I’m not so hard to please, after all.

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.

I should really be ashamed at what I waste my time watching and why

I took this screenshot because I thought it would be useful for the next time I needed a good picture for one of those "I came" images but then I felt guilty using this show for that so I'm going to trail off now...

I’m such a hypocrite. I pretend like I’m some connoisseur of TV but I just watch whichever show has cute character designs, a catchy gimmick, or voice actors with whom I’m enamoured. Chihayafuru is appealing for most of the same reasons that watching Pokemon is and episode 09 really made clear to me why. The viewer is the protagonist, Chihaya, and looks forward to every episode/day in which opportunity is provided for her to overcome one of life’s obstacles, recruit a member for her club, increase her experience points, or get a kansetsu kiss from Miyano Mamoru. Episode 09 was the quintessential training camp episode in which the clubmembers go to the house of one of its members to practise. The protagonist’s variegated array of teammates, from the nerdy Tsukue-kun to the normal girl Kanade to the allstar bishounen Taichi, are all the viewer’s friends and it’s my relationship with them, not some fictional protagonist’s, that are slowly improving and bestowing significance upon my tender developmental years. It’s my aching otomegokoro, not hers. This isn’t healthy but it’s why we watch TV. It’s just more apparent in josei and kids shows than elsewhere that this is our motivation for watching. I nearly let myself watch Nana as a result of a similar need for vicarious emotional discharge but mustered up sufficient shame to avoid that pitfall just in the nick of time.

Neither the director nor the writer draw your attention to it quite as blatantly when it comes to gaining experience points in the real world. I did laundry today but I don’t feel like my competence level as a human has increased all that much for it, nor do I feel the sense of satiety or completeness that gets underscored at the resolution phase of each story in shows like Pokemon and Chihayafuru. Problems arise, tension builds across an episode or several but, eventually — and most importantly before the viewer falls into despair from beginning to perceive the show as a “downer” and risk dismissing it on those grounds — the problem gets resolved and we all feel that we’ve overcome one of the hurdles of childhood and we’re one step closer to fulfillment, maturity, and satisfaction. In TV World everything happens for a useful reason; each time we resolve a problem we get noticeably better at life. Our skillset gets filled out, our minds expanded, or our hearts opened to something new. It’s an enjoyable experience because TV concentrates this development into a few short minutes at the end of an episode instead of allowing it to take the more diffuse, less noticeable form it manifests itself in in daily life, a form nowhere near dense enough to function as the emotional payload of a TV episode.

But just like caffeine, prolonged use means I’m needing this in ever larger doses. Real life wasn’t cutting it from the beginning, but now even TV isn’t saccharine enough for me. Chihayafuru and Tamayura Hitotose are but I don’t know what I’m going to do next season. I’ve been watching a lot of Sekai Meisaku Gekijou lately because they exclusively adapt stories that fulfill the above formula. It’s not enough though and on a practical level, I can’t buy from Yahoo! Auctions and not all of the seasons are available on Share. Ghibli is good for honeyed fairy tales, but I’ve used those films up.

Industry, do you hear me? Forget robots, explosions, and sport shows; spin more syrupy accounts of growing pains that I may watch from under a snuggly warm blanket with my wet sleeves and carton of melancholy flavoured ice cream.