Chihayafuru 3 – 07 – Tailwinds and Fever

Chihaya does her best…and wins. Moreover, the match isn’t dragged out any further than it needs to. Chihaya just wins. Of course, that means Taichi loses, and we knew he was not going to be a happy rich boy about that. So he does what rich boys do when they lose…waste precious potable water!

Arata has to shut off the faucet that represents Taichi’s bitter tears. Arata thought Chihaya “belonged” to Taichi, Taichi thought she “belonged” to both of them, while Arata has realized she doesn’t belong to either of them. If they both continue to wallow in their own angst, she’ll leave them in the dust, a tailwind at her back.

And yet, despite having slugged it out so hard to win the Yoshino Tournament, Chihaya tearfully admits to her just-arrived mom that she really wants to go on the school trip, because one day she wants to be a teacher and coach, like Miyauchi and Sakurazawa. So she goes to Kyoto, skipping this year’s Queen qualifiers. She’ll just enter them next year.

While on the Shinkansen, Chihaya learns Taichi skipped out on the trip. She keeps calling him until he answers, and he tells her he had a fever…which she buys. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well, but it had nothing to do with a fever and all to do with moving past his latest defeat, which he wouldn’t have been able to do in Kyoto (where a rich boy like him has already visited many times).

Chihaya may have the luxury of a modest future beyond the grander dreams of Queenhood, but Taichi has no such luck. This time next year, when Chihaya intends to enter the qualifiers, Taichi won’t be able to, since he’ll be studying for medical school, as his mother has prescribed. Once in med school, he’ll have no time for competitive karuta. This is his time, so he’s going to use it. It’s now or never.

Arata, meanwhile, is punishing himself for saying what he said to Taichi about Chihaya and belonging, but I maintain he was right to say it and shouldn’t feel bad. There’s way too much floating around these three that they’ve tried to keep unsaid and expressed through karuta instead, but now that they’re all competing for greatness, that’s no longer an outlet. That said, Arata has a good and caring friend in his neighbor and classmate Yuu.

Chihaya wanted to go on the class trip to make memories, but she’s distracted the whole time, first by Taichi’s absence, and then by the meaning of his absence. I’m sure a part of her feels lazy, selfish, or arrogant for even being in Kyoto when Taichi is still in Tokyo.

As Harada says during the final, results are the foundation upon which all one’s efforts are held in place. If those results aren’t achieved, the whole structure falls apart; all the efforts feel for naught, even if they weren’t.

Perhaps sensing that a strong result in this year’s Yoshino is no guarantee of similar results at next year’s qualifiers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chihaya catches an early train back to Tokyo. Right now she has a strong wind at her back, and a strong foundation on which to build.

Chihayafuru 3 – 06 – Just Taichi, and Yet Not

Jeez Louise, I thought the last couple episodes were tense. Put Chihaya and Taichi in their first official match together—a finals match, no less—and everything is upped to Eleven. No one dare leave, even Arata, lest he miss watching something he knows deep down he needs to see.

The elders are astonished that not only is the final two high schoolers, but of the same society. They may not be aware of just how close these two are, but it becomes plain once their match shifts into gear.

You can expect the finer points of karuta in Chihayafuru, but don’t sleep on Kana’s mom’s encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Japanese dress, how it makes those who wear it carry themselves differently, and even the symbolic and spiritual significance of the obi.

Very cool stuff…this show is like a cultural bath bomb. I also liked how the nerves of both Chihaya and Taichi were exposed not necessarily in their game, but in the fact they both forgot to gather up their sleeves with the strap thingies called tasuki.

As for the match itself, Chihaya and Taichi demonstrate they’re both at the top of their respective games. Chihaya has more rest…and speed, and is starting to hear words better, but Taichi has a number of strategies to turn her offensive game in on itself, like a placement that seems needlessly reckless and whack-a-doo…until it actually starts working, frustrating Chihaya.

Once she remembers Sakurazawa’s tip about maintaining posture, Chihaya sits up straight and looks at her opponent, who may feel like a stranger in the match, but is still, at the end of the day, Taichi. Neither of them would be there without the other, and here and now, there’s no one either of them want to beat more. It’s a dense, weighty atmosphere, moving some to tears, and it’s absolutely must-watch Chihayafuru.

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.

