Chihayafuru is a show that I did not cover at all in the two seasons that it aired, but it was easily one of my favorites from the past two seasons. It wasn’t perfect, but the show did a really good job of exploring a competitive game and the people that play it. When I was younger, I played a lot of chess. Not just with family or friends or in some small club, but competitively. I played in a large number of tournaments and even traveled to different states to compete in national tournaments. Chess and Kurata are fundamentally very different games, but Chihayafuru did an excellent job of portraying the spirit of competition that is common between them.
One thing in particular that Chihayafuru captured very well was the demoralizing nature of defeats. Some may think that the reactions of those who lost to the Master and Queen (and even Chihaya’s reaction to her own losses) to be overly melodramatic, but I found it to be really accurate. Losing to someone in casual play is one thing. Losing to an opponent in a tournament match is painful, especially if you felt you had a chance. But, losing to someone who is so much more skilled than you in a competitive match can really crush your spirit. The difference in skill is palpable and it is at this time that it is hardest to motivate oneself to continue.
From a defeat like that you have feelings of inferiority and self-doubt. Will I ever be as good as that person? I’m not in some shounen manga where I can go train for a period of time and come back so much better than before. You have to face the realization that you may never become better than that person. You can train to get better, but at the same time, so can they. Thus, in my mind, the most important part of competitive play is being able to accept and rally in the face of defeats.
Chihayafuru’s ending was perfect, because it is so true to life. Chihaya didn’t become exponentially better and pull off an amazing victory at the end in beating the queen or the former-queen. Chihaya’s last match in the show was a loss and there are even two more matches of Karuta to illustrate just how great the skill gap is between Chihaya and the top players. In the end, Chihaya and her team all suffered their loses and had to face the reality of players who are considerably better. However, they accept it and resolve to continue improving. The show then ends with them preparing for another year of practice, competitions, victories, and the inevitable defeats.
Dealing with the losses isn’t easy, but it is the same with disappointments in life. You don’t give up on life just because things didn’t work out. There may not be some miraculous improvement that makes everything better, but you continue striving forward even in the face of discouraging events.