In this volume, Chihaya takes a backseat, in favor of the other members of Mizusawa’s karuta club getting a chance in the spotlight.
Chihaya’s school advisors inform her that her grades are slipping rather severely, so she’s advised to focus on her studies. In the meantime, she and the other club members are preparing for ranked matches in their area. These matches are significant because enough wins in their respective ranks will result in a “level up” of sorts to the next class, which comes with its own sort of prestige.
Chihaya, fresh off her loss to Shinobu and still in the process of learning new strategies, is swiftly defeated by her first opponent, an older woman who was known as a karuta idol in her heyday. Now that she’s benched, she gets to see the rest of teammates compete – and to her surprise, they compete against each other in the final match. Taichi is paired with Nishida as B-class players, while Kanade is paired with Komano (“Desk-kun”) as D-class players. Chihaya has a new struggle: who does she root for?
The book decides to focus more on Kanade and Komano’s match, and it was a thrilling match to read. There are moments in earlier volumes where Chihaya gives Kanade light critiques on her play style, mainly that her posture isn’t ideal, and the book demonstrates that Kanade listened to and grew from the feedback. Komano tries to play mind games to trip Kanade up, but her love for the hyakunin isshu poems prevails, and she’s able to narrowly defeat him and rank up to the C-class. Chihaya is rightfully pretty emotional about her win, but struggles with her joy as it comes at Komano’s expense. The book briefly shifts to Taichi’s match, but not much is said about it.
This volume was slightly more muted than the last few, if only because the focus is not on Chihaya so much this time. That said, her club mates are still fun to read about, and it was a nice insight to their train of thought when playing karuta. Like the last volume, it’s important for Chihaya to have external stimuli to keep her sharp. Whereas Shinobu posed more of a threat, this volume shared something more uplifting. If this volume is weaker or less interesting, it’s only relatively. To me, it still contributes something vital to Chihaya’s growth as a person and as a karuta player.
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 ten volumes to date. Check out Kodansha Comics’ page on the manga here.