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?

Chihayafuru 3 – 07 – Tailwinds and Fever

Chihaya does her best…and wins. Moreover, the match isn’t dragged out any further than it needs to. Chihaya just wins. Of course, that means Taichi loses, and we knew he was not going to be a happy rich boy about that. So he does what rich boys do when they lose…waste precious potable water!

Arata has to shut off the faucet that represents Taichi’s bitter tears. Arata thought Chihaya “belonged” to Taichi, Taichi thought she “belonged” to both of them, while Arata has realized she doesn’t belong to either of them. If they both continue to wallow in their own angst, she’ll leave them in the dust, a tailwind at her back.

And yet, despite having slugged it out so hard to win the Yoshino Tournament, Chihaya tearfully admits to her just-arrived mom that she really wants to go on the school trip, because one day she wants to be a teacher and coach, like Miyauchi and Sakurazawa. So she goes to Kyoto, skipping this year’s Queen qualifiers. She’ll just enter them next year.

While on the Shinkansen, Chihaya learns Taichi skipped out on the trip. She keeps calling him until he answers, and he tells her he had a fever…which she buys. Maybe he wasn’t feeling well, but it had nothing to do with a fever and all to do with moving past his latest defeat, which he wouldn’t have been able to do in Kyoto (where a rich boy like him has already visited many times).

Chihaya may have the luxury of a modest future beyond the grander dreams of Queenhood, but Taichi has no such luck. This time next year, when Chihaya intends to enter the qualifiers, Taichi won’t be able to, since he’ll be studying for medical school, as his mother has prescribed. Once in med school, he’ll have no time for competitive karuta. This is his time, so he’s going to use it. It’s now or never.

Arata, meanwhile, is punishing himself for saying what he said to Taichi about Chihaya and belonging, but I maintain he was right to say it and shouldn’t feel bad. There’s way too much floating around these three that they’ve tried to keep unsaid and expressed through karuta instead, but now that they’re all competing for greatness, that’s no longer an outlet. That said, Arata has a good and caring friend in his neighbor and classmate Yuu.

Chihaya wanted to go on the class trip to make memories, but she’s distracted the whole time, first by Taichi’s absence, and then by the meaning of his absence. I’m sure a part of her feels lazy, selfish, or arrogant for even being in Kyoto when Taichi is still in Tokyo.

As Harada says during the final, results are the foundation upon which all one’s efforts are held in place. If those results aren’t achieved, the whole structure falls apart; all the efforts feel for naught, even if they weren’t.

Perhaps sensing that a strong result in this year’s Yoshino is no guarantee of similar results at next year’s qualifiers, I wouldn’t be surprised if Chihaya catches an early train back to Tokyo. Right now she has a strong wind at her back, and a strong foundation on which to build.

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.

Assassins Pride – 05 – Just a Step in Front

Keira Espada tells her underclassman Salacha Shicksal that she’d rather an inter-family fued like the Angels’ not interfere with the Luna Lumiere Selection Tournament, but there’s nothing she, Melida or Elise can do about it. White Night’s ongoing investigation into Melida’s ability and Othello’s insistance on Elise’s superiority means there’s no way the tournament won’t be affected. Indeed, it already has.

That’s thanks both to Othello’s rigging of the cadet selection and the fact that Black Madia is not only on the loose in the school, but assuming the form of a student, meaning she is everywhere and nowhere. Still, the host school’s headmaster would apparently prefer both a tainted final result and the mortal danger of a lurking assassin rather than cancelling or even postponing the tournament. She puts tradition and propriety before truth and the safety of her students. Shame on her!

Anyway, the show indeed goes on, by which point Melida has been encouraged and galvanized by both her tutor Kufa and her teammates Nerva and Shenfa, who buck the trend of believing Melida will never measure up to Elise. When the two finally meet for the fateful duel, Elise finally expresses that she didn’t want to win against her “big sister” because she didn’t want everyone’s assumptions—including her own—that Melida was weaker than her to be true. She wanted to continue being second-best.

Deeming that to be impossible to keep up the charade any longer, all Elli can do now is prove that which everyone assumes and which she always feared: that Melida can’t beat her. Only…Melida hasn’t been sitting idle all these weeks with Kufa. She’s learned quite a few new tricks that optimize her mana, and Elli has been too busy with her own preparations to keep up with her big sister’s training.

Turns out Melida not only believes she can beat Elli, but she goes and does it. With everyone watching, Elli doesn’t take the fall, she loses fair and square to a disarming attack, and Melida makes it clear she’s determined to stay a step ahead of her little sister…if only just a step.

While the sisters’ fight didn’t last long, it did pack a punch, and I appreciated that Ishikawa Yui got some spirited dialogue to sink her teeth into, almost channeling her best-known role, Mikasa Ackerman, in the process (both Mikasa and Elli both being cool, powerful, yet reserved beauties).

