Cardcaptor Sakura – 34 – This…Is…HOEEEpardy!

(Title reference located here.) This was a weird episode. For one thing, there was no cardcapturing. There wasn’t even a new Clow Card to capture. I demand my money back! But seriously, the episode involves a quiz tournament involving questions about Tomoeda Town, and participants must pair up.

Sakura’s first choice is Tomoyo, but she can’t film Sakura if she participates in the tournament. Yukito ends up volunteering to be Sakura’s partner, something that immediately makes her day. It should also be noted that Chiharu pairs up with Yamazaki. In addition to being her soul mate, the kid knows a lot about a lot when he’s not bullshitting!

Syaoran, who reluctantly enters the tournament when Meiling insists he join her, is jealous of Sakura’s luck, but there’s an interesting point when he blushes more upon seeing Sakura smile than watching Yukito. Interesting!

We also learn why Yukito didn’t pair up with his soul mate Touya; Sakura’s big bro’s job-of-the-day is working as a assistant on the tournament’s first leg. Yukito helps them pass by realizing ten matchsticks in the shape of a star can also form “a different star” by forming the strokes of the kanji for “star”. Not sure what that has to do with the town, but whatevs!

As Meiling gets stuck on that first question, Sakura and Yukito breeze through the next questions, eventually reaching Mizuki-sensei for the tenth and final challenge: how to get a small ball out of an Erlenmeyer flask without turning it over or breaking it.

Sakura eventually figures it out (fill it with water from the nearby cooler so the ball will rise to the top), as Mizuki shoots some questions at Yukito. Clearly she can sense something about him that has to do with the current full moon, which Sakura notes can be seen during the day when skies are clear.

Mizuki warns her about the full moon, but it would probably have been more hazardous that night if it were a new moon, since the lack of light would make moving around tricky. Even so, Sakura gets momentarily fixated on the moon and ends up stumbling off a cliff.

Sakura has the Tokyo Tower dream before coming to safe and sound; fortunately, Yukito managed to cushion her fall. Unfortunately, he hurts his knee in the process, but he did happen to find the nadeshiko sigil that marks their completion of the tournament. It’s the prize in lieu of a Clow Card.

Just as Touya, Syaoran, and Sakura’s friends are starting to worry, Sakura and Yukito show up, with the latter leaning on the former for support. Everyone’s safe and sound, and all’s well that ends well.

While Sakura got some crucial bonding time with Yukito and you could say she’s progressed a bit in her one-sided courtship, the mysteries of the Tokyo Tower dream, the shadowy figure, and the “Yue” Kero mentioned last week remain unsolved, while the quiz tournament itself was a bit of a dawdle.

The God of High School – 05 – Punch Pals

Mori’s semifinal fight with Mr. Brazilian Jujitsu is as short as Daewi’s against Mira, if not quite as violent. While Mira has no hard feelings—the stronger fighter won—and is on the mend, how Daewi beat Mira doesn’t sit right with Mori, and believes there’s a score to settle with their mututal friend.

Neither Mori nor Daewi pull any punches, as the latter is just as ferocious against Mori as he was against Mira, and also makes it clear hes never thought of either of them as his friends, which begs the question: why’d he crash Mira’s wedding? I guess he just doesn’t consider them friends compared to his one and only BFF, Woo Seungtae, who had his back at school and was a willing and enthusiastic brawling partner.

Daewi made a deal with Park to win the semis and the finals “overwhelmingly” so Seungtae could be treated with nanomachines, but it’s too late. Park informs Daewi his friend is dead in the middle of the match and Daewi shuts down…until Mira arrives, delivers a goodbye letter Seungtae wrote, and tells him to get back into the match.

He does so, but after some very spirited brawling replete with stylized ink brushstrokes, Mori ends up besting him, but gives him a hand up once the match is over. Both Mori and Mira end up helping Daewi back to the locker room.

While nowhere near as bad as the last episode, Daewi’s great epic friendship felt both rushed and simplistic, with way too much emphasis on hollow machismo. GoHS also continues to insist that the three leads are best buds without evidence beyond the fact they all love fighting (and getting beaten up). This episode didn’t do enough to convince me to keep watching.

