This episode introduces five high school students with disperate talents all working hard at something: Wakana is still getting acclimated to the school, while Wien has just returned after twleve years in Austria. Taichi is the sole member of the badminton club, Sawa rides horses and practices archery, and Konatsu, who is passionate about singing, quits the choir when she’s not allowed to sing and starts her own choir club, hoping to recruit Sawa, Wakana, and others. The quintet all meet by chance in a park where Konatsu is singing.
There’s something familiar about the look and setting of Tari Tari, and we don’t mean that in a negative way. Namely, they remind us of Hanasaku Iroha; unsurprising, as both are from P.A. Works and are high schooler slice-of-life-centered. Indeed, this could very well be the nearest town, or even the same school Ohana & Co. attend, only focusing on a fresh batch of characters. We liked the way we were gradually eased into this world, with everyone in the middle of something, and we also liked the wide variety of activities they’re involved in.
Like Hanasaku Iroha, there’s definitely nothing to complain about, production values-wise; the town is gorgeous and the character designs are smooth and inoffensive without being too generic (though we had a little trouble sorting out Wakana and Sawa, as they look very similar at first glance). We definitely connected with Konatsu’s frustration with being unable to sing in the choir (her instructor has a major stick up her ass), and were amused by newcomer Wien’s culture shock and over-formal behavior. It looks like a good group so far, and this series definitely has potential.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
Car Cameos: A BMW 1-Series coupe and Volvo 240 wagon are visible on the road beside the train tracks. Wien arrives at school in a very unusual way (for Japanese, anyway) – by car; a Honda Euro Accord/Acura TSX, to be precise. Wakana’s pregnant teacher drives a first-gen Daihatsu Move.
The club watches dishearteningly on TV as Master Suo utterly dominates his opponent. After the match, everyone feels like they have a tall mountain to climb, but Tsutomu encourages Chihaya, telling her she has at least 20 one-syllable cards to Suo’s 28. Arata also watched the match, trying to visualize playing the Master with his card layout before him. When Taichi calls him, he tells him there are other ways of winning beyond “game sense.” Murao returns to challenges Arata to a game. Miyauchi defends the Karuta Club’s right to its clubroom by stating how quickly its progressed, but promises to double the membership by five; a daunting task that Chihaya is eager to complete.
Queen Wakamiya and Master Suo suck. They suck all the fun and excitement out of karuta with their android-like perfection. It stinks. Worse still, they were never taught by anyone, meaning they will never themselves teach. They’re a couple of useless prima donnas sitting upon the thrones. They need to get out of the way, or they’ll both destroy the game they love so well, much like a forester will lose his purpose if he cuts down all the trees. Just wanted to get that hate out of our systems – today we say goodbye to one of the better character-driven series of the last six months.
There wasn’t a character we didn’t like (beyond the aforementioned Queen and Master, curse them), and whether they were playing karuta or not, they were extremely fun to watch. This final episode is very open-ended, and even leaves open the chance for a sequel series down the road (we’re not currently aware of one), but if it ended here we’d be more than satisfied. Even though we’re sure we’d never be any good at karuta, it was fun to see a depiction of people who were.
The club converges on Taichi’s house to watch the Queen and Master matches. Yumin loses the first game by five cards, and Wakamiya Shinobu puts her away in the second game by thirteen cards, despite gaining 10 kilos by eating ice cream. Yumin is disheartened, but vows to return next year to challenge her again. The Master match follows, and three-time champ Suo Hisashi beats his opponent in the first two games by the same differentials as Shinobu.
First of all…suddenly making Wakamiya Shinobu a fattie was quite the curveball. Not only did it confirm her eccentric personality, but it introduced a glimmer of a hope for Yumin. Alas, once Shinobu loosened up and realized that her body, not her hakana, was heavy, she was back in her sharp, crisp, impossibly fast rythum, to the point where Yumin couldn’t even contest cards. Regardless of her weight, Shinobu has a special connection to the cards – she loves them and they love her right back.
