Arata and Shinobu end up in the Class A final, but Taichi and Desktomu also make it to the Class B and D finals, which will be held in a different room, so Chihaya has to make a choice. She chooses Taichi, who is playing Yamashiro Rion. Chihaya’s unexpected presence knocks him out of his zone, but after Rion impresses with her speed, Taichi calms down, compares her to Chihaya, and tightens up his game, using accuracy and memorization in a non-flashy performance to defeat Rion by nine cards. Taichi urges Chihaya to hurry to the Class A match, but she is in tears at his feet, elated that he finally made it to Class A.
We agree with Oe; Porky was a little heartless in saying he was definitely going to watch Arata and not Taichi, and that Chihaya should do the same. But he was also right: Taichi was in such a zone after destroying Retro (off-camera by 18 cards, LOL), and Rion was so gassed, Chihaya suddenly showing up could have proven more a liability than an asset. Porky also assumed that Chihaya cared more about Arata and the Queen than Taichi, but the truth is, no one, not even Chihaya, knows who or what she cares more about at any given moment. Taichi’s blown five chances to reach Class A, and on this day, there’s nothing more important to Chihaya than watching him succeed in his sixth.
Taichi and Rion’s initially sloppy match (not helped by the fact the reader is being evaluated by three certified peers and chokes badly) couldn’t be more different from the start of the Class A final between the grandson of the Eternal Master and the Queen. All the time we’ve seen them spend together really gives their interactions punch now that they’re in a match against each other. Shinobu takes the first two cards, but Arata touches them both right when she does, and then, rather than just exploit her weaknesses, he attacks her strengths. We’re glad Chihaya watched Taichi and they had a nice little tearful moment, but the match itself was nothing special. Arata and Shinobu’s, on the other hand, is going to be a good one.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
- Coach Sakurazawa wonders what unique rule bonds Shinobu to the cards so. We see what it is: Shinobu treats the cards like her friends, and has spent far more time with them than with any people.
- Shinobu wants to prove to Arata once and for all that neither of them need friends. Arata isn’t so sure, and he isn’t going down easily.
- Retro is one of the few characters on the show (aside from that irritating woman you kept saying “Lucky!”) we truly can’t stand. So we’re pleased as punch that he was not only swiftly defeated, but we didn’t have to watch it!
- One wonders why the gamemasters would entrust a Class B final reading to someone being judged himself, but there’s no pressure like real pressure, and if a reader can endure being under the microscope at a final, he’s worthy of being certified. This guy didn’t cut it.
- While Taichi might’ve still won had Chihaya not watched, and Chihaya initially knocked him off his game, a part of him still desperately wanted her there, caring about him instead of Arata. His post-match tears of gratitude confirmed that.
Nishida thinks they should stick with the same team for the coming match against Shoyo, and gets angry when Tsutomu doesn’t protest. Chihaya decides to leave him out, realizing that Tsutomu is more tired from scouting other teams than Tsukuba is from playing matches. As he and Hanano rest, the rest of the team beats Shoyo, using Tsutomu’s data. Their next match is against Akashi First Girls, and Tsutomu is able to discern their makeup from Hanano’s notes. The two teams’ orders are exactly as suspected, suggesting Akashi has utmost faith that their ace can defeat Chihaya.
We have been watching March Madness, and one interesting moment in particular was when the cameras turned onto a solitary, bookish chap wearing a team t-shirt, pencil and pad in hand. This was the team’s Desktomu: observing and collecting data on every aspect of the game. While what Tsutomu is doing isn’t strictly SABRmetrics, it is another instance of a trend towards using statistics to gain an edge – great or slight – in sports that have traditionally gone without. It’s evolution that both irks purists and excites those interested in a sport’s future. And in team Mizusawa’s case, it hasn’t let them down yet (though that doesn’t mean it’ll always work perfectly, or at all).