The God of High School – 04 – Wedding Bashers

We’re already down to the regional semifinals as Mori, Mira, and Daewi have all advanced and Mira and Daewi will face off against each other next. I for one thought we’d see another fight or two, but I guess GoHS is eager to get to the higher-stakes nationals. However, the tournament is put on hold when Mira is suddenly approached by sports entertainment tycoon Seongjin, who asks for her hand in marriage.

The suddenness of this development is matched only by the sloppiness with which its fallout unfolds. Mori makes it his mission to stop the wedding, as Mira is still in high school and doesn’t want her to lose her dream of winning the tournament and resurrecting her father’s sword style. But Mira is marrying Seongjin as a shortcut to putting that style on the map.

While I can understand Mori’s objections to the marriage, it’s not as if he’s Mira’s childhood friend. Despite jumps forward in time, it still feels like they’re more casual acquaintances brought together by the tournament, which makes it seem way out of line for him to dictate how he thinks Mira should run her own life. He didn’t even know where she lived for Chrissake!

I mean, let’s get real here: Mira, Mori and Daewi had a couple of brief chats about their goals and shared one little moment fishing her sword out of the water (which was Mori’s fault in the first place). THEY ARE NOT BEST FRIENDS. The show can’t just proceed as if they are, or that they have some kind of unbreakable bond. And yet that’s exactly what this episode does.

I also find it problematic that the only main female lead is portrayed at the start as shortsighted and even stupid for accepting Seongjin’s proposal, and has to be “set straight” by three men: Mori, Daewi, and her uncle, who was a terrible custodian of his late brother’s school. More than that, it’s problematic that Mira considers her life to be so tied to her father’s legacy that she’s given up on living a normal high school life in order to keep the style alive.

Even so, that’s a tall enough task that if a rich and powerful figure in the martial arts world offered a strategic alliance in the form of a marriage, and that she could be as blatant as she wanted in exploiting his prestige to promote her style seems…reasonable? The only reason it isn’t is because all the other characters and the episode itself think it’s a bad idea.

And, oh yeah, because Seongjin is an evil dark shadow clan member just following orders from his grand wizard to obtain the Moon Light Sword style for the organization. So see? See? Mira was a fool for thinking his intentions were honorable!

Everything conspires to put Mira in a box where she looks weak and misguided no matter what she does, because on one path she’s being played by the evil guy, and in the other she’s deferring to her “friends” who Know What’s Right for her. And again, there just hasn’t been enough evidence Mori and Daewi are her good friends.

The jump from “we’ll help you fish out the sword we threw in the drink” to “we’re going to crash your wedding and save you from both yourself and the bad guy” is ludicrously steep and ultimately untenable. Her sudden change of heart just doesn’t work, narratively or emotionally.

To me, the fact Seongjin turned out to be evil is irrelevant; the fact is, Mira’s agency was negated by both Seongjin and her so-called friends. Even more ridiculous is how easily she’s able to defeat Seongjin. Surely, if he’s as big a deal as he says, both publicly and in the shadows, she’d have had a bit more trouble with him? To me, making him look so toothless just underscores how Mira could have potentially gained the upper hand in their strategic marriage.

Never mind, as Mira walks away from the venue smiling and laughing with her bandaged abdomen, taking both Mori and Daewi’s arms. She’s smiling! She’s happy! From the look of their noses, everyone clearly still has bad colds, but all’s well that ends well! Only no; Mira can’t even have a whole episode dedicated to her hastily planned and just-as-hastily cancelled wedding.

Instead we cut to Daewi standing by as his buddy is on death’s door. It’s not clear whether he actually dies, but Daewi takes it out on the bullies who hound him at work, then takes it out on Mira in their semifinal match by exploiting her abdomen wound and beating her to a bloody pulp.

After we’d just dealt with Mori nearly being disqualified for breaking the rules, all three of them ended up assaulting people outside of the tournament this week. While in Mira’s case it was self-defense, both Mori and Daewi should have gotten in trouble for crashing the wedding, and Daewi should have been arrested for assaulting the bullies. But no; everyone was allowed to break the rules and continue the tournament. Interesting.

But yeah, after that whole song-and-dance with Mori, Mira and Daewi being the three best goshdarn friends there ever were, and that the guys support Mira chasing her dream with her own hands, Daewi puts an end to her GoHS run the very next day. I told you they weren’t friends! What a horrific mess. With three straight weeks of decline from the promising first episode, I think I’m done here.

