I’m really enjoying Chihayafuru, as much as I’m ashamed to admit it again. I’ve seen up to episode 12 now but I’ll be trying to catch up as soon as I can. It’s such a soothing show. Yet, at the same time, though it feels a bit peculiar to say it, there’s a great deal of suspense involved in watching it.
I tried watching Guilty Crown last season and found it unwatchably boring. The directors are telling you that some sort of national crisis is going on, the protagonist is somehow involved, and that you ought to be looking forward to with apprehension the sinister results of this mix. If I felt any suspense watching that show or others like it it was because I felt guilty for not feeling the suspense that the show was obviously telling me I should be overwhelmed with.
With Chihayafuru the suspense doesn’t seem as manufactured as that. It’s a visceral suspense, in the stomach, that says, “I want to know what happens next!”. It comes naturally. Because I barely know the rules of karuta at all I’m learning things as I watch. The games are exciting. It feels like being a spectator at an actual competitive event. The characters’ inner dialogue serves a purpose basically the same as the announcer at a sporting event. I know I’m being manipulated but, unlike most of the time, it doesn’t feel that way. I only realise after the credits roll that I’ve wasted all that emotion on a TV show about make-believe people.
The relationships between characters develop at a steady but quick pace as well. Since the end of the childhood prologue, the passage of time has been handled well without too much wasted time on episodes that focus on just one character for the sake of some fabricated “deep character development” that has little bearing on the overall plot. Each character has some role in more or less each episode without jeopardizing the preeminent position of Chihaya as the protagonist and Taichi as the fuzzy, as-yet-not-fully-realised love interest.
The mythification of Arata as some sort of abstract karuta deity whose support Chihaya has been seeking all these years, despite not much of any response from him, also provides for some suspense and opportunities for speculation on the part of the viewer, who can’t help but wonder if the two will be reunited and, if so, what form the reconciliation will take. Will he be hostile, like he was when she saw him in Fukui? Or will he be apologetic? Could it be that he will join the team? I’m looking forward to finding out.