A child of divorce, her grandmother’s condition for letting her and her mother live in her house was for her to learn a useful skill. Karuta probably wasn’t what she had in mind, but perhaps she saw Shinobu’s love for it. Shinobu wasn’t interested in making friends or joining a club. She only wanted to play karuta. In a rather depressing little moment, Taichi tells himself he can’t dedicatehimself to Chihaya. Whatever buddy, ignoring people is rude!
Since Chihaya lost before Sudo, she’s obligated to shave her head, but Harada beats Sudo to negate the bet. His student Takemura moves on to win the Master Challenger match, while Yumin wins the right to a rematch with the Queen. Oe notices that Taichi is in love with Chihaya. Arata also loses, and regrets running from karuta. He tries to convince his elder Murao not to run, but isn’t successful. The Karuta club members attend various Christmas parties, and Chihaya decides to call Arata.
No club members had a match this week, and the episode didn’t focus on the matches, but the characters; a smart, well-timed move. Too many strictly “match episodes” can grow tiring, especially since it essentially sidelines most of the cast. Chihaya shuts herself in a closet, devastated by this loss like no loss before. Taichi waits for her to come out on the other side, seeing the same pain in her that he felt, but without the guts to make the very obvious and overt declaration to her that, well, he’s in love.
It may be true that Chihaya only has eyes for Arata, a guy she hardly ever sees, which explains why Taichi hesitates. Chihaya’s denseness is almost a comfort to him, which is bad. He’s used to her ignoring him like a karuta player gets so used to losing, he’s nothing but an empty, aimless husk. Deference to a guy Chihaya pays more attention to is not worth what Taichi’s doing to himself. An aside: we’re liking how the characters are using more karuta poems to describe their states of mind.
Chihaya passes all her exams, so she’s allowed to compete in the Eastern qualifiers, her next step on the road to a rematch with Shinobu and a shot at her crown. Her first opponent is a child prodigy named Ririka, who initially surprises her with her speed and excellent hearing. She sees some of herself in Ririka, but at the end of the day, she combines timing with speed to put her away and move to the next round. Taichi challenges Arata to win the West, because he aims to win the East and play him.
Chihaya wants that damn crown, and she’s doing everything she can to get good enough to take a shot at it. She studied enough so her academics wouldn’t get in the way. She took away her speed and started learning more about timing, accuracy, and situational awareness to complement her natural sense for the game. She shouldn’t rely solely on speed, but that doesn’t mean she should never use it. This week it was crucial to overwhelm lil’ Ririka. When Chihaya finally has her speed limiter released, it’s an awesome thing to behold, complete with a nice metal accompaniment.
We kinda knew Chihaya wasn’t going to end up shaving her head this week, but nor was this an easy victory. It has certainly been fun watching Chihaya’s game progress. Ultimately the goal is for all three friends to end up at the top, but while Chihaya can become Queen without having to defeat a good friend, among Arata and Taichi there can only be one master. We kinda doubt Taichi would ever be able to beat Arata, but if he can memorize all the cards verbatim, heck, anything’s possible!
With her grades in awful shape and exams approaching, Chihaya is barred from competing in the next tournament, and Tsutomu tutors her and Nishida while Taichi goes alone. There he meets Arata, who is playing again and still in Class A. Taichi loses in the third round, and Arata finishes fourth, losing his final match by one card. Chihaya, who came to watch Taichi, is stunned to see Arata and blown away by his play. Harada tells Taichi he can promote him to Class A if he wants, but Taichi declines, stating he’s more focused on becoming someone who won’t run away.
