Chihayafuru 3
Episode 23

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 23 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

I've been waiting for this moment for years. Waiting for the moment Taichi finally admitted his feelings about Chihaya… and shared them with her. Still, I don't think I was prepared for how powerful this episode would be, or the sheer velocity of emotions we'd be getting all at once. But now that it's all laid bare, Chihaya has no choice but to come to grips with her own thoughts about Taichi, as well as the possibility of letting their friendship go.

But first…! A quick interlude about Arata, who's back at his club, doing his thing, and finally free of whatever emotional hangup he had going into the final match of the Takamatsu Memorial Cup. This is news to viewers, as the only thing we knew was that he had come in second place to Marao. Love, though, is one hell of a distraction. Arata may have defeated Taichi, but he was pretty derailed by the realization that the “chihayafuru” card was never even read. Would he have even been able to get there first? And how would he have felt if Taichi had nabbed the card?

It all swirls back to my hope that, in the end, Chihaya ends up on Team Nobody Except Yourself, Queen. Because while I love a good love triangle as much as the next romance fan, all of this karuta peacocking seems to leave out the most important puzzle piece--Chihaya. For her, all of this has always only been about two things: 1. Playing karuta with her friends 2. Being the best damned karuta player in Japan. Of course, she does care deeply about both Taichi and Arata, but occasional blushes aside, it's always been hard to parse whether or not she reciprocates their feelings romantically. It's a little more obvious with Arata, but with Taichi... it's harder to tell. They do spend an inordinate amount of time together, and she went through great pains to organize an entire tournament for him, but their relationship has always vacillated somewhere between club members and close friends. And, given how frequently and how often Taichi has gone behind her back this season, who could blame her for not knowing he likes her?

I don't want to give Taichi a hard time every week; it's not easy to be vulnerable, especially for someone who was raised in a household where weakness or failure was not tolerated. And especially, I guess, for someone who's popular enough to always have girls flinging themselves at him. (I do have to give Chihaya a big side eye for joking(??) about the Taichi Cup prize being a kiss from him. And then… promptly ignoring it at the end, like she wasn't aware of it… come on, girl.)

After chewing up some of the runtime, the Taichi Cup eventually gives way to the actual showstopper--a quiet moment shared between Taichi and Chihaya in the club room. He finally reveals the secret he's been sitting on since grade school, that he was the one who stole and hid Arata's glasses. Fortunately for him, Chihaya seems a little more dismayed than disappointed, but the confession triggers another memory--that of a young Arata accusing Taichi of being a coward. And in that moment, determined to run from cowardice, he tells Chihaya he loves her.

Visually, this scene is everything that shoujo dreams are made of--feather-soft sakura petals floating through the open window, a gentle breeze ruffling everyone's hair. Eyes and lips shining with a gloss reserved for young anime love. And if the melodramatic tension wasn't enough, Taichi doubles down on his confession, telling Chihaya every little thing that he loves about her. After all this time, it's a relief that all these bottled up emotions are finally out in the open.

Despite baring his soul, though, Taichi doesn't quite get the answer that he's hoping for. He barely gets an answer at all, since her response is drowned out by the school bell. But in the days that follow, it becomes obvious that they're not quite on the same plane. He tries to keep going to karuta club, but she's quiet and reserved, completely different from the way she acts when she's around Arata. So it's not really a surprise to anyone besides Chihaya when he suddenly quits the club.

Throughout Chihayafuru, there's always been an implicit assumption that Chihaya would either end up with Arata and Taichi. It's in the way that the two boys squabble over her during karuta matches, and the way they've framed winning tournaments as winning her love. But for the most part, they've completely left her out of their decisions. They've barely even interacted with her outside of karuta, which makes it more frustrating given Taichi's close proximity. Meanwhile, Chihaya has been so passive throughout this entire situation that it would feel wrong for anyone to “win” her.

So it's actually really great when Taichi cuts the cord on her and the karuta club. It's a shock, but it's also the realest that the series has been about their relationship thus far. For someone who's just had his heart broken, he should absolutely get the space that he needs, even if it means losing friends. I don't blame Chihaya for being confused, and for being upset at the sudden reality of not having him in the club anymore, but as Taichi tells her, he's not made of stone. Everything he's ever loved about karuta has been tainted with heartache; sometimes the only thing you can do is retreat and take care of yourself.

So... yeah. A lot happened this episode. There were a lot of highs, and there were a lot of lows. But it was an episode packed with things that needed to happen sooner or later. I'm just happy that things unfurled the way they did. It's a lot to digest, and it'll be a lot to come back from, but it's refreshing to see a romantic lead cut their losses so completely and devastatingly after such a long build-up. I'm struggling to envision how this season could possibly end after this, but I am braced for some tears.

Rating: 4

Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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