Porky projects his past self on Tsutomu when he tells him he’s fine sitting out the next match, but what he fails to realize is that Tsutomu does have the drive; otherwise he wouldn’t have been able to wrench vital data from the last team that lost to Shoyo; data even Nishida must use to win. A teams weaknesses can be hard to pick out in the heat of a match, but Tsutomu does the team’s homework, and they plan their strategy accordingly. Even Hanano’s seemingly superficial notes are detailed enough in their superficiality for Tsutomu to create basic personality profiles. But there’s one big difference that unathletic kid at courtside and Tsutomu: Tsutomu can play the actual game, and in the next match, he will.
Rating: 8 (Great)
- We forgot to mention Arata – turns out he can play after all, but he is banned from watching his friends play (not a light punishment, considering that’s why he came in the first place) and must write an essay of apology.
- Arata lends Shinobu (“The Drenched Queen”) his clothes and phone, which is very sweet. Though Shinobu may be too weird to consider it, we really wouldn’t mind these two hooking up, even if it did create more problems for Chihaya…no, because it would!
- “Show You”? Srsly?
Kanade takes the lead in her match versus Tsutomu thanks to the latter’s faults. Ultimately he couldn’t make up the deficit and Kanade is victorious; both advance to Class C. Meanwhile, the match Chihaya had been ignoring is down to one card each, which is a luck of the draw. Taichi tries to increase his odds by going on the offensive, but a long chain of dead cards and Nishida’s defensive play end in Nishida winning and advancing to Class A. Taichi is devastated, but Nishida thanks him for being president. Having seen how much stronger the team is, Chihaya proposes they return to group play.
With Chihaya duly humbled, this week was all about the remaining four members of the team better by playing one another. The last minutes of the two matches are about as tense as matches have ever gotten, particularly the Taichi/Nishida match. We have to admit we were feeling a little fatigued by so much pure, uninterrupted karuta playing, starting with last week and continuing throughout most of this episode. But the matches ended, and then came the fallout.
Taichi is without a doubt angry and disappointed in himself, and spends a little time angsting to himself. It’s moments like this when he should be sharing his feelings with Chihaya, but no, he keeps it all bottled in, along with his perfection complex. We liked Chihaya moving his sleeping head from the van window to her shoulder, and the fact that she’s now checking herself before calling her teammates Porky and Desktomu after, Nishida called her an airhead…out of affection.
Car Cameo: Kanade’s mom shuttles the team home in
Oe Traditional Clothing’s spacious Nissan Vanette.
In her first Class A match Chihaya faces Sakura, a mother of two and 35-year veteran of karuta. Chihaya wants to win, but not with her speed, but lacking a plan or strategy, she gets flummoxed, and notices that Sakura is watching her play, analyzing and strategizing on the fly. Though she loses by six cards, she learns a lot. She then witnesses her four teammates face off against one another in the class B and D finals. Watching their intense play, she realizes she’s there not to cheer anyone on, but to learn from them.
Baseball is replete with failure. A .300 average – Failing to get a hit 70% of the time – is deemed tip-top. There isn’t a lot of room for failure in karuta. If you whiff too much, you’re going to get beaten. You have to be fast and right, not one or the other. And most importantly, you have to know who you’re playing, learn how they play, and devise a way to win. Don’t just play against the cards, play against the opponent. It’s a lot to take in. Rather than surging to queenhood, Chihaya is back in Karuta 101, a victim of her own phenomenal reflexes and hearing.
Suddenly losing those crutches and having to slow down and play a different kind of karuta is about as difficult for Chihaya as unscrewing a jar of pickles her mouth, predictably, but she can’t hope to beat Shinobu if she isn’t a complete, balanced player. That point is driven home by watching all her teammates advance to the finals to face one another – and it’s great to see Kana and Desktomu go at each other, no longer novices, but really finding their own respective niches.
Despite winning a club relay in an upset, the Karuta Club fails to recruit any new members, so they focus on individual goals – advancing in class, in the case of Taichi, Porky, Desktomu and Kanade. Taichi sneaks off to Kanazawa to try to achieve class A in time to face Arata, but he meets Porky there, and they both get beaten. Meanwhile, Harada tells Chihaya something she’d never imagined: she has to stop using her speed to win. The challenge flummoxes her, until Desktomu and Kanade lend her their unique perspectives on the game.