Chihayafuru 3 – 02 – Small Actions Building Up Good Fortune

At his high school in Fukui, Arata stands on stage with accomplished athletes as they are recognized for their achievements, in his case winning at the Nationals. The problem is, he won in individual tournament. If he’s going to do his part to keep Karuta alive and thriving, he’ll have to attract more players.

To that end, he uses his brief time on stage to put a call out for anyone interested in starting up a school team. Alas, everyone who approaches him isn’t personally interested, they just know someone who is. For now, he has to be content with simply spreading interest.

It’s back to school, which means it’s back to the Karuta club for Chihaya and Taichi, joining Hana, Porky, Desktomu, and Sumire. Everyone has improved, and Taichi continues to beat Lefty Chihaya at every turn, leading him to warn her not to get too comfortable playing with the wrong hand.

Chihaya is pitted against Sumire, but even here, she’s somewhat thrown off guard when the Class D player tells her she’s taking karuta seriously now, which we know from having access to her thoughts is because she’s committed to keeping up with Taichi until he looks her way.

When news comes that the school trip will overlap with the dates of the Queen and Master qualifying, Chihaya starts to wonder if the gods of Karuta are cursing her. Kana, sternly scolding her for not straightening her shoes after taking them off, tells Chihaya she has to think of small things she can do to built her good fortune back up.

Sure enough, after two months, the doctor removes the bandages and clears Chihaya for use of her right hand. Suddenly unleashed, she’s back to beating Taichi, but the others can tell she still lacks the same boldness she had before the injury. Chihaya must sense this too, and so in order to get into shape for the qualifiers (which everyone assumes she’ll miss the class trip to attend), she enters the inter-society, A-and-B-only Yoshino Tournament.

Taichi, Porky, and Desktomu also participate…as does Arata, whose presence Chihaya quite suddenly notices. Arata has the good sense to compliment Chihaya for her hakama, and hopes she won’t lose, because this is a mixed-gender tournament. All she has to do is win all her matches and she’ll likely get to face Arata, which is probably why she entered into the tournament in the first place. No better test of whether she’s ready for the Queen qualifiers than if she can have a good match against one of the best.

Desktomu is taken down a peg after being throttled in his first match, but thankfully the ever-caring Kana is there to stop his his compulsive face-slapping. Chi and Taichi win their first matches, and while Porky loses, he wears out his opponent Sudou Akito, hoping to make matches easier for his teammates. It’s in this way all individual matches are team matches and vice versa: everyone is fighting to help each other out, win or lose.

Zankyou no Terror – 07

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In preparation for more English dialogue from Five this week, I decided to come at it from another angle: if English is her character’s second language, then her thick accent is totally acceptable. But such realignments and caveats weren’t even necessary this week. There was so much going on I didn’t have time to give a shit how bad the English was or wasn’t.

Just about absolutely everything that went on this week was fantastic. Last week’s ending promised an intricate, precise game of Haneda Airport Bomb Chess between Five and Sphinx. It also hinted that Shibazaki and his colleagues were going to take action of some kind after sitting on their hands too long, and that Lisa would play some kind of role too. , The episode delivered everything we could have hoped for and then some.

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I remain confident in my assertion last week that Five is a cliched villain with a lame personal vendetta and all-but-unchecked autocratic power over the authorities. This week she’s taken down a peg just as Nine and the police were last week. The show sensed that we needed to see Nine land a blow, even a glancing one, on Five, and made it happen. But this episode was much, much more than just a duel between Five and Nine.

Shibazaki & Co. arrive at Haneda faced with the lofty challenge of finding a bomb in a massive, busy airport, but the more he wanders around, the more something smells rotten to the veteran detective. But even he couldn’t have predicted he’d end up helping the very terrorist he’s been chasing for six episodes stop the bombing, while unwittingly providing cover for their escape.

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That last bit is part the genius of this episode. When Shibazaki bursts into the control room and orders the bomb plane turned around, Five tells him he’s being Sphinx’s lap dog, and she’s not 100% wrong. But Shibazaki is also saving lives by picking the lesser of two evils. Five seems to be trying to appeal to his pride and ego, but after both have been trampled on so much throughout his career (most recently by Five herself), he’s not listening anymore. He’s the anti-Five, and thank God he’s here.

It’s a good thing he can, otherwise Nine, Twelve, and Lisa would’ve been SOL and lots of people would have died. Shibazaki is Nine’s trump card; he calls him to explain everything, and Shibazaki decides to believe him, because unlike the higher-ups and spooks, at least Nine is talking to him; letting him in on the loop. And once he’s in, he’s a potent ally. One great scene is how he even gets up the tower: by depending on his police colleagues to open a hole for him in their scrum with security.

