Catching up on Chihayafuru: Poems 158-160
June 5, 2016 5 Comments
The semi-finals of the national team tournament. Mizusawa vs. Fujisaki, and Hokuo vs. Fujioka East. Sadly for our protagonists, both Chihaya and Arata’s teams lose 3-2, even though both of them win their own matches against Yoroshiko and Hyoro respectively. But in setting up a long-awaited rematch that I’ll get to next time, Suetsugu Yuki takes us into the minds of some of the minor characters that we haven’t really looked at before…
Striving to become “the real thing”
In previous years, Fujisaki and Hokuo have both been dominated by their starry line-ups. This year, however, none of the players can completely fill the shoes of previous leaders. Hyoro we looked at last time (and will look at again in more detail in the final), but in Fujisaki’s case, the leadership has been split between Rion and Yoroshiko, who take turns with “team control” and support. Impressively, Yoroshiko doesn’t give up in his tough match against Chihaya, passing control to Rion so that he can give the match all his attention. This might be considered selfish—after all, Rion has the better chance of winning against Nishida, so it would arguably have been more strategic for him to have sacrificed his match. But in the end, it might have paid off: Yoroshiko’s spirited if doomed fight helps lift up the other players on his team, especially as Rion pushes herself and raises her voice in supporting him.
In the Mizusawa Team, Tsukuba has been pushing himself, since he will become the presumptive president and captain of the club when the third years retire after this tournament. Impressively, he has found a way to take many of the “A” cards—by listening carefully for the consonant sounds at the start of the deciding syllables. One thing that made this possible was Mizusawa deciding to review their practice matches, just like shōgi and go players do. In doing so, Nishida and Chihaya were able to give him tips on tactics such as separating paired sounds (like “hito mo” and “hito wa” even if “hisa” hasn’t been read yet) and about listening for the consonants (or “half-tones,” as they have been translated). In focusing so much on them, Tsukuba is a bit too slow to the one-syllable cards. But the trade-off is worth it if he can master it, for there are 16 “A” cards, compared to just 7 of the former. And Tsukuba is rewarded for his diligence with a hard-fought win in this match.
On the other hand, Tamaru continues to have problems with her self-confidence. With Komano’s lesson still ringing in her head, genuine praise keeps backfiring on her. But now, she’s struggling to overcome it, realising that it’s all because she just doesn’t believe in herself. So it’s up to her to step up and keep trying to become “the real thing,” to set herself goals (“I’m going to get two in a row!”) and keep trying to achieve them. Even though she loses this time, it’s fantastic that she doesn’t throw in the towel, instead declaring that she wants to play in the final match because she simply doesn’t want to give up without a single win.
Taichi and his peers
Perhaps it’s just me, but Nishida’s arc, as revealed in these three chapters, has come almost out of the blue. He spends much of chapter 159 thinking about how hungry he is physically…but is he also hungry to be “the real thing” that everyone else is also striving for? The cards that are read whilst Suetsugu is focusing on him are pretty interesting: first, we get #98 (about twilight at the end of summer) and #56 (about a last wish before dying), as Nishida reflects on how hungry he is, and how he’s glad to have become more compact like Tamaru because it saves him energy. But then we get two cards about love: #13 (deep intense love) and #43 (Now I realise that I had not known what love is). It seems significant that these are empty cards, as if in symphony with Nishida’s recognition that he understand’s Taichi’s feelings—is Suetsugu referring in part to how the latter hasn’t really loved karuta until now? And even though Nishida loses to Rion, is his renewed vigour a sign that he has now turned the corner?
We don’t get much on Hyoro in this chapter (though we will next time), but what we do get is significant. Hyoro knows his team inside-out, and that’s why he moves to make sure that Mima can play to the best of his ability—he asks Sudo to lend the latter his Hokuo t-shirt. Whilst Sudo refuses and gets Amakasu to ‘offer’ up his instead, it seems to have worked anyway, as Mima perks up as they prepare to face off against Fujisaki. But what I really loved was what the people around Hyoro did for him. Yukari asked Sudo to have him not rely on the Hyoro cards in the final match, for although he’s been taking on all the aces on behalf of the team, she knows that it hurts him greatly to keep losing like that. But one of the younger Hokuo players—Ohta—gets to him before they do, and tells him that they should play for real in this final match, to show that they are indeed the best in the country. Funnily enough, Hyoro gets matched with one of Fujisaki’s aces anyway!
And on our trio
One of my favourite parts of these chapters was Nishida’s flashback to that karaoke session with Komano and Taichi after the Tokyo regionals.1 It’s the first time we see the boys being boys together: Komano and Nishida are shocked that Taichi actually likes Chihaya (“You’ve got weird tastes! She’s like a grade 6 boy!”), and they tease and laugh at him in the way guys do when they’re trying to smooth something hurtful over. But when Taichi tells them that he’s attending the Tokyo Uni Karuta Society and apologises for it, they both break into tears of happiness that he hasn’t left completely. We also find out that Nishida had been wrecking his brain to find a way to help his two friends through this strained relationship, but he realises that neither of them is seeking that kind of help: instead, they have realised their own faults in what has occurred, and are moving to deal with that on their own accords. On the one hand, Taichi admits that he’d thought that it’d be good if Chihaya were hurt by what had happened, that he was a jerk (最低) and thus can’t return to the club. On the other hand, Chihaya has been struggling to fill the hole his absence has left, and she chooses to keep Taichi’s headband even when she finds out she’d been given the wrong one.
Turning now to Arata: as I was reading these three chapters, it struck me how similar Arata’s first year in the team competition was to Mizusawa’s, particularly in terms of Chihaya’s own experience. Fujioka East won their first prefectural competition (though Fukui’s would be far easier than Tokyo, because it seems like most people wouldn’t bother to form school karuta clubs), but lost in the national competition with Arata feeling the weight of responsibility for the defeat. As Sudō and Amakasu observe, it’s clear as day that Arata loves karuta.2 But as a newcomer to team competition, he had no idea how to support his teammates during the matches, nor what to prepare to help them get through a day that demands so much of them both physically and mentally. He also didn’t know each of his charges well enough to be able to give them extra little boosts, as Hyoro managed to do for Mima. Just like Chihaya when she first set up the Mizusawa club, this has been a huge learning experience for him—but Arata didn’t have anyone like Taichi by his side. And sadly, there is no next year for him in the team; however, I do wonder if he’ll keep coming to practice for the rest of the year,3 so as to make up for his failures this year…
To be continued…
Although the Mizusawa team is dejected over their failure to become repeat champions, as per Chihaya’s aim, Miyauchi reminds them that they have a third place play-off…against Fujioke East. And so, we finally come to a long-awaited rematch. Since both Arata and Chihaya know what team order the other is going to present, the chapter ends as they prepare to face off against each other in this final team match. But is this really the rematch that we—and they—have been awaiting?
- Putting aside the characters for the moment, I think it’d be absolutely hilarious to go to karaoke with Taichi’s voice actor, Miyano Mamoru. One of my favourite character songs ever has him giving a rendition of The Blue Hearts’ Rinda Rinda as Durarara!!’s Kida Masaomi… But I’d also love to go to karaoke with Hosoyan (Arata’s voice actor), because he seems to be quite a riot in real life as well, going by what his peers say about him! XD ↩
- The poem read at this point was #51 Kakutoda ni, which is about a hidden love that burns with great intensity. ↩
- The Japanese school year runs from April to March, and the major tournaments tend to take place in summer (June through August). Third year students like Chihaya and co. generally retire from their clubs after these tournaments, in order to focus on their college entrance exams. ↩