In the Class A final, as Taichi and Chihaya enter to watch, Arata has built a good lead against Shinobu using his combination of a nearly flawless game plan and calm demeanor that even throws Shinobu off her game. She breaks a sweat and swipes more aggressively, starting a comeback. But in the end, Arata defeats her by two cards, then finds out Shinobu was playing with a fever from being drenched in the rain. For her part, she’s happy someone finally put up a fight against her, even if she did lose for the first time in years.
This was built up to be quite a match, and it did not disappoint in the slightest. Shinobu is the Queen, and Arata is Heir Apparent to the Master’s throne. Even the karuta boffins are in awe of what they are watching. The atmosphere is so thick you can slice it with a knife and chew it. After watching Shinobu so easily dispatch all below her, Arata puts the screws to her, and we see her growing more emotional and desperate. Both Porky and the Fujisaki dude, other victims of Arata, know that it isn’t just his skills and sadism that intimidate; it’s the easy smile and serene calm he exerts while doing so. But that wasn’t always the case.
Shinobu was born great, but Arata was merely born into greatness, and had to work his ass off to get there. Also, his greatness didn’t fit his younger body; it wasn’t until he became fully grown that the karuta he visualized matched his body. Now that he’s in synch, there may be no stopping him, though Master Suo is a pretty mythic figure in his own right, and if there’s ever a third season, we can easily see Arata losing to him. But for now, he’s the individual champion. He proved Shinobu wrong: she may be more connected to the cards, but her strength wasn’t quite enough against chihayafuru – the perfectly spinning top – the impassionate one.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
- Hey, Midori sneaks Chihaya and Taichi into the match. She’s not so bad!
- The poem Kana refers to Hanano is pretty spot-on!
- Cute Chihaya moments: when she suddenly realizes she and Taichi are now officially rivals; and when she starts practice swinging during the match and Taichi has to stop her.
- You know you have a badass reputation when people are shocked when you start sweating after five matches.
- For perhaps the first time, some of the queen’s swings don’t make that bell-through-water sound, indicating she’s off her game and taking risks to stave off defeat. Nice touch there.
- Arata’s grandfather was very firm and direct, but not cold or strict. He could probably see that Arata wouldn’t rise to greatness until he’d risen a bit in height.
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.
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.
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?
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)
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…
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.
After a hard-fault battle, Chihaya manages to take five of Shinobu’s cards, losing by twenty, which vexes her to the point of forgoing her postgame nap to obsess over how to improve. Meanwhile, Desktomu, Kana and Porky are all out of the running, but Taichi is locked in a battle for the Class B crown. His mind is fine but his body can’t keep up after six matches, so he loses too, by only three cards. Having all tasted defeat, the club trains all summer to improve their stamina.
So Chihaya got into a mini-groove, but it was too late to catch up to Shinobu. Despite the fact the queen mopped the floor with her in anyone’s book, she is really pissed that Chihaya took any cards from her at all, and means to crush her next time. She practices alone in the dark, while Chihaya practices with her teammates and friends. We’re glad the series stayed realistic and didn’t let Chihaya beat the queen on her first go, especially after trailing so much.
A nice surprise was Taichi’s showing, going even further in his class than Chihaya. Everyone hopes that if they can keep their spirits up, they can will him to win it all, but it’s not to be, as he’s too physically winded. His thought process is a lot more complex than Chihaya’s. as he checks off every possible verse he can take. When Porky watches him lose, it brings back memories of him doing the same; second is no consolation for losing. But the biggest news this week is Arata, going to Kuriyama to join the Fukui Nagumo Society, which means a match between him and Chihaya is all but inevitable.
The Mizusawa Karuta Club is competing in the Tokyo regionals for the High School Karuta Championship, and they’re wearing hakamas, as per Oe’s instructions. But trouble brews when Desktomu cannot win a single card in the first round, even as fellow novice Oe wins a game. Desktomu sits out the semifinals, believing they don’t need him, but that throws Chihaya off her game. Taichi has to bring the team together in the face of serious competition, and Desktomu returns when he hears they’re in trouble to lift Chihaya’s spirits.
After intense training and practice, it’s time for Oe and Desktomu to jump into the pool of competitive Karuta, and it very nearly goes pear-shaped but for some assertiveness from Taichi. We’re pleased with how far his character’s come from that petty, cheating bastard of yore. But as least part of Arata’s assertion that he’s a coward may still hold true, in that he cannot yet come out and confess how he feels to Chihaya. Her texts to Arata obviously irk him, but he has the power to make things happen, and yet he merely stews.
However, he isn’t distracted by these problems wihle playing in the tournament; in fact, it’s Chihaya who briefly loses her edge and nearly chokes under pressure. Their competition are a bunch of gung-ho loudmouths, constantly communicating and yelling support and intimidating the other side – we were a little surprised all that noise is allowed in a game where listening to the poems being recited is so crucial. But once Chihaya snaps out of it, her killer instinct kicks back in, and she’s flicking cards before a syllable is uttered. A good team effort throughout.
The Karuta club becomes official, with Taichi presiding and Chihaya as the Captain. She has lofty goals for her five-man team: to reach the national tournament. To that end, she plans on pushing the rookies Oe and Desktomu hard, facing them both herself in order to toughen them and give them valuable experience. They arrange a weekend camp at Taichi’s house, but his mom returns prematurely, and in any case the rooks are exhausted. Returning home guilty she pushed them so hard, Oe gets a text and races to a riverside park with Chihaya in tow for an impromptu celebration of her sweet sixteen.
Just an episode removed from finally becoming complete, the club Chihaya and Taichi have founded is already hummin’ along very nicely. Taichi is incredulous at first when Chihaya announces she’ll be the rookie’s first opponent, but having played her first game against Arata, she’s well aware of how valuable getting creamed is, as you get to see the person creaming you going all out, as she does. Oe and Desktomu are understandably dubious of their abilities, but by the time Oe snags her first card from Taichi, she’s addicted to playing and getting better.
Aside from getting the club up and running, the primary substory in play throughout is the increasing romantic tension between Taichi and Chihaya. Neither say anything to this effect, but the couple moments where they’re close or touch speak volumes, and are very well done. Chihaya could finally be starting to see Taichi as more than just that bratty little kid from her childhood. Taichi meanwhile is already quite far along in his longing, and of course a golden opportunity is snatched from him when Arata texts with birthday wishes for Chihaya. As for the birthday: while random at first, it was the perfect way to brighten Chihaya’s spirits. We don’t think it would have had as strong an effect if we’d known about it beforehand.
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.”