This volume contains a healthy mix of stuff – part secondary character growth, part karuta action, part internal strife for our heroine.
Fresh off the matches between her clubmates, Chihaya has decided to support Taichi at a tournament in a different city. She also runs into Arata there, who’s also competing. Taichi and Arata have some exchanges, and Arata passes his e-mail to Taichi, in the hope that it’ll reach Chihaya. In the first volume, there was some minor tension between these two over their romantic feelings for Chihaya. These feelings, mostly unremarked upon in the intervening five volumes, suddenly surge back to the surface when Arata comments on the physical distance between them.
In a conversation with the head of the Shiranami karuta club, Taichi is told he can be promoted to Class A despite his multiple losses in the qualifiers. He’s told that because he even made it as far as he did, he can be promoted on principle, and recommends pursuing this, because he may quit out of frustration. At this suggestion, Taichi laughs, saying, “what I want more than to be Class A is to be someone who doesn’t run away.”
Later, Chihaya and Arata are poised to play against each other. There’s little said in this scene – the emotion is conveyed through Chihaya’s visions of her match with Shinobu. She starts to reflect on the training she’s undergone to improve her playing style, likening her movements to flowing water.
These are intercut with Chihaya hitting the books, as in the last volume, she was in danger of failing. She struggles with her abilities in this area, as Taichi is able to put so much heart into karuta while retaining his top scores. Komano reminds her that in order to put everything into what she loves, she will also have to put everything into what she doesn’t love as much. The upside is that her studies pay off; she manages to pass her exams and rise above her record low ranking.
This newfound confidence culminates in a match with a child prodigy in karuta, an elementary schooler named Lilica. She apparently has some media presence, as her name carries weight in the crowd. Chihaya is fairly evenly-matched with Lilica in skill, but ultimately is able to come out on top. It’s not all peachy, though, as it’s through their match that Chihaya recognizes just how much Lilica loves the game. She understands how tough it is to lose at something you love doing, so for her, it’s reliving her match with Shinobu, only with the roles reversed. It’s also hard to hear the spectators start to comment that maybe Lilica isn’t that great.
Next, Chihaya is faced with Yamamoto Yumi, the former queen and Shinobu’s predecessor. This battle is also difficult to watch, but moreso because Yumi is a bit conflicted about her status. She seems tired, and through character conversations, we learn that she’s had lofty expectations hoisted upon her shoulders. As Yumi is a bit older than the main cast, she endures more adult responsibilities; she works full-time, so she has competing commitments. She isn’t as focused on karuta as the rest, so it’s understandable she’s not razor sharp the way Chihaya is. Chihaya sees this as an opening, but the volume ends on a cliffhanger mid-match.
Whereas most volumes of Chihayafuru are focused on one main idea, this one goes all over the place. It’s by no means bad; on the contrary, though its growth moments are smaller than usual, they still feed into what we’ve seen so far. Taichi’s main struggle has been reconciling his effort with his relative lack of passion for karuta, and we see he still wants to overcome this. Though Chihaya has overcome her recent defeats by besting Lilica, it comes with a price, as she knows full well how much it sucks when you’re passionate about something and still can’t come out on top. It has most recently come at Chihaya’s expense, so now she understands how it feels to dish it out. On that note, it was so tough to see Lilica lose, just because she was so spirited. It was awful to see those spectators turn on her, however subtly. I had to pick my heart up from the floor after it had been torn out by these faceless cretins.
The only issue with this volume is that it kind of rushes into the next match with Yumi after the match with Lilica. Granted, there is some time spent with Arata, but it’s of little consequence this time around. Normally, there’s some downtime between tense moments, to give Chihaya space to reflect; we don’t really get that this time around. It doesn’t prevent growth from occurring, but in this case, the growth moments are built upon beats from earlier chapters. Not much happens as a direct response to these particular matches. This isn’t a significant complaint, but it feels just that much more slight compared to other books in the series. I’d say it’s a good problem to have when a relatively weak volume in a series is still very, very good.
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.