By Yuki Suetsugu. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Be Love. Released in North America digitally by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Ko Ransom.
The sign of a good series is that you care about the characters as if they were real people, and take joy in their triumphs and grieve at their setbacks. This can sometimes backfire, however, when you see the setbacks coming and think to yourself “Oh noooooo!”. The moment I saw Chihaya’s head throb, I knew immediately what was going to happen by the end of the volume, and it hurt. This is why this review is running somewhat late, because I really did not want to read what I knew was going to happen. It comes after a half volume of small triumphs and achievements, as they quality for the National Tournament, win over their faculty adviser, and slowly come together as a team, each character getting a little bit more to do and more for us to identify with. Then I saw that throbbing head. And I said “…she’s sick.” And yep. SO FRUSTRATING.
Arata gets the cover this time around, and fortunately also gets a chunk of the narrative, as we get to see the strong relationship he had with his grandfather from his POV, helping to explain why he was so devastated he abandoned Karuta. It’s portrayed very realistically: his grandfather is a vibrant, active guy who loves Karuta, but then he has a stroke, which brings memory loss and rehabilitation. And of course, this being a manga and thus obliged to observe the occasional cliche, he goes to the tournament and leaves his grandfather alone for a few hours. We all know how that’s going to turn out. It really helps bring Arata into focus and remind us that he is eventually going to be a major player in this series again, and I imagine seeing Chihaya and company here will act as a catalyst.
As for Chihaya, she does her best, and tries hard to hide her illness form everyone, but in the end they have to forfeit after she collapses. Naturally, after waking back up, she’s completely devastated, and I suspect Vol. 5 is going to have a lot of depression and self-hatred. We’ve been seeing a lot of sports titles over here lately, and usually when there’s something like this it’s a physical injury, such as a sprained ankle or somesuch. Of course, they usually deal with physical sports such as basketball or volleyball. When you have something like Karuta, which is a lot more physical than I expected but still played seated and relying primarily on memorization and strategy, a fever or nasty cold can be just as bad as that sprained ankle. It’s to the credit of the team that they kept playing after she had to forfeit, but I have a sneaking suspicion that we’ll pick up after the tournament and deal with the fallout.
Chihayafuru remains one of the best digital titles Kodansha is releasing at the moment, and I hope my review of Vol. 5 (already out) will come sooner rather than later.