October 2011 Anime Season – Chihayafuru Episode 3

For an episode that was loaded with a fair amount of heartbreak, it was still more sweet than anything. Which really goes to show how well Madhouse are doing at setting the mood and making the viewer cherish the characters.

The trio of Chihaya, Taichi and Arata go for more competitive play within the karuta world. It’s interesting to note how they react differently to the pressure. Arata thrives on it. The revelation of his grandfather being a master player explains a lot and makes for a key moment later. Taichi is initially driven by jealousy of Arata and he sure wants to be the one Chihaya likes. Yet within their struggles, Taichi is the one that changes the most. His experiences within the trio quell his jealousy and cause him to appreciate Arata as a friend and that the time the three of them are having together is special. Chihaya is definitely the one struggling. She desperately wants to get better, but it’s just not coming to her. Plus she’s certainly not getting much support from home. Still, Chihaya’s mother bothering to say it was good Chihaya finally had a dream of her own.

There were some amusing moments early on. Chihaya’s usual ‘speak before thinking’ vice disrupting adult players. Everyone calling Hiro ‘Retro’. The doctor getting teary over young people wanting to play karuta. The playful scuffle between the three in the snow. There is an undeniable feel-good element to this show if it’s been one you’re following this season.

The revelation the trio will be going to different middle schools hits them hard but to different degrees. Taichi and Arata both feel responsible for splitting up the trio – not that they actually have anything to shoulder blame for. If anything, the experience shows how far ahead Arata and Taichi are ahead of Chihaya not just in karuta skills, but in terms of life experience and overall skills. Chihaya has spent so much time up until now adoring her shallow-minded sister with devotion, that it is rather like Chihaya is starting from scratch in terms of finding who she is and what she wants to do in life. If anything, the split may end up being the best thing to happen to her. Sure, Chihaya’s spirit and passion was key in uniting the trio, but Chihaya was the most reliant on the trio’s existence to feel fulfilled in life, because Chihaya felt like she wasn’t much without it. And there is where I hope we see Chihaya go next – to rough life out on her own, find herself and mature. I doubt Chihaya’s spunk, passion or tomboy nature will change much since they are defining factors about her that are refreshing and key to her role in this show. But there needs to be a resilience developing within Chihaya to go it alone when needed and that her friends aren’t her primary support. The girl needs to grow up.

Well, the trio had to split up sometime. Nothing lasts forever. Yet it didn’t feel quite so painful, did it? There’s an honesty and spirit to the bond these three have, you figure they will meet some day again. We know that Chihaya and Taichi meet up in high school thanks to Episode 1. The question is when and where Arata returns, as well as what happens between Chihaya and Taichi before then. And it will be interesting to see how Chihaya handled being by herself and developed her karuta skills before the high school reunion.

Ultimately this is a show that is relying on three factors – 1. The cultural appeal of karuta. 2. The strong bond of friendship between the trio. 3. The development – particularly of Chihaya – as people. If Chihayafuru continues to utilise those three factors as it has been thus far, it will be one of the stand-outs of the year. Not in sales, but certainly in quality.

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