Chihayafuru 3 – 06 – Just Taichi, and Yet Not

Jeez Louise, I thought the last couple episodes were tense. Put Chihaya and Taichi in their first official match together—a finals match, no less—and everything is upped to Eleven. No one dare leave, even Arata, lest he miss watching something he knows deep down he needs to see.

The elders are astonished that not only is the final two high schoolers, but of the same society. They may not be aware of just how close these two are, but it becomes plain once their match shifts into gear.

You can expect the finer points of karuta in Chihayafuru, but don’t sleep on Kana’s mom’s encyclopedic knowledge of traditional Japanese dress, how it makes those who wear it carry themselves differently, and even the symbolic and spiritual significance of the obi.

Very cool stuff…this show is like a cultural bath bomb. I also liked how the nerves of both Chihaya and Taichi were exposed not necessarily in their game, but in the fact they both forgot to gather up their sleeves with the strap thingies called tasuki.

As for the match itself, Chihaya and Taichi demonstrate they’re both at the top of their respective games. Chihaya has more rest…and speed, and is starting to hear words better, but Taichi has a number of strategies to turn her offensive game in on itself, like a placement that seems needlessly reckless and whack-a-doo…until it actually starts working, frustrating Chihaya.

Once she remembers Sakurazawa’s tip about maintaining posture, Chihaya sits up straight and looks at her opponent, who may feel like a stranger in the match, but is still, at the end of the day, Taichi. Neither of them would be there without the other, and here and now, there’s no one either of them want to beat more. It’s a dense, weighty atmosphere, moving some to tears, and it’s absolutely must-watch Chihayafuru.

Chihayafuru 3 – 05 – Unpredictable, Scary, Fun

This week we learn Inokuma’s parents were karuta players, and she learned at a young age that parents could treasure something as much as their kids, which is why she can still play and compete without reservations. Still, just as she’s bent on taking Chihaya out of her comfort zone, one of her kids gets unruly, and Chihaya notices he’s wearing a Daddy Bear shirt, and gets even more comfortable.

Everyone is impressed by Chihaya’s calm and easy demeanor despite being a mere high schooler in such a high-leverage match. Porky is less surprised: he knows Chihaya likely only assigns that intimidating queen mantle to one and only one person: Wakamiya Shinobu. Until she gets to play her again, everyone else is an obstacle, and she won’t be stopped.

Despite all these close matches, someone has to eventually lose…I just never imagined Arata would be the first one eliminated! His opponent Tsuboguchi had an amazing streak of luck, winning the last five cards. Arata is quietly outraged, but that’s karuta: it never ceases to produce a result no one could have predicted.

Murao ends up defeating an exhausted Dr. Harada, but it takes a lot of energy to do so. Chihaya also manages to knock off Inokuma, (then immediately passes out after thanking the reader), and Taichi shocks the room by eliminating Sudo Akihiro with a huge gamble at the end, going for the card closer to Sudo.

The semifinals are then set: Taichi vs. Murao, and Chihaya vs. Tsuboguchi. Since the latter two are in the same society and Chihaya is asleep, Tsuboguchi yields the match to Chihaya, instantly elevating her to the final. Dr. Harada can’t say he’d do the same; even a beloved student should be considered a fierce adversary to smite; Tsuboguchi agrees, but only where Taichi is concerned. That said, Chihaya’s future opponents in her quest for the queen won’t be so accomodating with her narcolepsy.

Before Inokuma leaves, she meets with Sakurazawa and they exchange contact info to practice together in the near future. Watching Inokuma no doubt made Sakurazawa’s passion for karuta burn again, but the latter tears up due to being fairly certain the game has passed her by. In any case, she knows Inokuma was never the same after losing her “Impassionate” card; turns out her surname was once Chihara, which is why she and Chihaya shared an affinity for that card.

The semifinal goes much quicker than the quarter since it’s just one game, but it’s also not as close: Murao is still feeling the residual weight of his game with Dr. Harada, and Taichi capitalizes on every advantage to take an easy win, adopting a far more defensive game than usual that really compliments his skills. He’s also motivated by the fact that Chihaya isn’t in the room while Arata is watching him for the first time from the sidelines.

