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 – 09 – Luck of the Draw

As Chihaya desperately watches her phone for updates from the Master qualifiers, her friend Michiru hits her limit, snatches Chi’s phone, and removes the battery. Good for you, Michiru! The only reason Michiru is even at the Hundred Poets Museum is because she hoped Chihaya would teach her a few things.

Chihaya, having come back to earth, apologizes profusely, but as we know, her own knowledge of the poets is pretty limited. It falls to the incomparable Kanade Oe to school them both, demonstrating that she could be a decent history teacher today if she wanted to—and kick Chihaya’s ass at it!

Back at the East qualifiers, Taichi also hits his limit, losing to the goof-prone but still focused Koshikawa Shusaku of KU. In a tense back-and-forth game that comes down to a luck-of-the-draw he loses, Taichi curses himself for not taking the “Impassionate” card, which will never not remind him of Chihaya. It’s almost as if Koshikawa eliminated him from qualifying and stole his girl!

Sumire watches the whole thing through the window, but when she starts to rush to Taichi’s side, she’s stopped by Tsukaba, who tells her that the last thing Taichi wants is company, because it’s the last thing he’d want after such a tough, close loss.

Dr. Harada, old crab meat knees and all, manages to avenge Taichi by defeating Koshikawa in the semifinal, which also ends in a luck-of-the-draw which Harada wins largely because he’s been playing for forty-five years, longer than Taichi or Koshikawa. He has a pretty good idea which cards aren’t going to be read at the end—the so-called “Eternal Maids”—a confidence borne out when he claims victory.

He’ll face Sudo in the East Master qualifiers final, while Yamamoto and Inokuma will face each other in the Queen qualifiers final. Back in the West, Arata ends up in the final with his own society-mate, Murao Shinichi, and is disappointed—and a little relieved!—to learn Taichi won’t represent the East.

Finally, Suo wants to win a fifth-straight crown so he can retire, while Shinobu is vexed by her gramps worrying about her having no friends, which is none of his business. Is it just me, or to both of these monarchs seem a teensy bit…vulnerable?

Chihayafuru 3 – 05 – Unpredictable, Scary, Fun

This week we learn Inokuma’s parents were karuta players, and she learned at a young age that parents could treasure something as much as their kids, which is why she can still play and compete without reservations. Still, just as she’s bent on taking Chihaya out of her comfort zone, one of her kids gets unruly, and Chihaya notices he’s wearing a Daddy Bear shirt, and gets even more comfortable.

Everyone is impressed by Chihaya’s calm and easy demeanor despite being a mere high schooler in such a high-leverage match. Porky is less surprised: he knows Chihaya likely only assigns that intimidating queen mantle to one and only one person: Wakamiya Shinobu. Until she gets to play her again, everyone else is an obstacle, and she won’t be stopped.

Despite all these close matches, someone has to eventually lose…I just never imagined Arata would be the first one eliminated! His opponent Tsuboguchi had an amazing streak of luck, winning the last five cards. Arata is quietly outraged, but that’s karuta: it never ceases to produce a result no one could have predicted.

Murao ends up defeating an exhausted Dr. Harada, but it takes a lot of energy to do so. Chihaya also manages to knock off Inokuma, (then immediately passes out after thanking the reader), and Taichi shocks the room by eliminating Sudo Akihiro with a huge gamble at the end, going for the card closer to Sudo.

The semifinals are then set: Taichi vs. Murao, and Chihaya vs. Tsuboguchi. Since the latter two are in the same society and Chihaya is asleep, Tsuboguchi yields the match to Chihaya, instantly elevating her to the final. Dr. Harada can’t say he’d do the same; even a beloved student should be considered a fierce adversary to smite; Tsuboguchi agrees, but only where Taichi is concerned. That said, Chihaya’s future opponents in her quest for the queen won’t be so accomodating with her narcolepsy.

Before Inokuma leaves, she meets with Sakurazawa and they exchange contact info to practice together in the near future. Watching Inokuma no doubt made Sakurazawa’s passion for karuta burn again, but the latter tears up due to being fairly certain the game has passed her by. In any case, she knows Inokuma was never the same after losing her “Impassionate” card; turns out her surname was once Chihara, which is why she and Chihaya shared an affinity for that card.

The semifinal goes much quicker than the quarter since it’s just one game, but it’s also not as close: Murao is still feeling the residual weight of his game with Dr. Harada, and Taichi capitalizes on every advantage to take an easy win, adopting a far more defensive game than usual that really compliments his skills. He’s also motivated by the fact that Chihaya isn’t in the room while Arata is watching him for the first time from the sidelines.

Taichi is on a roll, so we’ll see if his momentum will be slowed by a head-on final match with none other than Chihaya. He’s been able to overcome all other psychological hurdles, but this could prove his toughest yet. It’s the biggest match yet in which they’ve faced each other. I forsee it will be unpredictable, scary, and fun in equal measure, and can’t wait to watch it unfold, whether it takes one episode or two.

