Arata and Shinobu end up in the Class A final, but Taichi and Desktomu also make it to the Class B and D finals, which will be held in a different room, so Chihaya has to make a choice. She chooses Taichi, who is playing Yamashiro Rion. Chihaya’s unexpected presence knocks him out of his zone, but after Rion impresses with her speed, Taichi calms down, compares her to Chihaya, and tightens up his game, using accuracy and memorization in a non-flashy performance to defeat Rion by nine cards. Taichi urges Chihaya to hurry to the Class A match, but she is in tears at his feet, elated that he finally made it to Class A.
We agree with Oe; Porky was a little heartless in saying he was definitely going to watch Arata and not Taichi, and that Chihaya should do the same. But he was also right: Taichi was in such a zone after destroying Retro (off-camera by 18 cards, LOL), and Rion was so gassed, Chihaya suddenly showing up could have proven more a liability than an asset. Porky also assumed that Chihaya cared more about Arata and the Queen than Taichi, but the truth is, no one, not even Chihaya, knows who or what she cares more about at any given moment. Taichi’s blown five chances to reach Class A, and on this day, there’s nothing more important to Chihaya than watching him succeed in his sixth.
Taichi and Rion’s initially sloppy match (not helped by the fact the reader is being evaluated by three certified peers and chokes badly) couldn’t be more different from the start of the Class A final between the grandson of the Eternal Master and the Queen. All the time we’ve seen them spend together really gives their interactions punch now that they’re in a match against each other. Shinobu takes the first two cards, but Arata touches them both right when she does, and then, rather than just exploit her weaknesses, he attacks her strengths. We’re glad Chihaya watched Taichi and they had a nice little tearful moment, but the match itself was nothing special. Arata and Shinobu’s, on the other hand, is going to be a good one.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
- Coach Sakurazawa wonders what unique rule bonds Shinobu to the cards so. We see what it is: Shinobu treats the cards like her friends, and has spent far more time with them than with any people.
- Shinobu wants to prove to Arata once and for all that neither of them need friends. Arata isn’t so sure, and he isn’t going down easily.
- Retro is one of the few characters on the show (aside from that irritating woman you kept saying “Lucky!”) we truly can’t stand. So we’re pleased as punch that he was not only swiftly defeated, but we didn’t have to watch it!
- One wonders why the gamemasters would entrust a Class B final reading to someone being judged himself, but there’s no pressure like real pressure, and if a reader can endure being under the microscope at a final, he’s worthy of being certified. This guy didn’t cut it.
- While Taichi might’ve still won had Chihaya not watched, and Chihaya initially knocked him off his game, a part of him still desperately wanted her there, caring about him instead of Arata. His post-match tears of gratitude confirmed that.
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.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
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)
- 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.
With the order exactly as planned with no surprises, Mizusawa begins its semifinal match against Akashi First Girls School. Chihaya is against Ousaka Megumu whom many present believe will challenge Shinobu. She also proves much faster than the last match Chihaya watched her in, and takes the first four cards in a row. Chihaya settles herself, and Oe gives her a supportive pat on the shoulder and refers to a refreshing poem about the last day of summer. Chihaya gets back into the game.
Their last two matches were against eccentric and ultimately weaker opponents, but this time Mizusawa’s facing a serious, dedicated team with a powerful ace, just like them. Ousaka Megumi in particular will not be easy to defeat, as her entire team has dedicated themselves to make her a player worthy of the queen’s crown, after her meteroic rise due in part to beginner’s luck. That said, she’s not much of a character per se; more of a collection of clashing attributes (ordinary, sharp-tongued, popular).
As such, we’re not really sure what to think of her beyond what she shows on the surface, which is, at the end of the day, arrogance. She’s been riding her momentum and wants to be in the final now, never mind how disrespectful or even foolish such a mindset is. Karuta isn’t about shortcuts; skipping an opponent would deprive herself of vital experience. This match is important enough to occupy two episodes of which this is the first, and while the flashbacks can’t entirely avoid the appearance of padding, they’re pleasant enough.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
- The series always sets the tone with the first card called, but it always seems to turn out the same way: no matter who Chihaya’s playing, it seems like her opponent gets the first card, followed by a visible look of surprise on her part. You’d think she’d learn to control her body language by now.
- We feel like we can enjoy the matches better when the tension of who’s going to win is released. But because this match didn’t end this week, we weren’t able to skip to the end to see a hint of who won.
- This is why we don’t feel bad for skipping: after coming up short last year, and with thirteen episodes left, anything less than a national team championship would be a disappointment. They’re good enough to win it all. Now is the time to hunker down and do so.
At home, Chihaya sulks in a pile while her sister Chitose thinks about quitting acting and getting into a college, based on bad reviews she reads online. When they see the concert band struggling with tight accommodations Chihaya tells her Miyauchi to let them use the second floor for storage, as a gesture of solidarity with another school club. Chihaya’s mother takes her to the Oe’s store to buy her her own hakama for the coming nationals. Chihaya’s improved mood inspires Chitose to giving acting another try. The concert band plays an impromptu four-verse school anthem for the karuta club as thanks and to fire them up for the tournament. The eve of the nationals arrive and the club is at an inn, Sumire asks Chihaya who she likes; she calls Arata later, as Taichi looks on.
Chihayafuru’s second season is really hitting its stride. After a string of tournament episodes and the nationals coming up next week, this week stock was taken in both Chihaya’s character and the collective character of the karuta club. You’d think the last think you’d want to do on the eve of a national tournament is to allow a band to store instruments on the floor above you, especially while practicing a game that requires silence and concentration. However, Chihaya sees it as good for karma, and one thing they didn’t have in the regionals was luck. We love her arc in this episode. She is so extremely down in the dumps, she affects both her sister and mother, motivating them to action in response of what they’re witnessing.
Her mom, a little guilty about ignoring her for so long, buys her a hakama (and Kana’s mom hooked her up with a boss payment plan!), which really helps lift her spirits, which then lift Chitose’s when she sees her nutty karuta freak of a little sister isn’t giving up. Sumire’s upfront question also seemed to get Chihaya thinking for the first time (maybe…a little) about who exactly Arata is to her. Sumire obviously wasn’t trying to manipulate Chihaya into calling Arata so it Taichi could watch and get upset about it (she’s not that diabolical), that was the result of her questioning. But she’s not giving up on Taichi, and this trip is a good way to take action on that front, if she so desires.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
P.S. Great little comic moments we wanted to mention: Oe breaking the fourth wall – adorably – when Chihaya asks about the show’s title; and Miyauchi having zero patience for Sumire’s horny preening.
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)