The God of High School – 03 – Life Is a Battle…Do What You Want

After a quick check-in on a cult consisting of members with black pointy hoods (the third such anime to feature this after Misfit/Demon Academy and Food Wars 5—not sure what’s up with that) Mira faces off against Ma Miseon, an American pro-wrestler built like a brick house who assures Mira her wooden sword will be useless.

Miseon indeed exhibits incredible speed, agility and power and Mira looks not only overmatched but like she has no business fighting in the ring…until she loses her wooden sword and Miseon thinks she’s got this in the bag. That’s when Mira demonstrates that she doesn’t actually need a physical blade; her entire body is a sword, and she uses it to quickly eviserate Miseon and claim victory.

Daewi and Mori are happy their new friend has advanced, with the latter itching to fight her himself, but he must face punishment for interference in Gambo/Manseok match (both of whom are out of the tournament). Park Mujin sees that Mori is the grandson of Jin Taejin, and decides to test him by pitting him against a Commissioner. Mujin also gives Mori some suspicious produce, which causes Mori to cough up blood and pass out when after eating it.

We know Daewi wants to win the tournament for money, but now we know what that money is for: his ill friend/brother Seungtae, cut down at the height of his powers by cancer (or something like it). Thugs Daewi used to tangle with think Daewi is vulnerable without Seungtae to back him up, but they might not be thinking that if they saw Daewi dismantle the cerebral Baek Seungchul in the GoHS ring, which he does after taking one hell of a metal bat beating.

With Mira and Daewi both advancing, Mori recovers and arrives for his match with the commissioner, albiet a bit late. It’s a handicap match, and all Mori has to do is knock the guy down. He does that so quickly and both “Green Four-Eyes” and the crowd are insulted, and the former loses his temper and unleashes a summoned jester-like demon-beast.

Park has the other commissioners tackle their colleague and ends the match, naming Mori the winner since he knocked his opponent down. Now he knows he’s dealing with Jin Taejin’s “Tiger Cub” and apparently has big plans for someone of his power and potential.

The God of High School – 02 – Gotta Have a Code

Interestingly, the second GoHS doesn’t pick up where the first ended, but after the battle royale. Mori, Mira and Daewi all advanced, but Mori’s fight with the “slipper jerk” was interrupted by Mira. Turns out all three share the same route home, much to Mira’s consternation. During their walk we learn the basics of their being in the tournament. For Mori, it’s to become stronger. For Daewi, it’s for money.

Mira is fighting for honor and family; namely to save her late father’s dojo. When Mori snatches her sword again and she moves to snatch it back, it ends up in the drink. Mira slaps Mori and tell the other two to scram, but it’s not long before the lads are helping her search the water. They actually find the blade off-screen, but the point is the three bonded over the activity.

The next day the preliminary brackets are set, and the last person standing will move on to the national tournament. When Slipper Jerk (AKA Gang Manseok) attacks his opponent Go Gamdo in the locker room, Mori steps up to defend him, earning Gamdo’s gratitude and respect.

Mori, Mira and Daewi end up winning their respective matches easily, while other faces like Ma Miseon and Baek Seungchul get brief moments in the ring; I’m sure we’ll see more of them as the brackets narrow. But the main fight of the episode is between Manseok and Gamdo.

While Gamdo practices a very pure and conservative tai chi style focused on balance, Manseok reveals a rare northern-style Taekwondo developed for survival in war, filled with all kinds of low blows. As such, this is a match between the “cleanest” and “dirtiest” fighters. We also learn through brief flashbacks that Manseok was once a groveling wretch and transformed himself thanks to a powerful teacher.

Gamdo’s best efforts to win the battle of wills results in his getting beaten to a pulp. Manseok unbinds both his hands and starts breaking Gamdo’s limbs one by one, but Gamdo still won’t yield. In the end, Mori enters the ring (breaking the rules and risking a DSQ) to protect his new friend, and shows that he’s a far more formidable opponent to Manseok—which is probably what he ultimately wants!

The chaos is then broken up by tournament administrators and the arrival of Korean Assembly member Park Mujin, fresh off a visit to the Pentagon where he waltzed right in without fear of getting harmed. He has Mori taken away for TBD punishment, then announces the tournament will resume.

