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.

Carole & Tuesday – 08 – Standing Out the Least

On the first day of the Mars Brightest #0049 competition, Angela is introduced to her new manager, the young, eager-to-please Katie Kimura, whose only role throughout the episode seems to be servile minion and target for Angela’s generally mild abuse. There are celebrities far more spoiled and mercurial than Angela.

This also marks the first time Carole & Tuesday are in the same room with Angela, officially bringing their stories together…though Angela breezes right past the duo without talking or even noticing them. Tuesday later learns a valuable lesson about not so carelessly giving her contact info to a stan so obsessed they decided to compete in the same contest and actually made it to the final eight.

With introductions out of the way, we’re treated—or more accurately subjected—to the first four performances. We begin with two really old brothers playing death metal until they literally drop—a joke eliciting perhaps half a chuckle and absolutely nothing more—and Pyotr with a competent but utterly generic pop song with what sounds like auto-tuning, which you’d think wouldn’t be allowed in a singing competition.

Pyotr beats the old dudes, so we move on to the next faceoff: C&T versus “OG Bulldog”, a horribly uncool hardcore gangsta rap cliche who ends up singing opera-style, which…I’m sorry, is just really fucking stupid. Carole & Tuesday follow, and reliably serve up their unique(?) blend of aggressively pedestrian soft rock, forgoing lyrics for half of the song and instead making “oooh-oooh” and “la la laaa” sounds. Real groundbreaking.

When it comes time for the three judges (a female Simon Cowell, a gay dude, an an AI dog) to make their decision, OG Bulldog is essentially disqualified when his mother takes the stage and attests that he was never a gangster or drug dealer, just a timid young man who worked at a drug store. 

The lady Simon tears into C&T, calling them the “most normal”, “plain”, and saying they “stood out the least,” but they didn’t lie about who they were, and they somehow managed not to be worse than whatever “opera rap” is, so they win round one!

It was good to hear one of the judges say what I’ve thought all along about C&T’s amateurish, empty, Diet Coke-sweet music, but then along comes Angela to back it up with some strong negative opinions of her own, and I am here for it! (Katie Kimura also comes by, but as with the rest of the episode, she’s utterly useless.)

‘Granted, she confronts C&T because she identified them as rivals, and despite hating their music, probably realizes the competition could easily come down to the two of them. Last week I suggested that maybe the perennially alone Angela might befriend the same-aged C&T, but rivals will have to do. As the reality TV adage goes, “I’m not here to make friends.”

So, as usual, low marks for the musical numbers and tired reality TV tropes, but decent marks for finally bringing the three heroines together by pitting them against each other.

Chihayafuru 2 – 22

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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.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 12

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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.