Sakura Quest – 04

This week everyone helps Sanae move out of her old, bug-filled house. While helping out, Yoshino can’t help but notice the exquisite wood-carvings or ranma built into the house. Turns out Manoyama’s wood carving is one of Japan’s government-protected traditional art forms. How ’bout that!

Yoshino thinks they might be able to use that to boost tourism…er, somehow. In the meantime, after Shiori’s truck breaks down, they get it serviced by Doku, the local tinkerer and inventor, who also happens to have a frikkin’ perfectly functioning biomechanical exoskeleton in the bed of his, get this: Ford pickup truck. There’s all kinda wrong going on that preceding sentence.

In a show that’s going for simple slice-of-life realism, I failed to see the need for a Kuromukuro crossover. Yeah, this tech is out there, but some old guy in a shed in the sticks banging it out? It’s a bit far-fetched. But that’s not even the worst of it.

They get some poor young wood-carver to make decorative accessories to tack onto the exoskeleton to make it more appealing to the olds. Because if its one thing the elderly love, it’s really heavy impractical stuff that can fly out of control at a moment’s notice due to dubious R&D!

I realize the Board of Merchants’ chairwoman is supposed to be the curmudgeonly counterpart to Ushimatsu’s more openness to innovation, and the ideal philosophy, if there is one, is somewhere in between. But when Ririko’s grandmother asked them where their sense of pride is, I was kinda hoping she’d asked where their sense was, period.

Look, I understand the episode was trying to give each party in the woodcarving debate their fair shake, and Yoshino and her ministers aren’t the “good guys” by default, but they really didn’t help their case with such awful, cockamamie ideas.

The result of their failure is that Sanae tells Yoshino she’s out as minister, saying her heart isn’t in it. That’s ironic, because I don’t think my heart is in Sakura Quest anymore, either. Somehow the prospect of watching twenty more episodes of Yoshino and her cohorts fumbling around doesn’t seem all that appealing.

At this point, I think I’d rather do some woodcarving…the kind that doesn’t trample on centuries of tradition.

Sakura Quest – 03

When a television interview exposes Queen Yoshino I’s dearth of knowledge about the very town she rules (mentioning only its natural scenery and manju), Ushimatsu insists she go out into the town and “feel the wind”…which she does, literally, no no effect.

Shiori then accompanies her on a series of increasingly demoralizing interviews with Manoyama’s salt-of-the-earth residents, who either can’t hear what she’s saying, don’t trust her, or say there’s nothing she can do.

However, the bus driver (who was the prince when she was first crowned as a little girl) is one somewhat-heartening voice: if someone’s going to revamp the town, it will either be someone young, someone foolish, or an outsider. Yoshino’s all three, so she should be fine!

She also actually learns a few things about the town. One, it used to be just plain ol’ Kabura Kingdom, without the chupa- , and that Ushimatsu and his tourism board and the board of merchants (led by Ririko’s grandma) have always been at odds with the switch to UMA.

At the apparently super-important mascot contest, Ushimatsu finds his chupakabura mask has gone missing. Little do they know Yoshino’s new friends Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko are ON IT. They put a ridiculous amount of time into tracking down the town’s previous mascot, Kabura Kid, then mending it in time.

It’s a real group effort, though the particulars of their motivation, beyond helping Yoshino out, escaped me a bit. I guess they really did all have a bunch of time on their hands!

They arrive at the contest with the Kabura mask the same time Ushimatsu’s underlings arrive with the chupa mask, soiled by spending time at the garbage dump.

(I’ll mention that I love that Mrs. Oribe takes such pleasure in taking Ushimatsu down a peg whenever possible, talking about how he’ll be saved by the very kingdom he once destroyed. It’s such gloriously big language for such a petty subject!)

But hey, maybe it’s not so petty. As Ushimatsu and the others bicker over which mask he’ll wear, the Queen finally puts her royal foot down, and says it doesn’t matter. (But she choses the kabura mask, since it’s not covered in shit).

In a stilted, serious speech probably not quite appropriate for the audience of mostly kids, she says she doesn’t yet know what Manoyama has that no other town in the world has, but she’ll spend the next year hoping to find out (assuming the entire town doesn’t die of old age by then).

The one condition she gives Ushimatsu is that she be allowed to perform her duties with the assistance of the combined force of Shiori, Maki, Sanae and Ririko, who all agree to be her “council of ministers.”