Honestly despite the big central fight this GoHS was a bit of a step down from the premiere in pure manic craziness, mostly because any indoor fight is going to seem restrained compared to the dynamism of a motorcycle -bicycle race. It also wasn’t nearly as funny. It made up for it with a key bonding moment between the likable main trio—though I hope they get more fleshed out soon.

The ep also added more intrigue surrounding users of the superpower cheryeok, which we saw employed like the hand of god smashing out an island last week. I’m confident Mori’s road won’t end with his rule infraction, because the whole point of GoHS tournament seems to be to find exceptionally strong fighters like him.

The God of High School – 01 (First Impressions) – Stand Tall, Smile Big, Strike Hard

Fresh off the heels of Tower of God—which Hannah enjoyed, though admitted frustration that it was essentially just an extended prologue—comes The God of High School, another Korean webtoon-based anime with “God” in the title and an appealing blend of action, comedy and drama.

After a ominous, cryptic cold open that doesn’t even pretend to explain what’s going on (suffice it to say some guy on an island with designs on blackmailing the prime minister is literally wiped off the map), we dive straight into one of three main would-be Gods of High School, Jin Mori, resident of Seoul.

Waking up from a dream in which he was encouraged by his gramps, Mori realizes he smashed his alarm in his sleep, and must race to the GoHS preliminaries at KORG Arena. He takes a shortcut by riding his bike off a cliff, and immediately it’s apparent that these are no normal humans.

There’s a lot of influence from Durarara!! in the ensuing action, and not just because there’s a purse thief on a motorcycle whom Mori feels compelled to chase (he makes up a sob story about the elderly woman who needs the cash for her grandson’s surgery or some such). The mere fact Mori can keep up with a motorcycle on his bike, and the reasons for doing so, are great shorthand for the kind of character he is: as relentless as he is just.

His first encounter with fellow GoHS contestant Yu Mira is kinetic, to say the least: while she’s admiring the ample muscles of some martial artists who failed to make the cut, she’s absolutely obliterated by Mori (accidentally, of course). Mori attempts a quick apology, but Mira uses her trusty wooden sword to stop him in his tracks.

When she hears he’s chasing a thief, Mira tags along, and provides more offense against the biker as Mori keeps up. She’s about to deliver a decisive blow to the baddie when a road sign jumps out at her and her face is driven so deeply into the metal it creates a ghoulish mask.

The cartoonish amount of punishment these characters can take is matched by the utter hilarity of the way the violence and various acrobatics are rendered. I suddenly realized the episode was almost half-over, but things were so non-stop from the moment Mori jumps on his bike, events fly by effortlessly and breathlessly, evoking shades of Mad Max: Fury Road.

While Mira and Mori fall behind, the motorcyclist’s face ends up meeting the fist of a third GoHS contestant in part-time convenience store employee Han Daewi, and the impact of his punch is akin to the superhuman strikes of Durarara!!’s Shizuo. Daewi knows who to punch and why thanks to a roving rapper live-streaming the chase online.

With the chase finally complete, the three contestants head to the locker rooms of the arena and formally introduce each other, having already demonstrated from their actions in the streets that they’ll be tough competition in the prelims—and perhaps useful allies as well.

The preliminary is wonderfully simple: a battle royale of all the assembled fighters, and the last people standing move on to the tournament proper. There isn’t really any doubt that Mori, Mira, and Daewi will advance, but when a convict with the title “King” enters the battle late, the three seem to meet their match, with Mira giving her best shot and Mori answering the challenge.

This is a show that is deliciously simple in premise, wonderfully energetic with its trademark Studio Mappa action, and as moves along at a rapid clip without causing whiplash. The three main characters look poised to complement one another, while the way the episode ends in mid-fight guarantees I’ll be back for more rock-em, sock-em madness.

All that said, I do find it odd how red everyone’s noses and ears are in closeups…it’s like they’re all suffering from colds!

Chihayafuru 3 – 24 (Fin) – Gathering the Wind

Goddammit! This is a dark fucking period!—Dewey Cox

In the wake of Taichi’s sudden departure, the Mizusawa Karuta Club is still able to recruit four new members—two girls including one who is Class A, and two boys—and rather than quit like everyone expected, Sumire takes the lead on showing the newbies the ropes.

