Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Chihayafuru - 20

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Only five more Taichi Tuesdays to go. Can it really be possible?

I’d have to say this is a good season on balance, especially as there are several excellent shows (four on Monday alone) that have a chance to make my top 10 list for 2012. But the same thing is true that’s always been true about Chihayafuru – this is the show I look forward to most every week. This is the show I enjoy watching most, the show which touches me emotionally in the deepest way. In much the same way it combines the best elements of shoujo and shounen, it also successfully combines so many narrative styles – comedy, romance, drama, action. It might not be the funniest or scariest or most exciting series on the air (although it might just be, in that last case) but it’s the one that masters all those elements in the most skillful way. To paraphrase Taichi’s catch phrase, Chihayfuru is a Jack of all Trades, and Master of all.

It was inevitable that when Arata re-entered the story in a meaningful way it was going to be dramatic, but Chihayafuru really did the moment justice when it finally happened at the Yoshino Qualifier. Of course as always, the timing was the worst humanly possible for Taichi. If that poor boy goes to the shrine on New Year’s his fortune must say “bad luck” every time, because timing is not his friend. With Chihaya – told she’s about to fail out and be forced to repeat a year - and Nishida studying under the watchful eye of tutor Tsutomu-kun, Taichi – who was the only one who had more at stake than simple practice for the Eastern Master/Queen Qualifier – went to Yoshino on his own to take his last chance to make the leap to Class A. And it seemed to be going well, as he breezed through his first two matches. But then, this is Taichi, so you knew it would all blow up in his face. Harada-sensei points out that Arata has come to compete at the worst moment for Taichi – and even worse, Arata hands Taichi his phone number and E-mail to give to Chihaya. Arata didn’t do it on purpose but that was the worst thing he could have done, and Taichi’s concentration is shattered, causing him to lose in the third round. As this is happening Arata is competing in the Class A tournament (along with Harada-sensei) and Chihaya has ditched Tsutomu, racing off to Yoshino to root for Taichi. Tsutomu’s response to this is a simple and concise text about running away from responsibilities, but the point still hits home.

Here’s where things got intense, sad, and ironic. Taichi was naturally devastated at his loss, distraught at losing his last chance to jump to Class A before the Eastern Qualifier and at having let Arata blow his concentration. Chihaya has gone to Yoshino because, in her own words, she was “worried about Taichi being alone after he won or lost” - yet as soon as Taichi told her Arata was there, she forgot completely about Taichi and let him suffer alone. Not that she displayed any overt romantic feelings for Arata – it was more about studying his Karuta and the reunion of the three childhood friends – but still pretty insensitive on her part (when Tsutomu asks later if Taichi was depressed, she can’t even remember). Yet, being insensitive is so intrinsically part of who she is that I’m not sure Chihaya can be any other way. More than any of the others in the cast, Chihaya is stuck in childhood – her approach to life and to Karuta is simple, direct and often thoughtless. It’s only now that she’s realizing the impact this has on her Karuta – perhaps that will lead her to realize that her personal growth is a victim of her immaturity, too.

As for Arata, he loses to Hiroshi (from Harada’s Shiranami Society - Harada loses in the semi-finals). But then the real drama begins, as he meets up with Taichi. Arata even goes so far as to mention to Taichi – after the latter dries his tears and insists that Arata give Chihaya his number himself - that he hesitated to give his number to Chihaya because he wasn’t sure if she and Taichi were a couple, a notion the startled Taichi denies quickly. There are so many emotional repercussions happening here that it’s staggering – Arata’s effective declaration that he’s interested, Taichi’s effective admission that Chihaya is still available, and the larger dynamic of the three of then being together playing Karuta again. As Taichi himself says, while part of him was angry at Arata, another part of him was thrilled to see him, and to have the old team back together again. I might even go so far as to suggest that in a way, this is the nudge Taichi needed to make his feelings known to Chihaya himself – I get the sense that he was hesitant to do so in Arata’s absence, as it would have been unfair of him to do so and a sort of tainted victory in any case.

