Chihayafuru: the need for rivalry

Warning: this time, I’m going to be talking about the most recent chapters of the manga, so please stop here is you don’t want to be spoiled. (^_^)

One thing that many sports series – anime or manga – feature is the ‘rival’. The rival typically takes the form of another person or team whose skills are far above those of the protagonist at the start, an entity that the protagonist aims to compete with and eventually overcome. Given this set-up, one might expect that most stories end sometime after the protagonist passes the rival…but is that really the point of the ‘rival’? Merely to show the growth of the protagonist in the sport in question? Suetsugu Yuki – following in the footsteps of a number of writers before her – begs to differ.

I was here first.

In Chihayafuru, several obvious rivalries keep fans (and shippers…yes, shippers…) riveted. To name a few: Arata is Shinobu’s, Shinobu herself is Suou Hisashi’s, and of course, Taichi sees Arata as a huge rival, both in karuta and in love. To Chihaya, Shinobu is the ultimate rival that she’ll have to defeat in order to become Queen – but of course, that is the goal of all female karuta players. All male players regard Suou Meijin in the same way. Furthermore, as several characters have noted throughout the series, everyone in the same division is a rival. Hence, it’s important to watch their matches both to learn from them, and also to learn how to defeat them. A rival is someone you can measure yourself against to see whether you have improved and to determine what you have to fix.

But is that all there is to rivalry?

These two are also rivals, you know?

Seemingly challenging that view is Arata, whose rivals are also his (closest) friends. Arata appears to see Taichi and Chihaya as his rivals, as shown by his statement to Kuriyama-sensei at the end of volume 10, that there are people he wants to play against in the high school karuta tournament. However, a large part of it for him is the sheer joy of playing with them, which he remembers from his first time ever playing Chihaya. But even back then, the thought of losing to Chihaya at one-syllable cards drove him to strive even harder. Against Chihaya, who was but a beginner then. And not to mention that this happened in a team match when they were meant to be on the same team. But she isn’t the only one – Taichi too, is definitely someone that Arata wants to play against. For Arata, it seems that his friends, who still inspire him by how hard they are working, are also his rivals.

Encouraging each other…

Even more importantly, however, is the fact that they actively try to encourage each other, or help each other improve. Taichi did this first – during the autumn Meijin preliminaries, he managed to overcome feelings of envy and low self-esteem to text Arata the encouragement that the latter needed: “I’m aiming to become the Eastern representative, so you’d better become the Western representative.” Arata then returned the favour in the last episode, when Taichi called him after the Meijin match. You could literally see how Taichi was inspired and reinvigorated by what Arata shared about his positive approach to the seemingly impossible task of challenging Suou’s genius. “In your world, there is no such thing as genius, is there?”

Helping each other out…

That is the kind of rivalry that does the most for one’s character. A rivalry that is built on having fun together doing what you both love, on helping each other get stronger. It’s the kind of rivalry that developed between Touya Akira and Hikaru in HikaGo; you could also say that it was an important element in the relationship between Azuma and Koh in Cross Game; it’s even a part of Kaoru and Sen’s friendship in Sakamichi no Apollon. A friendly rivalry. In Chihayafuru, that’s what Arata seems to want – and Chihaya seems to desire it too. Taichi, on the other hand, has fluctuated between wanting to encourage his rival (during the Meijin challenger prelims) and seeing him as an “enemy”. With this little conflict in Taichi’s heart…how will this rivalry turn out?

Shinobu and Chihaya – though perhaps it’s still one-sided at present?

Outside of our central trio, friendly rivalry is also the kind of rivalry that Shinobu and Suou need, so that they no longer feel like isolated royals. Shinobu, in particular, has been isolated because when young, her karuta master told her not to associate with friends whom she wouldn’t play her best against, perhaps out of fear of crushing their spirits and thus losing that friendship. With the recent tournament, it seems that Shinobu is on the way to overcoming this, what with Chihaya and Megumu leading the contingent of girls who want to battle against the Queen at her peak.

Will we see something like this again one day?

Friends and rivals. It’s when they come together that one can really excel.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

2 Responses to Chihayafuru: the need for rivalry

  1. Pingback: Chihayafuru 2: telling a story through poetry is not quite so easy on screen… | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

  2. Pingback: For the record: かるたしょっさ | HOT CHOCOLATE IN A BOWL

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