Chihaya doesn’t head back to become a last-minute entrant in the East Qualifiers after all, though I wonder why she bothered to go on the class trip if she’s going to just mill around inside her own head, completely ignoring her purported best friend.
The qualifiers go on without Chihaya (and unfortunately, with far more Retro-kun than I’d care to see…that character just rubs me the wrong way). Master Suo and Queen Shinobu attend to watch their future challengers, though the soft-spoken Suo says after he wins his fifth and latest championship (confident bastard) he intends to retire.
After watching Arata win his first game, Suo tells him he’ll be Master one day…just not the next one. Just when he managed to envision his victory, the Master knocks him back down into the realm of doubt and inferiority, even as all the graybeards see the old Master Wataya in him.
As for Mashima, he briefly wonders what he’s doing at the qualifiers, and if everyone there thinks they can be Master or Queen. When Mashima’s mother finds him there, Sumire abandons her plans to win her way into her good graces and instead makes an enemy of her by physically blocking her from entering the building where Mashima is still competing.
Mashima actually watches this unfold from within and recommits himself to doing what he came there to do: to be himself, and yet someone else—certainly someone other than the person his mother has already chosen for him to be, and someone worthy of Sumire’s bold gesture. He’s already become someone who isn’t just playing because Chihaya is, as Arata always believed.