The mangaka certainly isn’t doing us any favors in terms of mixed messages. Kana drags Chihaya home to study, and on the way she reads a poem from The Tale of Genji which she states “sounds like a love poem, but is actually about a childhood friend – it sounds just like Arata”. If there’s a theme overriding the episode it’s personal responsibility, and Tsutomu sums it up by quietly scolding Chihaya when she returns – “You have to do the things you don’t want to do before you can do the things you truly want to do.” The words hit home in context – Taichi is the example Tsutomu uses, for the way he works hard at Karuta and manages to rank at the top of his class in grades anyway – and Chihaya takes the message and promises to do what she needs to do not to be held back a grade.

But those words could just as easily be applied to Taichi – what he really wants to do it tell Chihaya he loves her. But before that, he needs to grow up – to accept that he’s been afraid of commitment for his entire life, and to face Arata head on in a battle for Chihaya’s heart rather then hope that battle never comes. Indeed the best scene of the episode is actually the one on the platform between Harada-sensei and Taichi, where Harada offers Taichi the opportunity to advance to Class A based on his two second-place finishes in Class B tournaments – something Taichi has earned by right, and which both Nishida and Arata were surprised did not happen. Harada-sensei is very quietly a wonderful character, and he sees what’s happening in Taichi’s heart. The following exchange of dialogue astonishingly captures the very essence of the series and these characters and where they stand, in a few simple words. As Harada thinks to himself “Frustration won’t last forever. Nobody can keep on going without some measure of reward”, an announcement comes over the PA that “an empty train is passing on platform two”. And after a moment Taichi laughs and replies simply that, no, Harada shouldn’t break the society rule and promote him because he’s “Not so much focused on making Class A as becoming someone who doesn’t run away.”

That scene – Harada’s thoughts, the station announcer’s message, Taichi’s reply, Harada-sensei’s reaction – is probably the best I’ve seen in any anime this season. Every thought I’d had about Taichi’s journey (many of which I expressed in last week’s post) was captured in this simple exchange, and it completely validates the experience of watching this series and responding to the character the way so many have. That’s spectacular writing, truly rare and special – maybe the best in a consistently well-written series. It looks at this point as if the anime will wrap up at the Eastern Qualifier, with Arata and Shinobu joining Chihaya in the tournament – but I can’t help but wonder what Taichi’s role in that drama will be. My faith in both the mangaka and the director is strong, and I can only trust that Taichi won’t be an afterthought in that final drama. But for Taichi’s fans as well as the character himself, frustration can’t last forever – indeed, we can’t keep going forever without some measure of reward…

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11 comments:

  1. Like you said at the end, there has to be some light for Taichi at the end of tunnel. As a big fan of Taichi, this episode was excruciating to watch with Arata playing a bigger role than he has been for past 10+ episodes.

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    1. Same poster here but to clarify, I didn't mean that it was painful to watch just because Arata is now playing a bigger role. But this episode was pretty much the pinnacle of Taichi's suffering and I feel like things will start working out better for him....for his sake as well as mine

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    2. If anything noble, kind Harada-sensei's words give me hope. The mangaka obviously understands that we're suffering along with Taichi, and unless she's a total sadist I would think she has to give him some kind of gratification sooner or later.

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    3. It was obvious he won't take it. Taichi plays by the rules and won't take what he does not deserve.
      Same reason why he has not asked Chihaya out.
      And he is not the first in class but first in his grade.

      I especially liked the pre-song singing. Before the card was read out and chihaya just entered Arata Class A room. "I have returned!"

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  2. I think this episode decided it for me.

    Chihayafuru is now my favourite anime of all time.

    D.Gray man held it for more than 3 years but this is just better.
    I don't think there is a millisecond of this show that I don't love.

