Chihayafuru 3
Episode 21-22

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 21 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

How would you rate episode 22 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

"Why didn't he say anything? Why'd he go alone? He's Taichi. Of course he couldn't tell me."

"Exactly. He couldn't tell you because it's who he is. But if you rationalize it like that, you'll stop thinking. So keep thinking, Chihaya-chan. Think about why he does this."

I want to shake Taichi for making Chihaya cry. It's unforgivable, even if it comes from a warped place of love and competition. But it's just not fair. All his life, he's done things to propel himself forward--bullying Arata when they were kids, or going to tournaments behind Chihaya's back. Or using his fictional relationship status with her to block and curry favor with Suo. At the end of the day, it's all about him. Even his desire to win over Chihaya is selfishly motivated--at what point does he start considering her feelings, if not romantically than as a friend? She's not crying on the train because he signed up for the tournament. She's crying because he didn't tell her about it. Karuta is a lot of things to a lot of people, but maybe… it's the friends you make along the way? It's certainly not the tournament results that forge familial bonds among club members, or create a community of friendly rivals that can be called upon to support one another in times of need.

Over this season, we've seen a lot of different variations of what it means to put yourself first. There's Dr. Harada, who has spent all of his spare time chasing his lifelong dream of becoming a karuta Master, so much so that he apologizes to his wife when he doesn't succeed. Or Haruka, who feels guilty for not following society's expectations to devote 100% of her life to being a mother. But we've also seen a lot of the opposite, about giving yourself completely over to someone else's hopes and dreams, like Chihaya's mother. Or Sumire, who's Valentine's Day confession is the purest expression of selfless love.

Even so, it doesn't seem worth it to make someone you care about cry. What kind of love is that? It's the kind of thing you can't even feign ignorance about, because if you don't know that your actions would cause grief in a loved one, isn't it just as bad? Unforgivable.

But before we get to detangle the complicated relationship between Taichi and Chihaya, we have to slug through two simultaneous karuta tournaments. Chihaya handily wins hers, deploying a new grit for the game that was almost ruined by Suo's snide comment to her. It's a sign of her personal strength that when she cites all of the inspiration she's gleaned from the Master and Queen tournament, Suo makes the list as well. He may be a snake, but even he has attributes worth looking up to.

Meanwhile, Taichi is matched up with who else, but Arata, and their approach to the game couldn't be more different. Arata is happy, excited, bounding with a positive energy that comes from enjoying the game. Taichi can barely sit across from him without fuming and obsessing. He even tells himself he needs to play dirty, but it's no match for Arata, who's unphased even by Taichi asking about Chihaya. (That blush, though-- be still, my heart.) It's no surprise when the match goes to Arata. Even though Taichi's karuta has improved immensely just in the last year, there's a lot to be said about the attitude you bring into competition. Maybe that's a lesson he can take into his love life as well… though maybe his main problem has always been that he sees it as a competition at all.

The advent of the new karuta season also means that the school year is drawing to a close. For other clubs, this means saying goodbye to seniors… and supporting the next slate of leaders. At Hokuo, that's Retro-kun, who frets over not being able to ascend to Class A. After all, what kind of president would he be if he couldn't even compete with the upper echelon of players? But as leaving club prez Nayuta says, it's more important that Retro has passion, which he possesses in spades. If sports anime had currency, it would be Passion, with maybe some Hard Work sprinkled in. (This is probably why Murao ends up beating Arata for the first place trophy.) For Retro fans, these two episodes are a nice little nod to one of the series' quirkiest side characters.

The biggest spotlight is reserved for Sumire, who's often acted as a proxy for the audience's curiosities and frustrations about Taichi's emotions. It's through her that we've learned the most about his defiant nature, his complicated relationship with his mom, the pressure he has to succeed, and also his feelings towards Chihaya. It's also her who finally pushes him to confront those emotions during a cute Valentine's Day episode that lags in parts, but ultimately pays off with a few sweet nuggets for Sumire lovers and #TeamTaichi believers alike.

It's through Sumire that we also get an answer to what Kanade asked Chihaya on the train: “Think about why he does this.” She is somehow wise beyond her years in the realm of love, even teaching the girls a thing or two about making homemade chocolate treats. But the real lesson she teaches them is one of true love. Having spent years studiously practicing karuta, money and effort on beauty regimens, and time supporting Taichi, in the end, Sumire decides to give it all up. After confessing her love to him, she encourages him to talk to Chihaya about his feelings. It hurts when he confirms his intention to do so, but she nevertheless grits her teeth and does her best to help him. As she says, liking someone isn't about something as trivial as being pretty--”it's greedy, tenacious.”

In the same way that Taichi is often greedy, taking what he wants and pushing others out of the way to get it. Putting in extra hours to excel in a sport that maybe he's inherently less talented in. So yeah, maybe that's the answer that Chihaya has been searching for. But maybe she knows, too, deep in her heart. That's why she puts in so much work to give Taichi a present that only she could pull off-- a karuta tournament, just for him. Love is nothing, if not self-sacrificing. Maybe by the end of this, Taichi will have learned that as well.

This season has been choppy at times, and frustratingly willing to spend inordinate amounts of time on throwaway comedy and weird side character bits, but it always comes around with a payoff. A few episodes ago, we got a long-awaited confession from Arata; now it's Taichi's turn. As much as I love staring at karuta matches, these sweet moments are a lot of what pulled me into this show in the first place.

Also-- has it really taken us nine years to get to this point? I think it's been worth it.


Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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