She has to, because Chihaya is too out of it. The cards “turn black” for her as well. Fukasaku advises that she “learn something”—anything—because karuta and the hundred poets can’t be all that holds her together.

As Mizusawa’s club loses its founding members, Arata remains determined to start one at Fujioka East. For that, he needs at least two new members, so he goes class to class in his black yukata, starting with the first-years and working his way up.

When he tells Yuu how he saw her as part of his team when they were caring for his grandpa before he passed, she decides to volunteer to join if he’s a member short—but he gains one more than he needs.

Wanting them to see one of the best at what they’re setting out to do, Arata arranges practice matches at the prestigious Fujisaki High, but Sakurazawa is the one to break to him the news that as he’s starting a new club, Chihaya and Taichi have quit theirs. He’s so shocked he can’t focus properly, but he’s still the only one on his team to come away with wins.

More importantly, he learns a lot about how a karuta team must be run and who must run it. It’s rare that a great karuta player is also a great leader. Fujisaki’s best player is Rion, but Hyuuga (“Cheers”) is better at rallying the team. Mizusawa’s leader was Taichi while its best player was Chihaya. Seeing them create a team inspired him to do the same. But he just can’t fathom what happened to cause both of them to quit.

However, he knows instinctively that as a member of their triangle it’s his turn to try to cheer them up, as they once did. So as his team is heading home, he takes a selfie of them bathed in the light of the setting sun. He assures Chihaya that Taichi “will be back”, and that the two of them have to get stronger to prepare for his return.

I don’t share Arata’s optimism, as Chihaya’s response to Taichi’s confession seemed like the final nail in the dual coffins of friendship and karuta. This season ends with us not even 100% sure Chihaya definitely quit, we only hear it second hand, while Arata has no idea what happened between Chihaya and Taichi. That’s a lot of balls in the air for a fourth season. Hopefully it won’t take six years to come!

Chihayafuru 3 – 23 – Pitch Black

Chihaya’s Taichi Tournament is a huge success for all involved. Taichi is bowled over by how serious everyone is (even Sudo shows up to read) and is greatly cheered up, while other participants were glad to have fun with weird rules. Taichi and Chihaya end up tying for the lead in points, so the prize—a kiss from Taichi—is never presented.

The tournament is also suffused with nostalgia, as it’s the same type of matches and same place where Chihaya, Taichi and Arata first played as a team. Notably absent from the tournament? Arata, who admits he lost the Takamatsu Cup to Murao because he couldn’t re-focus after beating Taichi, and can’t wait to play him again.

Yeah…that’s not going to happen anytime soon, if ever. On a day when the karuta club isn’t active, Chihaya encounters Taichi alone in the club room. As she (poorly) fits new curtains for the incoming new club, Taichi first confesses to stealing Arata’s glasses back in sixth grade, then confesses his love for her.

First he simply lets the three most important words come out, while covering his face. To his credit, rather than laugh it off like a joke, he elaborates by describing all the parts of her he loves He leaves out the one part he dislikes the most: the part that changes when she thinks of Arata.

When he swiped his glasses, he didn’t want to lose to Arata, even though Arata was sure to mop the floor with him with the wide gap between their karuta ability at the time. While that gap has narrowed somewhat, the fact remains the cause is all but hopeless.

At least in this case, Taichi isn’t being a coward or a cheat. Arata already made his move, so all that’s left is for Taichi to make his and let the cards fall where they may. As the school bells sound, warning kids to go home, Chihaya says in her tiniest voice, “I’m sorry.” The cards don’t just fall, they turn jet black. And that’s that.

Time keeps marching on, and the new year starts with proficiency tests and club demos. After the former, Tsutomu is shocked to find he’s taken over the first spots in both maths and sciences, and worried Taichi’s mom will pull him out of the karuta club.

At the demos, when Chihaya, Oe and Sumire about to take the stage, resplendent in yukata, their adviser comes up and makes one small, devastating change to the speech, reducing the third-years by one: Taichi has quit the club. Chihaya tries to get through the demo, but has to stop in the middle and rushes off in tears.

