part of Taichi is just glad it’s finally over, and some part of me is as well. But the future is a scary place in the aftermath of that bombshell – where can Taichi – never mind Taichi and Chihaya – possibly go from here? The first casualty comes when Empress delivers a bit of shocking news to the club just before their recruiting presentation – Taichi has resigned from the club, citing college exams as the reason. But the truth is that he can’t play Karuta any longer because all of the cards are black before his eyes now. I suspect he’ll get over that in time (or else he’s pretty much done as a character) but playing it and playing it at Chihaya’s side are two very different things.
There’s one last bit of drama here, another watershed moment that doesn’t pack much joy. When Chihaya flees the assembly in tears and chases Taichi down, practically tackling him as she begs him to reconsider, he does something very natural – he kisses her. “Chihaya – are you under the impression I’m made of stone?” It’s a question I’ve wanted to ask Chihaya many times myself where Taichi was concerned. In truth, this was the act of a guy who feels like he has nothing left to lose – and at the very least he can say he’s managed to do one thing before Arata beats him to it. There’s not much hope in this moment, but there is at least a sort of freedom – and at this point that may be about the best that Taichi can hope for.