Chihayafuru 3 – 03 – Up to Fate and The Times

Sorry for doing these out of order, but I wasn’t aware Chihayafuru 3 was airing two episodes at a time last week (and this week!). Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see the match that came before Chihaya’s promising quarterfinals match, because it’s when she truly gets her groove back.

Same with Taichi, who has a pre-match brush with Arata that, while cordial and even friendly, still steams his beans just because…Arata just does that. He’s in Taichi’s way on two fronts: karuta and Chihaya (whether he knows it or not), and hearing that he wants to start his own school club is yet another thorn in Taichi’s side.

Few know Chihaya’s game as well as Porky, so even when she seems to be doing well, he can tell, for instance, if she hasn’t quite come back from her injury. He’s also a great analyst of her game, and when she is up against a former Master runner-up (Takemura, who lost badly to Master Suo), he notices that there’s a reason she seems slower and less forceful, and it’s not because she’s still recovering her game.

In fact, Chihaya has absorbed a lot of pointers from Shinobu, Rion, and others that it’s not all about power. Playing left-handed also turned out to be beneficial to her, as it gave her more experience and insight into a side of the cards she was weakest against. Since she could never move as fast with her left hand as her right, she compensated with accuracy and efficiency, which she’s carried into her right-handed game.

Taichi has some trouble with his quirky opponent, Shiroyama from Hokuo, and is particularly irked by his opponent’s ability to take cards despite being, well, slow. He eventually realizes Shiroyama is playing a true team match, focusing on wearing Taichi down rather than winning quickly. Once Taichi realizes what’s going on, it’s like a weight off his shoulders, and he puts Shiroyama away.

Chihaya beats Takemura, who is admittedly out of practice after taking a whole half-year off following his brutal defeat. But he sees how big a mistake that was, as youngins like Chihaya are no longer nipping at his heels, but surpassing him with relative ease. Contrast that with mother of two and former Queen Inokuma Haruka, whose passion is such that even two kids, including a still-nursing newborn, can’t keep her out of the tournament.

While no one questions her prowess in previous years (nor the shape of her eyes, which give Chihaya’s a run for their money), there are questions about whether she can make a comeback; questions that are answered in the positive in this round. But during the match, both she and Chihaya snatch the “Impassionate” card at the exact same time, such that their cards collide. That incident is all too fateful, as they end up facing off in the quarterfinals.

Before the match, Miyauchi asks Sakurazawa if Chihaya has what it takes to be Queen. She’s worried about the future of an academically average-at-best student, but would be less worried if she knew Chihaya could ascend to the top of karuta. All Sakurazawa can tell Miyauchi is that in order to reach that height, Chihaya will have to do what she could not; defeat someone like Inokuma Haruka.

P.S. Yamashita Kousuke’s music continues to be one of the many great things about this show. Earbuds don’t really do it justice; I’d recommend watching on a system with some nice powerful speakers for full effect. I continue to be amazed by how exciting watching kneeling people swiping at cards can get, and the music is a big part of that.

Chihayafuru 3 – 04 – One Tough Mama

The quarterfinal matches are set. Chihaya, Taichi, Dr. Harada and Tsuboguchi, all of the Shiranami Society, made it through. They face off against Inokuma, Sudo, Murao and Arata, respectively. It’s a battle between rival societies, youth and experience, fire and water, et cetera.

There’s an elite reader, and the proceedings carry a familiar and intense electricity and tension not seen yet in the show until now. This is the Chihayafuru I know, love, and keep coming back to. There’s just nothing quite like the exquisite energy that fills those silent moments between stanzas.

Everyone on Team Shiranami, with the possible exception of Dr. Harada, has improved their games greatly. Inokuma may be a mother of two who was recently away from the game on maternity leave, but she’s also a former queen, and has a unique style of play in which she never rearranges her cards.

She also already knows about the different pitches of the reader Chihaya is just starting to figure out (thanks to Rion). The difference is, Inokuma also knows all the other ways to listen to a word before it’s fully uttered. Like Inokuma, Chihaya was away from the game in a sense due to her injury, but if she’s going to realize her dream of queenhood, she has to be able to topple a Queen.

Despite playing right next to Chihaya, and subject to mind games from the merciless Sudo, Taichi keeps his cool—even when Sudo correctly diagnoses that Taichi is in love with Chihya—displaying a mental fortitude that was lacking before. It can’t hurt that he got to beat Chihaya a couple of times to build his confidence…and Porky helped him out by exhausting Sudo in the previous round.

The best games in pretty much any sport are ones that are balanced between great offense and defense, but also deliver a lot of action and excitement. Karuta is no different, and the surging passion on display serves as fuel for all eight players, resulting in four very close matches. The episode ends on a high note, with no one in a deep hole or soaring too high. Anything can happen, but whatever happens, everyone is having a shitload of fun.

P.S. It seems I skipped episode 3, while episode 5 is out now! I’ll watch and review both when I can, thus visiting both the past and future of this tournament.