I actually like this show. I just think Chihayafuru‘s drama is trying too hard at times. Our flashback from last week continues. Chihaya comes to class the next day only to find that — true to Taichi’s threat from the day before — everyone is now ignoring her for associating with the country bumpkin. Wow, it takes a lot to be this mean and petty. I mean, I can understand why a jealous Taichi might resort to such bullying tactics, but the entire class? I’m not necessarily complaining about the plot’s realism. Rather, the drama just feels a little too cheap and a little too forced for my liking. Every drama is contrived to a certain extent, but when the story becomes too transparent in its designs, the narrative immersion is ruined for me. I should be finding myself lost in the story, but instead, I’m removed from it and picking at the structure.
And like every other tale featuring some sort of competition, the anime gives us the cliché “us against them” scenario. At first, everyone will root happily against the underdogs. Things get even worse for our duo when Taichi steals Arata’s glasses — oh no, how the odds are stacked against them! Luckily, Arata has memorized the position of the cards so he starts the championship match off well. Argh, if only he had known Taichi has no qualms about cheating; the latter begins switching up the order of the cards to gain yet another advantage.
I don’t get it, though. The teacher is right there, overseeing everything and yet she allows such underhanded tactics. Sure, Taichi might not be breaking any official rules, but doesn’t sportsmanship count for anything anymore? Even more absurd, the entire room full of onlookers — including parents — doesn’t seem too nonplussed by what they (presumably) see. What happened to the all-important honor in our society?!
But it’s okay. Chihaya takes over for Arata and now we can begin playing a cheesy montage of the competitors sweating and panting over karuta. Despite Chihaya’s limitations, she just has that natural talent for the game, quickly winning over the minds and hearts of the people… or something like that. So here comes cheap drama moment number two: Chihaya’s victory rings somewhat hollow when she calls home and her family’s just a bit too obsessed with her older sister’s modeling potential to care about a karuta championship. Cheap drama moment number three: Taichi’s mother reprimands the kid for not only losing, but losing to a girl.
All by their lonesome, these moments wouldn’t really bother me. When they come together in a single episode, however, Chihayafuru begins to test my patience. There has to be a better way to develop the drama more organically than this. There has to be a way to get us to identify with the characters without pitting the entire world against them. I get an older sister being self-absorbed. I get a mother’s disappointment. I get a jealous childhood companion developing bitterness toward a girl’s new friend. But Chihayafuru doesn’t execute these issues with any finesse. Rather than a sigh, a mother literally tells her son not to bother competing in anything he isn’t good at. Rather than a single person bullying Arata, the entire class is in on the cruelty. All I’m saying is that the drama feels a little too heavy-handed at times. There’s just something to be said about subtlety.