Catching up on Chihayafuru: Poems 161-165
July 13, 2016 16 Comments
Before I begin, a heads up: I managed to catch the two Chihayafuru films on the work trip that has helped delay this post by three weeks, so look forward to some reflections on them soon. For the moment, let’s just say that I was glad that I’d been reading William Goldman’s Adventures in the Screen Trade…
But for now, let’s take a look at a rematch that so many of us thought we were waiting for: Chihaya and Arata face off against each other…but the only person who would know what meaning the match has for them—Taichi—isn’t there.
Standing next to genius
We find Taichi still in Osaka, where the interviewers ask Suou and Shinobu about the relationship with the game. The two reveal to the world just how strange they are—Suou ‘hearing’ the different colours of the cards, and Shinobu with the little poets that speak to her from them. This is a blow for Taichi, who realises just how much Shinobu loves the cards, how much she loves karuta, that that’s the secret behind her strength: “Have I ever thought of the cards that dearly?” The realisation that he hasn’t sinks Taichi even deeper into despair. Suou points out that, even as a HS student, he’s confidently able to use his own money to travel alone by bullet train to Kyoto and other places.1 He observes that Taichi is ignoring many of his own strengths, but this seems to fall on deaf ears, especially as Mizusawa reaches the semi-finals despite their former president’s absence.
As he’s leaving to return to Tokyo, however, Taichi calls his mother to find that she’s at Omi Jingu, because that’s where she thought he would be. She lets it drop that Mizusawa lost the semis because he wasn’t there…and also that Chihaya is playing Arata. And Taichi jumps off the train at Kyoto, instead of continuing on to Tokyo…
The impact of Taichi’s absence
|Tsuki mireba, the poem that is read next, is a song depicting a sad autumn moon. Is this a reminder that everyone there—Taichi included—is fighting their own demons?|
Back at Omi Jingu, Arata is shocked at how Chihaya is playing. All of her attention is focused on her team, on following how their matches are going, and on winning her own match on their behalf. It didn’t really sink in for me before, but it also seems like she’s not even acknowledging her opponents. It’s especially shocking because it’s Arata she’s playing now; hasn’t she always wanted to play him again? Arata breaks down her game like he always does, and silently tells her that he’ll be playing as he always does. But it’s pretty painful to see that Chihaya doesn’t even look at him. She’s present only as the Mizusawa Captain, her eyes are only for the teammates playing in the match. The fact that the “Chiha” card is not on the field—and apparently hasn’t been for many of the matches since Chihaya returned to the team—seems symbolic in this regard. The Chihaya we know and have come to love has disappeared.
Was this presented in a positive way? I suspect that some readers might want to argue that it is, for Taichi’s absence has indeed forced Chihaya to pay more attention to the others in her team. However, I contend that this match in particular shows that it’s been taken too far. Although they are playing as a team, just like many other sports, karuta is also a game played against someone else. In trying to fill the hole that Taichi left, Chihaya has turned around and ignored the people sitting opposite to her. I remember when Harada admonished her for not respecting her opponent once; to me, the way she’s not even registering them here feels far worse. That she doesn’t notice Taichi showing up—when everyone else from Mizusawa did—drives home just how wrapped up she is in this person that she is convinced she has to be. More on this shortly.
Bringing Chihaya back
Thankfully, we see Taichi and Arata bring Chihaya back. The poems read in this sequence are quire interesting. First comes [Poem 82] (Omoi wabi), which sings of a lover’s cruelty. Poem 79 (Akikaze ni) follows, a clear, genuine poem about the autumn moon. It’s like a beacon—is this referring to Arata or Taichi? Or perhaps, is it referring to them both? Arata then takes the “Swift waters (Se)” poem, which he had wanted to get back from Chihaya ever since their very first match. Again this is symbolic, for the friends that went away and left her alone are both back. The changing momentum pulls Chihaya back slowly, though it seems that it is still not enough yet.
