Chihayafuru 3 – 20 – Sticking Around

On a luck-of-the-draw that would have sealed Dr. Harada’s victory, he faults, giving he win to Master Suo and forcing a fifth decisive match. It’s really the closest of close outcomes, but Harada tries not to let it get to him, and retires to his chambers to rest. But the moment Suo won, I knew not only that he’d win it all, but that he’d be back for more next year.

Between matches, Shinobu unties the tasuki Chihaya gave her and notices the bear motifs. Just as the cards ultimately decided to side with her, Chihaya’s good wishes were always there under her arms, letting her move freely and confidently. She says as much in her post-victory interview, giving Inokuma her fair due while also saying she won today because of those beside her.

As for Chihaya, she goes off on her own, cursing herself for not being born a man so she could teach that nasty Master Suo a lesson in her own arena. That’s when Arata arrives—at the exact moment Taichi finds her—resulting in Chihayafuru going into Full Soap Opera Mode for a few fleeting moments, as an enamored Oe and Sumire watch. Suffice it to say Chihaya is in no position to respond to Arata’s confession yet.

Harada’s best chance of becoming Master slipped thorough his fingers when the fourth match ended in a luck-of-the-draw, but he still had a chance if Suo played as lazily as he did in the first two matches. Yeah…that wasn’t gonna happen. Due in large part to the older Harada’s unrelenting intensity, Suo is shaken from his apathy, and after scarfing down a whole box of daifuku, ties his hair up and shaves his beard, getting correct before his swift and almost foregone victory to clinch his fifth win and successful defense.

Surely Harada saw how he gradually poked the karuta monster that is Master Suo awake simply by wanting to take his throne so badly. The sting of Harada’s defeat is softened by two factors: his wife never actually cared about him becoming Master, just in having fun; and the young bucks who watched his epic duel with Suo now have more ammo for going after him in the future. After all, Harada is a player, a teacher, and a mentor. You could even say he taught Suo a lesson by playing him so damn hard he almost won.

When Suo is phoning in his live interview, Arata beats Chihaya to the punch and loudly urges Suo not to retire, but return next year, so he can beat him. Suo doesn’t tell his interviewer how much goddamn fun he had playing Harada, but he sure as hell is thinking it, and Arata provides the little nudge Suo needed to reverse his decision to retire. This, after Taichi was expressing inner relief that he wouldn’t have to deal with Suo, in another stark contrast to Arata.

Inokuma Haruka is pretty sure she’s done too, and even comes to believe she’s finally carrying her first daughter after two sons (she told god a third son was fine as long as she won, but alas). But Sion’s grandmother isn’t buying it. From her perspective, Haruka is still a spring chicken, and it’s ludicrous to her to think she’s done with competitive karuta. It’s all about perspective.

After ten long hours of tense karuta, the Mizusawa gang rushes to catch the last Shinkansen out of Kyoto, but in their haste, Chihaya neglects to notice Taichi didn’t board the train with them. That’s because he’s staying behind to play in the Takamatsu Memorial Cup tomorrow. I guess his thinking is if Arata’s going to go behind his back and confess to Chihaya, he’s going steal a march on Chihaya to jump back on a different train: the train to karuta greatness.

Chihayafuru 3 – 19 – Hollow Man

I don’t like Master Suo.

I don’t like his creepily soft voice, or his obsession with sweets, or the way he macks on Chihaya, or the way he plays karuta, or the way he’s clogging up a throne I’d rather see Arata in sooner rather than later. The show hasn’t gone out of its way to make him a likable character, as it has so many others whose backstories we only get at a crucial point in a match, but at least this week it makes the attempt.

Suo has always seen himself as “hollow,” taken away from deadbeat parents to live in the main family’s house full of relations young and old. One of his aunts took him under her wing, insisting that he one day “make something of himself.” We learn that he has the same affliction she has that narrows the field of vision and may one day blind him.

He doesn’t learn of this prognosis until he’s already attempted several different paths and, not feeling passion for any of them, moved on to another. It’s a pretty lady at college who first attracts him to karuta, and like everything else he picks it up quickly.

