I’m with Hyoro-kun on this one.
In case you missed it, Chihayafuru made a guest appearance of sorts in this week’s Diamond no Ace. And while I’m certainly happy to see Madhouse pimp their own series, I have to disagree with the “first 10 volumes are slow” line – though I guess any sign that they haven’t forgotten about the series is a positive.
Meanwhile, we’re at Chapter 150, which is always a bit of a milestone for a non-weekly series like this one. It always seemed likely that Suetsugu-sensei was going to use the occasion to bring Taichi back into the narrative (she could hardly have teased it any harder), and she doesn’t disappoint (neither does he). But there are some interesting moments from the rest of the cast too, including from some unexpected sources.
Suetsugu wastes no time on cheap suspense – Taichi appears right at the beginning, still studying at Suou-meijin’s knee. It appears he’s making some progress – he can now hear Suou’s “quiet voice” – but more than anything, it seems that the Meijin has become a friend to Taichi, and vice-versa. And honestly, both of them could really use one, so that’s a positive no matter what comes from their Karuta.
Meanwhile, Mizusawa is getting ready to take on Houkou in what amounts to a win-or-die match for them (Houko could almost certainly afford to lose). The focus is on some unusual faces – Tamaru, who reveals how she got her passion for Karuta, and her name. And Tsukuba, who’s wrestling with the weight of some serious pressure. He hasn’t won a match, and worries that he’ll be he cause of the third-years’ careers coming to an end. And he’s aware that he might well be the next captain of Mizusawa, and of how his performance here might impact his authority then.
But there are many ways to be a captain, as the real star of the tournament setting shows us. Hyoro has always been a bit of a lonely figure, never quite on the level of his more talented peers and opponents. But he’s taken on the role of captain in a rather selfless way – given his preternatural ability to predict the draw, he always takes on the opponents’ ace himself, freeing up his teammates to play without pressure. Retro-kun’s ability has always been one of the sillier aspects of Chihayafuru, but I think he deserves serious respect for what he’s doing here, putting the welfare of the team above his own ego.
It’s that context which makes Hyoro’s pleas for Taichi to return rather heartbreaking. Hyoro sees the opportunity for greatness as a leader in a way he knows he’ll never achieve it as a player, and he wants Taichi to see that taking shape, figuring he’ll appreciate the sacrifice. But more than that, he sees Taichi as a kindred spirit – someone whose dedication always exceeded his raw talent as a Karuta player, a fellow sufferer always watching the shooting stars next to them zoom ahead.
But it seems Taichi has left Hyoro behind – indeed, in a very real sense he already had, but the partnership with Suou has fundamentally changed Taichi as a player. Most importantly, he says he’s having fun playing Karuta for the first time ever. That’s obviously significant because it has huge implications for just how far he can now go in the sport, but even more because it suggests to me that Taichi can never really go home again. I don’t think he can go back to the Mizusawa team, and I don’t think he can go back to Chihaya. Taichi has always striven to be a man who doesn’t run away, but the irony is that in walking away he seems to have found himself at last – something he could never do when he was immersed in the emotional whirlpool with Chihaya and his teammates.