There are no uneventful Chihayafuru chapters any more – only varying magnitudes of earthquakes.
I should know better than to be lulled into suspecting Suetsugu-sensei is going to give us a breather chapter. Until you’ve read the last panel you’d damn well better keep looking up, because sooner or later the other show is going to drop. And even if it didn’t come off the foot of the big three this time, it still made quite a bang.
For most of this chapter, Suetsugu focuses on the second-tier storylines. There’s a bit at the beginning (and end) about Arata’s nascent karuta club – is sensei has arranged practice matches, including against the dreaded powerhouse Fujisaki. It’s clear Suetsugu is giving us a role-reversal scenario here, with Arata discovering the joys of team play even as Chihaya and Taichi have resolutely become loners. Where she intends to go with this isn’t fully clear, but since Sakurazawa-san spilled the beans to Arata about what’s happened at Mizusawa, perhaps we’re finally going to see some interaction among the trio soon.
As to Chihaya and Taichi, they’re very much on the fringe of events at the moment. Chihaya is making good on her determination to progress academically, but still agonizing over the fallout with Taichi (and the fallout from the falllout, the dissolution of the club’s hierarchy). When he walks into the library she bugs out before he can spot her, clearly blaming herself for what’s happened and not wanting to cause him any further angst (no chance of that, but it’s a good thought).
In the absence of its sun and moon, the club is definitely struggling. The “little three” are doing their best, but it’s clear that in allowing the insufferable Tamaru to bully them, the third-years have effectively lost control of the karuta club – and the other first-years. Tamaru’s scheme to stage a coup is working – she’s tied for the lead in the round-robin tournament with Nishida, who she’s beaten twice. And the other first-years aren’t having any fun (understandably) mostly being punching bags, all while receiving little instruction and having to listen to Tamaru’s incessant self-glorification.
I get that Suetsugu is setting Tamaru up to eventually be a sympathetic figure – she’s a loner and possibly a bullying victim, and clearly substitutes Karuta dominance for her total lack of social contact. And obviously Kana and Tsutomu aren’t going to be able to really lower the boom on her because they’ll feel sorry for her. But frankly, to me she’s just a nuisance – I find her pretty intolerable and I’d settle for a far-fetched instant rehabilitation if it would mean she’ll just stop being so annoying.
There’s some good stuff here with Kana and Tsutomu hatching a plan to win the first-years back with a training camp and some “good cop/bad cop” tactics, and Namida’s obsession with his curly hair. But the real action here comes at the very end of the chapter – well, almost the end anyway. And you can sort of sense it coming for a few pages – Komano-kun’s sap is rising, little by little, and it’s marvelous the way Suetsugu communicates this so subtly that we sense it without being able to point to any specific cause. This is the moment – you can just feel it. It’s Kana’s tearful admission of how much she misses Taichi and Chihaya that pushes him over the edge, in true hero fashion. “I can continue to do my best.” he says humbly. “Don’t laugh, OK. To me, you’re my moon and my sun, Kana-chan… So I can still do my best.”
Now obviously, Komano and Kana are never going to be the headline in Chihayafuru. But like Sasayan and Natsume in Tonari no Kaibutsu-kun, they’re the ever-present couple in waiting – the pairing that’s so perfect that it’s hard to understand why it just doesn’t happen already (and damn, that was one hell of a GAR confession, Tsutomu). There’s none of the crippling angst and conflict of the main pairing (or triangle) – the only thing stopping them is themselves. I don’t know if Suetsugu will throw us this small bone (Robico sure made us suffer) but actually seeing Kana-chan reciprocate Komano’s feelings would feel like a nice reward for all the heartbreak we’ve waded through in Chihayafuru to get to this point. It would lend a nice note of positivity and certitude to the stressful overall atmosphere that’s pervaded the series for a while. But I’m not counting my chibis before they’re hitched.
One last note – in case you haven’t heard, Be Love says a “major announcement” for Chihayafuru is coming in the April 15 issue. This can likely be only one of two things – either a third season, or a live-action adaptation. Who knows which it might be – or maybe I’m completely wrong and it’s a new Nishida pork bun at Lawson’s or something – but follow the ticker next week if you want to know what the future holds for Chihayafuru.
(Edit: sadly, the announcement turns out to be a live-action film. Meh.