Suetsugu-sensei, just what in the world do you have planned for our put-upon male lead?
There’s never a dull moment in Chhayafuru these days, as pretty much every chapter is packed with drama fit to bursting. The only thing that seems certain is that things can never be the same – not for the Karuta Club, not for Chihaya, Taichi and Arata, and not even for the likes of Tsutomu-kun. The rough dynamic that’s been in place since the time skip has been thoroughly blown up by Suetsugu, and the drama now is in seeing where all the fragments land.
Will annoying Tamaru-san be the irritant that causes the oyster to make a pearl? Perhaps – having lost its “Moon and Sun“, the K.C. certainly needed a kick in the pants, and she provides that. I think the third-years’ decision (Kana seems to have emerged as the de facto President) to adopt her selfishly-motivated round-robin plan is a good one, because the returnees needed something to motivate them after the shock of the twin departures. And not losing their spots to an arrogant rookie is certainly that, even for Hanano and Tsukuba. It does present a complicating factor for Kumano-kun, who’s been promising himself he’d finally confess if he finished first in academics, but now must table that priority in order to focus on Karuta.
There’s no sign of Chihaya returning anytime soon, but to her credit she does seem genuinely focused on doing what she needs to do to graduate and test out well enough to pursue her dream of becoming a teacher. It’s tempting to see the return of Chihaya and Taichi as a joint venture, all-or-nothing, since Taichi’s departure is clearly what spiraled Chihaya off on this tangent. But I don’t assume that, and I think that of the two, Chihaya is the more likely to return to the team.
It’s again with Taichi and Suou that the most intriguing moments take place, and signs are growing that Suou is genuinely interested in mentoring this square peg of a Karuta player. Taichi is seeing visions of another mentor in his mind, Harada-sensei – the one who told him that he shouldn’t make assumptions about what he couldn’t do “even if he wasted his entire youth on Karuta” until he’d actually done it.
The most striking moment here comes when Suou notes that it was admirable that Tacihi tried his hardest at Karuta being surrounded by all those that loved it, when he himself “didn’t like Karuta”. Suou follows this up with the confirmation that he doesn’t like it either (which the mucky-mucks always saw as contempt for the game), which further deepens the bond between these two.
Frankly, being someone who doesn’t revere the game the way Chihaya and Arata do isn’t simply a disadvantage – there’s a kind of freedom to it, too. For them, the beauty is in doing whatever is within the rules of the game to win – not being weighed down by its history or by sentiment. There’s a beauty in this style of Karuta, too, and Suou has clearly seen a kind of kindred spirit in Taichi. He can teach him about things like how to attune his hearing to preternatural levels, but the real lesson Suou can teach Taichi is to embrace his style of Karuta and not run way from it – rather than to compare himself against purists like Arata and Chihaya, to figure out how to beat them.
Make no mistake, there are two seemingly contradictory voices in Taichi’s head in Suou-meijin and Harada-sensei (fittingly, the two combatants for the Meijin title) – yet rather than conflict, their messages are in-synch. For just as Taichi can finally admit that he doesn’t like Karuta, he can also admit that he loves those he plays it with – not just Chihaya, but all of them (Harada too). And in doing so, that he can’t accept ending his relationship either with them or Karuta (not to mention Chihaya) the way he has. I don’t think this means a return to the Karuta Club for Taichi, but I do think it means honoring the love he shares with its members by doing whatever he can to extract every ounce of achievement out of his Karuta talent. And while the tidings for his relationship with Chihaya continue to be ill ones, I think Suetsugu has been increasingly suggesting that talent could carry Taichi’s achievements to the very highest level one can attain within the sport…