    Simply spectacular

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  3. Aaah, train stations scenes. When done right, they're among the best *sniffles while waving Go Taichi banner*

    Eli

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  4. If she ends up choosing Arata over Taichi I will be so pissed at her. Taichi has stood by faithfully and supported her every step of the way. She needs to wake up and smell the coffee when it comes to Taichi. Sad part is she is clueless how he feels about her and how much it probably hurts him for her to forget all about him once she sees Arata.

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  5. Taichi will probably lose Chihaya to Arata and earn some kind of consolation prize so he won't become totally broken by the end of the series. Arata is taller, prettier (by the authors standards, given her blue eyes + misterious aura obsession), has more status within the series (while Taichi is popular and smart, Arata is better in the main aspect of Chihayafuru - Karuta), and acts more like a boyfriend than Taichi (calm, composed, doesn't talk more than necessary, isn't angsty, isn't needy, naturally gives strong emotions to the main heroine).

    Furthermore, if Chihaya chooses Taichi, Arata will respect that decision and just get over with it. He will probably find a good girl near his home and form a good family with her. On the other hand, if Chihaya chooses Arata, Taichi will not get over that. He will forever be friendzoned and support Chihaya, even though he will hurt himself in the process.

    While the Taichi route seems fairer, Arata's rule is more realistic and feminine, as it would be painful, from a female perspective, to see any of them move on to another girl after being rejected.

    Last, but not least, i think that Chihaya would need to work harder in order to deserve Taichi. She is a pretty good character and all, but Taichi is the "meat" of the show. He is the reason i look forward to Chihayafuru every tuesday. He is by far the deepest character of them all, and considering that the main cast is phenomenal, that really is saying something, specially because i didn't quite like him at first.

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  6. This series has a way of attacking from every angle all at once. My heart absolutely BROKE for Taichi when Chihaya ran off to watch Arata play, and yet in the same breath I was so glad to see Arata again ... then that whole troll "a poem about friendship … so perfect!" line on the train sent me right back into emo free fall.

    I mean I love Chihaya but my god if she's put Taichi through all of this for some bloody 'friendship' crap I will warp into 2D and smack the **** out of her! Her immaturity is almost painful to watch @ times … it's also really relatable. Growing up never happens on a schedule dictated by convenience. On the other hand, she's not a little girl and high school won't last forever, so it's definitely time to open those humongous eyes to reality!

    For her sake and Taichi's I hope she matures enough to realize that he's head over arse in love with her, and either give him a chance or at least reject him properly so he can stop dying a million deaths trying to just be her friend!

    5 more episodes? God I don't want to even think about this show ending ..

    *returns to huddle in emo corner*

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  7. WHY DIDN'T I WATCHED THIS MASTERPIECE OF A GOLD EPISODE EARLIER!!! BLAST THAT FEVER!!!
    Didn't know Chihayafuru can make my head spin like the latest episode of Another did... (I'm not thinking straight now... boom this fever!)
    Rewatched this episode five times and I still don't get it!
    (it's 4:30am and i haven't slept yet...boom the meds and the drowsiness)
    Why did Taichi blush slightly after Arata's expression at that point?
    Would somebody be so kind as to explain the highlights of this gold episode?

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  8. Enzo, I love you!!! Your reviews hit everything right on the head. How are so good with words?? I just don't get it. I'm envious.

    I like how you very clearly expressed ALL the WONDERFUL things about this amazing show and that it really does cover everything in a balanced way that keeps us begging for more every time.
    I love how you mentioned how Taichi had perhaps been holding back with Chihaya because Arata wasn't there, and it wouldn't be fair. That fits so well with his character, which is also shown (also as you mentioned) in the climactic platform scene with Harada-sensei.

    "Not so much focused on making Class A as becoming someone who doesn’t run away.” - Can a guy GET and cooler than that??? I don't this so.

    I love this show, I love that you love this show, and I love that I can read about how much you love this show. Thanks!! (^_^)

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