Chihayafuru 3 – 24 (Fin) – Gathering the Wind

Goddammit! This is a dark fucking period!—Dewey Cox

In the wake of Taichi’s sudden departure, the Mizusawa Karuta Club is still able to recruit four new members—two girls including one who is Class A, and two boys—and rather than quit like everyone expected, Sumire takes the lead on showing the newbies the ropes.

She has to, because Chihaya is too out of it. The cards “turn black” for her as well. Fukasaku advises that she “learn something”—anything—because karuta and the hundred poets can’t be all that holds her together.

As Mizusawa’s club loses its founding members, Arata remains determined to start one at Fujioka East. For that, he needs at least two new members, so he goes class to class in his black yukata, starting with the first-years and working his way up.

When he tells Yuu how he saw her as part of his team when they were caring for his grandpa before he passed, she decides to volunteer to join if he’s a member short—but he gains one more than he needs.

Wanting them to see one of the best at what they’re setting out to do, Arata arranges practice matches at the prestigious Fujisaki High, but Sakurazawa is the one to break to him the news that as he’s starting a new club, Chihaya and Taichi have quit theirs. He’s so shocked he can’t focus properly, but he’s still the only one on his team to come away with wins.

More importantly, he learns a lot about how a karuta team must be run and who must run it. It’s rare that a great karuta player is also a great leader. Fujisaki’s best player is Rion, but Hyuuga (“Cheers”) is better at rallying the team. Mizusawa’s leader was Taichi while its best player was Chihaya. Seeing them create a team inspired him to do the same. But he just can’t fathom what happened to cause both of them to quit.

However, he knows instinctively that as a member of their triangle it’s his turn to try to cheer them up, as they once did. So as his team is heading home, he takes a selfie of them bathed in the light of the setting sun. He assures Chihaya that Taichi “will be back”, and that the two of them have to get stronger to prepare for his return.

I don’t share Arata’s optimism, as Chihaya’s response to Taichi’s confession seemed like the final nail in the dual coffins of friendship and karuta. This season ends with us not even 100% sure Chihaya definitely quit, we only hear it second hand, while Arata has no idea what happened between Chihaya and Taichi. That’s a lot of balls in the air for a fourth season. Hopefully it won’t take six years to come!

Chihayafuru 3 – 23 – Pitch Black

Chihaya’s Taichi Tournament is a huge success for all involved. Taichi is bowled over by how serious everyone is (even Sudo shows up to read) and is greatly cheered up, while other participants were glad to have fun with weird rules. Taichi and Chihaya end up tying for the lead in points, so the prize—a kiss from Taichi—is never presented.

The tournament is also suffused with nostalgia, as it’s the same type of matches and same place where Chihaya, Taichi and Arata first played as a team. Notably absent from the tournament? Arata, who admits he lost the Takamatsu Cup to Murao because he couldn’t re-focus after beating Taichi, and can’t wait to play him again.

Yeah…that’s not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. On a day when the karuta club isn’t active, Chihaya encounters Taichi alone in the club room. As she (poorly) fits new curtains for the incoming new club, Taichi first confesses to stealing Arata’s glasses back in sixth grade, then confesses his love for her.

First he simply lets the three most important words come out, while covering his face. To his credit, rather than laugh it off like a joke, he elaborates by describing all the parts of her he loves He leaves out the one part he dislikes the most: the part that changes when she thinks of Arata.

When he swiped his glasses, he didn’t want to lose to Arata, even though Arata was sure to mop the floor with him with the wide gap between their karuta ability at the time. While that gap has narrowed somewhat, the fact remains the cause is all but hopeless.

At least in this case, Taichi isn’t being a coward or a cheat. Arata already made his move, so all that’s left is for Taichi to make his and let the cards fall where they may. As the school bells sound, warning kids to go home, Chihaya says in her tiniest voice, “I’m sorry.” The cards don’t just fall, they turn jet black. And that’s that.

Time keeps marching on, and the new year starts with proficiency tests and club demos. After the former, Tsutomu is shocked to find he’s taken over the first spots in both maths and sciences, and worried Taichi’s mom will pull him out of the karuta club.

At the demos, when Chihaya, Oe and Sumire about to take the stage, resplendent in yukata, their adviser comes up and makes one small, devastating change to the speech, reducing the third-years by one: Taichi has quit the club. Chihaya tries to get through the demo, but has to stop in the middle and rushes off in tears.

