No Taichi, No Arata, no problem? I wouldn’t go that far.
Change is definitely the theme in Chihayafuru these days. There’s still no sign of Taichi, Chihaya isn’t playing, and the Empress is thinking about the future as much as the present. Maybe it’s a test of how big a Chihayafuru fan you are to see how pumped up you get to watch a tournament with these five players constituting the team.
For me, the last couple of chapters have had a bit of a treading water feel to them. It’s fine to say we have to move on, but it would be nice to do so with some sense of closure. Pretty much every major storyline Suetsugu-sensei developed in the first 140 chapters is unresolved, if not in shambles. I think it’s asking a lot to expect readers to buy in completely when things they’ve become so passionate about over a long time are hanging over everything, unfinished.
The chapter itself is fine, as such. It’s nice to see Nishida in the spotlight as he is here, because it sure doesn’t happen very often – even when the main trio are sidelined it tends to be Kana-chan and Tsutomu-kun on center stage. The absence of the Moon and Sun has kind of placed Nishida in a do-or-die situation as a high school Karuta player – he’s the guy who really should be the leader of the team. He’s the most experienced player, by far the longest-tenured Class A player – on the tatami, it’s Nishida who ought to be the ace, not Komano or Ooe (and certainly not a first-year like Tamaru).
If there’s an upside to Tamaru’s annoying presence, it’s that it’s revealed for Nishida exactly where his weaknesses are, because they’re her strengths. Sadly it’s poor Retro-kun who’s in the firing line (much to Nishida Onee-san’s dismay) when Nishida puts this to good use – he always seems to be cannon fodder for someone else’s progress (happily for him, Hokuo is still more than good enough to win the qualifier). As for Mizusawa they do advance – in 4th place, the last qualifier – and Chihaya begs forgiveness and pledges to earn her way back onto the team (bad news for Tsukuba). And I hope that next round gets rid of these absurd “speed up the game” rules – I hate them.
My favorite moment of the chapter, though, comes when Nishida finally notices that Tsutomu is in love with Kana (and that it might just be reciprocal), because Tsutomu has noticed that Kana grew an extra eyelash (4!). The world indeed doesn’t stand still, especially in adolescence – and I like both Tsumotu having picked up on this detail and the “seize the moment” lesson Nishida draws from it. Second-place probably goes to Tsutomu’s shockingly blunt advice to Tamaru after her match win – “People tend to get easily manipulated by those who say what they want to hear. Don’t be one of those simpletons who fall for it”. He could hardly have nailed her character better than that, and harsh as it was, that was definitely something Tamaru needed to hear. Not that I expect her behavior to change much as a result…