Chihayafuru 2 – 15

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The national final between Mizusawa and Fujisaki is about to begin. Fujisaki’s Coach Sakurazawa switches out third-year Suzuki Manata with second-year girl Yamashiro Rion. Rion will play Chihaya. Porky will play the other Suzuki twin, Kanata. Taichi will play the other captain, Emuro Ryoga. Tsukuba (replacing Kana) will play Ichimura Mitsuki, and Desktomu will play Yamai Makoto. Meanwhile Hokuo will play a third-place match against First Akashi. Retro tells Arata that Mizusawa is in the final, but he won’t defy his punishment. Reluctantly, Shinobu takes it upon herself to sit in on the match.

Every match in Chihayafuru is a web of many smaller stories about the dynamic between individual players and their inner thoughts, on both sides. This episode, while all set-up, is nevertheless engaging and perfectly whets our appetite for the match itself. It pull out all the stops to methodically lay out more sub-stories than could ever be elaborated upon in one more episode. Never once did we grow impatient or long for the match to begin. There had to be proper preparation for a match of this magnitude, and there was.

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On the Mizusawa v. Fujisaki front, we learn a huge amount about the team and its coach. The episode is very efficient in sketching quick outlines of their personalities and temperaments  and quirks. And every Fujisaki player is matched up perfectly with a player on Mizusawa for the most engaging interactions. Chihaya and Rion are both second-year girls aiming for greatness, but Rion seems more emotionally detached  like her Ice Queen coach more concerned with the future success of the team than meting out glory to her players. We say “seems” because her quick little evil smirk may portend an inner fire to match or exceed Chihaya’s.

Nishida and Suzuki are both emotional players, but Nishida is playing to avenge his anguish over his past losses, while Suzuki is playing to avenge his twin brother’s. Taichi going after the other captain is his way of stepping up his game. If he loses, he won’t be surprised, but if he wins, it may change his luck, not just with karuta, but with Chihaya, who he may believe loves Arata more because he’s a better player. Ryoga also resembles Arata, but is obsessed with boob size, lamenting that the busty Kana-chan isn’t playing (she jammed a finger in her last match).

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Tsukuba and Ichimura are perhaps the least interesting match-up (both seem proud, strange, and have fox-eyes), while Tsutomu, who doubts he can win, nevertheless has a bunch of research against his emotional opponent Makoto to at least be able to shake up his game. Makoto has also just realized that while he used to believe the third-years loved Rion, in fact he’s the only one who seems to be, which irks him.

So that’s where we stand. A lot of possibilities for great action and drama await us in the episode(s) that cover the final itself. All we ask, ultimately, is that Mizusawa wins. Call us greedy (like Chihaya!), but we want a reward for following the show this far. Anything less than a national championship will be a huge disappointment…and will annoy us.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • There was so much to cover with the match setup, we nearly forgot to mention the Arata/Shinobu B-plot. Arata wants more than anything to watch something Shinobu thinks is a silly waste of time. She even looks down on mighty Fujisaki, who are goofing off in the hall. The episode has us believe she doesn’t care and is headed home until the last minute, when she appears at the match. We kinda doubt she’s doing this to encourage the other teams and players present, but rather to try to understand better what Arata is so keen to watch. She also strips down to her skivvies, which…isn’t as exciting as it sounds.
  • There’s something desperately cute about Kana reciting poetry at the moon, then asking a poetic question to her coach in a super-sobby voice.
  • For the match, a Level 7 Certified Reader will read. She sounds awesome, and the show makes sure we understand how awesome with the visuals that accompany her voice. But will subtle nepotism come into play, as she’s Rion’s grandma? Coach
  • Sakurazawa  may seem cold, but she’s doing what all great coaches do: keep an eye on the future and play the long game. It’s because of her and people like her that Fujisaki has its reputation. Will Mizusawa’s team endure after its members graduate?
  • The ep was replete with great close-up shots, some of which we’ve posted to our Tumblr.

Chihayafuru 2 – 14

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Mizusawa’s semifinal match against First Akashi Girls School continues. Nishida is again the first to lose, but Kana wins shortly thereafter, releasing the tension somewhat. After Chihaya takes two of Megumu’s treasured “name” card, Megumu counters by taking Chihaya’s “Impasionate gods” card. Taichi wins, but Chihaya loses, leaving Desktomu as the deciding game. He gambles and takes the winning card, and Mizusawa moves on to the final against Fujisaki.

Before we return to the hot Mizusawa/Akashi action, the episode checks in with Arata, who is finishing up his novelistic apology, and Shinobu, still in his clothes and bored. The Fujioka West team finally arrives, and the queen takes the opportunity to voice her disdain for group matches. She wants to “kill time” with an individual match with Arata, who refuses because it’s a day for teams. Teams like Mizusawa, which thanks to the Fujioka coach, tells him is still alive and fighting.

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It’s kind of sad that Shinobu doesn’t give a shadow of a shit about the outcome of the group tournament. All queens, even Karuta queens, carry the responsibility to ensure their kingdoms thrive. But all she’s interested in is playing and winning alone. As long as she reigns, the karuta kingdom will languish. Ayase Chihaya and Ousaka Megumu aim to usurp her, and from the look of their epic game this week, they’ll put up a fight.

