Chihayafuru 3 – 21 – It’s A New Day, Yes it Is!

Chihaya may be frustrated that Taichi stayed behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup without telling her, but she shouldn’t be surprised; Taichi’s always been like this. Rather than dwell on how much further Taichi might progress as she’s on the train home, she needs to think about how she’s going to become Shinobu’s preferred opponent in the next Queen tournament.

Chihaya registers for the co-ed Bunkyo New Year’s Tournament, which after the two biggest events in karuta truly does herald a new year, despite it being held on Jan 11th. We unfortunately spend some time with Retro-kun, about whom I could really care less; his goofy design, voice, and mannerisms belong in a different show and undercut any dramatic weight he might emit.

Back in Kyoto, Taichi is paired up with Arata, but no longer how late at night Taichi stayed up practicing in his hotel room, there’s no way Arata is going to lose to him; not after the challenge he issued to Suo (who actually shows up to watch their match). Taichi can only claim 4th Place, while Chihaya shows Sudo how much her game has matured by beating him to win the whole damn thing. It’s officially morning in Chihayamerica. Time to get to work.

Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 17 – An Attractive Advertisement

Before the matches begin, Chihaya notices the people chosen to be the card boys and girls for the matches. She wonders whom she’d choose for her Queen match, and envisions that, should they let her choose guys, neither Arata nor Taichi would be available, for they’d be facing each other in the Master match.

It’s a beautiful dream, and we get a glimpse of it in her head. Part of me wishes Chihaya and Arata’s journey to their respective crowns were sidetracked, by Chihaya’s school trip and Arata’s loss to Harada. If I’m honest, Shinobu is the only one of the four players in these matches in whom I have any significant emotional investment.

That said, the two matches are still hella interesting, and made moreso by the airheaded Eternal Queen commentator, the online feed, and a truly legendary reader whose voice coats the environment in a rainbow light. The first round of karuta itself isn’t anything fancy, but is marked by the sheer closeness of the games.

Inokuma, being a former queen herself, puts up the best fight in a Queen match Shinobu has ever encountered, culminating in a luck-of-the-draw that Shinobu wins. She never doubted the cards would choose her. Is the mega-eyed Mama’s comeback tour about to come to an end? Haruka hedges her bets in the green room between games.

Suo also ends up in a luck-of-the-draw with Harada, by design, only Harada manages to defend the last card read to pick up a win, breaking Suo’s tournament winning streak at twelve. It would be the promising start of a huge upset, if Suo had any actual will to win; he seems to have lost interest. Poor Harada: working his ass off for decades to get here, and his opponent is goofing off.

As for poor Shinobu, it’s clear she’s wounded by her relative’s (assistant’s?) comment about her grandmother basically using her as a mannequin for the kimono made by one of her investments. Just when she’s feeling low, Chihaya comes in with Snowmaru dorayaki to share, but then pisses Shinobu off by saying she put her class trip ahead of Queen qualifying. After that roller coaster of a break, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka evens things up in the second game.

Chihayafuru 3 – 15 – Crushed Like Autumn Leaves Underfoot

Chihaya can’t concentrate on studying for final exams because she’s still stunned from Arata’s confession and news he’s planning to attend college in her neck of the woods. While Taichi may have somewhat of a clue why she’s so distracted, only Oe and Sumire heard the confession with their own ears.

Sumire insists that they not tell Taichi, but just watch things unfold. She’s glad there’s finally some movement in what had been a completely log-jammed love triangle, and is hopeful things work out with Arata and Chihaya so she can be the one to swoop in and claim Taichi.

Later, Sumire is frank in her selfishness, and in being okay with the fact dating Taichi means he first must have his heart crushed like autumn leaves. But she can’t change the fact she loves Taichi and wants to be with him, and Arata may have finally given her an assist in that department.

Alas, she and Oe are only partially interpreting the source of Chihaya’s stunned state. Yes, Arata is part of it, but so is karuta. As has always been the case, her love of both has been so intertwined as to make it hard, especially for someone with zero romantic experience, to tell the two apart.

Quite suddenly, Chihaya gets a call from Suo via Sudo Akito agreeing to have a match with her, and all of a sudden she’s broken out of one trance…and into another. She finally sees Suo in a new environment, doted upon by his fellow karuta players at the practice facility, and even occasionally yelling.

Getting to play the Master is a trip for Chihaya, and you can’t blame her. Since she’s never played him before one-on-one, she has no idea what she’s in for, and even though she mimicked him as best she could, she was not prepared for the level of psychological warfare he directs at his opponents before, during, and after a match.

She loses by fourteen cards, but by the end of the match she’s notably encouraged by the strong finish she had and the fact she never lost heart…that is until Suo throws a bevy of compliments her way before crushing that heart like autumn leaves, telling her someone like her, pretty, positive, popular, “having a boyfriend”, can’t become Queen.

Chihya’s reaction is only shown for a few frames—not even a full second. She looks like she’s in the shadow of someone’s shoe, about to be stomped into oblivion. All of the good vibes she had gathered during her visit snuffed out. One wonders how much of Suo’s assessment is based in his karuta wisdom, and how much is couched in his inability to successfully court her. Either way, she’s not shining anymore…and that’s a damn shame.

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 – 13 – The Iceman Cometh


After receiving a bouquet from her adorable firstborn, Haruka wins the second match and becomes the challenger to the Queen. Not a lot of time was spent on their match, which is good, because while Haruka’s a perfectly likable character neither she or Megumu have very fleshed out characters.

During the break he got when Harada withdrew, Arata takes a stroll and thinks about what Chihaya whispered to her, and returns with the face of someone envisioning their imminent victory.

