Chihayafuru, vol. 5

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Unlike the previous volume, which featured a build from the Mizusawa karuta club’s local tournament all the way to Omi Shrine, this one spends the bulk of its run in one place, focusing on a heated karuta match.

Volume 5 picks up directly where the last one left off, with Chihaya reuniting with Arata in a nurse’s office, distraught that she didn’t get to compete with her team. Sadly, the Mizusawa club didn’t win enough matches to qualify for the next round, but each player is eligible for single matches the next day. Chihaya, feeling more like herself, is eager to play no matter what.

At this point, the series introduces a new character: Shinobu, the incumbent karuta queen, and one who strikes fear in the hearts of other players. Perhaps by fate, Chihaya is selected to play against her, and excitement is high in Chihaya’s heart. Everyone around her waits with baited breath, knowing that there’s a significant gulf in experience and skill between the two girls.

True to the way it was set up, Chihaya gets her ass handed to her by Shinobu, who, despite her calm demeanor, is a beast on the playing field. Chihaya uses her speed to the best of her ability, but Shinobu seems to rely on skills besides speed, including unique card layouts, to establish an advantage. Chihaya does her best and is able to get some points in this match, but she ultimately loses by a wide margin.

Following the single player matches, Chihaya and co. return to Mizusawa, humbled by their defeat. Chihaya in particular is devastated, having never encountered a player like Shinobu before. Though she is initially despondent, her fear evolves into a resolve to become a better, more rounded player, learning different techniques and reaching out to former mentors to understand what went wrong. Meanwhile, Taichi and Nishida (affectionately known as “Meat buns”) compete to become A class karuta players, hoping to reach Chihaya’s classification level.

This one was a hard read, just because you really feel for Chihaya when she loses her match with Shinobu. At the same time, though, it feels true to life to me to have her get knocked down a peg or two. There’s a moment in the aftermath of her match, where Chihaya is sulking around, where Taichi remarks to someone else, “this is the moment it really became a dream for her.” That line pierced right through me on reflection. I know what it’s like, as a hobbyist, to be hit with new ways of thinking about things, and sometimes it’s hard to accept. It’s an essential part of the journey, and it’s captured excellently here, especially with the way Chihaya starts to rise from the ashes and grow from the loss.

Chihayafuru continues to check all the boxes for me. It tells a simple story, but it’s got a fantastic lead, and the depiction of passion as a feeling is grounded in truth. More people should read this series!

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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