That young woman gets a boyfriend who’s not him, but he still becomes so good at karuta he scares opponents away, leading to the adoption of a playing style in which he intentionally narrows his margin of victory and forces opponents to fault. He feeds on the passion of others because he has none himself.

Sympathy for Suo can be found for those looking hard enough, in his unenviable parentage, his loyalty and devotion to his aunt and her wish for him to make something of himself, and the two ticking clocks in his eye sockets. Backed into a corner with no more room for slacking off, Suo then feeds off Dr. Harada’s passion in order to turn an eight-card deficit into a one-card advantage.

Dr. Harada has passion to spare, but after three games and change his knee is starting to howl, as he knew it would, hurting his focus. That knee makes him a little less surer of his form and speed, and a refocused Suo capitalizes. Kitano, well aware of Harada’s discomfort, looks past their decades of fierce rivalry, sees how close one of them is to beating him to the throne, and tosses his friend a cushion to ease the agony.

Over on the women’s side, it’s becoming clear to Shinobu that the cards have become fickle, and that some of them like Inokuma too. Shinobu makes it a point not to get into a luck-of-the-draw scenario, no longer sure the remaining cards will side with her.

In the end, Inokuma double-faults at the worst possible time, while Shinobu uses her left hand to reach confidently across the field. Inokuma is devastated and tearful by her loss, but Queen Wakamiya shows her kind side by asking Inokuma to count the cards, assuring her they still like her despite the loss.

That result gets Arata out of his sickbed and onto the subway, hoping to catch the end of the Master tournament in person. However, he probably should have stayed put, as there’s no guarantee he’ll get there in time, and the internet signal on his tablet cuts out every time his train goes into a tunnel (which, in tunnel-filled Japan, is often).

In between service interruptions, he manages to hear the word “luck”—Harada and Suo are in the luck-of-the-draw Shinobu managed to avoid. While I’m still not a big fan of Suo, and will be disappointed if after coming so close Dr. Harada comes up short, I at least understand the four-time Master a little better now. I just hope his musings this episode don’t set him up to not only win, but to decide not to retire.

After all, he’s still Master Suo…whom I dislike.

Chihayafuru 3 – 18 – Right Now is Everything

As her grandmother surfs her regular TV in vain, (somehow) unaware the tournament is streaming online, Shinobu loses her focus. She can’t hear the cards, and loses to Haruka, tying them at one game apiece.

It’s the first game in Queen tournament play she’s ever lost, and everyone is shocked. A lethargic Suo drops the second game in a row to Dr. Harada, meaning both Master and Queen are in check: one more loss means losing their titles.

During the two-hour break for the women, Haruka experiences acute morning sickness. The timing sucks, but she’s hoping this means her third child will be a daughter. As she tells Rion, this may be her last chance, but she’s not going to let a little nausea keep her from making the very most of it.

Shinobu tears off her gaudy kimono and rushes to the shrine to pray. Chihaya, sensing Shinobu is out of whack, follows her without a coat, leading Shiobu to lend her her Snowmaru scarf. Later, before the match, Chihaya insists upon fitting tatsuki to improve the Queen’s movement.

Shinobu may have gotten to where she is in part due to abject loneliness, and she doesn’t resent that trade-off, as she proceeds to win the third game with relative ease, restoring her focus. But it must nevertheless be heartening to have a so-called rival/maybe friend in Chihaya by her side when she needed someone, anyone.

Suo feels a solidarity with Shinobu, but only because of their statuses at the top of the karuta food chain (and possibly due to their shared social awkwardness and eccentricity). But there’s nothing he can really do to help Shinobu. In the third game, he trounces Harada by 17 cards, but Harada essentially threw the game.

Indeed, drawing from Chihaya’s final intel report, Harada is pulling out all the stops to attack and confuse the defending Master at every turn. This presents itself to the crowd as showing complete and utter contempt for one’s opponent, but considering the gap between their age and raw talent, and the ticking time bomb that is his leg, Harada can’t afford to play nice.

