There’s just no such thing as an uneventful chapter anymore.
I was feeling pretty low after Chapter 138 of Chihyafuru, for reasons that I don’t think require a lot of explanation. I’m certainly no less invested in the story than I ever was, but this series has become so heavy and frankly depressing that I’m increasingly finding it an exhausting experience. I’m not sure if this constitutes good writing or bad on the part of Suetsugu-sensei (I suppose it’s about 90% the former) but there are times when I really feel as if the series needs to take a break from itself for a little bit.
In fact, I don’t think that notion is remotely possible any longer – the genie is out of the bottle and there’s no putting it back in. I frankly can’t see how things can ever remotely be the same between Taichi and Chihaya, or with Taichi period – the emotional wounds are too deep. But as agonizing as the aftermath was, I’m still not convinced Taichi’s confession (and kiss) was a bad thing. As bad as this new paradigm is I think the status quo was worse – a slow, lingering death by psychological gangrene. One way or another Taichi is going to have to find a new reason to get out of bed in the morning, and he’s at the stage in his life – all of the kids are – where the decisions they make will have major impacts on the lives they end up leading, so time is really of the essence.
In that context, as heavy as this chapter was it actually wasn’t as bleak as it could have been. A focus on Taichi and Chihaya being lost and change inevitably coming for everyone is wholly appropriate. And frankly, it’s refreshing to see that here at long last, Chihaya is actually showing some self-awareness. As she tearfully confides to Fukasaku-sensei, she realizes she’s the rock that’s been smashing Taichi’s feelings all these years – because of her almost unbelievable achievement in failing to realize how he felt about her.
These tears are good for Chihaya, just as Taichi’s despair after she implicitly rejected him was necessary for his survival. Chihaya needs to be aware of her impact on the world around her and break out of the self-obsessed bubble she’s always lived in. Of course, the hard part is that knowing what her years of wilful ignorance of – and ultimate lack of reciprocation for – Taichi’s feelings have done to him is not the same as being able to do anything about it. If she doesn’t love him, she doesn’t love him – it’s not as though she can or should be expected to fake it. Add to that the fact that she’s also at the time where she has to make huge decisions about her future (and doesn’t have the crutch of Taichi’s impeccable academic record to lean on) and you have a very stressed-out Chihaya.
Meanwhile, a quartet of first-years have joined the Karuta Club – two boys and two girls. One of the boys says he joined to “see how Heian nobles dealt with naturally curly hair”, but there is a ringer among the group – Tamaru-san. She’s the imouto of the irritating guy Chihaya defeated at the New Year’s tournament, and brimming with confidence (and obnoxiousness). She challenges Chihaya to a game, and the 16-card massacre that results is the proof that Taichi isn’t the only one for whom the Karuta arena has become a hostile environment.
With the club in a state of flux, it’s Sumire-chan who’s been given the task of guiding the newbies (not that Tamaru seems willing to be guided) ostensibly so that the third-years can study for exams. I think the truth, though, is that they’re all so discombobulated and shaken by Taichi’s departure that they need time to recover says. As Kanade muses to herself, “I don’t know how we’re going to stand up without our backbone.” The trials of the club clearly take a back seat to the emotional trials of Chihaya and Taichi right now, but they’re certainly a significant element going forward.
There’s an interesting bombshell dropped at the end of the chapter, which finds Taichi going to his new cram school for his mock exam. One of the instructors there, apparently, is none other than Suou-meijin. That was certainly unexpected, but I’ve been speculating for a while now that Suetsugu has been setting up Suou as a mentor for Taichi – in Karuta at the very least. Frankly, I think Taichi has to storm back on the tatami because he’s effectively marginalized on the relationship front now – if he’s not a threat in Karuta, I’m not sure if he has any role in the series. I’m certainly hoping this doesn’t take the direction of his becoming a kind of new big bad as Suou’s disciple, but having Taichi set up to follow in the Meijin’s footsteps seems to offer a good deal of interesting potential for his eternally turbulent and fascinating character arc.