There’s some deep symbolism in here, I think…
It’s time for the Nationals again, but with a difference. That, of course, is the fact that Taichi isn’t there. And where is our wayward jack of all trades? At a TV studio with Suou, where a special about Karuta is being filmed. Unbeknownst to Taichi, his role here is to be a punching bag – to be humiliated not just by Suou but by surprise guest Shinobu on camera so their genius can be analyzed.
I can’t read that paragraph without wondering if we’ve gotten to the point where Suetsugu-sensei is winking at the audience now. But you know, I’ve tried to stick to my hope that there is an endgame in all this, a point – and as always, it’s Harada-sensei’s words to Taichi on that train platform that keep me slogging ahead despite all the pain this series has caused me. Suetsugu has admitted that Taichi was not intended to be a main character in Chihayafuru, that he more or less demanded it as she wrote the series – and I’m not sure even she knows what she plans to do with his character. But it better be worth all this in the end or it’s going to be one of the great anti-climaxes in manga history.
I do find it interesting that Suetsugu seems to be placing more and more emphasis on the game of Karuta itself, and its place in Japanese culture, and this TV special is definitely consistent with that trend. And Taichi notes that on some level maybe this is more important than being at Nationals – though I think the inference is that it’s more important for him specifically, because of what he’ll learn (especially from the Queen). It’s certainly important for Shinobu, who’s taking her grandmother’s advice and trying to whatever she can to become famous – the “face of Karuta” – so she can make a life based on the game.
I’ll stipulate all that for the record, but honestly compels me to admit that I’m less invested in Chihayafuru than ever before. Maybe it’s just emotional exhaustion, but I just don’t care that much about Karuta’s popularity or the endless string of minor-character spotlights we’ve seen in the past year – folks like the first-years on Mizusawa’s team and Sakurazawa-sensei (who’s in focus here as she seems to be battling a midlife crisis and examining the role of Karuta in her life). I jut don’t have the stamina to wade through all this as the big questions in the series are perpetually on hold.
One thing we can say for sure is that none of this is going to change anytime soon. The Nationals will be playing out for quite some time, with Fujisaki struggling some in part thanks to Sakurazawa’s detachment, and Arata’s Fujioka East rounding into form and winning their block. On paper (literally) this is milestone stuff – I won’t be remotely surprised if we even get a Chihaya-Arata match – but it just feels preliminary to me. I’m worn out – I don’t like it, but it is what it is. I’ve been through far too much with Chihayafuru not to stay with it to the finish line, but I’m definitely starting to hit the wall.