It’s kind of amazing how you look at something differently after watching it the second time. I spent yesterday and a bit of today re-watching the first season of Chihayafuru (and unbeknownst to me so was chungky). For those of you who don’t know it, Chihayafuru is a manga/anime about a bunch of high-school kids playing karuta. Karuta’s basically a game based around the hyakunin isshu, a collection of 100 poems by 100 poets.
Chihayafuru really changed for me when I re-watched it; most probably because my understanding of karuta was a lot better, but now that I knew some things were going to happen, I could pay attention to others instead. For example, there are times in the story where they use the poetry from the hyakunin isshu to illustrate the relationships between the characters; before I thought they were just pretty words that relate really well to the situation. But my second experience with Chihayafuru found the description to be so beautiful, I’ve quoted some of them in this post!
I read the Chihayafuru manga before the anime came out, and I’ve been captured by it from the very beginning. Maybe it’s my own bias for stories that use the ‘childhood friends’ card; I always feel that the relationship between children are a lot more direct, honest and simple (e.g. not manipulated by hormones yet). So anyway, the three main characters are 1, the heroine (Chihaya), 2, the transfer student who introduces her to karuta (Arata) and 3, the bully/friend (Taichi). I’ll be going off on my own rant about it from here on, so spoilers will follow. But if you’re like chungky who went all “Well, don’t mean to spoil it for you, but looks like the bully’s gonna get her,” when I’d only explained what characters were in the story and nothing about storyline, then we all never had to worry about what ultimately would or would not happen.
BUT THAT’S THE THING!!
I read the manga, and throughout the whole first season, in my head I was always thinking “Isn’t Chihaya going to end up with Arata?”. I mean yes, I felt very sorry for Taichi who even to me was obviously in love with Chihaya but Arata changed her life. I continued on to watch the second season, and continued feeling sorrier and sorrier for Taichi.
Then chungky finally watched Chihayafuru, and now that I had someone to bounce off my ideas with, I finally started thinking more about the relationships. After not being able to take the cliff hanger from the latest episode, I re-watched the whole first season; but this time from a different perspective. Things really did look different, and I was like “a-hah! All is not lost for Taichi!” =’D . This was pretty much initiated by Chihaya’s letter to Arata when she went to see him in Fukui for the first time, and the poem she used to describe her relationship with Arata to Kana.
Despite all this talk, I still wouldn’t say that Chihayafuru is a romance story; there is romance in the story, and the relationships in it do play a huge part, but the story does not revolve around it. I’ll use a Victoria sponge cake to explain this. The characters, karuta, the different opponents, the school life, the poems and the non-romantic relationships basically make up the sponge cake. However, the romance is a small portion but it’s constantly there – it’s the jam in the middle of the cake. It ‘s presence doesn’t rise and fall like the sponge cake – it’s that one layer that’s evenly distributed no matter which part of the story it’s at. It’s actually not there that much, but it adds to the sweetness of the story and can ultimately make all the difference to whether the cake passes or fails. And if the jam wasn’t there it won’t be a Victoria sponge. It’ll just be, like, a sponge cake. So the romance is vital to the story!
Now think of the romance in Chihayafuru. Think of the people in love – who are they? Chihaya? I would argue, no. She has feelings for Arata, but it hasn’t really been identified as to what it is those feelings are. “It’s so obvious she’s in love!” you may exclaim (that’s what I thought at first too!), but wait for my argument against it. As for how she feels towards Taichi; there are times when you see she is aware of him, and she definitely cares for him, but is that love? (What is love?? Chihaya, don’t hurt Taichi, don’t hurt Taichi no more T-T) It was established quite early on that she has a crush on Harada-sensei anyway. So. Ya.
Anyway, back to the question – who is in love? Arata? Sometimes I get the feeling he’d be lucky to even get screen time, much less have enough time to express what sort of feelings he has for Chihaya or any other girl. Whenever he does appear, it’s always karuta related. Even Chihaya and Taichi don’t appear in his head exclusively – karuta will always be thrown in somehow. Reversely, he can think about karuta without thinking about the two of them. Harsh world.
So who the heck is in love? This leaves our final candidate – Taichi! Does he disappoint? Quite obviously not! If your heart has not been stretched and stabbed and deep-friend by the anguish of his love for Chihaya, this post will not really interest you, so you may leave.
But please stay.
So I’ll build up more on what I said before about who likes who or who likes what or what likes who. Who knows what Chihaya thinks about, but I get the feeling that her feelings toward Arata are more like a worshipful admiration (new word yay). To Chihaya, Arata is like ‘a karuta god’; he is the one that introduced her to karuta. He was the one that basically changed her whole life. But you don’t fall in love with people just because they change your life (but this is a fictional world so who knows). Chihaya’s only played against him when they were children, when there was a vast difference in their abilities; so mentally to Chihaya, Arata’s constantly on this pedestal where almost nobody can touch him (emphasizing his karuta god-like status). He then moves back to Fukui, and their contact is pretty sparse. He’s not anywhere close by, and in a way Arata seems unreachable even when he’s in front of her. She even says that the distance between them kind of emphasizes his karuta god-liness.
On the other hand who knows what Arata thinks since he doesn’t get as much screen time.
But Taichi. Gosh, you know what Taichi is thinking the moment he appears on-screen when they were 12. I honestly thought that the manga-ka was a bit of a sadist with the way she portrays Taichi’s feelings for Chihaya – and not just any sadist, but an extremely skilful one. There is no overly long soliloquy about his feelings for her, and there aren’t really any overly romantic gestures or actions to convey his feelings (e.g. writing love letters he never sends D’=).
But he is constantly there.
Taichi is the one who’s seen to constantly support her, constantly watch her and constantly take care of her. Rather than spamming the portrayal of his emotions in one go and then changing the scene to whatever else the story has to take care of, his feelings are constantly present throughout the whole story. However he never takes the extra step to become even more obvious than he already is because of the Arata Factor, which basically means that he feels that Chihaya belongs to the both of them and it’s too sneaky to try anything on her.
Chihayafuru is littered with all the things Taichi says to Chihaya and all he does for her. Even minutes after all the scenes where these little things have been said and done, I feel like I don’t quite recover from the sound of Taichi’s heart straining under his feelings. The moment I do, however, there’d be something else, like Chihaya talking about Arata to Taichi, or Chihaya calling Arata while Taichi’s looking, or Chihaya messaging Arata in front of Taichi, and you can practically feel Taichi drowning in all his entrenched emotions again.
Going back to my Victoria sponge analogy – there is romance in the story; and this romance is mainly contributed by Mashima Taichi. In Chihayafuru, Taichi’s one-sided love contributes more to the story than just being the friend-zoned dude. It kind of makes him an even sadder case, but without him pining for his love, Chihayafuru would just be a sponge cake. Not a Victoria sponge.
Did anyone get this analogy?
Anyway, that’s it then I suppose. I’m more up to date with the anime than I am with the manga, and I know the manga’s more ahead with the story so everything I’ve said here might be already be void but still wishing all the best to a fictional character, Mashima Taichi, in his pursuit of love and karuta!