Chihayafuru 3 – 01 – Living with the Contradictions

If you wish, you can read my reviews of Chihayafuru’s first and second seasons to get up to speed. I may have to read them myself. ;)

Six years is a long time, and yet Chihayafuru treats that expanse of time as if it last aired…last Tuesday. I was weary of jumping right back in after so long, having watched so many hundreds of hours of other anime. But by the end of the first episode, I’d remembered most of the main players and their relationships, as well as where we left off. It’s like riding a bike!

It helps that the show simply picks up where it left off, with Chihaya still recovering from her finger surgery and attending a Fujisaki summer camp with Taichi. Coach Sakurazawa proves quite the taskmaster, but only because she knows firsthand (having lost five Queen matches) that suffering now will make enduring serious matches that much easier.

Despite Chihaya’s diminished ability to play with her left hand, Sakurazawa pits her against Yamashiro Rion in three straight matches, hoping Chihaya’s more than ample passion will rub off on the disinterested Rion, who wins all three, but the final two were closer as Chihaya got faster and got advice from the coach to always maintain posture and move with grace, as all the greatest champions do no matter the circumstances.

In the fourth match, Sakurazawa again takes advantage of the players she has and pits Chihaya against Taichi. Retro earlier tells Chihaya that he believes he plays worse when Chihaya is around, possibly because he often loses to her. But Sakurazawa considers this a confidence-builder for Taichi, who ends up beating Chihaya, much to her displeasure. And Taichi is committed to beating her, in an official match, when her right hand is healed.

Like Arata, Taichi gets a lot of his motivation to play and love the game of karuta through Chihaya. When Chihaya ends up in a conversation about love with the Fujisaki girls, her love of karuta blended with love for Arata comes out, and the girls mistake her for considering karuta itself her one true love. In reality, she’s still trying to understand that love. Hopefully she makes some progress this season, both in love and war!

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Chihayafuru 2 – 25 (Fin)

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After the tournament, Chihaya sees more specialists, who determine she has enchrondromatosis in her right index finger. She decides to undergo surgery, which will require anesthesia and a week-long stay in the hospital. She spends her time studying a film of Arata’s match given to her by Coach Sakurazawa, and calls Arata, who tells her he always things of the time he and she first played karuta in his apartment when they were young. Chihaya also composes some poetry, some of which Oe recognizes as Chihaya expressing feelings for Arata. Oe prods Taichi to try harder with Chihaaya, and arranges for the two to attend a Fujisaki karuta camp on their own once Chihaya is discharged. Arata prepares to move to Tokyo to attend college.

With all the karuta matches played and champions decided, we were thinking this would be a pleasant little epilogue to wrap up loose ends. And while it achieved that, so much more stuff went down here; stuff that sets up an almost assured third season that we don’t think we’ll be able to resist. This was a beautiful episode that had Chihaya cooped up in hospital, leaving her little to do but study Arata, think about Arata, talk to Arata, and summon feelings for Arata that she doesn’t understand; i.e. love. She realizes that her love for him and karuta are intertwined; her means of proving to herself and him that she’s worthy of his love. But she may already have it; the most fun Arata ever had is when he played with her, and it’s the very thing that keeps him calm whatever the nature of the match he’s playing. She contributes to his greatness.

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Also brilliant was the use of Chihaya’s poetry, as read by Oe (by far the best character in the show at reading poetry) to indicate that Taichi’s window is rapidly closing, and further dalliances only make his climb steeper. Those poems, and watching her connect them to moments of Chihaya’s behavior, moved us deeply. Oe the Yenta is firmly on Taichi’s side, likening him to a figure from the hundred poems she so adores, and one who she doesn’t want to lose, so it’s cute and awesome that she takes steps to get Taichi into a position to make a move, any move, to keep him in the gate versus Arata.

