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)
- 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?
The high school Tokyo regionals commence, with Misusawa facing off against Shuryukan and West High. Though Sumire and Tsubaka aren’t originally scheduled to play games, Tsutomu shakes up the order to give both of them the same chance he got. Sumire and Tsubaka lose their games, but gain valuable playing time against superior opponents. Chihaya wins two perfect games and Misusawa advances. Meanwhile, Wataya also enters the high school tournament, with designs on playing his old friends. Shinobu is also excited when she hears he’ll be in the individual bracket.
It’s right back to business for Team Misusawa, as they’re well-poised to repeat in the Tokyo regional.They’re deeper and full of potential, but first its newbies Tsukaba and Sumire have to endure a trial-by-fire. Sumire rocks a hakama and learns that her looks can be a weapon (her opponent is so charmed he lets her have a few cards). When she finally sees Chihaya in full-on Terminator Mode (it’s great seeing what a badass she’s become), she’s fired up about improving her speed and memorization Similarly, Tsubaka comes in confident, but has to face West High’s Class A captain, who isn’t merciful. Even though he takes one for the team, his three brothers aren’t ashamed or disillusioned.
With Chihaya on his team, they know he’ll get better, and they want to help. Tsutomu also remembers when he almost gave up, and makes sure Tsukaba is involved in the match and gets some time in. Tsukaba’s creepy stare and tongue also creep his opponent out thoroughly. We got cameos from the vocal West High team with their constant rah-rah (that Misusawa has learned to counter with their own) as well as the always annoying Retro-kun. Wataya looks forward to Chihaya and Taichi, while a slimmed-down Shinobu makes an appearance at the end. Here’s hoping these guys get to face off down the road.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
After catching a huge legendary fish with an old man named Nishida, Kirito and Asuna are summoned back to the front lines by Heathcliff. The KBO guild are the first line of attack against the newest boss, The Skull Reaper. The boss is extremely powerful – able to kill a player in one strike – to the point only combined coordinated attacks of Heathcliff, Kirito and Asuna will have any effect.
We feel a little cheated over the first third of this episode. Sure, there was a very sweet and intimate bedtime scene between Kirito and Asuna, but for crying out loud, the rest was all about catching a daggone FISH. It was just filler! But in case you haven’t grasped the depths of Asuna’s love for Kirito: she cried herself to sleep every night until he came along; he became her only reason for living, if he were ever to die, she’d kill herself; and she wants to date and marry and grow old together with Kirito, even if it’s in hospital beds hooked up to machines. That last point is the first serious mention of interest in what could be going on with peoples’ bodies in the real world.
Asuna’s absolute devotion forces us to take a good long look at
Fayt Leingod Kirito and ponder: is he worth all the fuss? Don’t get us wrong, he’s a nice guy, who’s saved Asuna’s life and the lives of countless others. But now it’s as if Asuna doesn’t consider herself an individual anymore. She’s either going to be with Kirito, or she doesn’t exist. For his part, Kirito is fine with all this devotion-bordering on-obsession, but can’t quite match her desperately intense passion. All of Asuna’s lovey-dovey talk could also be foreshadowing her death, but we highly doubt the series will pull a stunt like that on such a popular character at this juncture, if ever.
Rating: 6 (Good)
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.
With her grades in awful shape and exams approaching, Chihaya is barred from competing in the next tournament, and Tsutomu tutors her and Nishida while Taichi goes alone. There he meets Arata, who is playing again and still in Class A. Taichi loses in the third round, and Arata finishes fourth, losing his final match by one card. Chihaya, who came to watch Taichi, is stunned to see Arata and blown away by his play. Harada tells Taichi he can promote him to Class A if he wants, but Taichi declines, stating he’s more focused on becoming someone who won’t run away.
It’s certainly been a good long time since we’ve seen Arata in action, and if the light that shines and the stuff winds that blow are any indication, he’s still not that bad at all at the game of karuta. His unexpected presence turns Taichi’s solo confidence-building and Class A-advancing exercise into another pity party, with Taichi litterally walking in worlds of grey clouds as his hair covers his face. OH BER BERR BERRR I’M SO DEPRESSED. He even starts to exhibit past behavior when he considers what to do with the contact info Arata gave him to give to Chihaya. But rather than hide it like Arata’s glasses, he tells Arata to give it to her himself, once she arrives. Growth.
Not only did Arata expect him to be in Class A by now, he also believed Taichi and Chihaya might be an item by now. Yeah Arata, we thought so to. ALAS. Here’s the thing, we can’t exactly blame Taichi for not trying to start something with Chihaya. Her utter obliviousness must wear him down, and it’s not entirely clear Chihaya isn’t madly in love with Arata and just doesn’t know it yet. She certainly admires the hell out of the guy, and is in almost constant awe of him. How can Taichi compete with that power?
The Kurata club is still one member short of becoming official, but their recruiting efforts are fruitless until Chihaya chances upon Yusei Nishida, who was the No.2 grade schooler in the country at Kurata, and just happens to attend her high school. He plays tennis now, but it’s clear to Chihaya tennis is not his true passion. They play a game together, which re-stokes his passion, and he quits tennis and joins the club.
Yes, it’s quite a coincidence that “Porky” Nishida goes to the same school as Chihaya and Taichi, but it’s good he does. Kanade brought meaning to the words and stories of the cards, while Tsutomu restored Taichi’s confidence. Nishida is an influx of talent and experience; someone who can keep Chihaya on her toes. You know a kid is into kurata when his movements in tennis are timed to the beat of the 100 poems. That Chihaya picks up on this and even blurts out the next verse in his head from behind a bush is just a fantastic little moment.
Nishida realizes he once played kurata for fun, then he started playing to win. Winning became the whole point, so when Arata beat him, he didn’t see the point in continuing…then. But like Taichi, he just needed the right spark to rekindle that ingrained passion that tennis just wasn’t ever going to replace. His match with Chihaya was very fun to watch not only because it was a good match, but because it transformed Nishida before our eyes. His fire’s back…and as the post-credits epilogue shows, with an offical club, Chihaya is ecstatic that she’s “no longer alone.”