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.
There’s a lot going on in this volume of Chihayafuru, which is starting to find its feet. We gain a new member of the karuta club, which has now hit the required five. Tsutomu, aka “Desk-kun”, is an introverted, small, nerdy guy who seems to be devoted to studies and has few friends. But once Chihaya sets her sights on him (which involves, at one point, kidnapping him), and he realizes that one of the otehr players on the team is in fact the #1 stude3nt in the school, he wonders if karuta can help his focus in other areas as well. I like Tsutomu. He brings a rookie lack of confidence that this sort of series always needs, and his crisis of faith towards the end of the book is both dramatic and understandable. What’s more, his suggestion of playing karuta with the poem-side down leads to a match of pure memorization between Taichi and Chihaya, and gives him his first big triumph.
Chihaya’s learning a lot in this volume, mostly as they now have a full team of five, which means that they have to learn how to play Karuta as a team – not that they play together, but such things as setting the right order for the matches and having trust that your other teammates are going to be fine. She’s also thrown off by one of her first opponents, who even gets her precious Chihaya card, which makes you feel like she’s going to break. (Her inner monologue has everything sounding far away to her, thus ruining her hearing advantage. I like this detail, as it makes it sound like she’s about to pass out – I’ve had that feeling myself.) Oddly, the true heart and leader of the team ends up being Taichi, who always knows the right think to say to Chihaya to snap her out of whatever funk she’s in. I suspect this is meant to be a love triangle with Arata, but given Arata’s ongoing absence it’s easier to fall on the Taichi side.
This volume is almost all karuta, but not entirely – there’s a “training session” at Taichi’s house that is just an excuse to give Chihaya a surprise birthday party. Sadly, it’s ruined when his incredibly strict mother comes home early, and the girls have to take off, but they at least get to meet up later (and we get an Arata text message cameo.) Chihaya continues to be the main reason to read the manga – Taichi may be the heart of the team, but she’s the heart of this series, and her incredible emotional ups and downs make for thrilling reading. Karuta isn’t just ‘let’s have fun and make friends’ anymore – by the end of the volume, the entire team is thinking ‘I want to win’ like it’s a mantra. Playing in a competitive sport means pushing your limits, and not slacking off. There’s a cliffhanger here, and Vol. 4 isn’t on Kodansha’s schedule yet, but I hope it comes soon. Unmissable.