Finally, however, the reading of the Chiha poem pulls Chihaya out of her reverie. Looking up, she finally sees Taichi, and then recognises Arata; in her mind is the karuta match on that final afternoon together before the 12-year-old Arata returned to Fukui with his family. It is fitting that both of them are necessary to bring Chihaya back—it feels like a callback to Taichi’s thoughts from the Yoshino tournament match that “many things have made you who you are, right?” The next poem that is read backs up this change in tone: Poem 71 (Yuusareba), singing of autumn bringing a gentle wind knocking at the gate. Amusingly, Suetsugu makes a mistake here, in that we have Poem 79 (Akikaze ni) read for a second time in the match. Arata has taken five cards in a row…which I believe makes them even again. But he gives her the next card, saying that only cards taken cleanly are his. Chihaya smiles, and it seems like she’s truly back.
Next comes Poem 60 (Ooyama), Arata doesn’t move, Chihaya seems surprised…but she has won, by two cards.
Awkward! After the matches are done, it was clear that the Mizusawa team doesn’t quite know how to approach Taichi. So Arata gets there first, letting out his frustration that Taichi had abandoned Chihaya, thus turning her into a different person, one who saw nothing but the team. Given his point about “the long-awaited national tournament,” I think that he might also be angry because Taichi had abandoned the team spirit that he himself had been envious of… It’s hard to tell, but even though Chihaya not being herself has been the overarching image since Taichi left, I really do feel that the concept of the ‘team’, and what being in a team means, is also important.2 More on this below.
Chihaya is upset that Taichi is late, for this was their last ever chance to play together on a team. Their summers are over—as I have mentioned elsewhere, the school year starts in spring, with the most important tournaments in summer. After their final summer, third years normally retire completely from their club activities in order to focus on the college entrance exams that they’ll be sitting towards the end of the school year (January through March). Another show I love, Sound! Euphonium, drives this home, too: there’s a certain reverence that teenagers place on the importance of the team during their high school years. You can also see it in a lot of other manga and anime about sports or other club activities—the kids want to be part of the passion, they want to devote themselves to the dream of being one of the select few playing at nationals, and they value working with their teammates to fulfil that. And here, what happened between Taichi and Chihaya ruined their last opportunity to breathe in that perfect, rarified atmosphere again.
Hokuo’s victory — the meaning of the “team”
Which brings me to the message I felt that Suetsugu was driving home with this tournament. Significantly, Taichi also arrives in time to see fate smile on another rival of his. The Fujisaki-Hokuo match is split evenly, and comes down to a ‘fatal game’ between Hyoro and Yoroshiko. When he finally notices Taichi, Hyoro is glad that he’d managed to stick to Yoroshiko until this point. Though exhausted to the point that all colour had been drained from him, the reading of Poem 15 (Kimi ga tame ha) sees Hokuo erupt in celebration, as they finally won the championship that has eluded them for the past two years. This winning poem is fitting for Hyoro, who has done so much for the sake of his team, and it was wonderful to see him rewarded with well-earned victory in the match on which the championship rested. I also loved seeing how Hokuo’s OBs welcomed “Miss Yukari” in their midsts, for in her tireless support of Hyoro, she was as much a part of the team as they were.
Hokuo’s victory makes it clear that this tournament was all about the concept of ‘the team’. For many years, Suetsugu has been pushing her characters and readers to ponder what they and we all value about karuta, and the team has always been at its centre. For the first national tournament, Chihaya and Taichi learned hard lessons about what teamwork was all about. In the second tournament, we saw Arata acknowledge that he has always wanted to know that spirit of camaraderie, and point out to Shinobu that teams are the foundations of this world that they love. At the last Yoshino tournament, Harada pointed out that the individual tournament is the real team game. And in this tournament, we watched over a number of teams as they struggled to reach the top as a group despite their own internal struggles.
In that regard, the contrast between Mizusawa and Fujioka East and the two teams who made it to the final was instructive. The strongest players were definitely Chihaya and Arata, but for different reasons, both were unable to draw their teams together fully. On the other hand, both Fujisaki and Hokuro fielded the weakest players that each had had in years, which forced them to focus on developing the team spirit to a much greater degree than we’d previously seen in them. But ultimately, despite the wonderful gains she’s made over the past year, Rion is left regretting that she didn’t spend all of her three years working hard with everyone else in the club. Though he’s always been a bit of an oddball, it was Hyoro who really came to the fore as a leader and team player this year. Thus, the team championship went to the school that embodied the team spirit best this year.