As she runs off, a tearful Oe takes over (Sumire is crying too!) and waxes poetic about the hundred poems, songs of joy, sorrow and love that have endured for a thousand years, and urging newbies to join them in their magnificence. Of course, the themes of the poems are a big reason why Taichi can’t continue.

Chihaya doesn’t consider that as she races to his side and yanks on his sweater, tearfully begging him not to quit the club. Taichi draws her in and almost touches his lips to hers before pulling her back and telling her it’s no use; he couldn’t play if he wanted; all the cards have turned black. His love of the game and of her were too intertwined. She rejected him, so he must walk away. Quite the emotional roller coaster this week—will the Season 3 finale be funereal or redemptive?

Chihayafuru 3 – 22 – Smile, Everyone!

There’s a Taichi-shaped pall hanging over the karuta club, and Chihaya, Oe and Sumire agree it can’t go on like this. Since it’s February, Oe proposes the three of them raise Taichi’s—and the club’s—spirits by doing something fun and not karuta-related: making Valentines chocolate. That means it’s time for Sumire to shine!

Sumire may be one of the least experienced karuta players in the club, but she’s by far the most practiced chocolatier. She’s made a lot of chocolate for a lot of people since the second grade, and to quote the Architect, she’s become “exceedingly efficient at it.” She helps chocolate novices Oe and Chihaya through the process, in the midst of which Chihaya tears up because she’s having so much fun.

Chihaya wants Taichi to smile and have fun too, and obviously Sumire can relate, being in love with him and all. When Sumire and Oe head home, the latter notices Sumire has procured Coverture chocolates, which people say have a “100% chance of success.” Sumire is no longer that naive, but also think she’s being too pessimistic when she says she has “zero” chance. So does Oe.

It doesn’t matter where the chocolates are from or when she gives them to Taichi, as long as she realizes she can get her feelings across whenever and however she wants. So, the next day at school, she does just that. When she spots Taichi jogging with other guys outside, she tosses the bag out the window for him to catch, tells him how she feels, and also tells him he should tell the person how he feels.

In a nice touch, it’s not fancy chocolate after all, but fermented squid guts Chihaya joked about him being happier about (after all, the guy gets a lot of chocolate from admirers). It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment, but it’s also bittersweet (see what I did there) because the chances of Sumire’s feelings reaching him are still so slim.

Part of that is, Chihaya aside, Taichi still feels awful about losing to Arata. As he explains to Hiroshi, who drags him to a bar after they bump into each other fortuitously, playing Arata made him feel how dedicated to the game and to becoming Master Arata has been all his life, while making Taichi feel like a tourist and a dabbler all over again.

Before they part, Hiroshi admits that Chihaya asked him to talk with him, to try to get him to talk about what specifically was eating him. I’m sure Taichi would prefer if Chihaya simply talked to him upfront, but considering his aura the last few weeks that just wasn’t realistic.

When White Day comes along, Taichi has a dutiful gift for Sumire, but it comes with the dagger to the heart: he’s going to tell the one he loves how he feels after all. Again, I feel horrible for poor Sumire—whom I never thought I’d care so much about when we first met her so long ago!—but she has my everlasting thanks for finallying compelling Taichi to act. Only…she wants him to wait two more weeks before doing so, which…confuses him.

Eventually, when his birthday comes along and he’s on a Chihaya-mandated cherry blossom viewing, the truth becomes clear: all this time, Chihaya & Co. have been scheming behind his back to give him a birthday present for the ages. That gift? A wholly volunteer-organized and operated “Taichi Cup”. 

Chihaya tried to get him to smile by making chocolate, but her dad ended up eating everything and ruining their clubhouse party. This time, she’s going to try to make karuta a fun and happy experience for him again. Little does she know he’s sitting on a much-belated confession of love that burns red as the Tatsuta river in autumn. Will he manage to do so before this third season concludes?

Honestly, these characters make it way too hard for themselves. It’s really quite simple:

Chihaya x Arata
Sumire x Taichi
Oe x Desktomu
Porky x His Next Meal
Shinobu x Snowmaru

There. Everybody’s happy. WAS THAT SO HARD?!!

Chihayafuru 3 – 21 – It’s A New Day, Yes it Is!

Chihaya may be frustrated that Taichi stayed behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup without telling her, but she shouldn’t be surprised; Taichi’s always been like this. Rather than dwell on how much further Taichi might progress as she’s on the train home, she needs to think about how she’s going to become Shinobu’s preferred opponent in the next Queen tournament.