Taichi is on a roll, so we’ll see if his momentum will be slowed by a head-on final match with none other than Chihaya. He’s been able to overcome all other psychological hurdles, but this could prove his toughest yet. It’s the biggest match yet in which they’ve faced each other. I forsee it will be unpredictable, scary, and fun in equal measure, and can’t wait to watch it unfold, whether it takes one episode or two.

Chihayafuru 3 – 03 – Up to Fate and The Times

Sorry for doing these out of order, but I wasn’t aware Chihayafuru 3 was airing two episodes at a time last week (and this week!). Nevertheless, it’s instructive to see the match that came before Chihaya’s promising quarterfinals match, because it’s when she truly gets her groove back.

Same with Taichi, who has a pre-match brush with Arata that, while cordial and even friendly, still steams his beans just because…Arata just does that. He’s in Taichi’s way on two fronts: karuta and Chihaya (whether he knows it or not), and hearing that he wants to start his own school club is yet another thorn in Taichi’s side.

Few know Chihaya’s game as well as Porky, so even when she seems to be doing well, he can tell, for instance, if she hasn’t quite come back from her injury. He’s also a great analyst of her game, and when she is up against a former Master runner-up (Takemura, who lost badly to Master Suo), he notices that there’s a reason she seems slower and less forceful, and it’s not because she’s still recovering her game.

In fact, Chihaya has absorbed a lot of pointers from Shinobu, Rion, and others that it’s not all about power. Playing left-handed also turned out to be beneficial to her, as it gave her more experience and insight into a side of the cards she was weakest against. Since she could never move as fast with her left hand as her right, she compensated with accuracy and efficiency, which she’s carried into her right-handed game.

Taichi has some trouble with his quirky opponent, Shiroyama from Hokuo, and is particularly irked by his opponent’s ability to take cards despite being, well, slow. He eventually realizes Shiroyama is playing a true team match, focusing on wearing Taichi down rather than winning quickly. Once Taichi realizes what’s going on, it’s like a weight off his shoulders, and he puts Shiroyama away.

Chihaya beats Takemura, who is admittedly out of practice after taking a whole half-year off following his brutal defeat. But he sees how big a mistake that was, as youngins like Chihaya are no longer nipping at his heels, but surpassing him with relative ease. Contrast that with mother of two and former Queen Inokuma Haruka, whose passion is such that even two kids, including a still-nursing newborn, can’t keep her out of the tournament.

While no one questions her prowess in previous years (nor the shape of her eyes, which give Chihaya’s a run for their money), there are questions about whether she can make a comeback; questions that are answered in the positive in this round. But during the match, both she and Chihaya snatch the “Impassionate” card at the exact same time, such that their cards collide. That incident is all too fateful, as they end up facing off in the quarterfinals.

Before the match, Miyauchi asks Sakurazawa if Chihaya has what it takes to be Queen. She’s worried about the future of an academically average-at-best student, but would be less worried if she knew Chihaya could ascend to the top of karuta. All Sakurazawa can tell Miyauchi is that in order to reach that height, Chihaya will have to do what she could not; defeat someone like Inokuma Haruka.

P.S. Yamashita Kousuke’s music continues to be one of the many great things about this show. Earbuds don’t really do it justice; I’d recommend watching on a system with some nice powerful speakers for full effect. I continue to be amazed by how exciting watching kneeling people swiping at cards can get, and the music is a big part of that.

Chihayafuru 3 – 04 – One Tough Mama

The quarterfinal matches are set. Chihaya, Taichi, Dr. Harada and Tsuboguchi, all of the Shiranami Society, made it through. They face off against Inokuma, Sudo, Murao and Arata, respectively. It’s a battle between rival societies, youth and experience, fire and water, et cetera.

There’s an elite reader, and the proceedings carry a familiar and intense electricity and tension not seen yet in the show until now. This is the Chihayafuru I know, love, and keep coming back to. There’s just nothing quite like the exquisite energy that fills those silent moments between stanzas.

Everyone on Team Shiranami, with the possible exception of Dr. Harada, has improved their games greatly. Inokuma may be a mother of two who was recently away from the game on maternity leave, but she’s also a former queen, and has a unique style of play in which she never rearranges her cards.