As Oe says, Chihaya can’t possibly stay clueless forever, especially when she’s unconsciously writing love poems to Arata as it is! Perhaps, after the second season finally gave Mizusawa taste victory at the top, the third season (again, we’re just assuming there’ll be one) will address the love triangle with more authority, while also continuing Chihaya’s rise to defeat the queen and face Arata. Until then, the fine quality of this season was every bit the equal of the first, and even surpassed it in some regards. We can only move forward.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Stray Observations:

  • The reaction of horror of her friends at the news of the name of her condition is pretty priceless.
  • Chihaya’s practice swings (and the nurse’s scolding) were also quite adorable.
  • Coach Sakurazawa proves she’s quite the decent sort, providing Chihaya with a wealth of education (and very accurate!) karuta analysis of Arata and Shinobu.
  • Everything about Chihaya’s phone call to Arata was just flippin’ fantastic.
  • Arata happens to be looking at a magazine cover with Chihaya’s sister Chitose in a swimsuit when Chihaya calls and mentions Chitose. Weird, but great!
  • Porky is wearing a t-shirt with PORK on it. WE WANT THAT SHIRT.
  • In a nice surprise and blast from the past, the end credits role with the OP from the first season, which we liked a LOT more than the second one. Still love it!
  • That’s fifty episodes of Chihaya and the gang watched. It was a fun ride, and we hope there’ll be 25 more in the future.

Chihayafuru 2 – 15

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The national final between Mizusawa and Fujisaki is about to begin. Fujisaki’s Coach Sakurazawa switches out third-year Suzuki Manata with second-year girl Yamashiro Rion. Rion will play Chihaya. Porky will play the other Suzuki twin, Kanata. Taichi will play the other captain, Emuro Ryoga. Tsukuba (replacing Kana) will play Ichimura Mitsuki, and Desktomu will play Yamai Makoto. Meanwhile Hokuo will play a third-place match against First Akashi. Retro tells Arata that Mizusawa is in the final, but he won’t defy his punishment. Reluctantly, Shinobu takes it upon herself to sit in on the match.

Every match in Chihayafuru is a web of many smaller stories about the dynamic between individual players and their inner thoughts, on both sides. This episode, while all set-up, is nevertheless engaging and perfectly whets our appetite for the match itself. It pull out all the stops to methodically lay out more sub-stories than could ever be elaborated upon in one more episode. Never once did we grow impatient or long for the match to begin. There had to be proper preparation for a match of this magnitude, and there was.

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On the Mizusawa v. Fujisaki front, we learn a huge amount about the team and its coach. The episode is very efficient in sketching quick outlines of their personalities and temperaments  and quirks. And every Fujisaki player is matched up perfectly with a player on Mizusawa for the most engaging interactions. Chihaya and Rion are both second-year girls aiming for greatness, but Rion seems more emotionally detached  like her Ice Queen coach more concerned with the future success of the team than meting out glory to her players. We say “seems” because her quick little evil smirk may portend an inner fire to match or exceed Chihaya’s.

Nishida and Suzuki are both emotional players, but Nishida is playing to avenge his anguish over his past losses, while Suzuki is playing to avenge his twin brother’s. Taichi going after the other captain is his way of stepping up his game. If he loses, he won’t be surprised, but if he wins, it may change his luck, not just with karuta, but with Chihaya, who he may believe loves Arata more because he’s a better player. Ryoga also resembles Arata, but is obsessed with boob size, lamenting that the busty Kana-chan isn’t playing (she jammed a finger in her last match).

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Tsukuba and Ichimura are perhaps the least interesting match-up (both seem proud, strange, and have fox-eyes), while Tsutomu, who doubts he can win, nevertheless has a bunch of research against his emotional opponent Makoto to at least be able to shake up his game. Makoto has also just realized that while he used to believe the third-years loved Rion, in fact he’s the only one who seems to be, which irks him.

So that’s where we stand. A lot of possibilities for great action and drama await us in the episode(s) that cover the final itself. All we ask, ultimately, is that Mizusawa wins. Call us greedy (like Chihaya!), but we want a reward for following the show this far. Anything less than a national championship will be a huge disappointment…and will annoy us.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • There was so much to cover with the match setup, we nearly forgot to mention the Arata/Shinobu B-plot. Arata wants more than anything to watch something Shinobu thinks is a silly waste of time. She even looks down on mighty Fujisaki, who are goofing off in the hall. The episode has us believe she doesn’t care and is headed home until the last minute, when she appears at the match. We kinda doubt she’s doing this to encourage the other teams and players present, but rather to try to understand better what Arata is so keen to watch. She also strips down to her skivvies, which…isn’t as exciting as it sounds.
  • There’s something desperately cute about Kana reciting poetry at the moon, then asking a poetic question to her coach in a super-sobby voice.
  • For the match, a Level 7 Certified Reader will read. She sounds awesome, and the show makes sure we understand how awesome with the visuals that accompany her voice. But will subtle nepotism come into play, as she’s Rion’s grandma? Coach
  • Sakurazawa  may seem cold, but she’s doing what all great coaches do: keep an eye on the future and play the long game. It’s because of her and people like her that Fujisaki has its reputation. Will Mizusawa’s team endure after its members graduate?
  • The ep was replete with great close-up shots, some of which we’ve posted to our Tumblr.