As she runs off, a tearful Oe takes over (Sumire is crying too!) and waxes poetic about the hundred poems, songs of joy, sorrow and love that have endured for a thousand years, and urging newbies to join them in their magnificence. Of course, the themes of the poems are a big reason why Taichi can’t continue.

Chihaya doesn’t consider that as she races to his side and yanks on his sweater, tearfully begging him not to quit the club. Taichi draws her in and almost touches his lips to hers before pulling her back and telling her it’s no use; he couldn’t play if he wanted; all the cards have turned black. His love of the game and of her were too intertwined. She rejected him, so he must walk away. Quite the emotional roller coaster this week—will the Season 3 finale be funereal or redemptive?

Chihayafuru 3 – 22 – Smile, Everyone!

There’s a Taichi-shaped pall hanging over the karuta club, and Chihaya, Oe and Sumire agree it can’t go on like this. Since it’s February, Oe proposes the three of them raise Taichi’s—and the club’s—spirits by doing something fun and not karuta-related: making Valentines chocolate. That means it’s time for Sumire to shine!

Sumire may be one of the least experienced karuta players in the club, but she’s by far the most practiced chocolatier. She’s made a lot of chocolate for a lot of people since the second grade, and to quote the Architect, she’s become “exceedingly efficient at it.” She helps chocolate novices Oe and Chihaya through the process, in the midst of which Chihaya tears up because she’s having so much fun.

Chihaya wants Taichi to smile and have fun too, and obviously Sumire can relate, being in love with him and all. When Sumire and Oe head home, the latter notices Sumire has procured Coverture chocolates, which people say have a “100% chance of success.” Sumire is no longer that naive, but also think she’s being too pessimistic when she says she has “zero” chance. So does Oe.

It doesn’t matter where the chocolates are from or when she gives them to Taichi, as long as she realizes she can get her feelings across whenever and however she wants. So, the next day at school, she does just that. When she spots Taichi jogging with other guys outside, she tosses the bag out the window for him to catch, tells him how she feels, and also tells him he should tell the person how he feels.

In a nice touch, it’s not fancy chocolate after all, but fermented squid guts Chihaya joked about him being happier about (after all, the guy gets a lot of chocolate from admirers). It’s a beautiful, cathartic moment, but it’s also bittersweet (see what I did there) because the chances of Sumire’s feelings reaching him are still so slim.

Part of that is, Chihaya aside, Taichi still feels awful about losing to Arata. As he explains to Hiroshi, who drags him to a bar after they bump into each other fortuitously, playing Arata made him feel how dedicated to the game and to becoming Master Arata has been all his life, while making Taichi feel like a tourist and a dabbler all over again.

Before they part, Hiroshi admits that Chihaya asked him to talk with him, to try to get him to talk about what specifically was eating him. I’m sure Taichi would prefer if Chihaya simply talked to him upfront, but considering his aura the last few weeks that just wasn’t realistic.

When White Day comes along, Taichi has a dutiful gift for Sumire, but it comes with the dagger to the heart: he’s going to tell the one he loves how he feels after all. Again, I feel horrible for poor Sumire—whom I never thought I’d care so much about when we first met her so long ago!—but she has my everlasting thanks for finallying compelling Taichi to act. Only…she wants him to wait two more weeks before doing so, which…confuses him.

Eventually, when his birthday comes along and he’s on a Chihaya-mandated cherry blossom viewing, the truth becomes clear: all this time, Chihaya & Co. have been scheming behind his back to give him a birthday present for the ages. That gift? A wholly volunteer-organized and operated “Taichi Cup”. 

Chihaya tried to get him to smile by making chocolate, but her dad ended up eating everything and ruining their clubhouse party. This time, she’s going to try to make karuta a fun and happy experience for him again. Little does she know he’s sitting on a much-belated confession of love that burns red as the Tatsuta river in autumn. Will he manage to do so before this third season concludes?

Honestly, these characters make it way too hard for themselves. It’s really quite simple:

Chihaya x Arata
Sumire x Taichi
Oe x Desktomu
Porky x His Next Meal
Shinobu x Snowmaru

There. Everybody’s happy. WAS THAT SO HARD?!!

Chihayafuru 3 – 10 – The Same as Always

Aside from a minute at the women’s final (a minute so quick I wonder why it bothered) the episode is dominated by the final between Arata and his society-mate Murao. The two have played countless games together, but Arata enters the match unsettled.