The team won, but Chihaya lost, and she doesn’t know why she lost, to the point her obsessing causes her to dig her nails into her hand, something Taichi stops with a tender gesture. It’s great to see Oe win, even though it leaves her too exhausted for the final. And Komano not only contributes to the actual match, his is the decisive match, and he even has the guts to gamble to win. Hokuo gets its clock cleaned, so Mizusawa will not be able to hold back in the final against scary Fujisaki.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Another twist: Megumu not only doesn’t delete the photos her fan club snaps, she asks if she can have them, to remember her last team match. From here on out, it’s Queensville or Bust.
  • We were a little disappointed that there was no Komano/Sumire scene after his big win. She did blush in awe when he won.
  • We like how Hokuo is eliminated off-camera. We don’t really like Retro-kun.
  • Shinobu’s spidey-sense picks up a card reading in the group match, and she employs circular breathing to study cards. We love her, but maintain her reign is poison for the game.

Chihayafuru – 25 (Fin)

The club watches dishearteningly on TV as Master Suo utterly dominates his opponent. After the match, everyone feels like they have a tall mountain to climb, but Tsutomu encourages Chihaya, telling her she has at least 20 one-syllable cards to Suo’s 28. Arata also watched the match, trying to visualize playing the Master with his card layout before him. When Taichi calls him, he tells him there are other ways of winning beyond “game sense.” Murao returns to challenges Arata to a game. Miyauchi defends the Karuta Club’s right to its clubroom by stating how quickly its progressed, but promises to double the membership by five; a daunting task that Chihaya is eager to complete.

Queen Wakamiya and Master Suo suck. They suck all the fun and excitement out of karuta with their android-like perfection. It stinks. Worse still, they were never taught by anyone, meaning they will never themselves teach. They’re a couple of useless prima donnas sitting upon the thrones. They need to get out of the way, or they’ll both destroy the game they love so well, much like a forester will lose his purpose if he cuts down all the trees. Just wanted to get that hate out of our systems – today we say goodbye to one of the better character-driven series of the last six months.

There wasn’t a character we didn’t like (beyond the aforementioned Queen and Master, curse them), and whether they were playing karuta or not, they were extremely fun to watch. This final episode is very open-ended, and even leaves open the chance for a sequel series down the road (we’re not currently aware of one), but if it ended here we’d be more than satisfied. Even though we’re sure we’d never be any good at karuta, it was fun to see a depiction of people who were.


Rating: 4

Chihayafuru – 24

The club converges on Taichi’s house to watch the Queen and Master matches. Yumin loses the first game by five cards, and Wakamiya Shinobu puts her away in the second game by thirteen cards, despite gaining 10 kilos by eating ice cream. Yumin is disheartened, but vows to return next year to challenge her again. The Master match follows, and three-time champ Suo Hisashi beats his opponent in the first two games by the same differentials as Shinobu.

First of all…suddenly making Wakamiya Shinobu a fattie was quite the curveball. Not only did it confirm her eccentric personality, but it introduced a glimmer of a hope for Yumin. Alas, once Shinobu loosened up and realized that her body, not her hakana, was heavy, she was back in her sharp, crisp, impossibly fast rythum, to the point where Yumin couldn’t even contest cards. Regardless of her weight, Shinobu has a special connection to the cards – she loves them and they love her right back.

A child of divorce, her grandmother’s condition for letting her and her mother live in her house was for her to learn a useful skill. Karuta probably wasn’t what she had in mind, but perhaps she saw Shinobu’s love for it. Shinobu wasn’t interested in making friends or joining a club. She only wanted to play karuta. In a rather depressing little moment, Taichi tells himself he can’t dedicatehimself to Chihaya. Whatever buddy, ignoring people is rude!


Rating: 3.5

Chihayafuru – 21

Chihaya passes all her exams, so she’s allowed to compete in the Eastern qualifiers, her next step on the road to a rematch with Shinobu and a shot at her crown. Her first opponent is a child prodigy named Ririka, who initially surprises her with her speed and excellent hearing. She sees some of herself in Ririka, but at the end of the day, she combines timing with speed to put her away and move to the next round. Taichi challenges Arata to win the West, because he aims to win the East and play him.

Chihaya wants that damn crown, and she’s doing everything she can to get good enough to take a shot at it. She studied enough so her academics wouldn’t get in the way. She took away her speed and started learning more about timing, accuracy, and situational awareness to complement her natural sense for the game. She shouldn’t rely solely on speed, but that doesn’t mean she should never use it. This week it was crucial to overwhelm lil’ Ririka. When Chihaya finally has her speed limiter released, it’s an awesome thing to behold, complete with a nice metal accompaniment.

We kinda knew Chihaya wasn’t going to end up shaving her head this week, but nor was this an easy victory. It has certainly been fun watching Chihaya’s game progress. Ultimately the goal is for all three friends to end up at the top, but while Chihaya can become Queen without having to defeat a good friend, among Arata and Taichi there can only be one master. We kinda doubt Taichi would ever be able to beat Arata, but if he can memorize all the cards verbatim, heck, anything’s possible!


Rating: 3.5