The high school Tokyo regionals commence, with Misusawa facing off against Shuryukan and West High. Though Sumire and Tsubaka aren’t originally scheduled to play games, Tsutomu shakes up the order to give both of them the same chance he got. Sumire and Tsubaka lose their games, but gain valuable playing time against superior opponents. Chihaya wins two perfect games and Misusawa advances. Meanwhile, Wataya also enters the high school tournament, with designs on playing his old friends. Shinobu is also excited when she hears he’ll be in the individual bracket.
It’s right back to business for Team Misusawa, as they’re well-poised to repeat in the Tokyo regional.They’re deeper and full of potential, but first its newbies Tsukaba and Sumire have to endure a trial-by-fire. Sumire rocks a hakama and learns that her looks can be a weapon (her opponent is so charmed he lets her have a few cards). When she finally sees Chihaya in full-on Terminator Mode (it’s great seeing what a badass she’s become), she’s fired up about improving her speed and memorization Similarly, Tsubaka comes in confident, but has to face West High’s Class A captain, who isn’t merciful. Even though he takes one for the team, his three brothers aren’t ashamed or disillusioned.
With Chihaya on his team, they know he’ll get better, and they want to help. Tsutomu also remembers when he almost gave up, and makes sure Tsukaba is involved in the match and gets some time in. Tsukaba’s creepy stare and tongue also creep his opponent out thoroughly. We got cameos from the vocal West High team with their constant rah-rah (that Misusawa has learned to counter with their own) as well as the always annoying Retro-kun. Wataya looks forward to Chihaya and Taichi, while a slimmed-down Shinobu makes an appearance at the end. Here’s hoping these guys get to face off down the road.
Rating: 7 (Very Good)
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.
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.
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?