Again, because I guess they just don’t have a lot going on? It’s not made clear whether they’ll be paid like Yoshino is, but one would hope. What kind of kingdom can’t pay its subjects a fair wage for their services?

Watched with a hearty helping of suspension of disbelief, Sakura Quest is a pleasant enough place to spend time, if pretty much average in looks and sound. So I’ll stick with it for now. Can that sustain me for…25 episodes? That remains to be seen.

Sakura Quest – 02

Yoshino I is still very much The Reluctant Queen, but Ushimatsu doesn’t care, and sets her to work immediately. He’ll let her vacate her one-year contract if she can sell a hundred a thousand boxes of “Chupakabura manju” sweets he ordered to celebrate her coronation. And she only has a week to do it—that’s their “best enjoyed by” date.

It’s clear Shiori doesn’t want her new queen to leave so soon, but she still helps Yoshino out, connecting her first with her timid but tech-savvy childhood friend Ririko, whose mother runs Manoyama’s sweet shop. The encounter helps Yoshino decide on the proper marketing strategy to sell the manju: a website.

For that, Shiori takes Yoshino to the home of another Tokyo ex-pat, Kouzuki Sanae, who seems to be slowly losing it in her dark, litter-filled apartment. When she screams due to a bug, Shiori and Yoshino barge in, and Shiori, like a boss, takes care of the bug while the other two cower. Between Riri and Sanae, I’m loving the detailed, isolated, lived-in little worlds these women inhabit within the town.

Sanae is eager to help her new town out (as well as for human contact) so she works through the night at Yoshino and Maki’s cabin to whip up a “fancyccult” website. Alas, on the first day of sales, Yoshino manages to part with precisely zero of one thousands boxes of manju.

When they try to make the queen seem contrite about ordering too much (after far too many hilarious provisos were attached to her beauty), that results of the sale of three boxes…to Shiori’s family.

Taking things up a notch, they decide to take Maki’s advice and make a video. Maki, AKA “The Oden Detective”, who has experience in acting, superhero shows, and part-time labor, plays the chupakabura, while Riri is the cameraperson.

It’s a modest but cute little production…but it only results in netting one more sale—to the creepy (Westerner?) musician Yoshi first met on the bus. The week comes and goes, and Yoshino is pathetically short of the thousand sales needed to release her from her year-long contract. 996 sales short, to be exact. And yet…she learns that’s not such a big deal.

When she asked Sanae why she left Tokyo, Sanae said she was simply sick of it. Sick of Tokyo, thought Yoshino? The place that has everything and where you can do anything? Where countless opportunities abound? Yoshino has this idea that she can’t make it anywhere if she can’t make it there, but she has it all backwards.

The economy of Tokyo alone may surpass the entire economy of South Korea, but if you apply to thirty-two companies and get thirty-two rejections, then end up with a gig as queen of Manoyama, maybe the universe is trying to tell you something: that, as Sanae says, “you don’t need Tokyo.”

At the end of the week, Yoshino made some great friends and had a lot of fun. So when Shiori tells her the cherry blossoms won’t come for a couple more weeks, she decides, all on her own, that it wouldn’t be the end of the world to spend those couple more weeks in Manoyama. And as much as I too love and admire Tokyo, I don’t blame her. She’s got a good thing going here. And she’s not anywhere near her ‘golden years’!

Sakura Quest – 01 (First Impressions)

Koharu Yoshino has a memory of being crowned Queen when she was very little, and ever since, has felt like she was meant for greater things; that she wasn’t just a normal girl who escaped the sticks to attend college in Tokyo. Now 20, reality seems to mock Yoshino’s pretensions of royalty, and her phone’s inbox amasses “good luck” in the form of polite rejections from job interviews.

The last thing Yoshino wants is to move back in with her folks in her sleepy, aging speck hometown, and as a city boy myself, I can relate to never wanting to stray too far from the gleaming skyscrapers and sheer dense humanity of a big city.

But she’s down to 980 yen in her bank account, and when she graduates from college, her parents will either welcome her back with open arms, or cut her off. Gal needs cash, fast. So when she gets a phone call from a promotional agency she once modeled for (and by once I mean one time), offering work in the sleepy town of Manoyama, she’s in no position to decline. 980 yen will not get you far in Tokyo, after all.