As they fight, Kufa is on the lookout for the disguised Black Madia, and thinks he’s found her when he encounters her all alone with something suspicious in her bag. Turns out he’s mistaken: it’s not Black Madia at all, but a student from the other school who spoke with Melida last week: Mule la Mor. Her mana-absorbing Diabolos class is too high a class for Madia.

Soon after Melida and Elise’s big catharsis, Madia steps in to try to finish the job Kufa won’t on behalf of White Night, who disguised herself as Nerva to get as close as possible to her target. The glass palace’s giant sentries initially stops her, but she destroys their weapons. Turns out that’s an unforced error, as it allows other non-cadets to enter and save the day: specifically Kufa, with Rosetti backing him up.

Kufa slashes away all of the Clown-class’s illusions until she’s stripped down to a revealing outfit that makes her self-conscious. At this point she completely loses her nerve and becomes submissive to Kufa, almost acting like she likes him, which may be the case. In any case, Kufa suggests a compromise: she can return to their boss with his “supplementary report”, thus not returning empty-handed in shame. In exchange, she’ll withdraw without further trouble.

After the credits, however, Madia is right back at the school, this time entering the front door as an instructor. Her transition from fearsome adversary to potential ally and supporter of Melida is awfully quick, but I’ll allow it. As for the tournament, Keira Espada wins, and Mule la Mor shows Salacha Shicksal a “mana analyzer” containing all the mana info of every girl who fought in the palace—including Melida’s—for Salacha’s brother. As the OP hinted, looks like we’ll likely see more of Mule and Salacha.

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.

Assassins Pride – 04 – What Matters is the Way it Looks

Since they were little, Elise has always seen herself as Melida’s little sister, someone to cling to. That hasn’t changed just because Elise’s mana awoke sooner, nor since she surpassed Melida in combat prowess. That means the both of them would really prefer if they could be on the same side…a sentiment shared by Elli’s tutor Rosetta where Kufa is concerned.

Unfortunately, when the Luna Lumiere Selection Tournament kicks off, the two are unexpectedly named Cadets and the leaders of three-girl teams in direct opposition with each other, along with two similar teams from their sister school. Both Nerva and school “queen” Shenfa join Melida’s team.

Needless to say this isn’t ideal for the girls, as Melida still doesn’t think she has a hope of defeating Elli in the inevitable one-on-one matchup. She may not be wrong, but as one of the members of the other school (perhaps the “amazing first year” people were buzzing about) tells Melida to stand tall and demonstrate her power, otherwise no one will ever trust that she has it.

Kufa tells Melida that no matter what others think (and they think her and Elli’s selection was rigged), he’ll stand with her always. But he also finds out that Elli’s maid Othello rigged the stained glass window so the two would be named the school’s cadets, which he reveals to both girls and Rosetta. Still, Melida intends to carry on; beating Elli fair and square in the final trial is the only way to change the minds of people like Othello.

However, a number of obstacles to that outcome reveal themselves. First is Black Madia, an emissary from the White Night who confronts Kufa in the forest. She wonders why his report on Melida was so sparse and whether his loyalties to their order are wavering. As far as Madia’s concerned, Melida should already have been eliminated, but to do so herself, she’ll have to get past Kufa and Rosetta, and later school security.

She can’t, so she withdraws for the time being, warning through her burning cards that “the shadow is always behind you.” Kufa tells Rosetta that Madia is Flandore’s most powerful member of the Clown-class, able to mimic all the other classes. Needless to say, we haven’t seen the last of her.

The other main obstacle to Melida’s intentions is, well Elise. Elise isn’t any more confident Melida can beat her than Melida is, and so she comes to her room in the night to announce her intention to lose to her on purpose. She clarifies that she’s not doing it for Melida’s sake but for her own: she wants to remain her “little sister”, and beating her in public is the last thing she wants to do.

This doesn’t sit well with Melida, but fortunately she has a week to change Elli’s mind, either through words, or more convincingly, through her actions during the 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.

Assassins Pride – 02 – The Right Time to Shine

In a welcome scene of student and teacher bonding, Melida learns that despite his stoic look and manner he’s both embarrassed to have to examine her body (her being a girl and all) but has been trained to hide his true emotions. While that was implied last week, it’s good to hear him actually voice it, as well as voice his sincere hope for her success.

While Melida’s mana has awakened, she’s not a Paladin, but a Samurai class, like Kufa. Kufa warns her to keep her awakening secret and forbids her from using mana against anyone but him. Since he estimates she’s currently only able to summon half of her mana, she’ll rely on the element of surprise to win in the school tournament.

Keeping cards close to one’s vest, and waiting for the opportune time to reveal them, are all part in parcel of what Kufa is all about. But he learns something about her too when she defends him against the mocking words of her “friend” Nerva: she’ll more readily summon what strength she has for others before herself.

When the tournament begins, even Melida’s allies aren’t aware she can use mana, and she doesn’t use it until Nerva is at the very height of her arrogance. Thankfully it’s not a one-sided affair, as there’s a lot of back-and-forth as Nerva ups her game. But in the end, there’s a card in Melida’s hand she kept even from her tutor, taking a page from his book.