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Also terrific was how Nine threw out Five’s book by placing an extra piece on the board, namely Lisa. Yes, Twelve pushed for her involvement, but she herself made the choice to participate. Both she and Nine and Twelve’s plan revolves around turning all of Five’s ample surveillance against her. Ironically, it’s not Lisa, but Nine who’s the decoy—playing chess with Five and keeping her eyes on him.

Meanwhile, Twelve makes use of every camera blind spot to sneak through the airport, while Lisa sets off a flare in the bathroom to set off the fire alarms, which create a blip in the video feed. During that blip—unbeknownst to Five until it’s too late—the real-time footage becomes footage recorded minutes earlier. It’s a full team effort by Sphinx, and as I said, a satisfying setback for the irritatingly haughty Five.

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But Five doesn’t stay down long, because, as she correctly remarks, Nine and Twelve’s new friend Lisa is a weakness, as illustrated when she’s picked up by Five’s henchman and tossed onto an otherwise empty plane with the bomb on board. I’ll admit, the moment Lisa is caught and when we realize how much trouble she’s in, I was crestfallen. But the show’s not going to kill Lisa today…so How Do They Get Out Of This One?

Very Carefully. The thrilling action set piece that concludes the episode brings everything together: Twelve’s fondness for Lisa; Nine’s sense of honor that has him helping Twelve save her; Lisa’s ability to follow directions and quickly make a cloth rope, and Nine’s ability to drive away from the plane before the explosion can engulf them. It’s some spellbinding, superbly directed stuff, and the Kanno soundtrack playing over everything really takes it to the next level, as her tunes tend to do.

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In return for his help, Shibazaki only gets a passing glance at the masked Sphinx No. 1 through a window before driving off into the night. And Five is Not Happy, and has Lisa’s student ID in hand. Which means even if Lisa remains safe and hidden with Sphinx (not a sure thing at all), her mother, wretch that she is, is now at risk.

Can Lisa throw her life away completely? Can Sphinx continue to stay a step ahead of Five? Can Shibazaki get back on the case and reign Five in? What about the plutonium? When’s the beach episode? If there’s no second cour, only four episodes remain to tackle these questions and more. We await them with bated breath.

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Zankyou no Terror – 06

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Let the great game begin…or at least the pretty good game. Just when Shibazaki was starting to sink his teeth into the case and gathering support from his colleagues, the FBI comes in with their Nuclear Emergency Support Team (NEST) researcher, Five, along with “orders from on top” essentially neutering his investigation.

Unfortunately, Five is ruining more than Shibazaki’s momentum and the terrorists’ plans. She’s kinda hurting the show, too. The main reason being she’s a big, bland “Insane Genius Villain” (IGV) cliche plopped down in the middle of a story that was going just fine without her. Also, let it be known for now and all time, that Han Megumi is very, very ungood at English.

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Han did a fine job as Hanano Sumire in Chihayafuru 2, but then, she wasn’t the primary antagonist who is called upon to deliver a good chunk of her dialogue in English; she’s just not up to it. That’s not Han-san’s fault; frankly, Watanabe had no business making her speak English. Far from adding “international texture”, it blows all the tension out of a scene like air from a balloon.

The color her English makes would surely give Twelve nightmares. With all the intricate preparation involved in the production, you’d think they’d have at least hired someone fluent in English to do the lines for someone who’s supposed to be fluent in English. Someday, anime studios and/or directors will figure this out, but not today. /End rant.

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This week we have the rather unusual scenario of the terrorists who planted a bomb at an airport having to return to the scene to disarm it, since Five has the power and the will to detonate it, even at the potential cost of many lives, because she can just blame it on Sphinx. She’s also able to craft myth-riddles like them, which most the cops believe to be the real thing.

Most, but not all. Shibazaki, right on cue, smells something rotten in Denmark. The texts aren’t his guys. He’s technically under orders to do nothing, but he isn’t going to accept that. Hamura and three colleagues join him “for a meal.” As I said, his teeth are in this case, and he’s not letting go so easily. Please, show, let him expose Cupcake Five before she exposes Twelve and Nine!

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But I’m getting ahead of myself. This episode is also notable for being the first in which Lisa is actually used in an op, albeit in a roughly improvised op in which Nine needs an unfamiliar face for Five’s cameras. She’s unfazed by images of carnage Nine tries to scare her with (as Twelve says, they didn’t intend for the bomb to go off), and declares she “wants to be one of them.”