She also already knows about the different pitches of the reader Chihaya is just starting to figure out (thanks to Rion). The difference is, Inokuma also knows all the other ways to listen to a word before it’s fully uttered. Like Inokuma, Chihaya was away from the game in a sense due to her injury, but if she’s going to realize her dream of queenhood, she has to be able to topple a Queen.

Despite playing right next to Chihaya, and subject to mind games from the merciless Sudo, Taichi keeps his cool—even when Sudo correctly diagnoses that Taichi is in love with Chihya—displaying a mental fortitude that was lacking before. It can’t hurt that he got to beat Chihaya a couple of times to build his confidence…and Porky helped him out by exhausting Sudo in the previous round.

The best games in pretty much any sport are ones that are balanced between great offense and defense, but also deliver a lot of action and excitement. Karuta is no different, and the surging passion on display serves as fuel for all eight players, resulting in four very close matches. The episode ends on a high note, with no one in a deep hole or soaring too high. Anything can happen, but whatever happens, everyone is having a shitload of fun.

P.S. It seems I skipped episode 3, while episode 5 is out now! I’ll watch and review both when I can, thus visiting both the past and future of this tournament.

Chihayafuru 3 – 02 – Small Actions Building Up Good Fortune

At his high school in Fukui, Arata stands on stage with accomplished athletes as they are recognized for their achievements, in his case winning at the Nationals. The problem is, he won in individual tournament. If he’s going to do his part to keep Karuta alive and thriving, he’ll have to attract more players.

To that end, he uses his brief time on stage to put a call out for anyone interested in starting up a school team. Alas, everyone who approaches him isn’t personally interested, they just know someone who is. For now, he has to be content with simply spreading interest.

It’s back to school, which means it’s back to the Karuta club for Chihaya and Taichi, joining Hana, Porky, Desktomu, and Sumire. Everyone has improved, and Taichi continues to beat Lefty Chihaya at every turn, leading him to warn her not to get too comfortable playing with the wrong hand.

Chihaya is pitted against Sumire, but even here, she’s somewhat thrown off guard when the Class D player tells her she’s taking karuta seriously now, which we know from having access to her thoughts is because she’s committed to keeping up with Taichi until he looks her way.

When news comes that the school trip will overlap with the dates of the Queen and Master qualifying, Chihaya starts to wonder if the gods of Karuta are cursing her. Kana, sternly scolding her for not straightening her shoes after taking them off, tells Chihaya she has to think of small things she can do to built her good fortune back up.

Sure enough, after two months, the doctor removes the bandages and clears Chihaya for use of her right hand. Suddenly unleashed, she’s back to beating Taichi, but the others can tell she still lacks the same boldness she had before the injury. Chihaya must sense this too, and so in order to get into shape for the qualifiers (which everyone assumes she’ll miss the class trip to attend), she enters the inter-society, A-and-B-only Yoshino Tournament.

Taichi, Porky, and Desktomu also participate…as does Arata, whose presence Chihaya quite suddenly notices. Arata has the good sense to compliment Chihaya for her hakama, and hopes she won’t lose, because this is a mixed-gender tournament. All she has to do is win all her matches and she’ll likely get to face Arata, which is probably why she entered into the tournament in the first place. No better test of whether she’s ready for the Queen qualifiers than if she can have a good match against one of the best.

Desktomu is taken down a peg after being throttled in his first match, but thankfully the ever-caring Kana is there to stop his his compulsive face-slapping. Chi and Taichi win their first matches, and while Porky loses, he wears out his opponent Sudou Akito, hoping to make matches easier for his teammates. It’s in this way all individual matches are team matches and vice versa: everyone is fighting to help each other out, win or lose.

Chihayafuru 3 – 01 – Living with the Contradictions

If you wish, you can read my reviews of Chihayafuru’s first and second seasons to get up to speed. I may have to read them myself. ;)

Six years is a long time, and yet Chihayafuru treats that expanse of time as if it last aired…last Tuesday. I was weary of jumping right back in after so long, having watched so many hundreds of hours of other anime. But by the end of the first episode, I’d remembered most of the main players and their relationships, as well as where we left off. It’s like riding a bike!

It helps that the show simply picks up where it left off, with Chihaya still recovering from her finger surgery and attending a Fujisaki summer camp with Taichi. Coach Sakurazawa proves quite the taskmaster, but only because she knows firsthand (having lost five Queen matches) that suffering now will make enduring serious matches that much easier.

