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 – 16 – Karuta in the Streaming Age

No sooner does Chihaya lose to Suo (and be told the simple yet devastating two words “you can’t”) than Taichi is challenging him for a match of his own. Suo refuses until Taichi bribes him with sweets, and then Suo proceeds to beat him by fourteen cards. But Unlike Chihaya and most of Suo’s opponents, Taichi didn’t commit a single fault. That’s because Taichi is starting to want to play his karuta the same way: through the mistakes of his opponents.

Taichi also tells Suo that Chihaya isn’t really his boyfriend, which means now Suo thinks he has a chance with her. I’m sorry but I could not care less about this creep’s further attempts to woo someone who is already thoroughly in love with someone/thing (more on that later). What I do like? Chihaya wasting no time reporting to Harada about a possible weakness in Suo’s game.

Christmas Eve arrives, and the karuta club celebrates at the Tsukaba residence. This party feels like it could have been a lot longer and probably should have been. Not a whole episode, mind you, but at least half of one. Chihaya’s appearance as Santa comes and goes so fast there’s barely any time to process it.

But more than the hasty Chihaya-as-Santa cameo, the party just isn’t given any time to breathe the way slice-of-life scenes should, especially when Desktomu tells Chihaya how he considers the club a family, and they all consider Tsukaba’s little brothers their own little brothers.

When Christmas arrives, Shinobu spends it practicing in her hoity-toity family’s reception room, drawing her mother’s ire. Shinobu considers karuta to be more her family than her mother, but her grandmother likely scores some family points by letting Shinobu keep practicing and even writing on the tatami with a marker!

Shinobu is desperate to practice because she missed the Fall tournaments with illnesses, and she’s rusty. She also has no choice but to look towards the future she must discuss at high school, although because it’s a school full of “rich girls” the counselor kinda half-asses it. When Shinobu said she’d have “nothing” if she loses the queen match, it made me sad, but also made me wish she had a home that accepted her foibles, and the proper guidance at school.

New Years and the next week after that pass by in a flash, and the day of the Master and Queen tournaments arrives. There’s notably less pomp and spectacle at Omi Jingu since NHK decided it would not televise the matches live on TV. Tsukaba fears it’s a sign that karuta is “in decline”, but Desktomu assures him, the opposite is true.

Karuta has found a larger, younger audience via online streaming, and there’s more interaction thanks to the live chat. The first year of this change comes with a very convincingly intimidating challenger in Harada, a shifty creeper in Master Suo, an adorable mother in Inokuma, and the ethereal-yet-also-goofy-haired Queen Shinobu—so there’s plenty to chat about besides karuta!

As for Chihaya, she’ll be watching the matches in person for the first time, and had expected/hoped Arata would be there too. Alas, he’s come down with a fever. In a way, they both have. As their mutual love of both karuta and one another ever-so-gradually untangles, it seems to be affecting both their games. Chihaya notes how warm she feels just by dialing Arata’s number and talking to him for a minute, and feels like she’d “blow up” if he were really there.

This episode’s breathless progression through the holidays made for some odd pacing I wasn’t really a fan of, while Suo continues to cast a pall on the whole show with his eccentric unpleasantness. As such, this is the first episode of Chihayafuru’s third season I cannot enthusiastically endorse. That said, if the Master and Queen challenger matches were any indication, the impending Master and Queen tournaments should be lit.

P.S. Chihaya mentions in her inner monologue that she’ll never wear earbuds lest they hurt her hearing, but does so while riding on a train. Trains, and especially subway cars, can get pretty piercingly loud. Just sayin’!

Chihayafuru 2 – 09

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Arata arrives at Omi Jingu to watch Chihaya and Taichi play, but he bumps into Shoji, a classmate from middle school whose Fujioka West team has only two players. They beg him to play on their team so they don’t have to forfeit, and give him a mask and remove his glasses. He has trouble finding any rhythm and his opponent builds a 15-card lead. When Shoji loses, sealing the win for the other school, he puts his glasses on and wins his game, as does the third member. Directer Kuriyama notices Arata from his karuta society and takes the team aside. Fujioka will recieve a reprimand and Arata may be barred from the individual tournament tomorrow.

