Chihayafuru Manga: Poem 138
October 13, 2014 58 Comments
|And…continuing where we left off, with the confession…|
** WARNING ** SPOILERS AHEAD **
The month of April, springtime in Japan. As the scattering cherry blossom petals dance daintily around them, Chihaya stares at Taichi, who’s still on his back and covering his face with his hand. Blankly, she reflects again on why Taichi always goes off on his own, and as Taichi sits up and turns to face her, shock and disbelief echo through her mind: No…that can’t be. It just can’t.
I like how you don’t grow your fingernails…your fingers, your hair. I like your wide, open mouth…and the way that you smile and laugh. I’ve liked you for the longest time, ever since we were children…
And as Chihaya’s thoughts turn once again to Arata, Taichi closes his eyes and thinks to himself:
But not everything about you. When you’re thinking of Arata—that’s the only time (I don’t like you)…
Chihaya’s thoughts have turned fully to Arata’s confession: what about Arata? How does he feel about me? And the realisation dawns… As Kana-chan had realised almost immediately, for people as serious about karuta as they are…
Let’s play karuta together.
can only mean
Let’s move forward in life together.
With that realisation, Arata’s confession sparkles again in her mind, shining much more than it ever did before.
As the school bell chimes within school halls bathed in the reddish hues of the evening sun, Chihaya bows and murmurs her response. The words are drowned out by the chime, but her body language seems to speak for itself. With a soft ‘Ok’, Taichi packs up and leaves, thinking to himself:
What am I doing? Even though I have never really taken in someone else’s feelings before either… That quiet voice that seemed to dissolve into the school bell, a murmur that you’d never expect from Chihaya. I don’t have that kind of ‘hearing’, so I didn’t even catch it.
In Taichi’s mind, black karuta cards form a dark pile at his feet. Back in the clubroom, black cards are also cascading around a shocked Chihaya.
Over the next few days, the club is gearing up for the new year, with their first task being to decide their recruitment strategy. Chihaya is not herself…but the others appear not to notice. But when the placement test results for their third year are given out, Tsutomu panics when he finds himself in first place, for doesn’t that mean that Taichi will have to quit the karuta club? As he and Nishida contemplate begging Mrs. Pressure to let him stay on, Taichi himself comes to them for advice.
When recruitment afternoon comes around (presumably one or two days later), Chihaya seems to have picked herself up again. But just before their presentation, Miyauchi-sensei comes around with some unexpected news: they’re down to six club members, because Taichi has submitted his resignation. The girls are stunned — Chihaya in particular — for this is the first they’ve heard of it. Nishida and Tsutomu try to take over, but Chihaya takes the mic and brightly begins the introduction according to the adjusted script. However, when the words “with the six of us” sink in, tears well in her eyes, and she runs out of the hall in search of Taichi. Finding him outside the school, Chihaya grabs onto his arm and begs him not to leave:
Taichi! Don’t leave! Taichi! Don’t leave the club! Don’t leave, Taichi! Don’t leave!!
And…Taichi grabs Chihaya and moves to kiss her, brushing his lips against hers before pulling away in regret and anger.
Do you think of me as being made of stone? I can’t play karuta anymore. Right now, the cards all look black to me.
He leaves her at the railway crossing, black cards cascading around them.
Now that…was a really difficult chapter for me to read. As I noted yesterday, the string of chapters leading up to this one had me hoping that Chihaya had grown more than I’d thought she had. I have never been more frustrated at being right about an interpretation in the decade that I have been involved in this (ACG) fandom. I have a lot to say, but I’ll try to tackle things one at a time.
I actually found the confession itself rather romantic, especially if you understand the ideal of Japanese beauty (yamato nadeshiko) and why Chihaya is considered a ‘wasted beauty’. Remember the omakes where Nishida and Komano reveal that they no longer find Chihaya attractive? (vol. 3 and 4; or S1 Ep 16, IIRC). Taichi is basically saying that he likes her just the way she is. At the same time, however, I wonder if that was all he wanted to say. More on this below…
The question Chihaya needs to ask herself: what does Taichi mean to her?