Despite Chihaya’s diminished ability to play with her left hand, Sakurazawa pits her against Yamashiro Rion in three straight matches, hoping Chihaya’s more than ample passion will rub off on the disinterested Rion, who wins all three, but the final two were closer as Chihaya got faster and got advice from the coach to always maintain posture and move with grace, as all the greatest champions do no matter the circumstances.

In the fourth match, Sakurazawa again takes advantage of the players she has and pits Chihaya against Taichi. Retro earlier tells Chihaya that he believes he plays worse when Chihaya is around, possibly because he often loses to her. But Sakurazawa considers this a confidence-builder for Taichi, who ends up beating Chihaya, much to her displeasure. And Taichi is committed to beating her, in an official match, when her right hand is healed.

Like Arata, Taichi gets a lot of his motivation to play and love the game of karuta through Chihaya. When Chihaya ends up in a conversation about love with the Fujisaki girls, her love of karuta blended with love for Arata comes out, and the girls mistake her for considering karuta itself her one true love. In reality, she’s still trying to understand that love. Hopefully she makes some progress this season, both in love and war!

Chihayafuru 2 – 25 (Fin)

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After the tournament, Chihaya sees more specialists, who determine she has enchrondromatosis in her right index finger. She decides to undergo surgery, which will require anesthesia and a week-long stay in the hospital. She spends her time studying a film of Arata’s match given to her by Coach Sakurazawa, and calls Arata, who tells her he always things of the time he and she first played karuta in his apartment when they were young. Chihaya also composes some poetry, some of which Oe recognizes as Chihaya expressing feelings for Arata. Oe prods Taichi to try harder with Chihaaya, and arranges for the two to attend a Fujisaki karuta camp on their own once Chihaya is discharged. Arata prepares to move to Tokyo to attend college.

With all the karuta matches played and champions decided, we were thinking this would be a pleasant little epilogue to wrap up loose ends. And while it achieved that, so much more stuff went down here; stuff that sets up an almost assured third season that we don’t think we’ll be able to resist. This was a beautiful episode that had Chihaya cooped up in hospital, leaving her little to do but study Arata, think about Arata, talk to Arata, and summon feelings for Arata that she doesn’t understand; i.e. love. She realizes that her love for him and karuta are intertwined; her means of proving to herself and him that she’s worthy of his love. But she may already have it; the most fun Arata ever had is when he played with her, and it’s the very thing that keeps him calm whatever the nature of the match he’s playing. She contributes to his greatness.

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Also brilliant was the use of Chihaya’s poetry, as read by Oe (by far the best character in the show at reading poetry) to indicate that Taichi’s window is rapidly closing, and further dalliances only make his climb steeper. Those poems, and watching her connect them to moments of Chihaya’s behavior, moved us deeply. Oe the Yenta is firmly on Taichi’s side, likening him to a figure from the hundred poems she so adores, and one who she doesn’t want to lose, so it’s cute and awesome that she takes steps to get Taichi into a position to make a move, any move, to keep him in the gate versus Arata.

As Oe says, Chihaya can’t possibly stay clueless forever, especially when she’s unconsciously writing love poems to Arata as it is! Perhaps, after the second season finally gave Mizusawa taste victory at the top, the third season (again, we’re just assuming there’ll be one) will address the love triangle with more authority, while also continuing Chihaya’s rise to defeat the queen and face Arata. Until then, the fine quality of this season was every bit the equal of the first, and even surpassed it in some regards. We can only move forward.


Rating: 10 (Masterpiece)

Stray Observations:

  • The reaction of horror of her friends at the news of the name of her condition is pretty priceless.
  • Chihaya’s practice swings (and the nurse’s scolding) were also quite adorable.
  • Coach Sakurazawa proves she’s quite the decent sort, providing Chihaya with a wealth of education (and very accurate!) karuta analysis of Arata and Shinobu.
  • Everything about Chihaya’s phone call to Arata was just flippin’ fantastic.
  • Arata happens to be looking at a magazine cover with Chihaya’s sister Chitose in a swimsuit when Chihaya calls and mentions Chitose. Weird, but great!
  • Porky is wearing a t-shirt with PORK on it. WE WANT THAT SHIRT.
  • In a nice surprise and blast from the past, the end credits role with the OP from the first season, which we liked a LOT more than the second one. Still love it!
  • That’s fifty episodes of Chihaya and the gang watched. It was a fun ride, and we hope there’ll be 25 more in the future.

