gallifreyians: For those who watched Chihayafuru back in Winter/Spring 2012, a new member to the karuta team isn’t all that new since Chihaya started the club and recruited Kana, Yusei, and Komano all in three episodes. With her tenacious attitude, pushy nature, and passion for karuta, Chihaya easily won over Kana, Yusei, and Komano to her cause. However, with the introduction of Hanano Sumire in Chihayafuru S2, things go a little differently. Hanano is the typical teenage girl — the typical, bordering on stereotypical — and has no interest whatsoever in karuta. As made perfectly clear by the first episode of this season, the only reason Hanano is even in the karuta club is because she wants to replace the boyfriend who broke up with her on the first day of the new term with Mashima Taichi. This fixation on having a relationship sets up the core theme of Hanano’s character arc: love and beauty.
Because just as Hanano has an obsession with having the perfect romantic relationship, she is just as obsessed with making herself attractive. In fact, I believe that even before Hanano talks about her boyfriend problems or about pursuing Taichi, we see her applying mascara. Furthermore, in episode two Hanano refused to cut her nails despite the risk of injuring her opponent and stopped a practice karuta match to fix her eyeshadow. While in many ways seems to make her shallow, petty, and inconsiderate, there is a moment of transcendance at the end of the first episode that makes me reconsider this opinion. All of the episodes of Chihayafuru are named after parts of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu poems that are used in karuta, and episode one of the second season is named “So The Flower Has Wilted” from poem nine.
So the flower has wilted during the long spring rains, just as my beauty has faded during my forlorn years in this world.”
Chihaya gave all of the new freshman memorization packets and when Hanano read this poem, she ran out of the room crying because of the truth she found in Ono no Komachi’s verse: that youth and beauty are fleeting. I get the sense this is a truth that Hanano has always known, yet we see her persevere in the face of knowing that all of her efforts to make herself beautiful ultimately only work towards a transient goal, and I find that incredibly interesting.
Hanano sees value in trying to attain the ideal of feminine beauty all the while knowing that it will never last, and from a piece of dialogue at the end of episode one we can glimpse as to why. Hanano says:
Youth and beauty soon fade. So I must live for love!”
By her own admission, Hanano must focus her life on love and the acquisition of that precious commodity; a statement that recontextualizes Hanano’s vanity. If love is the ultimate goal in life, then beauty must then be the tool to gain it. For Hanano making herself beautiful isn’t about looking pretty, it’s about finding unconditional love — not romance, not a boyfriend; Hanano is simply on the quest to find someone to love. It is easy to dismiss her as being a stupid teenage girl who just wants to steal away Taichi from Chihaya in order to fulfill a warped need to have a boyfriend, but isn’t the desire to feel loved a universal need? At the end of the second episode it is Kana who convinces Hanano to stay with karuta and to make a genuine effort in learning how to play, and Kana does this by appealing directly to what Hanano is all about: love. Kana is very similar to Hanano in the respect that she is also obsessed with beauty, and is probably the only one on the team who could’ve gotten to Hanano. In their conversation, Kana told Hanano that the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu have lasted so long because their expressions of love conform to a set thirty-one syllable style (“the rules”). Which — while certainly appearing to be just a tidbit of trivia — is Kana expressing to Hanano that there are other ways of expressing her love for Mashima besides attaining a transient physical beauty, mainly through karuta. In the same vein as Arata and Chihaya’s complex romantic relationship is viewed through karuta, these episodes really make a great point that the game of karuta itself is an expression of love even outside of the context of Chihaya/Arata.
I have a distinct feeling that Hanano is getting a lot of hate from the fandom, but quite honestly I enjoyed her and the interesting ideological changes her character brings with her to the show. In the coming episodes I think we can look forward to a very profound thematic arc about karuta as love which I am very sure will bring us back to what really drew everyone to the show in the first place, Chihaya/Arata feels.
illegenes: Well, what a fantastic return! It feels like Chihayafuru never really finished a season in the first place, and that it’s been here all along. In terms of a second season introduction, it couldn’t have done a better job.
*To those who decided to jump on the Chihayafuru bandwagon, I’d highly suggest that you go back and watch the first season – much of what I’m about to talk about refers to the first season, and as it is, you’d be better off watching the first season anyways because you’d be missing out on much more than just karuta games.
For the most part, these first two episodes were a basic introduction to Sumire, the newest addition to the team. As gallifreyians described, Sumire is what most people would describe as ‘vain and beautiful’ – obsessed with her own goals of achieving love and looking for flattery. But as we all know, especially from Kana-chan, who has been forced to live with ‘unattractive’ qualities of attractiveness, that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. There was a previous episode in the first season which is very beautifully summed up by Patches’ post on what ‘grace’ means.
But looking pretty isn’t everything in these episodes – there are fascinating, if not subtle changes in how our cast has changed since we first met them over a year ago. I could start in order, from how Kana has become more confident in herself and her love for karuta, or how Nishida grows from being just another competitive player to someone who can begrudgingly set aside his goals to teach the first years. I could talk about Taichi and how his high attitude for thinking that he was too cool for karuta has vanished as he attempts to become better for himself rather than to please others or to pass the time. But the one who has changed the most is the star of the show: Chihaya.
Before, Chihaya was extremely ignorant of her surroundings. The environment, the people, the styles of karuta – Chihaya’s main focus in karuta was to ‘become the Queen’ but it wasn’t until she actually played against other Class A people that she began to understand that everyone had a different reason for playing karuta. Her goal to become the Queen expanded her views and horizons as she found different sorts of players, all who gave her something to learn or think about along the way. The (not so end) result is one year later, where Chihaya has taken it upon herself to make sure that her team grows. Her team, I emphasize, because Chihaya was so self-centered before; here she cares more about making the first-years love karuta than actually pursuing her goal of becoming the Queen. She’s become increasingly self aware – of others, and herself.
A lot of this can be explained through Chihaya’s own experience of when she was brought into the world of karuta. It all started with obtaining that one card from Arata back when she was a kid, and she sees the raw, loving potential in the first-years themselves. As Chihaya says in the very first episode of this season: She hopes that these new players will fall in love with karuta the same way she did when she was first introduced to it.
And I think that, more than anything, is what makes Chihayafuru so endearing, and Chihaya herself so wonderful (even though she is still very narrow-minded when it comes to anything but playing karuta). These are characters who all have different passions for playing the game, and the show never judges them for it. Whether it comes down to loving the poems, or loving beauty, or simply loving karuta because it’s been your best friend and tie to the world for all these years – karuta is a game that almost anyone can enjoy. I’m looking forward to seeing how Sumire and Tsukuba become valuable additions to the team soon – their arc has just begun.