He’s unsure why he sighed after learning Taichi lost, and when he tries to visualize himself in his old room playing against Chihaya, he’s suddenly replaced by Taichi. Rather than a motivating factor, Taichi becomes a distraction Arata can’t afford.

Matters are made worse by the food Yuu gave Arata, which gives him the runs in the middle of a match. By the time he returns he’s lost four more cards and Murao has built a lead of eleven. Arata also doesn’t know which cards were read and which are dead.

He eventually settles down and mounts a calm, efficient comeback, focusing on offense rather than his usual balanced game. He ends up with the victory, and will face Dr. Harada (an offensive specialist) in the match that will determine who challenges Master Suo.

Back in Kyoto, Chihaya is hanging out her girl friends, staying up past curfew playing cards and chatting. But when she goes to grab some tea, she encounters Taichi in the hall; he says he “felt better” so he rejoined the class, and tells her Dr. Harada won the qualifying final and will face Arata.

Chihaya isn’t sure quite how to react, nor does she know yet who she’ll root for in the East-West match. Taichi, meanwhile, passes out as soon as he re-enters the boy’s dorm, leaving Desktomu to tuck him into a futon. Not being able to face Arata is certainly a blow, as is knowing that if he couldn’t get to him, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance against him regardless.

Chihayafuru 3 – 09 – Luck of the Draw

As Chihaya desperately watches her phone for updates from the Master qualifiers, her friend Michiru hits her limit, snatches Chi’s phone, and removes the battery. Good for you, Michiru! The only reason Michiru is even at the Hundred Poets Museum is because she hoped Chihaya would teach her a few things.

Chihaya, having come back to earth, apologizes profusely, but as we know, her own knowledge of the poets is pretty limited. It falls to the incomparable Kanade Oe to school them both, demonstrating that she could be a decent history teacher today if she wanted to—and kick Chihaya’s ass at it!

Back at the East qualifiers, Taichi also hits his limit, losing to the goof-prone but still focused Koshikawa Shusaku of KU. In a tense back-and-forth game that comes down to a luck-of-the-draw he loses, Taichi curses himself for not taking the “Impassionate” card, which will never not remind him of Chihaya. It’s almost as if Koshikawa eliminated him from qualifying and stole his girl!

Sumire watches the whole thing through the window, but when she starts to rush to Taichi’s side, she’s stopped by Tsukaba, who tells her that the last thing Taichi wants is company, because it’s the last thing he’d want after such a tough, close loss.

Dr. Harada, old crab meat knees and all, manages to avenge Taichi by defeating Koshikawa in the semifinal, which also ends in a luck-of-the-draw which Harada wins largely because he’s been playing for forty-five years, longer than Taichi or Koshikawa. He has a pretty good idea which cards aren’t going to be read at the end—the so-called “Eternal Maids”—a confidence borne out when he claims victory.

He’ll face Sudo in the East Master qualifiers final, while Yamamoto and Inokuma will face each other in the Queen qualifiers final. Back in the West, Arata ends up in the final with his own society-mate, Murao Shinichi, and is disappointed—and a little relieved!—to learn Taichi won’t represent the East.

Finally, Suo wants to win a fifth-straight crown so he can retire, while Shinobu is vexed by her gramps worrying about her having no friends, which is none of his business. Is it just me, or to both of these monarchs seem a teensy bit…vulnerable?

Chihayafuru 3 – 08 – Master of Self

Chihaya doesn’t head back to become a last-minute entrant in the East Qualifiers after all, though I wonder why she bothered to go on the class trip if she’s going to just mill around inside her own head, completely ignoring her purported best friend.

The qualifiers go on without Chihaya (and unfortunately, with far more Retro-kun than I’d care to see…that character just rubs me the wrong way). Master Suo and Queen Shinobu attend to watch their future challengers, though the soft-spoken Suo says after he wins his fifth and latest championship (confident bastard) he intends to retire.

After watching Arata win his first game, Suo tells him he’ll be Master one day…just not the next one. Just when he managed to envision his victory, the Master knocks him back down into the realm of doubt and inferiority, even as all the graybeards see the old Master Wataya in him.