Unlike Suo, he has a wife, and he wants to make her proud. I’d be surprised if this doesn’t go to the fifth game, but hopefully he can.

Chihayafuru 3 – 17 – An Attractive Advertisement

Before the matches begin, Chihaya notices the people chosen to be the card boys and girls for the matches. She wonders whom she’d choose for her Queen match, and envisions that, should they let her choose guys, neither Arata nor Taichi would be available, for they’d be facing each other in the Master match.

It’s a beautiful dream, and we get a glimpse of it in her head. Part of me wishes Chihaya and Arata’s journey to their respective crowns were sidetracked, by Chihaya’s school trip and Arata’s loss to Harada. If I’m honest, Shinobu is the only one of the four players in these matches in whom I have any significant emotional investment.

That said, the two matches are still hella interesting, and made moreso by the airheaded Eternal Queen commentator, the online feed, and a truly legendary reader whose voice coats the environment in a rainbow light. The first round of karuta itself isn’t anything fancy, but is marked by the sheer closeness of the games.

Inokuma, being a former queen herself, puts up the best fight in a Queen match Shinobu has ever encountered, culminating in a luck-of-the-draw that Shinobu wins. She never doubted the cards would choose her. Is the mega-eyed Mama’s comeback tour about to come to an end? Haruka hedges her bets in the green room between games.

Suo also ends up in a luck-of-the-draw with Harada, by design, only Harada manages to defend the last card read to pick up a win, breaking Suo’s tournament winning streak at twelve. It would be the promising start of a huge upset, if Suo had any actual will to win; he seems to have lost interest. Poor Harada: working his ass off for decades to get here, and his opponent is goofing off.

As for poor Shinobu, it’s clear she’s wounded by her relative’s (assistant’s?) comment about her grandmother basically using her as a mannequin for the kimono made by one of her investments. Just when she’s feeling low, Chihaya comes in with Snowmaru dorayaki to share, but then pisses Shinobu off by saying she put her class trip ahead of Queen qualifying. After that roller coaster of a break, I wouldn’t be surprised if Haruka evens things up in the second game.

Chihayafuru 3 – 16 – Karuta in the Streaming Age

No sooner does Chihaya lose to Suo (and be told the simple yet devastating two words “you can’t”) than Taichi is challenging him for a match of his own. Suo refuses until Taichi bribes him with sweets, and then Suo proceeds to beat him by fourteen cards. But Unlike Chihaya and most of Suo’s opponents, Taichi didn’t commit a single fault. That’s because Taichi is starting to want to play his karuta the same way: through the mistakes of his opponents.

Taichi also tells Suo that Chihaya isn’t really his boyfriend, which means now Suo thinks he has a chance with her. I’m sorry but I could not care less about this creep’s further attempts to woo someone who is already thoroughly in love with someone/thing (more on that later). What I do like? Chihaya wasting no time reporting to Harada about a possible weakness in Suo’s game.

Christmas Eve arrives, and the karuta club celebrates at the Tsukaba residence. This party feels like it could have been a lot longer and probably should have been. Not a whole episode, mind you, but at least half of one. Chihaya’s appearance as Santa comes and goes so fast there’s barely any time to process it.

But more than the hasty Chihaya-as-Santa cameo, the party just isn’t given any time to breathe the way slice-of-life scenes should, especially when Desktomu tells Chihaya how he considers the club a family, and they all consider Tsukaba’s little brothers their own little brothers.

When Christmas arrives, Shinobu spends it practicing in her hoity-toity family’s reception room, drawing her mother’s ire. Shinobu considers karuta to be more her family than her mother, but her grandmother likely scores some family points by letting Shinobu keep practicing and even writing on the tatami with a marker!

Shinobu is desperate to practice because she missed the Fall tournaments with illnesses, and she’s rusty. She also has no choice but to look towards the future she must discuss at high school, although because it’s a school full of “rich girls” the counselor kinda half-asses it. When Shinobu said she’d have “nothing” if she loses the queen match, it made me sad, but also made me wish she had a home that accepted her foibles, and the proper guidance at school.

