December 24, 2015
Yuki Suetsugu – Kodansha – 2012 – 27+ volumes
The pace of this series is a little slow, so it feels like so much happens in these volumes! I love it. Here, Taichi and Chihaya go to find Arata. They do, and we learn why he stopped playing karuta, but it appears as if he’s not going to join the story just yet. Interestingly, he’s a viable love interest, even from far away. Taichi crushes on Chihaya hard in this volume, but not much comes of the love triangle here. I love that everything seems to be unspoken, even to the point where the characters don’t think about or admit their crushes.
So Taichi promises that he’ll help Chihaya start a karuta club at their school. They quickly recruit an old karuta club comrade named Meat Bun. We get a bit of story about a character named Desk, second place in the academic rankings to Taichi and possessing a huge complex about it, as well as the fact that Taichi seems to effortlessly have friends and attract attention and generally be a great guy. Because he seems smart, Chihaya targets him and relentlessly cajoles him until he joins the club.
My favorite character was the only new member with a name, Kanade. She’s awesome. Her family runs a kimono shop that’s struggling, and Kanade is really, really into traditional Japanese study. She’s currently in the kyudo club, presumably because she can wear hakama and kyudo is pretty Japanese. She’s attracted to the karuta club because she adores the artistic sentiments behind the 100 poems themselves. This is alien to Chihaya, and when Kanade finds out that Chihaya and Taichi are only playing a game, and not appreciating Japanese culture, she leaves. But Chihaya pursues her relentlessly again, and begins studying the poems as poetry, rather than just pieces to memorize. It improves her game! Kanade agrees to join the club as long as they play in kimono, and Chihaya models for her family’s catalogue.
So they do sports manga things like have a karuta camp and play as many games as possible. Chihaya refuses to go lightly on the new players, since she got into karuta by being totally dominated by Arata. They celebrate her birthday, then go to a high school tournament.
I loved this tournament. Sentiment turned against them immediately when they showed up in traditional attire. Apparently one has to wear such things in the upper ranks of karuta, and the other players took it as arrogant “practice.” The main struggles at the tournament are playing as a team, which I enjoyed, since it put a unique spin on the early team dynamic I’ve never seen in a sports manga before. It’s implied they don’t play well as a team because the players are selfish, which I thought was interesting. Usually you don’t play well as a team because you don’t know each other well enough.
This tournament was also fun, since we got to see some combative karuta strategies. One player in particular towards the end of the volume was playing some pretty hilarious mind games against Chihaya. The weaker players start coming into their own here, too, and unfortunately, the volumes ends in the middle of the tournament.
I am devastated. I didn’t realize there was an anime, so I’m going to pick up the story there, but I like this well enough that I probably will bother to puzzle through the rest of it in Japanese.