It’s certainly been a good long time since we’ve seen Arata in action, and if the light that shines and the stuff winds that blow are any indication, he’s still not that bad at all at the game of karuta. His unexpected presence turns Taichi’s solo confidence-building and Class A-advancing exercise into another pity party, with Taichi litterally walking in worlds of grey clouds as his hair covers his face. OH BER BERR BERRR I’M SO DEPRESSED. He even starts to exhibit past behavior when he considers what to do with the contact info Arata gave him to give to Chihaya. But rather than hide it like Arata’s glasses, he tells Arata to give it to her himself, once she arrives. Growth.
Not only did Arata expect him to be in Class A by now, he also believed Taichi and Chihaya might be an item by now. Yeah Arata, we thought so to. ALAS. Here’s the thing, we can’t exactly blame Taichi for not trying to start something with Chihaya. Her utter obliviousness must wear him down, and it’s not entirely clear Chihaya isn’t madly in love with Arata and just doesn’t know it yet. She certainly admires the hell out of the guy, and is in almost constant awe of him. How can Taichi compete with that power?
Kanade takes the lead in her match versus Tsutomu thanks to the latter’s faults. Ultimately he couldn’t make up the deficit and Kanade is victorious; both advance to Class C. Meanwhile, the match Chihaya had been ignoring is down to one card each, which is a luck of the draw. Taichi tries to increase his odds by going on the offensive, but a long chain of dead cards and Nishida’s defensive play end in Nishida winning and advancing to Class A. Taichi is devastated, but Nishida thanks him for being president. Having seen how much stronger the team is, Chihaya proposes they return to group play.
With Chihaya duly humbled, this week was all about the remaining four members of the team better by playing one another. The last minutes of the two matches are about as tense as matches have ever gotten, particularly the Taichi/Nishida match. We have to admit we were feeling a little fatigued by so much pure, uninterrupted karuta playing, starting with last week and continuing throughout most of this episode. But the matches ended, and then came the fallout.
Taichi is without a doubt angry and disappointed in himself, and spends a little time angsting to himself. It’s moments like this when he should be sharing his feelings with Chihaya, but no, he keeps it all bottled in, along with his perfection complex. We liked Chihaya moving his sleeping head from the van window to her shoulder, and the fact that she’s now checking herself before calling her teammates Porky and Desktomu after, Nishida called her an airhead…out of affection.
Car Cameo: Kanade’s mom shuttles the team home in
Oe Traditional Clothing’s spacious Nissan Vanette.
In her first Class A match Chihaya faces Sakura, a mother of two and 35-year veteran of karuta. Chihaya wants to win, but not with her speed, but lacking a plan or strategy, she gets flummoxed, and notices that Sakura is watching her play, analyzing and strategizing on the fly. Though she loses by six cards, she learns a lot. She then witnesses her four teammates face off against one another in the class B and D finals. Watching their intense play, she realizes she’s there not to cheer anyone on, but to learn from them.
Baseball is replete with failure. A .300 average – Failing to get a hit 70% of the time – is deemed tip-top. There isn’t a lot of room for failure in karuta. If you whiff too much, you’re going to get beaten. You have to be fast and right, not one or the other. And most importantly, you have to know who you’re playing, learn how they play, and devise a way to win. Don’t just play against the cards, play against the opponent. It’s a lot to take in. Rather than surging to queenhood, Chihaya is back in Karuta 101, a victim of her own phenomenal reflexes and hearing.
Suddenly losing those crutches and having to slow down and play a different kind of karuta is about as difficult for Chihaya as unscrewing a jar of pickles her mouth, predictably, but she can’t hope to beat Shinobu if she isn’t a complete, balanced player. That point is driven home by watching all her teammates advance to the finals to face one another – and it’s great to see Kana and Desktomu go at each other, no longer novices, but really finding their own respective niches.
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.
The Individual matches begin, and the team is split up by class, with Chihaya alone in A. In the second round she has to face the current queen, a rather odd girl named Wakamiya Shinobu, who has been class A since the fourth grade. At first, Shinobu’s impossibly fast, highly defensive style utterly overwhelms Chihaya. She starts to lose heart, but once she remembers winning her first card from Arata, she regains both her composure and her power, tying Shinobu on one card, then taking two in a row with authority.
