It’s never been easy being a Chihayafuru fan.
It’s not news by any means, but it’s really struck me of late just much harder it is to be patient with manga than anime. I recognize the importance of what Suetsugu-sensei is doing with arcs like the current one, but when you have to wait weeks between chapters, all the focus on secondary characters and preliminary tournaments can be a lot to take.
Th result of that is that I find myself thinking “get to the point” more often than I’d like to in reading chapters like these two. There’s plenty of good stuff here – I actually like the focus on Hyoro-kun, whose dedication to his team is actually quite touching. It’s nice to see an acknowledgement that the Hokuou team is actually better with him in charge than it had been with Sudou, and as silly as it is that Hyoro can predict the enemy’s lineup unerringly it’s quite poignant that he always gives himself up so his teammates can have a better chance. Poor guy isn’t even Class A yet, either – and his first-year teammates are passing him left and right.
There are some problems with this tournament arc, though. In the first place I find the depiction of Seta-kun, Hokuou’s first-year boy who happens to be gay, rather mean-spirited. It reminds me, in fact, of the gajin Karuta team that showed up in Season 2 of the anime, in the sense that Suetsugu is pretty ham-fisted in the way they’re portrayed. We’re not in “Racist Cartoon Theatre” territory here, but maybe there’s a bit of a pattern. I don’t like the way Suetsugu goes out of her way to make Seta seem ridiculous. My general sense with this sort of thing in Japan (which as a foreigner you deal with pretty much every day) is that it’s far more often a product of ignorance than malice. Still – that doesn’t make it exactly pleasant.
Aside from that, the story here is really Mizusawa’s struggle to survive despite a frankly mediocre performance. The best element here is Tsukue-kun stepping up and assuming a leader’s mantle, and there is a certain pathos in seeing he and Nishida try and save the day in their battles against Hokuou’s two first-year phenoms by recreating Taichi’s card-synching strategy from Nationals. This time, however, the luck of the draw is against Mizusawa – and as a result, they lose the match 4-1.
A losing team record, a losing individual record – does Mizusawa deserve to advance? In the end it doesn’t matter – the funky new rules save them, and they manage to sneak into Nationals on the 4th tiebreaker. It’s pretty ignominious, but it does allow Suetsugu to show us all the members of the team (and Retro-kun) emailing Taichi to let him know – in the process revealing not only that they haven’t forgotten about him, but that he hasn’t lost the desire to be part of a team.
With Taichi very much in the lone wolf role now, the question is whether there’s a place for him on the Mizusawa team anymore. The reading of the final card being “se” – a card of asking fate for a chance to see those precious to you once more – suggests Taichi will indeed return to the fold in some capacity. But the larger issue for me is that I’m no longer sure that being part of Mizusawa again is the right thing for Taichi as a character – and having given up on so much with this series, Taichi’s arc playing out in a way that’s true to him is about the most important thing left to hope for.