Chihayafuru 2 – 21

Ayase Chihaya, Wataya Arata

Chihaya struggles early against Yuube, but once she stops overthinking, goes with a more basic approach, and flips around the cards on her own side to make them easier to take with her left hand, and eeks out a win by two cards. Arata and Shinobu quickly defeat their opponents, and all the other Mizusawa players advance. Nishida has to face Arata in the next round, and while he puts up a passionate fight, he ultimately loses. Chihaya moves on to the Final 8, but rather than Arata, her next opponent is Shinobu.

Wow, this individual tournament is moving along at quite a clip! In a single episode we go from 32 players to just eight; Chihaya figures out how to switch her game from right to left, defeats two players, and with four episodes left, Chihaya is about to face off against her nememuse, the Queen herself: Wakamiya Shinobu. As a result, while she was saving her right hand for Arata (that just sounds wrong…), she knows she’ll have to use it against Shinobu. That’s a huge gamble, especially when last week a single tentative swipe caused intense pain.

But while the odds are very much against her no matter what hand she uses, Fujisaki’s loss proved that giants can be slain. If Chihaya defeated Shinobu to finally face off against Arata, you can be assured we’d pretty much lose it. That would be like a whole season of Kyousuke and Kuroneko dating. Arata, meanwhile, is just scary good, and even with all the negative energy directed at his game (his parents want him to lose so they don’t have to pay for his college in Tokyo), he eliminates his first opponent and barely breaks a sweat dispatching Nishida. We hope Chihaya’s journey doesn’t end with Shinobu doing to her what Arata did to Nishida.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

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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 – 18

Ayase Chihaya, Yamashiro Rion

Chihaya overcomes her injury to cut down Rion’s lead, but it’s still nagging her. Nishida is desperate for a win after two girls injured themselves giving it their all. After mis-analyzing his hair blowing, Tsutomu loses to Yamai, who energizes Rion, whom he secretly admires for her beautiful play. At the third-place game, Akashi and Hokuo continue to play hard, disgusting Shinobu, who suddenly remembers how she was isolated to strengthen her. Tsukuba loses to Ichimura, putting Mizusawa down 0-2. Nishida, Taichi and Chihaya will all have to win their games to take the championship away from Fujisaki.

Arata nudged Shinobu into sitting in on the karuta game, but not just to fulfill her duty as queen, but to try to change her mind about team karuta. She wasn’t very moved last week, but this week as the games intensify, like the Grinch, she starts to feel something in her she doesn’t recognize: excitement. Interest. Well, maybe. There’s a lot of conditioning to cut through to get to Shinobu’s soft side. After all, she was kept away from others her age so she wouldn’t ever go easy on anyone. The idea was, the more alone she was, the stronger she’d get. She is a strong karuta player – the strongest, but she’s a terrible queen and her social development has also suffered.

But back to the game: while Mizusawa had five chances at three miracles against Fujisaki, two of those chances go quietly into the night. We don’t mind Tsutomu and Tsukuba losing so forcefully; no amount of fighting spirit could overcome the sheer gap in ability and experience. By episode’s end we only know that Taichi is four cards down against Eroga, not a great place to be but not hopeless, while Chihaya and Porky’s scores remain a mystery. Mizusawa’s back is definitely up against the wall, but their three strongest players still stand, and there’s still a chance they can pull out a win. If not, we’ll be sorely disappointed. We already saw them lose in the last series. We want a win.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 17

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The match with Fujisaki begins, and Fujisaki jumps out to a huge lead, dominating the Mizusawa players with their superior speed, strength, and precision, a legacy that has been built in Coach Sakurazawa’s 12-year reign. Chihaya remembers what Kana calling Yamashiro’s reading “multicolor”, and is able to swipe her first card from Rion by “hearing” its color. She takes another by borrowing a move from Megumu, but jams her right index finger. Not letting the pain get to her, she swipes another card with queen-like speed, prompting Shinobu, watching in the crowd, to recall her match with Chihaya.

Fujisaki is the most focused, disciplined, and talented team Mizusawa has yet faced. Even Desktomu’s scouting notes can only go so far, and no amount of preparation is adequate for the match that begins to unfold this week. In this beginning, Fujisaki simply takes care of business. It doesn’t particularly matter to them who they’re playing; they’re the best, period. That’s not to say there aren’t chinks in the armor; the first one to rear its head is Rion’s very specific way of playing. She’s a brilliant prodigy to be sure, and quite possibly autistic, but the ability to hear colors and otherworldly game sense may not be enough against Chihaya, who has been constantly diversifying her game to overcome every weakness.