New Years and the next week after that pass by in a flash, and the day of the Master and Queen tournaments arrives. There’s notably less pomp and spectacle at Omi Jingu since NHK decided it would not televise the matches live on TV. Tsukaba fears it’s a sign that karuta is “in decline”, but Desktomu assures him, the opposite is true.

Karuta has found a larger, younger audience via online streaming, and there’s more interaction thanks to the live chat. The first year of this change comes with a very convincingly intimidating challenger in Harada, a shifty creeper in Master Suo, an adorable mother in Inokuma, and the ethereal-yet-also-goofy-haired Queen Shinobu—so there’s plenty to chat about besides karuta!

As for Chihaya, she’ll be watching the matches in person for the first time, and had expected/hoped Arata would be there too. Alas, he’s come down with a fever. In a way, they both have. As their mutual love of both karuta and one another ever-so-gradually untangles, it seems to be affecting both their games. Chihaya notes how warm she feels just by dialing Arata’s number and talking to him for a minute, and feels like she’d “blow up” if he were really there.

This episode’s breathless progression through the holidays made for some odd pacing I wasn’t really a fan of, while Suo continues to cast a pall on the whole show with his eccentric unpleasantness. As such, this is the first episode of Chihayafuru’s third season I cannot enthusiastically endorse. That said, if the Master and Queen challenger matches were any indication, the impending Master and Queen tournaments should be lit.

P.S. Chihaya mentions in her inner monologue that she’ll never wear earbuds lest they hurt her hearing, but does so while riding on a train. Trains, and especially subway cars, can get pretty piercingly loud. Just sayin’!

Chihayafuru 3 – 15 – Crushed Like Autumn Leaves Underfoot

Chihaya can’t concentrate on studying for final exams because she’s still stunned from Arata’s confession and news he’s planning to attend college in her neck of the woods. While Taichi may have somewhat of a clue why she’s so distracted, only Oe and Sumire heard the confession with their own ears.

Sumire insists that they not tell Taichi, but just watch things unfold. She’s glad there’s finally some movement in what had been a completely log-jammed love triangle, and is hopeful things work out with Arata and Chihaya so she can be the one to swoop in and claim Taichi.

Later, Sumire is frank in her selfishness, and in being okay with the fact dating Taichi means he first must have his heart crushed like autumn leaves. But she can’t change the fact she loves Taichi and wants to be with him, and Arata may have finally given her an assist in that department.

Alas, she and Oe are only partially interpreting the source of Chihaya’s stunned state. Yes, Arata is part of it, but so is karuta. As has always been the case, her love of both has been so intertwined as to make it hard, especially for someone with zero romantic experience, to tell the two apart.

Quite suddenly, Chihaya gets a call from Suo via Sudo Akito agreeing to have a match with her, and all of a sudden she’s broken out of one trance…and into another. She finally sees Suo in a new environment, doted upon by his fellow karuta players at the practice facility, and even occasionally yelling.

Getting to play the Master is a trip for Chihaya, and you can’t blame her. Since she’s never played him before one-on-one, she has no idea what she’s in for, and even though she mimicked him as best she could, she was not prepared for the level of psychological warfare he directs at his opponents before, during, and after a match.

She loses by fourteen cards, but by the end of the match she’s notably encouraged by the strong finish she had and the fact she never lost heart…that is until Suo throws a bevy of compliments her way before crushing that heart like autumn leaves, telling her someone like her, pretty, positive, popular, “having a boyfriend”, can’t become Queen.

Chihya’s reaction is only shown for a few frames—not even a full second. She looks like she’s in the shadow of someone’s shoe, about to be stomped into oblivion. All of the good vibes she had gathered during her visit snuffed out. One wonders how much of Suo’s assessment is based in his karuta wisdom, and how much is couched in his inability to successfully court her. Either way, she’s not shining anymore…and that’s a damn shame.