We can’t help but imagine how differently this episode would have gone had Murao not drawn Arata away just before Chihaya turned in his direction and just missed him. He came to watch Mizusawa, after all, and certainly didn’t want to end up in a team match. But unlike Shinobu and Murao, he doesn’t believe those who compete in team matches love karuta any less than the individual players. If there’s anything playing with Chihaya and Taichi as kids taught him, it’s that there’s nothing like sharing karuta – whether its wins or losses – with those you care about. Unfortunately, win or lose, by substituting for an absent Fujioka player, he breaks the rules.

We understand him for not being able to say no to Shoji, especially when the arrogant, dismissive words of Shinobu and Murao kept going around in his head. We also understand him putting his glasses on and making an effort once his team’s defeat is sealed. He could sense his opponents frustration, and in the heat of the match, showing that opponent respect by not holding back was simply more important than not being found out, which he was. It isn’t entirely certain he’ll be disqualified, but if he is, he can take some small comfort in knowing his actions prevented a team that love kartua deeply (no matter what the individuals say) from going home without playing a single match.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 08

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The national karuta tournament begins at Omi Jingu, and Mizusawa’s first match is against an international school from Chiba. They pretend to be foreigners, but Taichi calls them out; they’re merely Japanese of foreign descent. Even so, Fukuba’s black opponent scares him, Oe is ashamed the foreigners are wearing hakama and they’re not, and they all possess highly individualized, free-wheeling playing styles. However, after the first few cards, its obvious their love for karuta far outweighs their talent at competitive karuta. Mizusawa gets back on track and trounces them, but are gracious in victory. The televised Chiba team is honored and vows promote karuta and improve their game.

We here at RABUJOI are Americans born and raised, so it was interesting to see how the characters we know suddenly react to being amongst non-Japanese. Nearly 28% of the American population is made up of non-Caucasians, a huge minority. Japan, meanwhile, is a whopping 98.5% ethnic Japanese, so to face a team of non-Japanese in a game that isn’t even all that popular in Japan is a shock to the system. Chihaya & Co. don’t like surprises. Taichi takes the edge off of them a bit when he discovers they’re not strictly foreigners and speak fluent Japanese, but they’re still…odd.

This was an interesting episode in that it simultaneously put the Mizusawa team out of their comfort zone, but also gave them their weakest opponent yet; a team of misfits that never had a chance against a seasoned competitive team, even if one player on that team is starting for the first time. That’s thanks to Tsutomu, who graciously steps into a scouting and support role with Sumire; a crucial task if they truly want to win it all against 50-member, 13-time-champion Fujisaki It’s nice to see an easy win for once, but we know it will be an uphill battle from this point on.


Rating: 7 (Very Good)

P.S. Sumire takes her scouting mission seriously, but gets hilariously tripped out by her quirky target, Ousaka Megumu. Arata shows up early to surprise Chihaya and Taichi (we’re sure Taichi will be thrilled…), but he himself is surprised by Wakamiya Shinobu. We’re curious what she wants with/from him.

Chihayafuru – 12

With the regional trophy in their hands, Chihaya starts to fear the upcoming nationals at Omi Jingu, worried she’ll disgrace Tokyo if they lose badly. Taichi snaps her out of it. Chihaya’s family appears totally transfixed on her sister Chitose, making it hard to bring up her own recent achievements. She’s relieved to see her father also keeps a scrapbook for her. Their faculty advisor, Mrs. Miyauchi, who originally was going to blow off their tournament, sneaks a peak at what the karuta club is really up to. She changes her mind and accompanies them.

We’re nearly at the halfway point in Chihayafuru, as the Nationals come next week. This week was all about preparation, both practical and mental. The upcoming tournament will be a far tougher challenge than anything they’ve faced, but they can’t face it with wavering wills. A degree of fear is healthy in any competitive exercise, but it must be controlled. Taichi proves yet again that he’s the motivational glue that keeps the team cheerful and confident.

This week also featured to parties that were previously utterly indifferent both to Chihaya and to whatever it was she was up to: her family, and her teacher. When her dad sees her in the paper, he saves the clipping, as he has saved clippings of her ever since she started on the karuta road. Chitose is definitely a big bright star in which Chihaya is often lost in the glare, but Chihaya’s family still loves and supports her, even if quietly. As for Mrs. Miyauchi, she was fortunate enough to look in the window of the club just when they were about to put on a hell of a show, which utterly convinced her that karuta is not just some silly obscure dalliance. It’s serious, beautiful business.


Rating: 4

Chihayafuru will continue in January 2012.