Chihaya registers for the co-ed Bunkyo New Year’s Tournament, which after the two biggest events in karuta truly does herald a new year, despite it being held on Jan 11th. We unfortunately spend some time with Retro-kun, about whom I could really care less; his goofy design, voice, and mannerisms belong in a different show and undercut any dramatic weight he might emit.

Back in Kyoto, Taichi is paired up with Arata, but no longer how late at night Taichi stayed up practicing in his hotel room, there’s no way Arata is going to lose to him; not after the challenge he issued to Suo (who actually shows up to watch their match). Taichi can only claim 4th Place, while Chihaya shows Sudo how much her game has matured by beating him to win the whole damn thing. It’s officially morning in Chihayamerica. Time to get to work.

Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 17 – An Attractive Advertisement

Before the matches begin, Chihaya notices the people chosen to be the card boys and girls for the matches. She wonders whom she’d choose for her Queen match, and envisions that, should they let her choose guys, neither Arata nor Taichi would be available, for they’d be facing each other in the Master match.

It’s a beautiful dream, and we get a glimpse of it in her head. Part of me wishes Chihaya and Arata’s journey to their respective crowns were sidetracked, by Chihaya’s school trip and Arata’s loss to Harada. If I’m honest, Shinobu is the only one of the four players in these matches in whom I have any significant emotional investment.

That said, the two matches are still hella interesting, and made moreso by the airheaded Eternal Queen commentator, the online feed, and a truly legendary reader whose voice coats the environment in a rainbow light. The first round of karuta itself isn’t anything fancy, but is marked by the sheer closeness of the games.

Inokuma, being a former queen herself, puts up the best fight in a Queen match Shinobu has ever encountered, culminating in a luck-of-the-draw that Shinobu wins. She never doubted the cards would choose her. Is the mega-eyed Mama’s comeback tour about to come to an end? Haruka hedges her bets in the green room between games.

Suo also ends up in a luck-of-the-draw with Harada, by design, only Harada manages to defend the last card read to pick up a win, breaking Suo’s tournament winning streak at twelve. It would be the promising start of a huge upset, if Suo had any actual will to win; he seems to have lost interest. Poor Harada: working his ass off for decades to get here, and his opponent is goofing off.

As for poor Shinobu, it’s clear she’s wounded by her relative’s (assistant’s?) comment about her grandmother basically using her as a mannequin for the kimono made by one of her investments. Just when she’s feeling low, Chihaya comes in with Snowmaru dorayaki to share, but then pisses Shinobu off by saying she put her class trip ahead of Queen qualifying. After that roller coaster of a break, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka evens things up in the second game.

Chihayafuru 3 – 16 – Karuta in the Streaming Age

No sooner does Chihaya lose to Suo (and be told the simple yet devastating two words “you can’t”) than Taichi is challenging him for a match of his own. Suo refuses until Taichi bribes him with sweets, and then Suo proceeds to beat him by fourteen cards. But Unlike Chihaya and most of Suo’s opponents, Taichi didn’t commit a single fault. That’s because Taichi is starting to want to play his karuta the same way: through the mistakes of his opponents.

Taichi also tells Suo that Chihaya isn’t really his boyfriend, which means now Suo thinks he has a chance with her. I’m sorry but I could not care less about this creep’s further attempts to woo someone who is already thoroughly in love with someone/thing (more on that later). What I do like? Chihaya wasting no time reporting to Harada about a possible weakness in Suo’s game.

Christmas Eve arrives, and the karuta club celebrates at the Tsukaba residence. This party feels like it could have been a lot longer and probably should have been. Not a whole episode, mind you, but at least half of one. Chihaya’s appearance as Santa comes and goes so fast there’s barely any time to process it.

But more than the hasty Chihaya-as-Santa cameo, the party just isn’t given any time to breathe the way slice-of-life scenes should, especially when Desktomu tells Chihaya how he considers the club a family, and they all consider Tsukaba’s little brothers their own little brothers.

When Christmas arrives, Shinobu spends it practicing in her hoity-toity family’s reception room, drawing her mother’s ire. Shinobu considers karuta to be more her family than her mother, but her grandmother likely scores some family points by letting Shinobu keep practicing and even writing on the tatami with a marker!