Chihayafuru 3 – 14 – Beware the Dried Persimmon

Last week Harada Hideo looked like he was doing absolutely all he physically could to maintain a six-card deficit with Arata, and then his knee seemingly gives way. The surging, crackling pain is ably expressed by a nest of rough crayon scrawls. But this could be his last chance at claiming the title of Master, so he plays through it and ups the aggression of his moves.

In doing so, his hands move before the rest of his body, resulting in Harada taking a nasty spill more than once that unsettles the entire game. As expected, Arata isn’t able to resist being the good guy that he is and help Harada pick up his cards, and he doesn’t call out Harada when he faults.

He also reverts to following the edicts of his grandfather in seeking balance on his right side. That ends up being such a critical error that it couldn’t even be said Arata lost the match playing as himself; he lost it too closely emulating his gramps…and by being too nice to an his mentor.

Still, it’s those kinds of things that separate the young from the old in a game like this. It was certainly touch-and-go with a couple of questionable calls and lucky breaks, but Harada Hideo beat Arata fair and square. Frankly, he needed the win more than Arata, who is, after all, only 17 for cryin’ out loud.

Unlike Arata, Harada wasn’t related to an Eternal Master. He was also dealt a serious blow to his career when his medical duties sent him to regions of Japan where Karuta simply wasn’t popular. Harada waited decades for the right time—and the right reader—to claim his victory. And his students and peers are to a person so moved by his win they’re all in tears…even Kitaro!

Arata wonders if he fussed too much over the one card he had to have—the Chihaya furu card; the first card Chihaya memorized—leading to his fatal fault. At the same time, when Chihaya comes to congratulate him for a close and thrilling match, he comes right out and says I love you, then tells her he wants to play more karuta with her.

Chihaya seems stunned into catatonia and slithers off to be by herself, while Oe and Sumire are gobsmacked. Only time will tell if Arata’s simple words reached her and  how she’ll respond to them, if she responds at all. In any case, it was a damned brave, manly thing to do moments after one of the greater defeats of his life!

Taichi is similarly manly in returning to Suo the scarf he gave Chihaya, envisioning her as his “bride.” I’m sorry, but I don’t much care for the prospect of Suo stalking Chihaya, no siree! Thank goodness Taichi had the guts to tell him Chihaya was “his girlfriend”—and that those words seemed to spell the end of his creepy pursuit!

In his evening phone call to Shinobu to report the results of the playoffs, which amounted to two instances of veterans defeating youth, Suo uses fruits as a metaphor. While Arata—and perhaps in the Queen match, Shinobu—are “fresh apples”: cool, crisp, and sweet, Harada and Inokuma were “dried persimmons”: deep, complex, and of a flavor able to completely overpower the apples.

It’s clear he’s also warning himself: an apple a day won’t keep Dr. Harada away!

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.

15 Great Characters from 2013

We showed you whose voices we liked this past year, now let’s take a look at some of our favorite characters. Mind you, this isn’t a ranking, just an alphabetical list.

Bell Hydra (Blood Lad)

Bell was our favorite character from this relatively so-so show, because you never quite knew whose side she was on, or rather she was always on her own side, and always tried to stay on top. Her magical trickery was more than a match for Staz’s brute force, regularly frustrating him to no end. And then she fell for the guy. We also liked her sense of style, as she’d randomly change outfits throughout the run.

Chamber (Suisei no Gargantia)

Ledo’s trusty, badass Machine Caliber wasn’t just a tool, or the brunt of numerous sight gags as he performed manual labor, but a character in his own right, with his own arc that paralleled Ledo’s. The strict Galactic Alliance subroutines that drove his behavior gradually softened the more time he spent on Earth, to the point he rebelled against authority and sacrificed himself to save his pilot.

Ebisugawa Kaisei (Uchouten Kazoku)

By the time we actually see Kaisei in human form, it’s nine episodes into the show. But before that she’s seemingly always around in disguise (something she excels at), including at crucial point in one of the show’s many flashbacks. As Yasaburou’s would-be fiancee, she represents the peace that was meant to be struck between the families, and her playful banter with Yasaburou always tinged with a kind of quasi-spousal loyalty. She even plays the heroine by freeing Yashirou when things get hairy.

