“I have no interest in teams.”
Not quite the words one expects to hear from a non-antagonistic anime character, are they? I didn’t particularly expect to hear them on Chihayafuru, where a focus on teams takes up a good portion of the show, and certainly not from Wataya Arata, who practically set the story into motion by forming a team with Chihaya and Taichi. But when I saw how this complication was portrayed, I wasn’t really surprised, either. Many may claim to believe in teamwork, but sometimes their actions say something quite different . Although this apathy towards teams was only created in the show as a strawman to be knocked down, I find it quite realistic, because I’ve seen it myself.
Unlike some instances in anime, Arata doesn’t suffer in any way because he isn’t on a team: in fact, he excels, and he’s not the only one. Shinobu, another individual-only karuta player, who rather flippantly remarks that she thinks teams are for those who don’t love karuta, is the Queen of karuta. Arguing that they lack anything is rather difficult as they dominate every match, driven by their love of karuta and the skill they gained by practicing in individual matches.
Then, there’s Chihaya. Ever since season one, her entire outlook on karuta has been colored with a focus on teams, despite her dream to succeed as an individual, and the fact that she might be better off on her own. She worked hard to form and strengthen her team, sacrificing many hours she could have spent at the karuta society, practicing eith other A-level players. But though she gained little in skill, her love for karuta didn’t lessen because of her team, but was instead magnified, because she was sharing it with her team.
This points to just one of the ways that working with others can be infinately better than working alone, but while it’s an easy message to accept, it’s far harder to act on, something I experienced while working at my local Bible Camp last summer. At the start, I and the other newer staff members were encouraged to get to know each other, and to learn to act as a team. On the surface, it seemed like we had achieved this, but by the time the season was halfway over, it became clear that few of us really understood or cared why working together was important. Certainly, we could cooperate when it came to getting things done, but when it came to forming deeper connections and helping one another, we mostly failed, instead either working on our own or splitting into groups that didn’t like each other very much. Like Arata and Shinobu, no one seemed to consider that there were reasons for acting as a team beyond practicality.
There were a lot of factors that wentinto this lack of team-spirit, and I’m not sure if there was any way this could have been prevented, but what I do know is that this was a rather sad waste, because looking back, some of the times when I was the happiest at camp were when iwas sharing my passion for God and my love for the campers with my fellow staff members. If we had actually been a little more like Chihaya, I think camp would have been easier for all of us, and I wouldn’t be surprised if that’s what God had wanted, too.