Back at school, Chihaya’s game still has momentum from the Yoshino Tournament, while Mashina has slid a bit since losing in the qualifiers, as evidenced by how badly Chihaya beats him. But Chihaya is going all out because she thinks Mashima will quit altogether if she goes easy on him.
Meanwhile, Chihaya finally manages to call Arata to congratulate him, but she’s so stiff she ends up blasting his ear off. In any case, one hopes the two will get to spend a little more time together in the next cour, because I felt seriously short-changed in this first one where Chirata shippin’ is concerned.
Chihaya also makes it clear to Arata that he’s going to LOSE to Dr. Harada and the Shiranami society, as Harada has recruited all classes of players to help prepare him for his playoff with Arata. Indeed, the whole reason he started the society was to one day become Master.
To that end, he has Mashima serve as a “Virtual Arata”, making him memorize Arata’s layout so he can play against him as if he were playing Arata. Chihaya volunteers to serve as “Virtual Suo”, intensely studying the Master’s play and even starting to talk very softly and offer candy to people, leading to a misunderstanding from her tutoring cousin Shinji.
Watching Chihaya emulate Suo—and hearing Mashima trying to talk in Arata’s dialect—is jolly good fun, while we get a couple of tear-jerking moments with Inokuma Haruka, who at 34 sees both her challenger and reigning Queen and wonders if she’s simply done. She also worries she’s putting karuta before her children.
When Haruka has a nursing emergency just before her match, Mama Oe is there to calm her, and show her that kimonos are open on the side so that you can nurse a child without undoing or wrinkling it, which is some choice Traditional Clothing Mama advice. Having fed her lil’ Jin, Inokuma regains her composure and is ready to go.
When Chihaya arrives at the playoff as a spectator, she’s seriously regretting not being one of the players. That said, one would hope a show as long and sprawling as this isn’t about build her up as a future Queen for years, only for her to not attain that title. For now, the playoff is still a valuable resource. Now is the time to watch and learn from all four finalists.