It’s been a while since we’ve seen a translated chapter of Chihayafuru, and after the emotional intensity of 164, that’s a blessing and a curse. Sure it’s a long time to be left hanging, but honestly I could really use the break.
To tide us over in the meantime, there was a translated interview between Suetsugu-sensei and Be Love colleague Umino Chika, the author of Sangatsu no Lion. This “mangaka interviewing mangaka” pieces are an odd Japanese tradition that tend to produce results that are fascinating in an awkward way, but these two seemed to hit it off pretty good. The focus of the piece was definitely Chihayafuru, with Umino-sensei playing mostly the interviewer role. There are some interesting parallels between Chihayafuru and March-Lion, but of course the worlds of Karuta and Shogi (which has a professional circuit allowing the best of the best to make a living at it) are very different, as Suetsugu pointed out. The headline for me, I suppose, is that anyone hoping for anything hinting at a resolution in Chihayafuru better cool their jets – Suetsugu isn’t taking the story anywhere final anytime soon, and the focus is going to remain very much on Karuta – not romance. Thus continues the death by a thousand cuts…
The torture is mild in this chapter in that it’s definitely a step back off the gas, but that was almost inevitable after last time. Just what exactly Taichi intended to accomplish by racing to Omi Jingu isn’t totally clear, but the phrase “too late” is definitely a recurring theme in this chapter. There was certainly a redemptive element in 164 – that moment when Taichi and his former teammates tearfully embraced was genuinely and staggeringly powerful. But it seems, more than anything, to have reminded everyone more of what was lost by Taichi’s unavoidable decision to leave the team rather than salved the heartbreak over that decision. Taichi may have arrived in time to see Mizusawa win their third-place match, but he can never again compete at their side in Nationals – it is, alas, too late.
Mrs. Pressure seems at long last to have grasped just what Karuta and his former teammates mean to Taichi, and she offers to (even suggests) to let him stay the night and cheer them on in the individual tournament. But he refuses, declaring that his doing so would be “no use” to them. How wrong he is, but this morose side is a part of Taichi those of us who love the character must accept as a part of who he is. Meanwhile we get an appearance from Chitose – the first that I can recall in many dozens of chapters – where she reveals she hasn’t grown in the slightest. Chihaya’s Mom seems almost ready to stand up to Chitose’s petulant whining and be there for Chihaya for once, but in the end she caves and does what she always does – abandon her younger daughter to spoil her older.
The emotional intensity may be a simmer rather than a boil this time, but there’s still a great feeling of sadness in the air throughout this chapter. The reaction of Taichi’s friends when they realize he’s gone, his halting efforts to comfort Arata – it all leaves one feeling rather bereft. Taichi does leave a gift behind for Chihaya – “The next time we meet will be in a match” – and returns to train with Suou-meijin. There really is no going back, it seems – Taichi can take back neither his actions or his feelings, and the last months of childhood cannot be deterred from their inevitable course. There are endings of a sort happening in Chihayafuru but not, perhaps, the kind we would hope.