Where to next: Chihaya and Arata, and Taichi
The reunion was short-lived, interrupted by the presentation ceremony. When Chihaya rushes back outside to ask Taichi why he’d come back, she finds that he’d decided to go home instead of staying to cheer for them. Was this perhaps why I saw a number of “Taichiiiiii!!!” reactions a few weeks ago? But before leaving, Taichi finds Arata sitting alone, obviously feeling down. Taichi knows how he feels, and he takes a seat beside him and moves to pat his back. But then he stops and just shifts slightly closer, without saying a word. None are needed. And soon he is gone. But he leaves behind a message, echoing the one that Arata had left two years before: “Next time, I’ll see you in a match.” One or two hours before, seeing the Queen talk about her love for the game had only seen him spiralling deeper into despair… But again echoing the events two years prior, this time, it was Chihaya and Arata who brought Taichi back. The chapter ends with Taichi rocking up to the Tokyo Uni karuta club again, and greeting the cards just as Shinobu does. As Suetsugu noted, whilst this national tournament was in many ways an end full of regrets, it was also the start of something new.
There are so many other things that can be said about these chapters. But the main thing I want to touch on is the match. When I first flipped through these chapters, back when they first came out, I thought that there were some interesting parallels to the match between Chihaya and Taichi at the last Yoshino tournament. Back then, Chihaya was surprised at how different Taichi seemed to be, and now, we have Arata being surprised at the Chihaya sitting across from him. But now that I’ve spent so much time reflecting on what happened, it’s clear that these parallels are rather superficial. More than anything, I feel that both matches were used to illustrate problematic aspects of Chihaya’s character; the first highlighted how blind she had been to one of the closest friends, and the second showed her overcompensating in her efforts to deal with consequences arising from that flaw. Perhaps this is an overly harsh reading of Chihaya, but I honestly feel that both matches have, on balance, presented her in a negative light.
In terms of the implications for the story, then, this was most definitely not the rematch that we—or Arata and Chihaya—wanted. I actually wonder what Arata would have done if Chihaya hadn’t come back when she did: would the match have ended in a similar way? In fact, the expression on his face made it seem like he had given up on something…almost as if he had been trying hard mostly because he’d wanted to bring her back to herself, and once that was achieved, he let his sadness and frustration at what had happened to their long awaited rematch come out. I mean, Chihaya probably doesn’t even remember that Arata took the “Se” card, which he’d wanted to take back from her for so long. So will we get another? I’m pretty certain we will: given how karuta has been used to represent relationships throughout this series, it’s unthinkable that we won’t see them in another match, but one with “Chiha” back on the field.
So I’ll look forward to that. Though not for quite a while, I expect!
And the other little things that caught my attention
- The Matsubayashi brothers aren’t twins! They were just born in the same school year!! I really like the attitude of Hiro, the younger one. He seems to really like the team format, so I wonder if he’ll be the captain the following year (since there are no second years). Or will it be a double team with his brother? I felt really sad that he went up against Tamaru, because I wanted her to overcome that mental block she’d placed on herself and win. But at the same time, if there was anyone on Arata’s team that I’d have been happy to see winning, it would have been Hiro.
- Best scene: Kana’s mum teaching the other mothers the tricks to sitting seiza. I’ve gotta try that.
- And something that caught my attention because it made me thinking about the craft of ‘writing’ as it relates to comics and manga. It’s really interesting how Suetsugu links Ohta (from Hokuo)’s “Stick at it, Tamaru!” through the Mizusawa mothers who are trying to tough it out sitting seiza to the arrival of the person who is most associated with ‘toughing things out’. This then shifts to most of Mizusawa somehow sensing that he has come. It’s an unexpected link-up—at least, I wouldn’t have thought to do it—but is it an example of writing that works because it successfully weaves apparently disparate threads together to drive home a particular point? Or did it not work for me because I noticed and it took me out of my immersion in the story?
|Taichi’s one flaw: his handwriting’s awful (especially when compared to Arata’s)! (Sorry, I couldn’t resist — one of my favourite short manga stories did something along those lines as part of a joke omake ^^ —karice)|
- You know, it’s funny: even now, I get surprised looks when I tell people I’m traveling alone. Is it really that unusual in Japan for women and younger people to travel alone? ↩
- Of course, the focus of the live-action films being on something similar might also be one of the main reasons behind my current line of thought — I’ve been mulling over these chapters for quite a while… ↩