Part of that is because there’s nothing else she thinks she can be. Another is that despite all the crap she’s gotten, she still wants to connect with people, and to experience the close bond she sees between Nine and Twelve. With this airport job, which looks like a doozy with its chessboard layout, she’s becoming a part of that family. (Thirteen? Zero?)

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Shibazaki’s little rebellion, Nine’s feverish scurrying, Lisa’s participation and Twelve’s support of her all make this a very good episode, but we can’t call it great. Not in an episode with so much Five in it. It’s good to take your antiheroes down a peg or two, but you need the right kind of nemesis to do it, and so far, Five ain’t that. It feels like she’s in the wrong show.

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Chihayafuru 2 – 22

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Chihaya uses her right hand to face off against Shinobu, eventually removing her bandage, and even manages to take her best card, but Shinobu still wins by 23 cards. Chihaya thanks her profusely for not going easy on her, even though Shinobu considered doing so. Tsukuba makes it to the semifinals, but Sumire loses in the third round. Taichi also makes it to the semifinals, and has to play Retro-kun.

No need for a lengthy summary here: Chihaya gets creamed, and it isn’t even close. And let’s face it, even a perfectly healthy Chihaya would have had a hard time taking more than a handful of cards from the dominant Queen. Always a reticent girl, there was a time when Shinobu let kids her age win so that they’d be nice to her, but that’s all over now. There’s still maybe a little remnant of that little girl inside her who doesn’t like kicking Chihaya when she’s down, but she doesn’t let it influence her game.

For that, Chihaya is glad, and rather than giving Shinobu the stink eye, she tearfully thanks Shinobu for the fair, square drubbing. And Chihaya’s loss didn’t discourage her from aiming for the Queen match. She stayed in the tournament as long as she could, and might’ve even been able to take a lesser opponent with her left hand, but she just got unlucky, being stuck with the Queen and a bum finger. And hey, she took her best card, so it wasn’t a total loss. Now we move on to Taichi, who’s looking to finally move up to Class A.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 20

Mashima Taichi, Ayase Chihaya

The team receives their championship awards and banner, but Chihaya’s finger has swollen and Miyauchi takes her to an emergency clinic, where she’s diagnosed with a chip fracture and told to avoid strenuous activity. At the inn, Chihaya lies down beside a sleeping Taichi and recalls the matches that got them to the championship. The next morning she decides to use her left hand to play rather than simply forfeit. The four classes split off, and Chihaya first faces off against Akashi’s aggressive Yuube Keiko, who takes an early lead when Chihaya’s left hand proves too slow.

Karuta is such an obscure game, even in its native Japan, that the physician who tends to Chihaya’s finger has no idea just how intense it can get. Yet even within that incredibly narrow, specific world of karuta, we’ve learned that there’s a universe of complexity, beauty and strength. We also learn that the Chairman of Japanese karuta has a similar belief as Shinobu: that team tournaments are no big deal and even chaotic and “messy” compared to the peerless artistry of the individual tournament. It’s kind of mean for the show to pile on the team-hate immediately after Mizusawa played their goddamn hearts out to win the highest team honor there is.

And even if she values the team matches much more than Shinobu or the Chairman or even Arata, even Chihaya can’t help but buy into the superiority of the individual matches. But she also made a promise to win in every class, and that can’t happen if she forfeits. Thus her motivation to play is just as much honoring that promise to her team as it was buying into the primacy of the individuals. There’s no rest for the weary, and when her first ginger attempt to strike the mat causes extreme pain, Chihaya rolls the dice and switches to her left hand. The initial results are less than inspiring, but who knows, maybe she’ll be able make that hand match the speed of her ears and sense.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Porky’s sister makes her brother’s team congratulatory tees in a new deeper blue color. She’s a class act, plus we were getting bored with the powder blue.
  • These individual matches will either continue into a future third season of Chihayafuru, or be so brief as to be anticlimactic  But its not like the team tournament could’ve been stretched across the rest of this season’s episodes…that would have frankly been torturous.
  • Chihaya lies down beside Taichi, but perpendicularly…a nice visual representation of just how differently they think about each other. 
  • Arata is going to college in Tokyo and Taichi is not happy with that.
  • Sumire learns about the childhood friend love triangle and wigs out. Ironically, if Taichi was into her, everyone would be happy…unless Chihaya isn’t really romantically interested in Arata.
  • Shinobu means to crush everyone. So as it turns out, she learned nothing. Oh well!