Yesterday, I suggested that one of the main reasons that Taichi probably held off from confessing to Chihaya for so long was that he felt that she wasn’t ready to respond. As I noted on the mangafox forums a few months ago:
Taichi needs to confess. But at the same time, if the confession is to happen without destroying their friendship, I think that Chihaya will need to realise, at the very least, that he might be interested in her.
A realisation that Taichi might be interested in her prior to a formal confession would have given Chihaya the chance to think about what he means to her without the pressure of having to give a response immediately. It would also have enabled her to consult with Kana-chan and perhaps Sumire, to understand how much her ignorance might have hurt Taichi (e.g. when she offered a kiss from him as the prize for the Taichi Cup). More importantly, it may also have allowed her to formulate a response that shows how much she values him. It should be noted that whilst Chihaya has, over the last few months, realised how much Taichi has helped her achieve what she’s wanted to achieve in karuta, that he’s the ‘the boy that has worked so hard beside her for so long’, she never actually let him know. The closest she came to doing so was after they’d won the team tournament at the nationals, when he’d fallen asleep on the tatami in the boy’s room, exhausted. Hence, from Taichi’s perspective, it probably feels like she’s taking him for granted. And worse: Taichi can sense all that things that Chihaya feels makes her who she is — her mentors, her family’s understated support, and most of all, Arata. Surely Taichi has helped make her who she is too, right, just has she has helped make him who he is? As Taichi noted to himself during the Tokyo prelims (vol. 10, ch. 85, p.29-30): “Many things have made me who I am. It’s the same with you, isn’t it?” But does Chihaya really understand that? Or has she really been taking his presence, his support, his dedication to her and her cause, all for granted?
I’m not sure there is a ‘correct answer’ for the last two questions I posed. But I do think that one thing is clear: Chihaya wasn’t ready to respond, because she still hasn’t really thought about what Taichi means to her. I’d assumed that the main reason for this would lie in her extreme focus on karuta, on the karuta family that she’d built. However, the real reason turns out to be that she was still processing Arata’s confession.
Chihaya’s romantic progression until now…
I know that some people regard Chihayafuru as a series that focuses on the game of karuta, with the romantic plot line taking a very distant back seat. I’d been in that group myself. However, to me, the moment that Chihaya realised that she ‘will always love karuta, and Arata too’ (vol. 17, ch. 92) marks the turning point into “the romance part.” That was the moment that Chihaya really starts to ponder what ‘romantic love’ (恋) is, and starts to link this concept with her feelings for Arata. Recall the Fujisaki Camp, and the person who comes to her mind when the other girls ask about her love life. After realising that the other girls had all been supporting their seniors with their own romantic feelings in their heart, she even wonders to herself:
How about Arata? What kind of feelings does he hold in his heart? I really don’t know…but I want to find out.
At the camp, Hyoro/Retro also makes her realise that she doesn’t really know much about Taichi either. An interesting thing to note, however, is the contrast between the background for her thoughts on the two boys. Whilst her thoughts for Arata are enveloped in light, there is a much heavier atmosphere permeating her thoughts about Taichi.