Chihayafuru 2 – 14

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Mizusawa’s semifinal match against First Akashi Girls School continues. Nishida is again the first to lose, but Kana wins shortly thereafter, releasing the tension somewhat. After Chihaya takes two of Megumu’s treasured “name” card, Megumu counters by taking Chihaya’s “Impasionate gods” card. Taichi wins, but Chihaya loses, leaving Desktomu as the deciding game. He gambles and takes the winning card, and Mizusawa moves on to the final against Fujisaki.

Before we return to the hot Mizusawa/Akashi action, the episode checks in with Arata, who is finishing up his novelistic apology, and Shinobu, still in his clothes and bored. The Fujioka West team finally arrives, and the queen takes the opportunity to voice her disdain for group matches. She wants to “kill time” with an individual match with Arata, who refuses because it’s a day for teams. Teams like Mizusawa, which thanks to the Fujioka coach, tells him is still alive and fighting.

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It’s kind of sad that Shinobu doesn’t give a shadow of a shit about the outcome of the group tournament. All queens, even Karuta queens, carry the responsibility to ensure their kingdoms thrive. But all she’s interested in is playing and winning alone. As long as she reigns, the karuta kingdom will languish. Ayase Chihaya and Ousaka Megumu aim to usurp her, and from the look of their epic game this week, they’ll put up a fight.

The team won, but Chihaya lost, and she doesn’t know why she lost, to the point her obsessing causes her to dig her nails into her hand, something Taichi stops with a tender gesture. It’s great to see Oe win, even though it leaves her too exhausted for the final. And Komano not only contributes to the actual match, his is the decisive match, and he even has the guts to gamble to win. Hokuo gets its clock cleaned, so Mizusawa will not be able to hold back in the final against scary Fujisaki.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Another twist: Megumu not only doesn’t delete the photos her fan club snaps, she asks if she can have them, to remember her last team match. From here on out, it’s Queensville or Bust.
  • We were a little disappointed that there was no Komano/Sumire scene after his big win. She did blush in awe when he won.
  • We like how Hokuo is eliminated off-camera. We don’t really like Retro-kun.
  • Shinobu’s spidey-sense picks up a card reading in the group match, and she employs circular breathing to study cards. We love her, but maintain her reign is poison for the game.

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?

Chihayafuru 2 – 10

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Mizusawa’s next opponent is Yamaguchi Mioka, a team of memory aces and quiz champions, who arrange their cards in the middle and constantly change their order. As a result, the Mizusawa players must draw upon the individual strengths of their games to defeat them. Chihaya, Taichi, and Nishida win, Oe loses a very close match, and only Tsukuba loses badly, and the team moves on. Meanwhile, Wakamiya threatens to forfeit if the gamemakers don’t reinstate Arata.

To all of the myriad uses of Karuta, add studying aid. The NERRRDS of Yamaguchi Mioka, and their captain, Takayama, discovered the game by chance, and noticed the similarities with their competitive quiz play. Both games require memorization and a certain speed with the hand, and buzzing in answers before the question is finished is much like taking a card after the first syllable or two. But of course, the team isn’t that one-dimensional. We greatly enjoyed the creative ways the thoughts of the players are visualized, and how the Mizusawa members deal with their opponents in very different ways.

Nishida relies on the defensive style of his society. Oe (in perhaps the coolest visualization), memorizes by author and them rather than position. Taichi…plays just like these guys, so he does fine. And Chihaya? Once she breathes and calms down, she relies on her power/accuracy combo and otherworldly game sense. What’s also great is how the game doesn’t dominate the episode. There’s enough time to propel Arata’s story forward (and we’re now thinking Chihaya is to Shinobu is to Chihaya as Arata is to Taichi), and showing more of the Tsutomu and Hanane scouting team.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Chihayafuru 2 – 06

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After focusing on accuracy in the first half of the game, Chihaya uses her speed to erase Amakasu’s five-card lead. All four remaining games come down to a “luck-of-the-draw” situation, and Hokuo uses discreet communication to ensure they split their cards perfectly, greatly increasing their odds of victory. Their plan is almost unraveled when Retro commits a fault and loses to Mashima, but Chihaya and Amakasu tie on the winning card. Because it’s on his side, he and Hokuo win the match.