So when the convertred City Girl takes the train out to Manoyama and catches the picturesque sight of mountains, gently rolling hills, farmland, and sky, she declares “there’s nothing here” and wonders if she got on the wrong train.

She didn’t, but it would seem she is the wrong Koharu. The town board chief Ushimatsu fumes about her not being the beloved (by him) idol Koharu Tsubaki, whom he meant to crown as Queen of the “Kingdom of Chupakabura”, part of a common practice of small towns raising “independent countries” for tourism purposes during the boom years.

Though the boom went bust, Ushimatsu is committed to restoring the “monarchy” and, hopefully, his rapidly aging and emptying town. Since Tsubaki died eight years ago, he settles for Yoshino, and her coronation is witnessed by a modest crowd of 150 (Note the similarity to Yoshino’s hazy memory of being a Queen).

After the coronation, Yoshino is honored with a feast—albeit just another night of eating and beer-drinking with the old town board members. It’s a warm and welcoming sight, but one gets the feeling she’s not planning on staying more than a day, and may even head back to the station and Tokyo before too long.

These are the dreaded sticks, after all. She sees the shuttered shops and wrinkled faces and remembers the hometown she left and to where she vowed never to return.

But when Shiori (who is her age) drops her off at an absolutely awesome log cabin, she meets another beautiful young woman who gives her a rude awakening: the Queen position is for a year, not a day. It was right there, black-and-white, clear as crystal, in her contract, which she clearly just skimmed.

Unable to accept her fate, Yoshino dashes out into the night, but there’s a weird ukulele player on the bus (her announcement she’s getting off and slow backing out of the bus is the best gag of the ep) and even though it’s barely 10pm, the station is closed.

She even encounters the town’s famed “Chupakabura”, the monster of legend ‘her’ kingdom is named after, and “saves” Shiori by smacking it good, revealing it’s Ushimatsu she smacked. On the ride back to the cabin, Shiori offers her heartfelt hope that Yoshino will stay, if for no other reason than so she can have someone her own age around, working together to make the town a livelier place.

Yoshino is grateful for the kind words, and the positive vibes she starts to get from the town only multiply when she returns to her ‘castle’ (the cabin was locked). A display of photos shows that she was here before. Not only that, as a little girl she was the kingdom’s 100,000th visitor, and crowned as Queen back then.

The realization that her memory was indeed real, and imbued in her a sense of privilege, was a really nice moment, but it doesn’t transform Yoshino; she’s still reluctant to stay and be Queen of Chupakabura, but with her last job prospect back in Tokyo fizzling out, she doesn’t have much choice.

Sakura Quest was a fun ride. Yoshino is an interesting character: she’s not a high schooler for once, but an adult, albeit a young one, and perhaps because of that her jadedness is much more susceptible to neutralization than she thinks. The rest of the cast seems strong too, and the show itself looks great. This has the makings of another P.A. Works winner so far.

Hundred – 02

hund21

Due to RABUJOI’s informal commitment to keep the number of shows we review at a reasonable dozen or less, Hundred seemed like a no-brainer for a drop after an underwhelming opener. I’m still won’t go so far as to call its follow up good, but it was an improvement, and Hundred has the good fortune to air on Monday, classically a slow day for anime. …So here we are.

A big reason this episode was better than the last is that it actually has a good fight in the beginning…and at least the start of a second fight at the end, followed by the promise of our protagonist and his definitely not-a-boy roommate being pressed into action due to their abilities and the scarcity of slayers.

hund22

Back to that first fight: it’s not earth-shatteringly awesome or anything, but it gets the job done (an article of praise one could use very often in Hundred). There’s a boob grab early on, Queen Claire makes Hayato pay, and intends to finish the duel quickly, but can’t.

Hayato’s better than she thought he’d be; he’s better than he thought he’d be, going into a kind of trance where his eyes turn to slits, he dons full-body armor, and backs the Invincible Queen into a corner.

hund23

To its credit, Hundred doesn’t put the haughty chick in her place; instead, the duel is a tie, and by her own acknowledgement (she broke the rules she set for herself in order to win). As such, she recinds the expulsion orders we knew would be rescinded, but she’s not foot-stampingly angry about it.