Speed speed speed. It’s all Chihaya has known. All her eggs are in that basket, and the resulting omelette is an unsatisfying and not particularly nutritious mess of faults, openings, and ignorance. She’s been so concerned about perfecting her speed, she’s totally neglected her weaknesses, which are still many. Shinobu didn’t beat her because she was faster; she beat her because she was a far more complete player. Chihaya may be able to toast lesser players, but if she wants to be crowned the queen, she needs to make some fundamental changes to her game. We like how two of the keys to her evolution are right there in the kurata club, and here is where the two class Ds really prove their worth.
Desktomu looks at the game like no one else in the club, taking detailed notes of every game he plays and finding the patterns. Kanade believes the whole point of the game is appreciating the history and beauty of the poetry itself – her outrage when Chihaya tells her two cards that were written two centuries apart are “almost the same” reveals her intense passion. If Chihaya can learn a fraction of what Kanade knows, she may be able to recognize more cards by the color she connects them to in her head due to the imagery of the poem. Kurata isn’t just a sport, it’s an art and a science too. Like breaking up with your girlfriend on the phone in less than ten words…
This was a 99% clip show documenting all the big events of the series thus far, interspersed with omake skits that asked the characters questions, like which girl would they rather date, or give your colleague idiom nicknames. They also included another instance of Chihaya being a doormat for her sister. We basically skipped the bits that we’ve already seen and were left with about five minutes of original material.
After a hard-fault battle, Chihaya manages to take five of Shinobu’s cards, losing by twenty, which vexes her to the point of forgoing her postgame nap to obsess over how to improve. Meanwhile, Desktomu, Kana and Porky are all out of the running, but Taichi is locked in a battle for the Class B crown. His mind is fine but his body can’t keep up after six matches, so he loses too, by only three cards. Having all tasted defeat, the club trains all summer to improve their stamina.
So Chihaya got into a mini-groove, but it was too late to catch up to Shinobu. Despite the fact the queen mopped the floor with her in anyone’s book, she is really pissed that Chihaya took any cards from her at all, and means to crush her next time. She practices alone in the dark, while Chihaya practices with her teammates and friends. We’re glad the series stayed realistic and didn’t let Chihaya beat the queen on her first go, especially after trailing so much.
A nice surprise was Taichi’s showing, going even further in his class than Chihaya. Everyone hopes that if they can keep their spirits up, they can will him to win it all, but it’s not to be, as he’s too physically winded. His thought process is a lot more complex than Chihaya’s. as he checks off every possible verse he can take. When Porky watches him lose, it brings back memories of him doing the same; second is no consolation for losing. But the biggest news this week is Arata, going to Kuriyama to join the Fukui Nagumo Society, which means a match between him and Chihaya is all but inevitable.
The Mizusawa Karuta Club is competing in the Tokyo regionals for the High School Karuta Championship, and they’re wearing hakamas, as per Oe’s instructions. But trouble brews when Desktomu cannot win a single card in the first round, even as fellow novice Oe wins a game. Desktomu sits out the semifinals, believing they don’t need him, but that throws Chihaya off her game. Taichi has to bring the team together in the face of serious competition, and Desktomu returns when he hears they’re in trouble to lift Chihaya’s spirits.
After intense training and practice, it’s time for Oe and Desktomu to jump into the pool of competitive Karuta, and it very nearly goes pear-shaped but for some assertiveness from Taichi. We’re pleased with how far his character’s come from that petty, cheating bastard of yore. But as least part of Arata’s assertion that he’s a coward may still hold true, in that he cannot yet come out and confess how he feels to Chihaya. Her texts to Arata obviously irk him, but he has the power to make things happen, and yet he merely stews.
However, he isn’t distracted by these problems wihle playing in the tournament; in fact, it’s Chihaya who briefly loses her edge and nearly chokes under pressure. Their competition are a bunch of gung-ho loudmouths, constantly communicating and yelling support and intimidating the other side – we were a little surprised all that noise is allowed in a game where listening to the poems being recited is so crucial. But once Chihaya snaps out of it, her killer instinct kicks back in, and she’s flicking cards before a syllable is uttered. A good team effort throughout.