Gokou Ruri (Oreimo 2)

When she showed up at the Akiba real-world meetup in the second episode of the first Oreimo, we would have never guessed how far Kuroneko would come, leapfrogging over all others to become the best character on the show. As Kyousuke struggles with his relationship with Kirino, he also independently forms a bond with ‘Neko, who gets better the more sides of her we see: be it at home, at school, and in girlfriend and post-girlfriend modes.

Goto Hidenori (Samurai Flamenco)

While he may look good in uniform to some, Goto is neither a model, idol, or gaudy superhero. He’s just an ordinary guy with a quiet police gig with a loving long-distance girlfriend and a modest abode. As things go absolutely apeshit around him, he stays grounded, even when driving pink Hummers into rockets. All these superheroes and villains around him have made life a lot more interesting, but it hasn’t changed the decent, unassuming man that he is. He’s the show’s steady anchor.

Hayashida “Linda” Nana (Golden Time)

While she delayed her response to her longtime childhood friend’s confession by mere hours, Linda ends up losing everything once he gets amnesia, has his feelings for her resurface year later when they reunite in college, and he then decides to distance himself from her so he can focus on his girlfriend, after much will-they-won’t-they teasing. It’s a shame she has to go through so much, considering she’s such a kind, caring, beautiful person. But the cookie just didn’t crumble her way.

Kaga Koko (Golden Time)

Koko is one of the most interesting characters of the year because of how quickly she transitions from irritating crazed shrew to sympathetic love interest. After chasing the wrong guy for years, she finds Banri. She’s not as perfect as she looks, but she’s very tough on herself, constantly trying to be a better person and girlfriend. Considering what her status as Banri’s girl means to Linda, you’d think she’d be a character to be loathed, but the show excels at making everyone’s situation understandable and sympathetic.

Kaiki Deishu (Monogatari Series: Second Season)

We first met him in Nisemonogatari, where he was unveiled as the con-man who gave Senjougahara crabs (well, it’s not quite that simple…) but in any case, he was something of an easygoing villain: powerful, but not particularly motivated. In Koimonogatari, he’s given a mission by that same Senjougahara in her time of dire need, hits the town, and gets to work. It’s been extremely enjoyable watching him playing the role of hardboiled private eye, father figure, even unspoken love interest.

Katsuragi Keima (Kami nomi zo Shiru Sekai: Megami-hen)

The second season of The World God Only Knows wasn’t as good as the first, but this third one was excellent, as all the chickens come home to roost and things get infinitely more complicated for our cynical, bespectacled gamer. Keima is most effective (and entertaining) when his back’s against the wall, but this season he also actually ended up feeling something for his conquests. There’s no easy reset button for him, which showed growth.

Kotoura Haruka (Kotoura-san)

Kotoura-san may be an almost disgustingly adorable character, but the show wastes no time establishing precisely the kind of person she is and why, based on a traumatic past in which her parents basically abandoned her. Watching her transition from looking at herself as a curse upon all who associate her to someone with worth who deserves a happy life with caring friends (and a boyfriend) was immensely fulfilling.

Mankanshokou Mako (Kill la Kill)

We touched on this in Suzaki Aya’s profile; Mako has made the full transition from goofy comic relief sidekick to full-fledged crucial participant in the overarching drama of Kill la Kill. She’s the one who first reached out to Ryuuko, opened up her home to her, gave her the family life she never had, and then snapping her out of a near-fatal frenzy. She’s also not afraid to speak her mind to everyone, be it Ryuuko, Elite Four, Satsuki, or Nui.

