As Chihaya makes dreamy eyes at Arata, wondering if he’ll be the first of them to realize their dream of reaching the highest Karuta summit, Dr. Harada has a plan. He once played Arata’s grandfather years ago when he was a young lad, and considers it a great joy to be playing Arata now.
That said, he must use every tool at his disposal to try to throw the kid off his game. That means suddenly interrupting the opening stanzas to ask that the A/C be shut off. If Arata plays in the style of water, he’ll disrupt the flow.
Harada also has a lot of intel on Arata from his other two students in Chihaya and Taichi, but that doesn’t give him the full picture of who Arata is, how his game has advanced, and how it will continue to advance even in this very match. For instance, Arata was never one to move cards at the rate he does here, but it’s to counter Harada’s strategy of hitting one side hard by making sure there’s as little on that side as possible.
Chihaya is ultimately torn over who to root for, which she takes as a sign she’s matured, since the younger her would have rooted shamelessly and enthusiastically for Arata alone.
But Arata is also glad he’s playing Harada and that he’s still playing at such a high level, since Harada was the first one to tell him he could pursue his dream of Karuta and gave him and the other two a safe space to explore it to their heart’s content.
With a Herculean effort, Harada manages to eke out a victory in the first of three matches, proving that youthful exuberance and momentum won’t always win the day—and inspiring Inokuma to rally and defeat her high school opponent.
Throughout the match, two of Harada’s peers are decidedly not rooting for him, but very much for Arata to crush him. That’s because he and Kitano were once set to win a match read by Makino Midori, Kitano’s “Madonna,” only for Harada to withdraw from the match, citing Midori’s reading skills.
It seems Midori was so angered by Harada’s slight that she ended up working her ass off to become a certified Grade 6 reader. Ironically, Harada ends up acknowledging her efforts by withdrawing from the second match altogether and banking on the third, for which she’ll be reading.
By withdrawing from the second match, Harada ensures his fifty-plus year-old body will be fresh for the third. Arata, young and spry, can only stew in anger over getting an automatic win, while the third match will carry that much more tension because he didn’t learn anything new about Harada’s game, which Harada could completely change up in the third match.
This puts Arata at a disadvantage, since he was expecting to play the second match (with the second reader). Sensing his frustration, Chihaya comes to his side to whisper advice in his ear, a gesture that’s a lot more romantically charged than it would have been were it not Arata….and Taichi notices. Will their mentor really end up blocking Arata’s best chance yet to become Master?