Chihayafuru 2 – 19

Team Mizusawa

Taichi, determined to change his negative ways, is able to catch up with Ryoga, who commits a rare double fault. Chihaya defeats Rion for Mizusawa’s first win, and Nishida and Taichi are able to synchronize their last card, making both their games luck-of-the-draw. The moment the card is read, Chihaya wakes up from her post-game nap to see Taichi and Nishida win their games, making Mizusawa national champions. Upon seeing Arata in the hall, Chihaya scolds him for saying he doesn’t care about teams.

Ever since we’ve known him, Taichi has had no luck. Chihaya, the one he loves, doesn’t see him that way. Luck-of-the-draws never go his way. But with so much on the line, and with no guarantee they’ll ever have the chance they have now, Taichi decides to forget about all his past luck. He grabs luck by the scuff of the next and gives it a good shake until it finally favors him. Of course, he didn’t win just because of luck. It was a team match and it was a full team effort. It was also, not surprisingly, the best match of the season to watch. With the table so deftly set and the pieces in position and the stakes loud and clear, all this episode has to do is let ‘er rip.

Injury and all, Chihaya is able to take Yamashiro down first, and Nishida’s match is basically a commentary on how he’s finally going to make all his experience playing karuta pay off. Therefore much of the episode is Taichi going out on a wing and a prayer, just this once. He may regret saying that, though, as while the team wins, Taichi’s spotlight is still stolen by Arata’s mere presence. But never mind that. Team Mizusawa is the best in Japan, which means they’re the best in the world. Time to take a deep breath and savor the victory.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Chihayafuru 2 – 13

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The Mizusawa/Akashi Girls match continues. Chihaya notes Megumu’s consistent calm, but uses all of the skills her teammates and Dr. Harada taught her, including the fact that Megumu is her, had she not been as well-coached. Hanano’s notes help Desktomu, while Porky’s opponent is more manly than he expected. Chihaya uses her accuracy to take three consecutive cards and start whittles at Megumu’s lead. Megumu momentarily wavers, but when Yu contributes vocal support, which she had neglected, she gets upset and recommits herself to beat Chihaya and challenge the queen.

There’s more similarity between karuta and March Madness than you might know. For instance, if there are two games going on at the same time, one between the 1 and 2 -seed teams and one between the 3 and 4, the natural inclination is to pay attention to the first game. But when the 3-4 game turns out to be more competitive and interesting, you change the channel and watch that. This is what happens to the audience at Omi Jingu. The match between Mizusawa and Akashi Girls starts picks up steam, and the swirling, clashing energy between the hard-fighting teams shifts the crowd’s attention on them. We don’t see a second of the other match.

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The match doesn’t end this week, which is annoying, but it is a good match with a lot going on. It’s ironic that Porky was looking forward to playing a girl and gets the tomboy of the team, but more interesting that not only did Komano use Hanano’s unique scouting notes to heart, and they worked for him in a real game situation, but Hanano noticed that he used her notes, recalling his praise for her,  and feels pride in her contribution. Could this be the initial stirrings of a very unexpected romance? Well…probably not, but we wouldn’t mind if it went in that direction. She and Komano would make a very intriguing couple.

Meanwhile, Chihaya is staying right in her match with Megumu, and not just because she’s relying on her strengths, but because she’s constantly assessing her weaknesses and working to conquer them, or at least turn them to her favor. Chihaya believes Megumu is relying on her speed, and we know Megumu is driven more by being the one who makes everyone happy rather than any desire to be the queen. When her teammate usurps her, she responds aggressively. She is often faster than Chihaya, but we wouldn’t be surprised if she hasn’t revealed her whole game.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Megumu’s fans – both the three swooning photogs and the weepy, youth-obsessed faculty advisor, are a bit grating here. We could have done with one or two fewer cutaways  to each. As for the Fujisaki girl, her stare reminds us of a MISAKA clone.
  • One weakness that Chihaya has yet to conquer – and one that may prove devastating in her queen match – is her inability to contest close cards. She’s really quite terrible at it!
  • We liked when Sudo noted that some of Chihaya’s moves reminded him of Wakamiya. They’re supposed to!

Chihayafuru 2 – 11

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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)

Stray Observations:

  • 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?