Of all the action series we’ve watched recently, there’s still nothing quite like the explosion of Chihaya taking a card. They’ve really gotten good at building up the anticipation. This week, we didn’t have any doubt that Chihaya’s first encounter with the queen would result in a major drubbing, but it surprised us that she held in there, remembered that karuta is about not having mercy and never letting losses get you down. Both she and Taichi know Chihaya can be as fast or faster than this queen; it’s a matter of believing in oneself and drawing her ability from within. She certainly made a statement in front of a lot of people.
She also showed this Shinobu girl something she hasn’t experienced in a long time: a chalenge. Someone who didn’t just shrink before her relentless, seemingly infinite talent, but settled down and fought back. First of all, kudos to the writers for finally giving us a left-handed anime character! We’re left-handed, and were wondering if anyone from Japan was. We know it can be a slight advantage in many sports; so why not Karuta. Shinobu also looks to be a very interesting character. Like Chihaya, she has her quirks (they share an affinity for tacky t-shirts, for instance) and we could even see them becoming friends. But at the end of the day, Shinobu is in Chihaya’s chair…or we should say throne.
The day of the national karuta tournament arrives, but the conditions prove too much for Chihaya, who cannot focus and faints in the middle of the first match. Meanwhile, as Arata makes his way to the match, he rememices about the past, including his grandfather’s stroke and subsequent dementia. He is able to meet briefly with Chihaya until she goes to the hospital. When she wakes up, Taichi has present from him that assures her he’ll play her in a match next time.
This was another excellent episode, but it didn’t feel like the end; perhaps there’s more episodes in store? If so, that’s news to us, but we certainly wouldn’t begrudge a continuation. While the regional matches were comprehensively covered, the nationals end about as soon as they begin for poor Chihaya, who has to forfeit for, shall we say, unspecified illness, exacerbated by the crush of people, the heat, and of course, all the pressure on her elegant shoulders.
Chihaya is one to punish herself for letting people down, but when she awakens in hospital, her teammates aren’t down at all; Desktomu even won his first two games, and everyone is in high spirits, eager to play more. We’d be remiss if we didn’t mention Arata’s part in this episode. His scenes with his deteriorating grandfather are very moving. You know he’s moved too when a karuta official tells him he plays like his grandfather. His teachings live on in Arata; wasting them wouldn’t be cool.
With the regional trophy in their hands, Chihaya starts to fear the upcoming nationals at Omi Jingu, worried she’ll disgrace Tokyo if they lose badly. Taichi snaps her out of it. Chihaya’s family appears totally transfixed on her sister Chitose, making it hard to bring up her own recent achievements. She’s relieved to see her father also keeps a scrapbook for her. Their faculty advisor, Mrs. Miyauchi, who originally was going to blow off their tournament, sneaks a peak at what the karuta club is really up to. She changes her mind and accompanies them.
We’re nearly at the halfway point in Chihayafuru, as the Nationals come next week. This week was all about preparation, both practical and mental. The upcoming tournament will be a far tougher challenge than anything they’ve faced, but they can’t face it with wavering wills. A degree of fear is healthy in any competitive exercise, but it must be controlled. Taichi proves yet again that he’s the motivational glue that keeps the team cheerful and confident.
This week also featured to parties that were previously utterly indifferent both to Chihaya and to whatever it was she was up to: her family, and her teacher. When her dad sees her in the paper, he saves the clipping, as he has saved clippings of her ever since she started on the karuta road. Chitose is definitely a big bright star in which Chihaya is often lost in the glare, but Chihaya’s family still loves and supports her, even if quietly. As for Mrs. Miyauchi, she was fortunate enough to look in the window of the club just when they were about to put on a hell of a show, which utterly convinced her that karuta is not just some silly obscure dalliance. It’s serious, beautiful business.
Chihayafuru will continue in January 2012.