Chihayafuru 9 ~ you just happen to be a pushy person
November 29, 2011
Episode 9 continues the excellent string of successes that has made Chihayafuru such a treat to watch. After finding the fifth member of the club, the big question was, “where is this show going from here”? With a combination of passion and comedy, this episode answered precisely that question.
At first Nishida and Taichi agree that the focus will be on training Chihaya, but she will have none of it. She intends to train the rookies. Everyone thinks she is crazy or wasting her time. She won’t improve by playing the worst players, and they can’t possibly compete with her. She explains, however, that her goal is to enter the National Championship (the Karuta Matsuri) at the Omi Jingu shrine. And thus the path ahead for this series becomes clear. To go to the National Championship, they need to win the Tokyo (Kanto) Regional tournament first.
Given that Chihaya’s training philosophy can be summed up as “throw them in the deep end, if they don’t learn to swim fast, they’ll drown,” Kanade and Tsutomu manage to do pretty well. They are trying their best, and making some progress. Unfortunately there is no substitute for experience, so the question comes up as to how they can get in some extra games.
It quickly becomes clear that the rookies need an opportunity to build up stamina, by playing a lot of games in a single day. A training camp seems to be just the thing, and Chihaya invites herself and the whole club to a sleepover at Taichi’s house while his parents are out of town.
This leads to the first awkward moment between Chihaya and Taichi in this episode. At this point, it seemed more that she was surprised and confused at Taichi’s reaction.
Chihaya forces the rookies to play Karuta non-stop until Taichi steps in and asks if she really means to break them. The poor things are even too exhausted to eat, and to make matters worse, Taichi’s mother, “Mrs. Pressure” returns home unexpectedly. Chihaya flees with Kanade, asleep, riding upon her back.
When she sees that she has been dragged out in the middle of the night to talk with the other members of the Karuta club, Chihaya apologizes for her behavior. She acknowledges that she has been pushing them very hard, and hopes they will forgive her. Well, needless to say, the apology might be appreciated, but it isn’t necessary. Everyone loves Chihaya precisely because she is so passionate about Karuta that she doesn’t seem to apply common sense. The real reason she was dragged out there was to wish her a happy 16th birthday.
When Taichi receives a mysterious text message, he seems to summon up a moment of courage, and we get the second awkward moment between Taichi and Chihaya. A lot happened in just a few moments, so let me unpack it a bit. First, Taichi, troubled by the mail, seems ready to close and forget it, until he hears Chihaya’s voice. She is just joking around as usual, but Taichi takes matters very seriously for a moment, grabs her, and eats the last bite of lemon tart off her spoon — an action that brings their mouths almost into contact. The action is almost sexual and certainly possessive. Chihaya may not fully understand it, but she does seem to have been shocked out of her obliviousness. Then Taichi hands over the phone so she can read the mail, which is, of course from Arata. Chihaya is overjoyed at the message, but I don’t think that means she has made a choice. I doubt she really has consciously thought about her feelings for either boy.
On the other hand, Taichi went through a whole range of emotions, a flash of panic, perhaps, as Arata’s specter emerged, momentary cowardice, as he thought maybe he could just pretend that he “forgot” to deliver the message, jealousy and desire as he forcefully held Chihaya and demonstrated that he was the one standing in front of her, not Arata, and finally, what? triumph? humility? friendship? as he handed the phone over to Chihaya so she could read Arata’s birthday message for herself.
I know there are those who wish Arata would return in person, but I’m enjoying this way of handling the relationship between the three. Taichi must feel he can never win against Arata, who is remembered as almost a mythical figure. It isn’t uncommon for the female lead to fall in love with a non-existent “prince” who seems to embody all virtue, thus making the real men around her appear inferior. Sometimes this idealized version even manages to diminish the real version of the same person, such as in The Shop Around The Corner, or as in a show I recently re-watched Library Wars (Toshokan Sensou). So this isn’t entirely original, but it does add tension, and who knows what will happen when the inevitable reunion takes place.