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.
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).
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)
- 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.