In fact, she, like the rest of Little Garden, is impressed by Hayato, and takes an interest in him, to the chagrin of Emile, who, let’s not beat around the bush, IS A GIRL IN BOYS CLOTHES. She decides to use the fact Hayato still thinks she’s a guy to go on a date with him in the town center.

hund24

The episode lags a bit here, but it becomes clear that Hayato is aware on some level that Emile is a girl, or at least s cute ano girly a boy that he can’t help but blush and be self-conscious about their interactions. Not that Emile is going to pull anything, but one reason I want to stick with Hundred is I want to see how her gender is finally revealed (even if that reveal turns out to be underwhelming).

Hayato becomes flanked on both sides when Karen invites herself out, after her tarot cards indicated he was with a woman. Boy or girl, Karen doesn’t quite trust Emile yet, and why should she? Emile really is concealing something pretty dang important to her roommate and colleague.

hund25

Hayato, Karen and Emile’s lunch is interrupted by Claire and her entourage, but not out of any kind of malice: Claire wants to make Hayato a slayer as soon as possible. Indeed, she kinda has to, as there’s currently a slayer shortage (a welcome reminder this peaceful city-ship is the exception, not the rule, in this world).

Hayato’s duel with Claire, and Emile’s surprising impromptu duel with Claire’s veep Liddy, somewhat mitigate the fact we haven’t seen anyone in grave danger in the first two episodes (at least in the present day). Emile shows she can hold her own against Liddy, but an alert sortie ends it without a decision.

Instead, Charlotte shows up out of nowhere and tells Hayato and Emile they’ll be going with Claire to Warslarn HQ, where his trial-by-fire will continue. Frankly, I’d be worried about his inability to control or even remember his overdrive powers, but hey…they need slayers.

16rating_7

Hundred – 01 (First Impressions)

hund11

Hundred is the first Spring offering that left me pretty…meh. It’s another one of those shows that has trouble hiding all of the ways it’s derivative, simply calling to mind all of the shows it reminds me of without having anything unique to say, at least not yet.

The world of Hundred is apparently a dangerous one, but the only peril we’re shown is a very brief flashback in the cold open giving us the tiniest taste of the destructive power and dread-evoking qualities of the CGI “Savage.” Thanks to that, and the rest of the episode being so peaceful, the danger feels far away and in the past.

hund12

Aside from Generic, Mildly-Kind MC Kisaragi Hayato’s bird’s-eye-view of his new home, the floating academy Little Garden, we don’t get much of a sense of the great ship’s grandeur, though I understand the need for it to be mobile (that itself is at least a hint that this world is a perilous one).

Kisaragi arrives not as a less-than-zero loser, but someone with the record-highest “Hundred Compatibility Score,” and thus already a minor celebrity among his fellow students. Two would-be groupies greet him with a banner, and another girl, Erica Candle, is also enthusiastic about meeting him.

The most notable encounter is with Emile Crossfode, who is a very friendly, very girly silver-haired boy, but someone whom from first glance I never once believed to be a boy. Something to do with the fact Emile looks just like the girl Hayato was with in the flashback. Note that I don’t consider myself a genius for making this connection.

hund13

During a thoroughly pointless and interminable opening ceremony, Class President and “Queen” Claire Harvey (who of course sports blonde ringlets) expels three people, including Emile, for seemingly petty infractions.

Claire may seem a bit unfair and strict here, but this is a military school, and her job is to toughen these greenhorns into Savage-killing Slayers. Being late, speaking out of turn, and talking back is not acceptable behavior in the military.

She also shows a little flexibility (even after Emile disses her scores, which are lower than Hayato’s, by promising to reverse the expulsions if Hayato can defeat her in a duel. It saves face for her, and gives Hayato a chance to prove whether the gaudy numbers on paper mean anything.

Emile takes Hayato to the lab, where the top Hundred researcher Charlotte (who is, of course, a pint-sized, lollipop-sucking prodigy) gives him his Hundred (which is, of course, a katana). He and Emile then do a little sparring, and for a fleeting moment we see how this show could redeem itself with a little combat action. Maybe.

hund14

After training, Hayato heads to the hospital to visit his little sister Karen, whose care will be paid for in exchange for Hayato’s services. Karen both wants him to kiss her on the lips to greet her and calls him a pervert for staring at the nurse’s ample bust. She was notably absent in Hayato’s flashback, with Emile in Karen’s place and me thinking (s)he was his little sister. Clearly Hayato doesn’t remember Emile.