Now, whilst I wouldn’t classify it as a scene about the ‘romance’ per se, the next scene that others will probably want to focus on is in vol. 20, ch. 108, p.16-17. When Kana-chan tells her that poetry competitions in the Heian era were all about poets trying to ‘stir the hearts’ of the people around them, Chihaya recalls her match against Taichi at the Yoshino tournament, and realises that “that’s the closest I’ve been to Taichi’s heart.” The important thing to note here is that, in Japanese, the ‘heart’ (心) goes beyond just ‘romantic feelings’ to represent the entire emotional core of a person. To put in it terms that most people in the West are familiar with, it’s like the ‘hearts’ in the strategy of ‘winning hearts and minds’ over to one’s side in a conflict. Here, Chihaya realises that Taichi wants to defeat her in karuta somehow…but she still doesn’t understand why. And although she seems to have so much to ask him, her impulsive reactions over Harada’s and Arata’s victories takes that chance away from her…
Moving on, after completely missing how Suou is coming on to her, Chihaya approaches Arata after his loss to Harada at the Meijin qualifier finals (vol. 23, ch. 119). What starts off as a discussion about karuta sparks a realisation in Arata, and he spontaneously confesses his feelings for her. I’ve already discussed my response to that confession in a fair amount of detail, so let’s just focus on the aftermath. In my humble opinion, Chihaya’s reactions after that are very much those of a girl in love. She’s stunned by the revelation, and doesn’t really seem to understand what it means, but it has filled her world with light (ch. 120). Arata’s confession is even able to help her shake off the pressure she feels when she first faces Suou on the tatami (ch. 121, p.16-17), and at the Christmas party that year, she again wishes that Arata was also there, which seems to prompt her to suggest them all going down to support Harada at the Omi Shrine (ch. 123). And when she realises that Arata is missing, and calls him, we can see great joy mixed in with her nervousness:
Ever since that day, when he told me that he liked me, my fingertips and my stomach have been really warm. It’s a strange feeling, and it’s all because of Arata. If we were to meet, I feel like my entire body would burn (vol. 24, ch. 124).
Funnily enough, when they do actually meet (vol. 25, ch. 132), that’s not what happens at all, to Kana-chan and Sumire’s despair. (^^;;) Because of Chihaya’s early focus on the match between Arata and Harada instead of the meaning of the confession, and on her desire to play in a match of that calibre, some readers might argue that karuta remains her only interest, but I’d disagree with that. As I suggested in my musings on chapter 119 and 120:
If her love for Arata is of the romantic sort, than what this points to is that all the important things in her life are bound up in karuta. Everything she did, does and wants to do – joining the track & field club; the closest relationships she has; her crush on Harada; her desire to be a teacher so that she can supervise a school karuta club – all of it is related to her love for the game. Rather than Chihaya eventually choosing to dedicate herself to karuta at the expense of love, marriage and having a family, it seems increasingly likely that all of these milestones can only take place with and through the game.
Hence, given all the developments I’ve pointed out, I’d argue that Chihaya has had some romantic development since chapter 92, with everything suggesting that she’s realising what her feelings for Arata, the feelings that she didn’t understand back then, are. But in terms of processing her feelings for Taichi, although Chihaya thinks a lot about him during this time, the most she realises in relation to him is something he told her himself: that he wants to defeat her in a karuta match. So what does this all mean for her response to Taichi’s confession?
So…what to make of Chihaya’s response?
When I look at Taichi’s confession and Chihaya’s reaction, paying particular attention to the way that Suetsugu uses the cherry blossom petals and panel effects to convey the differences between how they are thinking, I can only conclude two things. First, that Taichi’s confession has prompted Chihaya’s realisation of what Arata’s confession meant, and thus why it makes her so happy. And second, that Taichi’s feelings are something that she regrets learning about.
Let’s look at it step-by-step.
As the cherry blossoms scatter around them, the picturesque scene is interrupted by Chihaya’s clouded thoughts: “Why does Taichi always go off on his own?” When he sits up to look at her, the answer falls into place: it’s because he likes her.
This sends her into shock and disbelief: Chihaya’s world has gone dark, and she seems to want Taichi’s feelings to be a lie: “No…that can’t be. It just can’t.”
Intersped are panels that seem to show Taichi’s perspective of the scene, with a side-on view of Chihaya. As the petals continue to swirl around them, he reveals how much he likes her for who she is. His confession may be focused on her physical characteristics, but it’s what those words imply about who she is that matters. She doesn’t grow her nails because karuta is more important to her than appearances; she doesn’t try to suppress her unladylike behaviour (by Japanese standards) because that’s just who she is. At the same time, I know that there’s a lot more that Taichi loves about Chihaya — her passion, and the way it translates into how she cares for others. Even he has experienced that, most recently through the party she threw for him. So I wonder if Taichi had actually planned to say more, and would have said more…
Here, the perspective splits again, as Chihaya’s childhood memories of the three of them, and of Arata, come to her mind. She doesn’t seem to be looking at Taichi anymore, but rather through him. Realising this, Taichi turns his gaze downwards, as she continues staring into space: “when you’re thinking of Arata—that’s the only time (I don’t like you).” For when Chihaya thinks of Arata, she has no room in her head to consider anything else. And the cherry blossoms have now disappeared from the frames with his face.