Nakamura Sawa (Aku no Hana)

An example of a character we liked precisely because she scared the hell out of us. A part of that fear comes from the intense realism of the series. Subtle human movements that more stylized animation wouldn’t pick up are on full display, and Sawa slinks and slithers across the screen, and sometimes breaks into sudden startling movements while messing with Takao. Yet for all of the mayhem she causes in his life, she’s far from evil incarnate: she’s an intensely frustrated young woman, a victim of the benign dullness of the town that doubles as her prison.

Nana (Golden Time)

Nana is one of the best supporting characters we’ve come across this year, someone with a fierce sense of individuality who forces people to either accept her or fuck off, and gives off the air of not caring about anyone, when the polar opposite is true: Nana turns out to be both a caring reliable friend to Linda (and unwitting would-be matchmaker) and a decent neighbor to Banri. Hopefully his disassociation from Linda won’t mean much less Nana.

Shimogamo Yajirou (Uchouten Kazoku)

Like Kaisei, part of what we love about Yaijioru is how much impact he makes despite how little we see of him. For the vast majority of the show he’s a frog in the bottom of a well, where he tries to forget his life as a human, which he deemed as an abject failure. As another victim of the Ebisugawas, he was forced to believe he was responsible for getting his father cooked. Even when the truth came out, it took getting him drunk to spring into action to save his family, but his contribution was vital.

Wakamiya Shinobu (Chihayafuru 2)

Another supporting character introduced as a “big bad” in the first season, the brilliant, quirky, melancholy Queen Shinobu plays a much larger role in the second, showing us her past and how heavy is the head that wears the crown, as she simply isn’t interested in team matches or fulfilling any of the royal responsibilities expected of her. She and Arata also spend a lot of time together, making her a rival to Chihaya in love as well as karuta.

Images Courtesy MyAnimeList

Chihayafuru 2 – 24

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In the Class A final, as Taichi and Chihaya enter to watch, Arata has built a good lead against Shinobu using his combination of a nearly flawless game plan and calm demeanor that even throws Shinobu off her game. She breaks a sweat and swipes more aggressively, starting a comeback. But in the end, Arata defeats her by two cards, then finds out Shinobu was playing with a fever from being drenched in the rain. For her part, she’s happy someone finally put up a fight against her, even if she did lose for the first time in years.

This was built up to be quite a match, and it did not disappoint in the slightest. Shinobu is the Queen, and Arata is Heir Apparent to the Master’s throne. Even the karuta boffins are in awe of what they are watching. The atmosphere is so thick you can slice it with a knife and chew it. After watching Shinobu so easily dispatch all below her, Arata puts the screws to her, and we see her growing more emotional and desperate. Both Porky and the Fujisaki dude, other victims of Arata, know that it isn’t just his skills and sadism that intimidate; it’s the easy smile and serene calm he exerts while doing so. But that wasn’t always the case.

Shinobu was born great, but Arata was merely born into greatness, and had to work his ass off to get there. Also, his greatness didn’t fit his younger body; it wasn’t until he became fully grown that the karuta he visualized matched his body. Now that he’s in synch, there may be no stopping him, though Master Suo is a pretty mythic figure in his own right, and if there’s ever a third season, we can easily see Arata losing to him. But for now, he’s the individual champion. He proved Shinobu wrong: she may be more connected to the cards, but her strength wasn’t quite enough against chihayafuru – the perfectly spinning top – the impassionate one.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Hey, Midori sneaks Chihaya and Taichi into the match. She’s not so bad!
  • The poem Kana refers to Hanano is pretty spot-on!
  • Cute Chihaya moments: when she suddenly realizes she and Taichi are now officially rivals; and when she starts practice swinging during the match and Taichi has to stop her.
  • You know you have a badass reputation when people are shocked when you start sweating after five matches.
  • For perhaps the first time, some of the queen’s swings don’t make that bell-through-water sound, indicating she’s off her game and taking risks to stave off defeat. Nice touch there.
  • Arata’s grandfather was very firm and direct, but not cold or strict. He could probably see that Arata wouldn’t rise to greatness until he’d risen a bit in height.

