Chihayafuru, vol. 3

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This series is such a treat to read. I have less to say about this volume compared to the others. The main thing this volume did was reiterate how good the series has been.

Three main things progress the plot here. First, Chihaya and co. are able to recruit a few other kids to play karuta with them, meaning they can formally establish a karuta club at their school. The fifth kid, known affectionately by Chihaya as Desk-kun, is the second-best student in academics, only to Taichi himself. He pores over his studies, but the kids around him seem to think it doesn’t matter much if he doesn’t come out on top. Desk-kun seems to be jealous of Taichi for having everything Desk-kun doesn’t, and he initially declines to join the club because he’s not naturally good at the game. Taichi convinces Desk-kun to join by saying he’d rather have someone who’s smart and willing to learn over someone who’s cocky because of a natural talent.

Chihaya and co. then start to train for a karuta tournament coming up. There’s a school holiday before the tournament begins, so they use the free time to train, a sort of crash-course to get Kanade and Desk-kun up to speed with the other club members. This makeshift drill camp gets cut short when Taichi’s family returns from a wedding early, effectively displacing the team. Chihaya feels down on herself for pushing Desk-kun and Kanade so hard, but the team later shows affection for her leadership in the form of a surprise birthday.

The tournament begins near the halfway point of the book, and that’s where the drama begins. The team begins to strategize about play order, and when someone mentions that Desk-kun and Kanade be paired with tougher opponents to make it easier for the other three to win their matches, Desk-kun leaves, feeling like he’s not valued. This weighs on Chihaya, who loses focus and struggles through the next few matches. She is able to triumph towards the end of the book, though, and the volume closes mid-match with Hokuou Academy, the favorite to win the tournament.

Like volume 2, this one shines because it expands Chihaya’s character. This time, the manga focuses on downsides. Chihaya is so single-minded about practicing for the tournament that she pushes Kanade and Desk-kun really hard during their retreat. She’s initially torn up about establishing the karuta club, because their advisor refused to let her lead the club. When she sees how exhausted those two get, realizing their energy level and ability to concentrate for long periods don’t match hers, the gears start to turn in her head, and she starts to see truth in her situation. She initially struggles with the idea that she could have really hurt them, but the fact that her team surprises her with a midnight birthday cake helps her understand that she is appreciated for who she is.

Also, Desk-kun’s dilemma further compounds Chihaya’s single-minded nature, and this time it does prove to be harmful. Chihaya feeling like she hurt her teammate is what causes her to falter later on. For her drive to achieve, it’s also wonderful to be reminded that she has a soft spot for those she calls her friends. It’s also a humbling moment for her when Taichi tells her they haven’t established the team beyond the surface level association, which makes it feel fair to him to let Desk-kun step away. I didn’t enjoy this particular sequence as much, because the manga doesn’t make it clear who actually makes the comment that hurt Desk-kun. The speech bubbles are just in a panel with no one in it, so it’s hard to discern. In fact, Chihaya is the only one I’d rule out, because in the next panel in sequence, she questions the motive behind it. Even if she doesn’t make the incriminating remark, she was involved in the conversation, so ultimately, I think this moment is effective. It’s just a little clumsier than expected in execution.

The drama is high, the character interactions are topnotch, the layouts are (with the one exception) crisp and expressive… there’s a lot to love about this series. I think I’m in it for the long run.

Chihayafuru is written and illustrated by Suetsugu Yuki. It has been serialized in Kodansha’s Be Love magazine since 2007, and its chapters have been collected into 36 bound volumes as of November 2017. It has been licensed for release in North America by Kodansha Comics, which has released nine volumes to date.

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