Chihayafuru – 147

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“Glaring hole”, indeed.

We’re in a funny sort of Purgatory in Chihyafuru right now.  There’s obviously not just someone but something missing.  Suetsugu-sensei acknowledges this openly in the writing, as it’s obviously an intentional development – yet the fact that it’s missing is no less glaring.  Right now the series just isn’t getting much weight behind its punches.

What we’re getting is stuff like Mizusawa playing preliminary tournaments with secondary characters, focus on the heartbreak of losing teams we’ve never heard of, Tsuboguchi-san and his Houmei team, and Shinobu looking for a part-time job.  In a vacuum it’s all interesting enough and Suetsugu is certainly a strong enough writer to make it entertaining, but the sense that she’s marking time here could hardly be stronger.

If Suetsugu’s trying to make a point about how the absence of Taichi profoundly impacts the narrative, it’s surely been made.  When Sudou-san notes that Taichi’s absence leaves a glaring hole in the middle of Mizusawa’s team, he’s right – but he might as well have been talking about Chihayafuru as a whole.  Arata too, but the difference there is we’re used to not seeing him for long stretches – his role is basically as the dark matter of the Chihaya-verse.  Taichi’s presence however is sorely missed, because he brings so many things to both the story and Mizusawa that no one else does.

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As for matters at hand, it does seem that Suetsugu is becoming more reflective about Karuta, and her role in the state of the sport in Japan.  When Shinobu ruefully wishes that winning Karuta tournaments involved prize money because it’s so hard for her to find part-time work with her limited hours and the general lack of public awareness of what she does, is that the mangaka making her opinion known?  When a losing player notes that Mizusawa’s surprising success has sparked a boom among high school Karuta clubs (and thus forced changes in the qualifying rules) is she really talking about the impact Chihayafuru has had?

Thankfully, most of those silly “speed up the game” rules have been ditched for the final 4-team qualifying round, which is tweaked from what we saw last year but still recognizable.  Chihaya’s return (she’s mortified no one told her to wear a hakama) has indeed pushed Tsukuba to the bench, but Nishida has slid into the captain’s role due to his steady presence and knowledge of the team.  Chihaya doesn’t seem to care, blitzing her first opponent from Houmei (a Class C player) 23-0, but it’s clear she still basically functions as an individual player in a team event.

The truth is, no one has stepped up to fill Taichi’s shoes – and the problem is, I’m not sure anyone on Mizusawa can.  Chihaya, Ooe, Komano and Nishida can each bring a piece of what he brought – but that’s not the same as having a real leader who can embody all of it.  I don’t see Taichi coming back anytime soon, so for now things are looking pretty uncertain for Mizusawa and Chihayafuru both.

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  1. E

    Lovely chapter. Creating a nice big hole for itself to fill. I'm feeling like when this manga comes back, it'll come back real good. And what an interesting, human direction taken for the queen. Such a contrast it'll be from before if we see real life weather her a little.

  2. f

    I liked this chapter, if nothing else but for the fact that they foreshadow taichi's return in some way. I don't know how likely it is for him to return to the club (at all), given the personal reasons for which he left the club for are still problems, but at the same time, I don't know how suetsugu can set him up for a return to the storyline without doing so.

  3. He could be the new big bad, replacing his new mentor.

  4. f

    but for a guy like taichi who doesn't even like karuta, but rather plays for the people he loves, what motivation would taichi have to play in isolation, much less commit himself to the level of dedication required to be a potential meijin?

  5. l

    Thank you for your wonderful coverage of Chihayafuru.
    I am not really worried about the lack of Taichi Suetsugu was actually worried about the lack of balance between her characters because "Everybody Love's Taichi" Once Taichi found himself in 141, he found his place as Suo's sidekick. Suetsugu is not just killing time.

    Chihaya found out who she really was in 144. Arata learned to care about his team instead of just himself. The Mizusawa team which had been depending on Chihaya and Taichi was forced to grow up and be independent of them so that the club survives beyond the 3rd years. departure.
    Taichi has always the Elephant in the room. Driving Chhaya to study to forget what she had done to him. When his name is mentioned she immediately stops talking and becomes depressed, but at least she can now think about Taichi and not run away from him.
    I do not know when Taichi will return. I think the National High School Individual since he could win entrance into a school by winning the title. I would a long trek if he waited till the Meijinn qualifier.
    I think we should see Taichi's absence as problem that the characters have to solve by themselves not a insoluable problem for Suetsugu as she writes Chihayafuru

  6. Thanks for that thoughtful comment, but I think you yourself pointed out the essence of the problem as I see it – "Suetsugu is just killing time".

    This is all pretty good stuff, because she's a good writer. But it's palpable that it's all B-side material, all preamble. And none of it really has the same dramatic heft as what we're used to.

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