Chihayafuru, vol. 4

chyfr4.pngThis volume of Chihayafuru is a slight departure from the past few volumes in that this one has a greater focus on action, with less emphasis on character development. We also get to see more of what Arata has been up to. And that isn’t a bad thing at all in practice.

Picking up right where the last one left off, Chihaya is in a heated match with the star player of Hokuou Academy. Tension is high because the outcome of this match determines who will represent Tokyo at Omi Shrine.

The player from Hokuou puts up a good fight, but Chihaya is narrowly able to take the match. Enough of her teammates are able to win their matches that the Mizuawa Karuta Club wins the tournament and earns the right to represent Tokyo at Omi Shrine.

The chapters here cut to Arata at different points, and these mostly serve to let us know Chihaya is keeping him in the loop on her karuta escapades. He doesn’t have a good computer at home, so he uses the computer at his part-time job. Despite what he may have said to Chihaya a few volumes ago, he’s definitely still invested in her journey.

After their win at the local tournament, Chihaya and co. take some time to practice some more, though Chihaya is afraid of what will come next. When they defeated Hokuou, the leader of that club tells Chihaya not to embarrass herself, as she’s representing all of Tokyo’s karuta players. She feels the pressure and wonders if she can do it. Taichi reassures her and lets her know he gained some insider info they can use to strategize.

But instead of focusing so much on practice before the next tournament, we get to see the people in Chihaya’s life and how they react to her win. The Mizusawa karuta club advisor, who initially was ambivalent about the club existing at all, is intrigued to see they actually won a tournament. Whereas before she just wanted them to keep a low profile, after hearing of their win and seeing their passion in action, she actually has their trophy on display front and center in the principal’s office. Before, she didn’t want to travel with them to Omi, and tried to rope another teacher without commitments to chaperone; later, she happily goes with them.

Chihaya’s family, too, initially doesn’t seem to care that much about Chihaya’s victory; they’re more concerned with getting her sister ready for her next magazine shoot, while listening to her talk about a recent audition. The panels are drawn to convey wide, open space, communicating Chihaya’s loneliness, and conjuring up a sadness for her. But then she looks on her family’s bookshelf and sees her dad started a scrapbook of her, opening with newspaper clippings of her recent win at the tournament. Chihaya breaks down in tears, because her parents care after all!

By this point, we cut to Arata again, which shines a light on what took his grandpa under – before he died, he was displaying symptoms of dementia, and it slowly begins to eat away at him to the point that he’s unfamiliar with karuta cards and titles.

Next up, they go to Omi Shrine and start to play in the next tournament. Suddenly, Chihaya catches a fever, and her team intervenes and forfeits her match on her behalf. Meanwhile, Arata makes it to Omi Shrine to watch Mizusawa’s games when Chihaya stumbles. After Chihaya wakes up and reunites with Arata, and as Arata runs into some old karuta buddies. Arata is told that his karuta playing reminds this old friend of Arata’s grandfather. At this point, Arata realizes how much karuta matters to him, then the volume ends.

The character growth in this volume is more subtle and less direct than in previous volumes, but it isn’t any less powerful in practice. The moment where Chihaya uncovers her scrapbook is such a heartwarming moment. Seeing her express her fears, then winning so many people over to her passion, is great to see in action. Getting to see more of Arata was great, too – it happens just often enough that it makes sense and keeps the text’s flow consistent. Chihayafuru does a great job at tying the different cast members into the story in meaningful ways. Not only does it do an amazing job at depicting Chihaya’s passion, but now we see it’s also effective at showing how that impacts others around her. In that way, Chihayafuru has only grown more special since the first volume.

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. Check out Kodansha Comics’ page on the manga here.

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