That card is a phantom-blade technique he only demonstrated to her once, meaning she either learned it from that one time, or trained a bunch on her own. She thought mutliple moves ahead in her fight with Nerva, making it seem like she was totally out of mana, only to summon the rest of it when Nerva opened herself up to finish her.

In the end, Melida surprised Nerva to the point that after their match she returns the book she took from her and apologizes, apparently continue to value the “friendship” she said they’d have no matter what happens. I appreciated that extra dimension to Nerva, who isn’t just a sneering, bullying bitch after all.

Melida also addresses her father and master of the house, and as Kufa remarks, just the fact her father responded to her (by basically telling her not to get too cocky until she’s accomplished more) is another victory. If she continues to improve, it’s looking less and less likely Kufa will have to kill her, or worry about getting killed himself for failing.

But even with a chastened Nerva and an semi-acknowledging father, Melida faces a lot more adversity, both from her overachieving Paladin cousin Elsie to some unsavory lancanthropes lurking in the shadows.

BokuBen – 12 – The Sting of Defeat

Nariyuki and Uruka are a great couple I’m proud to ship, and they’re only a five-minute proper conversation away from living happily ever after. While I’d like to say I’m under no illusions that BokuBen will actually ever make them a thing, the teasing keeps me coming back. I guess I’m saying I’m an idiot…but a generally happy one, so who cares!

This week both halves of my favorite couple are sick of the awkwardness that’s cast a pall over their once lively friendship, and both seek the advice of their sensei Fumino. In addition to stringing along a NariUka shipper like me, they continue to lock Fumino in a cycle of pushing her own potential feelings for Nariyuki aside in favor of supporting her friends, Uruka and Riko.

She’s unsure how to break out of this cycle, and is worried Uruka and Nariyuki’s continued problems will have an adverse effect on their studying, so she decides to break neutrality and help Uruka out this time. To closely supervise her two students, she shows up to their rendezvous in a shrewd disguise.

Fumino quickly learns things are much worse than she thought regarding these two. Every effort to spark a conversation is quickly snuffed out when the talk quickly goes back to the source of the awkwardness, whether it’s Uruka’s see-through top after the rain, or her sexily modified uniform at the shrine.

As the two grow more and more awkward and discouraged, their texts to Fumino grow less and less coherent. Matters aren’t helped by Nariyuki and Uruka constantly insisting they’re not talking about themselves, but “friends of theirs,” a conceit that grows less and less plausible as the meeting digresses.

Finally, Fumino’s complicated texting is interrupted by Sawako asking about hairstyles, and she sends the wrong texts to the wrong party by accident. Thanks to pure dumb luck (or good karma on Fumino’s part) it all works out somehow, thanks to one of the hairstyles Sawako mentioned being the same one Uruka has. Nariyuki follows the text and declares Uruka cute, and Uruka gets him to repeat that comment over and over. Ice broken!

Nariyuki attends Uruka’s swimming tournament, in which she wins the 200m free, but loses in the relay when a kohai has a false start. Nariyuki tries to cheer Uruka up afterwards, and ends up with more evidence for why Uruka would be such a good choice for a partner.

Uruka doesn’t pretend either to her kohai or to Nariyuki that it’s not a big deal to have lost, and that she doesn’t want to cry her eyes out about it. But, and this is key, if that kohai learned a lesson she can carry forward and succeed later in her career, their loss won’t have been in vain. That’s Uruka for you: an ace and a team player, through and through.

Uruka even shows signs of boosted confidence when she invites Nariyuki to hang out with her that night. She takes him to their old middle school, where “it all began,” with “it” being their friendship and her feelings for him. Those years ago, when she was ready to quit out of frustration for losing, he encouraged her to stick with it. To be as serious about something as she was about swimming was something rare and precious to him.

All this increasingly non-vague talk about their history together leads Nariyuki to ask her if she ever managed to confess to the “guy she likes”, still—and perhaps perpetually—unaware it’s him. Uruka really shot herself in the foot by lying about it not being him, since now he can offer, without a hint of awkwardness, to be the one she confesses her feelings to as a “dry run”.

But because Nariyuki’s words, out of context, sound like he’s urging her to tell him the truth, a flustered Uruka comes right out and does just that. She well and truly confesses that she likes Nariyuki, a lot, and always has. Too bad then that her previous lie dooms his ability to take her seriously. He thinks she’s practicing on him.

Rather than clear this up by saying something like “no, actually you are the guy I like and there truly isn’t another person”—admittedly out-of-character—she tosses Nariyuki into the drink. He takes her arm and drags her in too. When he protests, calling her Takemoto, she gets him to say her first name Uruka again, and is all better again.

With other characters with routes to wrap up, this may have been Uruka’s last chance. But I do think she’s being more honest than anything else when she told Fumino she just wants things to be good with Nariyuki…and for him to occasionally note her cuteness. So while, like me, Uruka may be a fool when it comes to settling for less than total victory, as long as she’s happy, that’s what matters. I just hope she keeps trying, because I won’t stop rooting!