This episode was Chihayafuru at its very best: creating an extremely tense situation in which anything could happen, which gets in everyone’s head, contrasting those whose minds are clear in such situations and those who may be over-thinking, showing characters figuring things out…or not, all while introducing yet another dimension of karuta. Even though both teams are advancing, this match meant a lot, and it turned out to be one for the ages. No series this season is quite as good at holding us in a moment and utterly saturating that moment with tension. Against our prediction, Mizusawa lost, but it was so friggin’ close.

It was so thrilling it inspired Sumire – Sumire! – to join the karuta society to get better. Chihaya was so focused on her game, she was blind to Hokuo’s stunning team gambit. Mashima accomplished what he wanted: saying nothing to his teammates except to announce his win. He won for his team, but he really won for Chihaya…then the poor guy has to watch a simple text from Arata reduce her to tears. That was perhaps the perfect cherry atop this awesome sundae: no matter how hard Mashima works, he cannot win in Chihaya’s heart against somebody who ain’t even in the same prefecture.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Chihayafuru – 25 (Fin)

The club watches dishearteningly on TV as Master Suo utterly dominates his opponent. After the match, everyone feels like they have a tall mountain to climb, but Tsutomu encourages Chihaya, telling her she has at least 20 one-syllable cards to Suo’s 28. Arata also watched the match, trying to visualize playing the Master with his card layout before him. When Taichi calls him, he tells him there are other ways of winning beyond “game sense.” Murao returns to challenges Arata to a game. Miyauchi defends the Karuta Club’s right to its clubroom by stating how quickly its progressed, but promises to double the membership by five; a daunting task that Chihaya is eager to complete.

Queen Wakamiya and Master Suo suck. They suck all the fun and excitement out of karuta with their android-like perfection. It stinks. Worse still, they were never taught by anyone, meaning they will never themselves teach. They’re a couple of useless prima donnas sitting upon the thrones. They need to get out of the way, or they’ll both destroy the game they love so well, much like a forester will lose his purpose if he cuts down all the trees. Just wanted to get that hate out of our systems – today we say goodbye to one of the better character-driven series of the last six months.

There wasn’t a character we didn’t like (beyond the aforementioned Queen and Master, curse them), and whether they were playing karuta or not, they were extremely fun to watch. This final episode is very open-ended, and even leaves open the chance for a sequel series down the road (we’re not currently aware of one), but if it ended here we’d be more than satisfied. Even though we’re sure we’d never be any good at karuta, it was fun to see a depiction of people who were.


Rating: 4

Chihayafuru – 19

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.


Rating: 3.5


Car Cameo:
Kanade’s mom shuttles the team home in
Oe Traditional Clothing’s spacious Nissan Vanette.

Chihayafuru – 18

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.


Rating: 3.5

Chihayafuru – 17

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…


Rating: 3.5

Chihayafuru – 16


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.


(No Rating)

Chihayafuru – 06

Chihaya and Taichi need more members for the Karuta Club, and when a curious Kanade Oe shows up, Chihaya aims to recruit her. Kana has an encyclopedic knowledge of the 100 poems, their authors, their history, and their different levels of meaning. She agrees to join if Chihaya models yukata for Kana’s family’s business catalog, and the club members must wear traditional garb from now on.

Just when we were wondering how an entire series could revolve around such a seemingly clear-cut game as karuta, enter club member #3, Kanade Oe. She is for lack of a better work, a 100 poems otaku, as well as someone obsessed with history. She’s teased by peers as being born in the wrong era; they may be right. It can happen. In any case, she is an invaluable tool for Chihaya, who’s over-relying on her ears while neglecting card position; a definite hitch in her game she must correct if she’s to be Queen.

Kana shows Chihaya – and us – that each card is much more than just a poem to be taken at face value, and to listen for the first syllables. They are worlds, full of colors, sounds, emotions, and inspired by the lives of the 79 male and 21 female poets, whose 100 best poems make up the game. Chihaya even learns that her namesake card is a poem about “deep red  love”. So Chihaya shores up her game and gains a member; Kanade gets to geek out on yukatas and poetry; Taichi has a nice little harem going…everybody wins!


Rating: 3.5