Watching people train, specifically in anime, is a whole lot of fun to me. It’s one of the main reasons I absolutely fucking love shōnen serials, such as Hunter x Hunter and even Naruto. Working hard to accomplish something is just validating to watch. I think one of the reasons I love it so much is because it’s such a humanistic quality. There comes a time when almost everybody works hard in their lives, to one degree or another, in the pursuit of exhilarating passions, whether they’re professional, personal, lifelong or short-lived. I’m finally chasing some hardcore aspirations myself, and it’s the first time in my thirty years of life where I’ve been in a position to be able to do it with such intense gusto.
In episode nine, we get to watch Tsukue-kun and Kana-chan do just these things: work their arses off in order to learn the ins and outs of Karuta. This is not an easy feat, especially when you consider that they don’t know much about the games at all, and that their team captain is a walking amphetamine of excitement for the sport. It was quite compelling and even evocative to see them struggling, both physically and mentally. I used to be an athlete of multiple sports when I was a teenager, so I understand the intimacy of feeling burned out but knowing that you must keep bulldozing through it all.
With only twenty-four-ish minutes to provide a gist of how the training is going, I wasn’t sure if it was going to drag it out, like most sports anime, or if it would rush through everything too quickly. However, by the end, I felt that it was all balanced quite excellently.
Chihaya immediately picks a strategy for teaching the newbies. While the other veteran players are a bit concerned at the strenuousness of her idea, not to mention how intimidating it shall be, she sticks by her own experiences and what ignited her own adoration. Her enthusiasm is definitely contagious and to see Tsukue-kun and Kana-chan smiling and taking it all in like a sponge was equally thrilling to me as the audience.
The different methods for how they learn and where they tended to point their focus was also quite fun to see. For example, Kana-chan has a traditional and almost romantic association with the poems as they are a part of her love for classical literature. She tries to use that to her advantage in learning how to strategise the card placements. Meanwhile, Tsukue-kun takes more logic-centred perspective to his own arrangement, as well as when it comes to the best ways to take cards. When Kana-chan takes her first card, it feels like they’re making great progress and their hard work is paying off.
That’s another part of training that can be just as motivating as it can be discouraging: progress. When other people around us are getting farther ahead and honing skills with much less efforts or with equal effort but in shorter time, it’s depressing. It can make us feel like we’re not cut out for what we’re doing. Yet, when the first step towards real and authentic progress does occur, all of the blood and sweat and tears feels so worth it, and those struggles are beautifully, almost poetically, validated.
These things haven’t happened in Chihayafuru yet (the fear of not being enough), but I can easily see it headed our direction soon, more so because of the exhaustive manner in which everyone is training. I’m curious to watch them dissect these themes and what the resolution shall look like. If Chihayafuru does anything phenomenally, it’s deal with emotional hurdles in an uplifting way.
The last portion of the episode was dedicated to a surprise, night-time celebration of Chihaya’s 16th birthday. I made a couple of comments about this over on Twitter last night while I was watching it, but goddamn it, I ship Chihaya and Taichi so much. I haven’t seen Season 3 yet (please, no spoilers in the comments!!), so I dunno if my ship is going to sail like the wind or sink like the Titanic, but I just love ‘em. Best friends falling in love is one of my favourite things ever; possibly because I’ve seen it happen to my mates IRL (in real life) and it’s a sugary sweet and heartfelt gig, to say the least.
Even so, there is this scene towards the end, with Taichi and Chihaya sharing a bite of fruit tart (I wanted to scream, I won’t lie; this show brings out the adolescent effervescence in me) that also helped me to understand why I don’t typically like certain romance tropes (e.g.: love triangles). Maybe it’s not so much that I hate this trope, but it just makes me feel conflicted and angry and way too invested. It’s too much for my hot mess soul. So, maybe I have more of a love-hate relationship with this trope. Normally, it’s not written quite as superbly as it is here in Chihayafuru either, so that could be another reason why I tend to steer clear of it.
Anyhoo, next up I’ll be watching episodes ten through twelve, where we shall see our Karuta team trying to qualify for Nationals. Feeling the pressures of learning something you’ve no clue about is vastly different than the chaos of competitive gameplay, so the dynamics between these things shall be quite entertaining to witness!
Chihayafuru Season 1 First Impressions (Eps. 1)
Chihayafuru Season 1 Episodes 2 & 3
Chihayafuru Season 1 Episodes 4 & 5
Chihayafuru Season 1 Episodes 6, 7, & 8