We breathe a sigh of relief when she finally snaps out of her funk, remembers Kana’s sage words, and snatches her first card with authority. When she sneaks under Rion’s hand for another score, the flusterer becomes the flustered and Chihaya builds momentum. She’s not the only one who won’t go quietly into the night; both Taichi and Porky have something to prove, and are going to give it everything they have. Never has Mizusawa’s back been more up against the wall, but there’s still a glimmer of hope that they can pull out a win…one card at a time.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Shinobu immediately deems the match she’s grudgingly attended to be a boring waste of time, but we imagine she’ll grow more and more interested if Chihaya can take Rion down and other Miszusawa players rise to the occasion.
  • She also doesn’t fathom just how much inspirational power and influence her position as queen carries. How can she, when she’s never bothered to use it?
  • Rion has never won a tournament, and this match is her first chance to be a winner.
  • Chihaya’s subtle, deft use of her injury to throw Rion off her rhythm was pretty awesome.

 

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 – 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 – 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 2 – 05

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Mizusawa plays Homei in the Tokyo Regional Finals, but even though both of them will move on to the Nationals, both Chihaya and Retro are desperate to win it. Retro chose to play Mizusawa’s order straight despite his new president Kameda’s desire to play a low-energy match. Kameda faces off with Chihaya, but she spends most of the match trying to emulate Wakamiya Shinobu’s silent style. Nishida is the first to lose. Chihaya decides to try combining the strenghs of Queen Wakamiya and Master Suo, taking a card from Kameda with authority.

Men should never begin a sentence with the word “but”!

When he hears his players bickering, Mashima remembers his overbearing mom’s words, which are good ones to live by even if you’re not a man. Saying “but” is like saying the world owes you a favor. Life isn’t fair; you get over it and move on. Mizusawa is already moving on, but they still face Hokuo. Last year, they owed part of their victory to their player order working out. Kameda, ever focused on the next card; the next match; wants to slip into the Nationals like an old man into a tub; nice and easy. Not so fast, says Retro-kun: there’s something to be said for preserving one’s pride.

This is an old and venerable game steeped with honor (Mizusawa’s hakamas are a very visible reminder of that); applying modern pragmatism…cheapens it a bit. This week, Chihaya is figuring things out. She is gunning for Wakamiya, who may well still be out of reach, but that doesn’t mean she shouldn’t try. That means a lot of her match with Kameda involves trial-and-error. We also liked how former Hokuo ace Sudo is the reader, and how Oe, at least briefly, trusted him. It’s good to see other players doing well.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 02

Sumire follows Taichi to the karuta society, watches him play, and laments that someone like him is so into it. The first-years are greatly reduced to four in the next lesson, then only two, including and Tsukuba, who played second-verse karuta in Hokkaido with different cards and rules. Sumire isn’t willing to sacrifice her nails for karuta, and runs off when she accidentally blurts out she’s only there to be close to Mashima. Ooe runs after her and gets her to come back, where she starts studying the poems and clipping her nails.

Like last week, this episode deals with the competition of multiple agendas in the karuta club. Nishida is focused on the upcoming prelims. Chihaya is focused on the first-years, to Nishida’s chagrin. Sumire is focused on her looks and on Mashima, to Ooe’s chagrin. Tsukuba wants to expand his karuta repertoire  If the club is going to succeed at anything at all, some parties are going to have to convince others to adopt their priorities, or at least compromise on their own. And that’s what happens this week.

“Is this all there is”, Sumire asks herself, already bored with her new “friends”. But karuta intrigues her, so she decides to clip her nails and try – not just for Mashima, but for herself. Ooe tells Sumire that the love poetry has only endured so long because it followed certain structural rules, and so must she. It turns out Chihaya blames herself for her team losing the championship, even though no one else does, but now they understand why she cares so much about the team growing, so Nishima decides to train the first years.


Rating: 8 (Great)

 

Chihayafuru 2 – 01

Kana uses Chihaya and Taichi’s good looks to attract new members for the club, and it works out; twenty underclassmen submit applications to join. Among them is Hanano Sumire, who was dumped on the first day of school and wants to get closer to Taichi. The first meeting overwhelms the newbies, and afterwards the five original members voice their priorities moving forward: Chihaya wants Taichi to reach Class A, and volunteers to teach the newbies while everyone else prepares for the upcoming tournaments.

This new Chihayafuru sequel picks right up where the last episode left off, with the club in need of more members to avoid being evicted from their ideal digs. However, this “crisis” is almost immediately dealt with, as they get a huge number of new members. The downside is, many joined just to interact with the eye candy, and the more they hear about the game, the less motivated to stick with it they get. The challenge for the club, now that they’ve met their member quota, is to successfully train the committed newbies and filter out the riffraff. Not only that, they have to prepare for important team and individual tournaments coming up in just two months.

With so much on their list, it’s not surprising that the original five all have different goals, while the ever upbeat and ambitious Chihaya wants to accomplish everything. But hold on, this premiere also introduces a new character in the slightly above average-looking Sumire, who aims to win Taichi’s heart even though he’s already reserved it for Chihaya. We like the addition. She’s a very forthright, strong, practical, image-obsessed girl who’s always looking for the upper hand…and she wants Taichi. If there was one disappointing aspect of the first series, it was the lack of romantic progress of any kind, on any front. Here’s hoping Sumire is the catalyst for some development in that area.


Rating: 8 (Great)