Chihaya also took the opportunity to get some fresh air in the park near the karuta hall, and encounters Suo. When she asks why he always gives out pastries, he says it’s because they contain vitamins, but when she asks why he speaks so softly, he wonders if that’s all she wants to ask him. He’s not wrong on that point.

Chihaya wants to ask him karuta questions she’ll probably never get satisfying answers to, but even something from the guy could prove useful. Unfortunately, Suo takes Chihaya’s attention the wrong way and repeatedly tells her he doesn’t have a girlfriend!

When the third and final match begins, what Chihaya said to Arata is revealed: he’s not going to beat their mentor just by being the same ol’ Arata. He has to channel his grandfather, Master Wataya, and everyone is struck by how much he succeeds in doing so, both in how he carries himself and how his tactics are constantly changing to foil Harada’s uber-offensive style.

By channeling a much older man—someone fifteen years older than Harada himself—Arata is able to take control of the game, but he also inadvertently lends his opponent a second wind, since Harada feels like a young man again (he was nineteen the one time he faced Master Wataya). He’s truly raging against the dying of the light, but disaster strikes when his knee suddenly gives out. Will the kind-hearted Arata subconsciously take pity and ease off his game, or will he do what has to be done to face Master Suo?

Chihayafuru 3 – 12 – Damming the River

As Chihaya makes dreamy eyes at Arata, wondering if he’ll be the first of them to realize their dream of reaching the highest Karuta summit, Dr. Harada has a plan. He once played Arata’s grandfather years ago when he was a young lad, and considers it a great joy to be playing Arata now.

That said, he must use every tool at his disposal to try to throw the kid off his game. That means suddenly interrupting the opening stanzas to ask that the A/C be shut off. If Arata plays in the style of water, he’ll disrupt the flow.

Harada also has a lot of intel on Arata from his other two students in Chihaya and Taichi, but that doesn’t give him the full picture of who Arata is, how his game has advanced, and how it will continue to advance even in this very match. For instance, Arata was never one to move cards at the rate he does here, but it’s to counter Harada’s strategy of hitting one side hard by making sure there’s as little on that side as possible.

Chihaya is ultimately torn over who to root for, which she takes as a sign she’s matured, since the younger her would have rooted shamelessly and enthusiastically for Arata alone.

But Arata is also glad he’s playing Harada and that he’s still playing at such a high level, since Harada was the first one to tell him he could pursue his dream of Karuta and gave him and the other two a safe space to explore it to their heart’s content.

With a Herculean effort, Harada manages to eke out a victory in the first of three matches, proving that youthful exuberance and momentum won’t always win the day—and inspiring Inokuma to rally and defeat her high school opponent.

Throughout the match, two of Harada’s peers are decidedly not rooting for him, but very much for Arata to crush him. That’s because he and Kitano were once set to win a match read by Makino Midori, Kitano’s “Madonna,” only for Harada to withdraw from the match, citing Midori’s reading skills.

It seems Midori was so angered by Harada’s slight that she ended up working her ass off to become a certified Grade 6 reader. Ironically, Harada ends up acknowledging her efforts by withdrawing from the second match altogether and banking on the third, for which she’ll be reading.

By withdrawing from the second match, Harada ensures his fifty-plus year-old body will be fresh for the third. Arata, young and spry, can only stew in anger over getting an automatic win, while the third match will carry that much more tension because he didn’t learn anything new about Harada’s game, which Harada could completely change up in the third match.

This puts Arata at a disadvantage, since he was expecting to play the second match (with the second reader). Sensing his frustration, Chihaya comes to his side to whisper advice in his ear, a gesture that’s a lot more romantically charged than it would have been were it not Arata….and Taichi notices. Will their mentor really end up blocking Arata’s best chance yet to become Master?

Chihayafuru 3 – 11 – Be the Master, Beat the Master

Back at school, Chihaya’s game still has momentum from the Yoshino Tournament, while Mashina has slid a bit since losing in the qualifiers, as evidenced by how badly Chihaya beats him. But Chihaya is going all out because she thinks Mashima will quit altogether if she goes easy on him.

Meanwhile, Chihaya finally manages to call Arata to congratulate him, but she’s so stiff she ends up blasting his ear off. In any case, one hopes the two will get to spend a little more time together in the next cour, because I felt seriously short-changed in this first one where Chirata shippin’ is concerned.

 

Chihaya also makes it clear to Arata that he’s going to LOSE to Dr. Harada and the Shiranami society, as Harada has recruited all classes of players to help prepare him for his playoff with Arata. Indeed, the whole reason he started the society was to one day become Master.

To that end, he has Mashima serve as a “Virtual Arata”, making him memorize Arata’s layout so he can play against him as if he were playing Arata. Chihaya volunteers to serve as “Virtual Suo”, intensely studying the Master’s play and even starting to talk very softly and offer candy to people, leading to a misunderstanding from her tutoring cousin Shinji.

Watching Chihaya emulate Suo—and hearing Mashima trying to talk in Arata’s dialect—is jolly good fun, while we get a couple of tear-jerking moments with Inokuma Haruka, who at 34 sees both her challenger and reigning Queen and wonders if she’s simply done. She also worries she’s putting karuta before her children.

When Haruka has a nursing emergency just before her match, Mama Oe is there to calm her, and show her that kimonos are open on the side so that you can nurse a child without undoing or wrinkling it, which is some choice Traditional Clothing Mama advice. Having fed her lil’ Jin, Inokuma regains her composure and is ready to go.

When Chihaya arrives at the playoff as a spectator, she’s seriously regretting not being one of the players. That said, one would hope a show as long and sprawling as this isn’t about build her up as a future Queen for years, only for her to not attain that title. For now, the playoff is still a valuable resource. Now is the time to watch and learn from all four finalists.

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.