Then we see that Chihaya has indeed turned her thoughts to Arata, specifically, to his confession. The thoughts wondering about Arata’s feelings are framed in black, but as she realises what he meant by “Let’s play karuta together,” the memory sparkles in her mind as much as it ever did before.
And then she rejects Taichi…
This, right here, is what I feared most about this confession: Chihaya didn’t think about Taichi’s feelings at all before rejecting him. Instead, what came to her mind was Arata’s confession. It really was a beautiful confession, one made in the language they share, and Chihaya has finally realised what Kana-chan recognised back then, that Arata’s words pretty much amount to a proposal. However, this was the worst possible timing for her to realise it. Whilst I am not surprised that Chihaya needed another confession for her to realise what kinds of feelings she hopes Arata has for her, the way it actually happened left me at a loss for words. When I think about how Chihaya seemed to just ignore the feelings of the boy who’s laid his heart out before her, I really get the sense of just how crushed Taichi must feel. After the party she arranged for him, he probably thought that maybe, just maybe, she would be able to think about his confession. But as I feared, Chihaya couldn’t even put aside her feelings for Arata for a few moments to think about Taichi’s confession before responding to him.
And then, over the next few days, she clearly isn’t herself. The contrast with her reaction to Arata’s confession couldn’t be more stark: then she’d been glowing, with sparkles in her eyes. Now, she can’t even look Taichi in the eye. A Japanese blogger commenting on the chapter suggested that she’s giving off the impression that she regrets learning about his feelings. I’m inclined to agree…but if that really is the case, then I’m actually pretty upset with Chihaya myself. That is NOT how you should react to someone who confesses to you.
What could — or should — Taichi have done?
On the other hand, I’m also quite disappointed in Taichi’s reaction. Like, I’m fairly certain he expected this response from Chihaya, so I felt that he could have handled it better, for example, by telling her straight out that he knew that she loved Arata, but that he just wanted to let her know of his feelings. As for the timing of him leaving the club (in accordance with his promise to his mother), I doubt there was any ‘good’ way to do it. If he’s leaving, he has to leave before the start of the year, or it would give a poor image of the club to any new students who join (NB: you really need to understand the culture of Japanese high school clubs for this point). But is that the best time to tell Chihaya, who will undoubtedly be depressed about it and blame herself? Unfortunately, their script for club introduction day included information about how many third years are in the club…so Miyauchi-sensei revealed to Chihaya what happened… Did Taichi plan it that way? I find it difficult to believe, and if he did, then I’d slap him for that timing. But if not, then I’d say he was actually thinking about what was best for the club, in a way… But I really cannot condone that kiss. Whilst I understand the frustration and pain he felt due to Chihaya’s thoughtless response, I really wish Taichi hadn’t kissed her. I expect that, by that point, he really had no idea how else to convey to her that he really couldn’t bear having his feelings dismissed just like that, both at the time of the confession, and also when she chased after him to beg him to stay in the club. But he really should have shown more restraint…and I’m sure he knows it. He’d better regret what he did.
I feel like chapter 138 lays it completely out in black and white that Arata is the one she loves, and that this isn’t going to change. However, I really wanted Chihaya to actually think about Taichi’s feelings. The problem isn’t that she rejected him, it’s that she didn’t give much thought to his feelings, and may even be regretting learning about them. But at the same time, if Taichi had done things even slightly differently, perhaps he could have gotten her to think about his feelings and appreciate and accept them, even if she cannot return them. I honestly don’t know what is going to happen next. There is one question that hasn’t quite been answered yet: what does Chihaya really think about Taichi’s feelings for her? Has she really sat down to think about it in the intervening few days? But I’m not actually ready to start pondering this – it’s usually nice to be right about a character analysis, but this is really one of those times that I wish I hadn’t been. At least I have another month before the next chapter of Chihayafuru to recover.
|I don’t know about you, but those black cards…
that’s how I’m feeling at the moment…