Shinobu is desperate to practice because she missed the Fall tournaments with illnesses, and she’s rusty. She also has no choice but to look towards the future she must discuss at high school, although because it’s a school full of “rich girls” the counselor kinda half-asses it. When Shinobu said she’d have “nothing” if she loses the queen match, it made me sad, but also made me wish she had a home that accepted her foibles, and the proper guidance at school.

New Years and the next week after that pass by in a flash, and the day of the Master and Queen tournaments arrives. There’s notably less pomp and spectacle at Omi Jingu since NHK decided it would not televise the matches live on TV. Tsukaba fears it’s a sign that karuta is “in decline”, but Desktomu assures him, the opposite is true.

Karuta has found a larger, younger audience via online streaming, and there’s more interaction thanks to the live chat. The first year of this change comes with a very convincingly intimidating challenger in Harada, a shifty creeper in Master Suo, an adorable mother in Inokuma, and the ethereal-yet-also-goofy-haired Queen Shinobu—so there’s plenty to chat about besides karuta!

As for Chihaya, she’ll be watching the matches in person for the first time, and had expected/hoped Arata would be there too. Alas, he’s come down with a fever. In a way, they both have. As their mutual love of both karuta and one another ever-so-gradually untangles, it seems to be affecting both their games. Chihaya notes how warm she feels just by dialing Arata’s number and talking to him for a minute, and feels like she’d “blow up” if he were really there.

This episode’s breathless progression through the holidays made for some odd pacing I wasn’t really a fan of, while Suo continues to cast a pall on the whole show with his eccentric unpleasantness. As such, this is the first episode of Chihayafuru’s third season I cannot enthusiastically endorse. That said, if the Master and Queen challenger matches were any indication, the impending Master and Queen tournaments should be lit.

P.S. Chihaya mentions in her inner monologue that she’ll never wear earbuds lest they hurt her hearing, but does so while riding on a train. Trains, and especially subway cars, can get pretty piercingly loud. Just sayin’!

Chihayafuru 3 – 15 – Crushed Like Autumn Leaves Underfoot

Chihaya can’t concentrate on studying for final exams because she’s still stunned from Arata’s confession and news he’s planning to attend college in her neck of the woods. While Taichi may have somewhat of a clue why she’s so distracted, only Oe and Sumire heard the confession with their own ears.

Sumire insists that they not tell Taichi, but just watch things unfold. She’s glad there’s finally some movement in what had been a completely log-jammed love triangle, and is hopeful things work out with Arata and Chihaya so she can be the one to swoop in and claim Taichi.

Later, Sumire is frank in her selfishness, and in being okay with the fact dating Taichi means he first must have his heart crushed like autumn leaves. But she can’t change the fact she loves Taichi and wants to be with him, and Arata may have finally given her an assist in that department.

Alas, she and Oe are only partially interpreting the source of Chihaya’s stunned state. Yes, Arata is part of it, but so is karuta. As has always been the case, her love of both has been so intertwined as to make it hard, especially for someone with zero romantic experience, to tell the two apart.

Quite suddenly, Chihaya gets a call from Suo via Sudo Akito agreeing to have a match with her, and all of a sudden she’s broken out of one trance…and into another. She finally sees Suo in a new environment, doted upon by his fellow karuta players at the practice facility, and even occasionally yelling.

Getting to play the Master is a trip for Chihaya, and you can’t blame her. Since she’s never played him before one-on-one, she has no idea what she’s in for, and even though she mimicked him as best she could, she was not prepared for the level of psychological warfare he directs at his opponents before, during, and after a match.

She loses by fourteen cards, but by the end of the match she’s notably encouraged by the strong finish she had and the fact she never lost heart…that is until Suo throws a bevy of compliments her way before crushing that heart like autumn leaves, telling her someone like her, pretty, positive, popular, “having a boyfriend”, can’t become Queen.

Chihya’s reaction is only shown for a few frames—not even a full second. She looks like she’s in the shadow of someone’s shoe, about to be stomped into oblivion. All of the good vibes she had gathered during her visit snuffed out. One wonders how much of Suo’s assessment is based in his karuta wisdom, and how much is couched in his inability to successfully court her. Either way, she’s not shining anymore…and that’s a damn shame.