As for Mashima, he briefly wonders what he’s doing at the qualifiers, and if everyone there thinks they can be Master or Queen. When Mashima’s mother finds him there, Sumire abandons her plans to win her way into her good graces and instead makes an enemy of her by physically blocking her from entering the building where Mashima is still competing.

Mashima actually watches this unfold from within and recommits himself to doing what he came there to do: to be himself, and yet someone else—certainly someone other than the person his mother has already chosen for him to be, and someone worthy of Sumire’s bold gesture. He’s already become someone who isn’t just playing because Chihaya is, as Arata always believed.

BokuBen 2 – 08 – Crimson(-Haired) Tide

After the previous episode somewhat flagged, BokuBen comes roaring back with a stirring, dramatic episode that introduces the biggest threat to the status quo/harem stalemate, without omitting its go-to tried-and-true romantic and situational comedy.

It starts simply, with an interesting reversal in which Uruka is chosen to tutor the athletically-feeble Nariyuki in swimming. The only problem is, Uruka is terrible at teaching! She just does what she does because she’s awesome. Enter the reluctant substitute swimming coach, Kurisu.

Kurisu, as good at educating young minds in all matters as she is bad at keeping her apartment clean, has an effective approach: getting Nariyuki to identify, acknowledge, and move past the fear that is causing his body to seize up in the pool. By closing his eyes and holding her hands, he’s able to swim just fine, after which Kurisu hands him off to Uruka as her swim buddies swoon.

 

I consider myself an honorary Uruka Swim Buddy, because I want her more than anyone else to break through her fears keeping her from confessing her feelings, and which caused her to create in him the misunderstanding that she likes someone else.

For some reason I did not expect Kurisu’s past as a highly competitive figure skater to end up providing both kinship and inspiration to Uruka, but in a brilliant example of Fanservice Done Right, while handing Kurisu her shampoo in the showers, Uruka immediately identified her toned body as that of an athlete.

When Uruka opens up about the pressures she faces due to lofty expectations both within and without, Kurisu gives her advice developed from experience: stop trying to keep calm, accept all those things and have fun. Uruka learns that Kurisu isn’t “cold”, as Fumino and Rizu once described her…she’s cool.

Uruka follows Kurisu’s sage advice and ends up winning her 400m Freestyle, by a large margin. Her achievement is celebrated at a school assembly in her honor, and it dawns on Nariyuki how amazing Uruka is. Later, her principal and coach present her with a life-changing opportunity to study abroad at a university in Australia with a top-class swimming program.

Uruka has never felt more like the protagonist of this show than this episode, from when she gets the opportunity to hold Nariyuki’s hand in the pool, and getting a glimpse inside thoughts and insecurities surrounding her swimming exploits (rather than exclusively Nariyuki). She’s not just MC’s Childhood Friend…whatever she chooses is going to have profound reverberations.

Unfortunately, Uruka can’t quite overcome her fears surrounding Nariyuki that she could to win her tournament…not at first. She can’t even tell Fumino outright when they meet at a restaurant; Uruka uses the thin and completely transparent ruse of “my friend” when referring to long distance relationships.

It isn’t until she hides under the table (and has some truly wonderful reactions, both facial and texted) when Nariyuki arrives that Fumino not only assures him Uruka isn’t dating anyone, but gets him to admit that while he’d hope whomever she liked would make her happy, that “he would miss her a bit” all the same.

Fumino realizes that Uruka alone isn’t going to be enough to break the logjam between these two. She tracks Nariyuki down and gives him one more bit of crucial information: the bit about Uruka liking “someone else” is a lie. How Nariyuki comes to interpret this remains to be seen.

As for Uruka, after giving it thought, she’s going to “do everything she can do and then cry”, shouldering any burden to realize her goal of studying abroad. She asks the principal and coach not to tell Nariyuki that goal. Does she truly intend to keep it a secret until it’s time to say goodbye?

There’s a lot to contemplate here. Uruka may be banking on the old adage that “if it’s meant to be, it’s meant to be”—that studying abroad needn’t be the end of her future with Nariyuki, but the foundation of a better future with him. I also imagine even if Nariyuki knew Uruka loved him and he loved her back, he’d want her to go and do her utmost best. He’ll wait for her…right?