Hayato walks in on Emile changing, it’s a good opportunity for him to learn Emile is not, in fact, a boy, but only posing as one, but…he doesn’t. Instead, the surprised Emile knocks him out. When he wakes up, she sows his badge back on, but cuts herself, and Hayato has the sudden compulsion to suck on Emile’s finger. Very vampire-like behavior, but he waves it off as being abundantly caring.

hund15

The next day is the big duel with Queen Harvey. Unfortunately, we don’t get to see it, because Hundred preferred to dilly-dally around with other matters. I understand why it wanted to introduce Charlotte and Karen and give Hayato and Emile some time together, but I felt it a little problematic that this first episode is all setup and no climax.

Hundred isn’t embarrassingly bad or anything, just a bit underwhelming, and lacking distinctiveness. It’s not nearly as bold as My Hero Academia, as dark and edgy as Muv-Luv, or as lovably goofy and bonkers as, say, Chrome Shelled Regios. Everything’s very tame and neutral. I’m not optimistic.

16rating_6

No Game No Life – 05

game51

When it comes to games, say Blank, “They’re always serious.” The same, ironically, can not be said of the show they’re in. NGNL showed a glimpse of its serious side in reiterating the importance of—and difficulty in—saving mankind from subjugation at the hands of the Exceed, and even though there’s no war, the pledges have done plenty of damage all the same, to the point where the three million people of Elkia are scared and anxious about the future.

game52

But like I said; only a glimpse of seriousness, and just a teensy one. The majority of the episode is devoted to Steph challenging, losing, and being humiliated over and over by Blank, in an intermittently humorous effort to make Sora a decent person. But it’s unnecessary because despite looking like they’ve done nothing but eat, sleep and play games (as NEETs are wont to do), Sora and Shiro have been working furiously for their new kingdom. Their only problem is, they’re not sure how to proceed.

game53

While Steph’s string of consecutive losses to Blank in supposed games of chance forces her to act the goat (or rather, the dog)—and a very skimpily-clad one at that—it’s revealed she’s not as much of an idiot (or a “steph”) as Sora and Shiro thought. Before they arrived on the scene and after when they researched in seclusion, she was ruling Elkia, gathering support for their reforms and neutralizing the opposition. When it comes to Imanity (the ones not being supported by outside nations), she’s done pretty well.

game54

What she hasn’t been able to do is regain any of her country’s lost territory, and that’s where Sora and Shiro come in. Sora first targets the Warbeasts (or “Animal Girls”, even though there are guys) for conquest; a gutsy move considering their vast land holdings and ability to read minds, nullifying strategy and bluffs in any games. However, Steph happens to have a “Flugel” up her sleeve (convenient, that) who could help them in the coming fight, which will most likely be seasoned with more rapid-fire, spaghetti-on-the-wall comedy.

Oh, one more thing: the Castle In the Sky reference was most appreciated.

7_ses

No Game No Life – 04

game41

With the proper wisdom, the weakest can defeat the strongest—that’s the credo of King Blank; the newly-risen combo of Sora and Shiro, having beaten Zell fair and square at one of the most ludicrous games of “chess” I’ve ever witnessed. Even her massive and egregious amount of cheating with Elven magic couldn’t topple the formidable wisdom Blank possesses. The One True God Tet plucked them from a world where they were only kings of a small room into a world seemingly designed to be ruled by them.

game42

After dipping into his expertise in dating sims to win the crown, Sora uses his experience playing Civ to iron out the domestic problems with Elkia, then delivers a long and stirring (and long) motivational speech to its demoralized populace. He tells them Imanity had the monopoly on weakness and wisdom before war was banned, and the first step to regaining their old stature is to acknowledge and embrace it’s position as the weakest race in Disboard. Dora is dazzled by their proficiency in matters of state and knack for igniting a crowd.

game43

Lounging in their new royal chambers, the siblings are visited by Tet once more, who asks them how they like the place. Sora cuts to the heart of matters: when Tet lost to them at chess, it may well have been the first time Tet lost at anything. Therefore, Tet brought them to Disboard as a challenge, the first stage of which was to become King of Elkia. The next step is to conquer the world—commanding all sixteen races like sixteen chess pieces. Then they’ll be ready to take Tet on.

game44

After that tough battle in which their opponent brazenly cheated, Blank’s victory and rise to the throne was satisfying (and Zell bursting into tears was an amusing surprise), but I’m curious to see where the show is going. If Sora and Shiro really aren’t ever going to lose a game, the show’s success will hinge on how craftily and awesomely they win (and the opponents not always being pushovers). Delivering a show in which winning is a forgone conclusion will be tough to pull off, but despite their recent success Blank still feel like underdogs, so we look forward to the endeavor.

