Chihayafuru and the Dynamics of Team Play

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Though it has been close to a year since the first season finished airing, season two of Chihayafuru picks the story up right where we left off without losing a single bit of it’s charm. One thing that I’ve always liked in particular about this show is its portrayal of the competitive aspects of Karuta. Not only because it makes for a very intense story, but also because competitive games have always been a big part of my life. Growing up I played in quite a few Chess tournaments around the country. I competed and placed in tournaments, some even on national level, and on occasion even participated in teams. In recent years I’ve also begun playing League of Legends, and while not as serious as my Chess experience, I still try to be competitive both as a solo player and with my team. Chihayafuru really resonates with me because the experiences and the struggles of the characters remind me so much of my own experiences in the competitive world. And as we enter the show’s second season, and the Karuta club is forced to pick up additional members, Chihayafuru once again impresses me with its depiction of team dynamics.

An issue that will always threaten the stability of a team (and this applies to teams of any kind, really, not just teams in competitive games/sports) is when the individual interests of the members conflict with the team’s vision. This is a big theme in the second season of Chihayafuru, and one that gets brought straight to the front in the first episode as the Karuta club is forced to deal with new members. Expanding their membership is a requirement to keep the club going at school, but there is a disagreement on what exactly should be done with the new members. To train the new members means to take time away from serious practice, which is not time the senior members are really able to spare with the tournaments coming right around the corner. On the other hand, Chihaya makes a great point in that things might’ve been different if their team had another member to substitute in when she had fainted during a tournament last year (a moment from the first season). Fortunately, Chihaya’s reasoning is sound enough to get the other members to agree, but as long as there is a team, the individual interests of its members will always threaten to cause problems.

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Take, for example, what happens with one of the new members, Tsukuba, in episode three. The highschool tournament is underway and Tsukuba, who feels confident about his ability in Karuta, tries to secretly add himself to the team line-up for the first match. He is caught and reprimanded by the older members of the club, but Komano, being the total bro that he is, gives Tsukuba a chance with a strategically sound reason for his choice in a line-up switch. Now, things get sorted out nice and clean, but Tsukuba’s actions are still pretty serious. Making a change like that behind the backs of his teammates could have been detrimental and could’ve cost him the trust of his fellow teammates.

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Granted, Chihaya, Taichi, and Nishida would’ve still carried the team even if he had swapped in, but in a team with a more even skill distribution, swapping out a member could’ve cost the team the match. Or what about if it was against a tough opponent that could challenge Taichi or Nishida? If either one of them lost then the team would find itself in an even trickier situation had Tsukuba swapped in. Tsukuba’s intentions were earnest, but putting his own desires above the good of the team could’ve had some serious repercussions had the situation been even slightly different.

While Tsukuba may have been given a chance to play, he unsurprisingly finds himself outmatched and humiliated. Anyone who has participated in team play before knows of the horrible feeling of recognizing when they performing poorly and are the weak link on the team. This situation is always really difficult to deal with because the burden of failure and poor performance always weighs heavily on the individual who is struggling. In Tsukuba’s case it would be having to face the reality that he has a long way to go to catch up with his team. This could also be affecting Taichi as well, even though he isn’t a weak player, but the fact that he hasn’t reached rank A yet continues to trouble him. Regret of failures is never rational, which is why one of the things that I really liked that the second season did was bring back the issue of Chihaya fainting during the tournament. Her teammates accepted her reasoning because it was sound, but also because they knew that Chihaya needed to bring in the new members in order to move past what had happened.

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Nobody likes being the one making the mistakes, or feeling like they are holding everyone else back, but even if they don’t realize it, Tsukabu and Sumire were helping the older members of the team as well. It is a strange dynamic, but having the less experienced members on the team present inspires the more senior members to do even better (something which Kana picks up on, even though the others probably don’t). Just look at the way that Chihaya is portrayed in the third episode during the tournament. Unlike the silly, over-the-top character that we are used to from the first two episodes, Chihaya in the tournament plays perfectly and even has this aura of elegance that surrounds her while she is in her competitive mode (with one exception, of course).

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Chihaya sits there looking so calm and dignified.

Chihaya is probably oblivious to it, but she performed so excellently not only for her own sake, but for the sake of the junior members that look up to her.

If there was ever any doubt in my mind that the second season of Chihayafuru couldn’t live up to the first season, then it is long gone. Emotional investment with the characters is as high as it ever was and the new characters grew on me surprisingly quick. Karuta itself may be something of unfamiliar territory in comparison to more common games or sports for stories, but that doesn’t matter because Chihayafuru does such an excellent job of capturing the spirit and intensity of competitive games and team play. And the best part is that Chihayafuru accomplishes that and so much more.

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5 thoughts on “Chihayafuru and the Dynamics of Team Play

  1. Excellent post, I’m really liking the 2nd season thus far.

    Despite saying I wanted Chihaya to get more wins this season in my recent review of S1, I’m concerned that the one-sided matches aren’t doing her any favours. Especially with Arata facing tough opponents.

    That said the Karuta Club is almost as important to Chihaya as Karuta so the handling of the new members in Ep 3 probably did do Chihaya some good.

    • Thank you!

      Yeah, Chihaya might be at a little disadvantage if she doesn’t get to play people of a higher level. However, seeing how seriously she was taking her matches, I don’t think it will be much of a problem. I think the ease at which Chihaya dominated her matches just demonstrates that she has only gotten better as a player.

  2. Wonderful work here. I totally agree how this show really touches upon the tensions associated with team play as a way to connect with the viewer. I feel that most forms of fiction can be accessible to audiences through emotional resonance, even though the subject matter is completely foreign. You can have a completely different experience from what is happening in a story but still have familiar reactions. It’s what allows for unrelatable scenarios to become relatable. Tari Tari was like that for me with music, even though I never actually had a school shut down on me in my senior year of High School. Chihayafuru is doing the same with its team dynamics and spirit of competition. Everybody wants to be the best at their own special things. In your case, it was chess; in mine, it was concert band.

    • Thanks, Kriz!

      I feel that most forms of fiction can be accessible to audiences through emotional resonance, even though the subject matter is completely foreign.

      I absolutely agree with you on this one. It really speaks to the author’s ability that the show is able to reach us so well, especially since competitive games like Karuta and Chess are more obscure than regular sports. But that’s just the beauty of it. I used my experiences in chess as an example to draw correlations to the characters, but there are many, many other experiences that are just as relatable that have nothing to do with competitive games. Fantasy stories are a great example of what you are talking about (and a big reason why I like them so much). No matter how much you dress them up in myth and magic, or how alien the setting seems, the emotional resonance will still make it something relatable.

  3. Pingback: Competitive Karuta in Chihayafuru – A Reflection of Sports and Martial Arts | deluscar

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