Chihayafuru 2 – 15

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The national final between Mizusawa and Fujisaki is about to begin. Fujisaki’s Coach Sakurazawa switches out third-year Suzuki Manata with second-year girl Yamashiro Rion. Rion will play Chihaya. Porky will play the other Suzuki twin, Kanata. Taichi will play the other captain, Emuro Ryoga. Tsukuba (replacing Kana) will play Ichimura Mitsuki, and Desktomu will play Yamai Makoto. Meanwhile Hokuo will play a third-place match against First Akashi. Retro tells Arata that Mizusawa is in the final, but he won’t defy his punishment. Reluctantly, Shinobu takes it upon herself to sit in on the match.

Every match in Chihayafuru is a web of many smaller stories about the dynamic between individual players and their inner thoughts, on both sides. This episode, while all set-up, is nevertheless engaging and perfectly whets our appetite for the match itself. It pull out all the stops to methodically lay out more sub-stories than could ever be elaborated upon in one more episode. Never once did we grow impatient or long for the match to begin. There had to be proper preparation for a match of this magnitude, and there was.

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On the Mizusawa v. Fujisaki front, we learn a huge amount about the team and its coach. The episode is very efficient in sketching quick outlines of their personalities and temperaments  and quirks. And every Fujisaki player is matched up perfectly with a player on Mizusawa for the most engaging interactions. Chihaya and Rion are both second-year girls aiming for greatness, but Rion seems more emotionally detached  like her Ice Queen coach more concerned with the future success of the team than meting out glory to her players. We say “seems” because her quick little evil smirk may portend an inner fire to match or exceed Chihaya’s.

Nishida and Suzuki are both emotional players, but Nishida is playing to avenge his anguish over his past losses, while Suzuki is playing to avenge his twin brother’s. Taichi going after the other captain is his way of stepping up his game. If he loses, he won’t be surprised, but if he wins, it may change his luck, not just with karuta, but with Chihaya, who he may believe loves Arata more because he’s a better player. Ryoga also resembles Arata, but is obsessed with boob size, lamenting that the busty Kana-chan isn’t playing (she jammed a finger in her last match).

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Tsukuba and Ichimura are perhaps the least interesting match-up (both seem proud, strange, and have fox-eyes), while Tsutomu, who doubts he can win, nevertheless has a bunch of research against his emotional opponent Makoto to at least be able to shake up his game. Makoto has also just realized that while he used to believe the third-years loved Rion, in fact he’s the only one who seems to be, which irks him.

So that’s where we stand. A lot of possibilities for great action and drama await us in the episode(s) that cover the final itself. All we ask, ultimately, is that Mizusawa wins. Call us greedy (like Chihaya!), but we want a reward for following the show this far. Anything less than a national championship will be a huge disappointment…and will annoy us.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • There was so much to cover with the match setup, we nearly forgot to mention the Arata/Shinobu B-plot. Arata wants more than anything to watch something Shinobu thinks is a silly waste of time. She even looks down on mighty Fujisaki, who are goofing off in the hall. The episode has us believe she doesn’t care and is headed home until the last minute, when she appears at the match. We kinda doubt she’s doing this to encourage the other teams and players present, but rather to try to understand better what Arata is so keen to watch. She also strips down to her skivvies, which…isn’t as exciting as it sounds.
  • There’s something desperately cute about Kana reciting poetry at the moon, then asking a poetic question to her coach in a super-sobby voice.
  • For the match, a Level 7 Certified Reader will read. She sounds awesome, and the show makes sure we understand how awesome with the visuals that accompany her voice. But will subtle nepotism come into play, as she’s Rion’s grandma? Coach
  • Sakurazawa  may seem cold, but she’s doing what all great coaches do: keep an eye on the future and play the long game. It’s because of her and people like her that Fujisaki has its reputation. Will Mizusawa’s team endure after its members graduate?
  • The ep was replete with great close-up shots, some of which we’ve posted to our Tumblr.