Chihayafuru 2 – 23

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Arata and Shinobu end up in the Class A final, but Taichi and Desktomu also make it to the Class B and D finals, which will be held in a different room, so Chihaya has to make a choice. She chooses Taichi, who is playing Yamashiro Rion. Chihaya’s unexpected presence knocks him out of his zone, but after Rion impresses with her speed, Taichi calms down, compares her to Chihaya, and tightens up his game, using accuracy and memorization in a non-flashy performance to defeat Rion by nine cards. Taichi urges Chihaya to hurry to the Class A match, but she is in tears at his feet, elated that he finally made it to Class A.

We agree with Oe; Porky was a little heartless in saying he was definitely going to watch Arata and not Taichi, and that Chihaya should do the same. But he was also right: Taichi was in such a zone after destroying Retro (off-camera by 18 cards, LOL), and Rion was so gassed, Chihaya suddenly showing up could have proven more a liability than an asset. Porky also assumed that Chihaya cared more about Arata and the Queen than Taichi, but the truth is, no one, not even Chihaya, knows who or what she cares more about at any given moment. Taichi’s blown five chances to reach Class A, and on this day, there’s nothing more important to Chihaya than watching him succeed in his sixth.

Taichi and Rion’s initially sloppy match (not helped by the fact the reader is being evaluated by three certified peers and chokes badly) couldn’t be more different from the start of the Class A final between the grandson of the Eternal Master and the Queen. All the time we’ve seen them spend together really gives their interactions punch now that they’re in a match against each other. Shinobu takes the first two cards, but Arata touches them both right when she does, and then, rather than just exploit her weaknesses, he attacks her strengths. We’re glad Chihaya watched Taichi and they had a nice little tearful moment, but the match itself was nothing special. Arata and Shinobu’s, on the other hand, is going to be a good one.

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Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • Coach Sakurazawa wonders what unique rule bonds Shinobu to the cards so. We see what it is: Shinobu treats the cards like her friends, and has spent far more time with them than with any people.
  • Shinobu wants to prove to Arata once and for all that neither of them need friends. Arata isn’t so sure, and he isn’t going down easily.
  • Retro is one of the few characters on the show (aside from that irritating woman you kept saying “Lucky!”) we truly can’t stand. So we’re pleased as punch that he was not only swiftly defeated, but we didn’t have to watch it!
  • One wonders why the gamemasters would entrust a Class B final reading to someone being judged himself, but there’s no pressure like real pressure, and if a reader can endure being under the microscope at a final, he’s worthy of being certified. This guy didn’t cut it.
  • While Taichi might’ve still won had Chihaya not watched, and Chihaya initially knocked him off his game, a part of him still desperately wanted her there, caring about him instead of Arata. His post-match tears of gratitude confirmed that.

Chihayafuru 2 – 22

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Chihaya uses her right hand to face off against Shinobu, eventually removing her bandage, and even manages to take her best card, but Shinobu still wins by 23 cards. Chihaya thanks her profusely for not going easy on her, even though Shinobu considered doing so. Tsukuba makes it to the semifinals, but Sumire loses in the third round. Taichi also makes it to the semifinals, and has to play Retro-kun.

No need for a lengthy summary here: Chihaya gets creamed, and it isn’t even close. And let’s face it, even a perfectly healthy Chihaya would have had a hard time taking more than a handful of cards from the dominant Queen. Always a reticent girl, there was a time when Shinobu let kids her age win so that they’d be nice to her, but that’s all over now. There’s still maybe a little remnant of that little girl inside her who doesn’t like kicking Chihaya when she’s down, but she doesn’t let it influence her game.

For that, Chihaya is glad, and rather than giving Shinobu the stink eye, she tearfully thanks Shinobu for the fair, square drubbing. And Chihaya’s loss didn’t discourage her from aiming for the Queen match. She stayed in the tournament as long as she could, and might’ve even been able to take a lesser opponent with her left hand, but she just got unlucky, being stuck with the Queen and a bum finger. And hey, she took her best card, so it wasn’t a total loss. Now we move on to Taichi, who’s looking to finally move up to Class A.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)