Chihayafuru 3 – 14 – Beware the Dried Persimmon

Last week Harada Hideo looked like he was doing absolutely all he physically could to maintain a six-card deficit with Arata, and then his knee seemingly gives way. The surging, crackling pain is ably expressed by a nest of rough crayon scrawls. But this could be his last chance at claiming the title of Master, so he plays through it and ups the aggression of his moves.

In doing so, his hands move before the rest of his body, resulting in Harada taking a nasty spill more than once that unsettles the entire game. As expected, Arata isn’t able to resist being the good guy that he is and help Harada pick up his cards, and he doesn’t call out Harada when he faults.

He also reverts to following the edicts of his grandfather in seeking balance on his right side. That ends up being such a critical error that it couldn’t even be said Arata lost the match playing as himself; he lost it too closely emulating his gramps…and by being too nice to an his mentor.

Still, it’s those kinds of things that separate the young from the old in a game like this. It was certainly touch-and-go with a couple of questionable calls and lucky breaks, but Harada Hideo beat Arata fair and square. Frankly, he needed the win more than Arata, who is, after all, only 17 for cryin’ out loud.

Unlike Arata, Harada wasn’t related to an Eternal Master. He was also dealt a serious blow to his career when his medical duties sent him to regions of Japan where Karuta simply wasn’t popular. Harada waited decades for the right time—and the right reader—to claim his victory. And his students and peers are to a person so moved by his win they’re all in tears…even Kitaro!

Arata wonders if he fussed too much over the one card he had to have—the Chihaya furu card; the first card Chihaya memorized—leading to his fatal fault. At the same time, when Chihaya comes to congratulate him for a close and thrilling match, he comes right out and says I love you, then tells her he wants to play more karuta with her.

Chihaya seems stunned into catatonia and slithers off to be by herself, while Oe and Sumire are gobsmacked. Only time will tell if Arata’s simple words reached her and  how she’ll respond to them, if she responds at all. In any case, it was a damned brave, manly thing to do moments after one of the greater defeats of his life!

Taichi is similarly manly in returning to Suo the scarf he gave Chihaya, envisioning her as his “bride.” I’m sorry, but I don’t much care for the prospect of Suo stalking Chihaya, no siree! Thank goodness Taichi had the guts to tell him Chihaya was “his girlfriend”—and that those words seemed to spell the end of his creepy pursuit!

In his evening phone call to Shinobu to report the results of the playoffs, which amounted to two instances of veterans defeating youth, Suo uses fruits as a metaphor. While Arata—and perhaps in the Queen match, Shinobu—are “fresh apples”: cool, crisp, and sweet, Harada and Inokuma were “dried persimmons”: deep, complex, and of a flavor able to completely overpower the apples.

It’s clear he’s also warning himself: an apple a day won’t keep Dr. Harada away!

Chihayafuru 3 – 13 – The Iceman Cometh


After receiving a bouquet from her adorable firstborn, Haruka wins the second match and becomes the challenger to the Queen. Not a lot of time was spent on their match, which is good, because while Haruka’s a perfectly likable character neither she or Megumu have very fleshed out characters.

During the break he got when Harada withdrew, Arata takes a stroll and thinks about what Chihaya whispered to her, and returns with the face of someone envisioning their imminent victory.

Chihaya also took the opportunity to get some fresh air in the park near the karuta hall, and encounters Suo. When she asks why he always gives out pastries, he says it’s because they contain vitamins, but when she asks why he speaks so softly, he wonders if that’s all she wants to ask him. He’s not wrong on that point.

Chihaya wants to ask him karuta questions she’ll probably never get satisfying answers to, but even something from the guy could prove useful. Unfortunately, Suo takes Chihaya’s attention the wrong way and repeatedly tells her he doesn’t have a girlfriend!

When the third and final match begins, what Chihaya said to Arata is revealed: he’s not going to beat their mentor just by being the same ol’ Arata. He has to channel his grandfather, Master Wataya, and everyone is struck by how much he succeeds in doing so, both in how he carries himself and how his tactics are constantly changing to foil Harada’s uber-offensive style.

By channeling a much older man—someone fifteen years older than Harada himself—Arata is able to take control of the game, but he also inadvertently lends his opponent a second wind, since Harada feels like a young man again (he was nineteen the one time he faced Master Wataya). He’s truly raging against the dying of the light, but disaster strikes when his knee suddenly gives out. Will the kind-hearted Arata subconsciously take pity and ease off his game, or will he do what has to be done to face Master Suo?

Chihayafuru 3 – 12 – Damming the River

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?