Chihaya may be frustrated that Taichi stayed behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup without telling her, but she shouldn’t be surprised; Taichi’s always been like this. Rather than dwell on how much further Taichi might progress as she’s on the train home, she needs to think about how she’s going to become Shinobu’s preferred opponent in the next Queen tournament.
Chihaya registers for the co-ed Bunkyo New Year’s Tournament, which after the two biggest events in karuta truly does herald a new year, despite it being held on Jan 11th. We unfortunately spend some time with Retro-kun, about whom I could really care less; his goofy design, voice, and mannerisms belong in a different show and undercut any dramatic weight he might emit.
Back in Kyoto, Taichi is paired up with Arata, but no longer how late at night Taichi stayed up practicing in his hotel room, there’s no way Arata is going to lose to him; not after the challenge he issued to Suo (who actually shows up to watch their match). Taichi can only claim 4th Place, while Chihaya shows Sudo how much her game has matured by beating him to win the whole damn thing. It’s officially morning in Chihayamerica. Time to get to work.
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.
Rating:7 (Very Good)
After focusing on accuracy in the first half of the game, Chihaya uses her speed to erase Amakasu’s five-card lead. All four remaining games come down to a “luck-of-the-draw” situation, and Hokuo uses discreet communication to ensure they split their cards perfectly, greatly increasing their odds of victory. Their plan is almost unraveled when Retro commits a fault and loses to Mashima, but Chihaya and Amakasu tie on the winning card. Because it’s on his side, he and Hokuo win the match.
This episode was Chihayafuru at its very best: creating an extremely tense situation in which anything could happen, which gets in everyone’s head, contrasting those whose minds are clear in such situations and those who may be over-thinking, showing characters figuring things out…or not, all while introducing yet another dimension of karuta. Even though both teams are advancing, this match meant a lot, and it turned out to be one for the ages. No series this season is quite as good at holding us in a moment and utterly saturating that moment with tension. Against our prediction, Mizusawa lost, but it was so friggin’ close.
It was so thrilling it inspired Sumire – Sumire! – to join the karuta society to get better. Chihaya was so focused on her game, she was blind to Hokuo’s stunning team gambit. Mashima accomplished what he wanted: saying nothing to his teammates except to announce his win. He won for his team, but he really won for Chihaya…then the poor guy has to watch a simple text from Arata reduce her to tears. That was perhaps the perfect cherry atop this awesome sundae: no matter how hard Mashima works, he cannot win in Chihaya’s heart against somebody who ain’t even in the same prefecture.
Rating: 9 (Superior)
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)