7_ses

No Game No Life – 03

game31

Now that Sora finds himself in a world where he feels he belongs, and moreover, feels like he’s the best (and hasn’t yet been proven otherwise), of course he’s going to crash Kurami Zell’s coronation. Zell accepts his challenge, which means she gets to pick the game they’ll play to decide who rules Elkia. This results in Sora and Shiro’s toughest challenger yet, quite a step up from the flustered Dora, who’s still wrapped in a sheet for some reason. Change your clothes, girl!

game32

Not only do they get a tough challenger in Zell, who selects a game of chess that turns out not to be chess at all (more on that in a bit), they also figure out that Zell rose to the top with outside help. Humans being at a tremendous magic disadvantage in Disboard (where Elkia is dwarfed by all the other countries), Zell, ostensibly looking out for her people, decided to hitch her wagon to the Elves, the most powerful of the rival nations. When she officially comes clean with this and states her case, it makes a lot of sense, both to Dora and to me.

game33

But standing by and let Zell be a puppet king for the Elves (even if she says she won’t be one) isn’t Sora’s style. He doesn’t think Zell, someone who relied on cheating through the magic power of the Elves, deserves to say whether humans can’t survive without subjugating themselves, and she certainly doesn’t deserve to rule if she blabbed all this to Sora and Shiro, when for all she knows they’re also being backed by an outside country. Sora thinks humans are being sorely underestimated, and they’re going to do something to remedy that.

game332

In a standard game of chess where the pieces move how they should without hesitation, Shiro is unbeatable, but here it isn’t the pieces you move, but their wills. and Shiro is frustrated to tears. If Shiro were a single player, it would be over, but Zell is playing Blank, a two-player team, and Shiro’s difficulties help her brother determine the true nature of the game they’re playing, and the path to victory. The pieces are basically now literal soldiers in literal armies commanded by Zell and Sora, and whoever is the strongest and most inspiring leader is going to win.

game34

When Zell cheats again by brainwashing Sora’s pieces into defecting, Sora counters by flipping Zell’s queen with his dating sim skills. It’s all very stirring and fun, if a bit ridiculous. The battle isn’t over yet, but things aren’t looking good for Zell, which is good for Imanity. And she has yet to learn Sora and Shiro aren’t being backed by anyone; if she did, she might have already conceded that it’s too early for humans to be throwing in the towel and accepting protection from the Elves.

8_ses

Chihayafuru 2 – 24

chi2_24

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.

9_superior
Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • 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.

Chihayafuru 2 – 23

chi2_23

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.

9_superior
Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • 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.

Chihayafuru 2 – 22

chi2_22

Chihaya uses her right hand to face off against Shinobu, eventually removing her bandage, and even manages to take her best card, but Shinobu still wins by 23 cards. Chihaya thanks her profusely for not going easy on her, even though Shinobu considered doing so. Tsukuba makes it to the semifinals, but Sumire loses in the third round. Taichi also makes it to the semifinals, and has to play Retro-kun.

No need for a lengthy summary here: Chihaya gets creamed, and it isn’t even close. And let’s face it, even a perfectly healthy Chihaya would have had a hard time taking more than a handful of cards from the dominant Queen. Always a reticent girl, there was a time when Shinobu let kids her age win so that they’d be nice to her, but that’s all over now. There’s still maybe a little remnant of that little girl inside her who doesn’t like kicking Chihaya when she’s down, but she doesn’t let it influence her game.

For that, Chihaya is glad, and rather than giving Shinobu the stink eye, she tearfully thanks Shinobu for the fair, square drubbing. And Chihaya’s loss didn’t discourage her from aiming for the Queen match. She stayed in the tournament as long as she could, and might’ve even been able to take a lesser opponent with her left hand, but she just got unlucky, being stuck with the Queen and a bum finger. And hey, she took her best card, so it wasn’t a total loss. Now we move on to Taichi, who’s looking to finally move up to Class A.

7_very_good
Rating:7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 12

chi2_12r

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)

Stray Observations:

  • 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.