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)

Chihayafuru 2 – 21

Ayase Chihaya, Wataya Arata

Chihaya struggles early against Yuube, but once she stops overthinking, goes with a more basic approach, and flips around the cards on her own side to make them easier to take with her left hand, and eeks out a win by two cards. Arata and Shinobu quickly defeat their opponents, and all the other Mizusawa players advance. Nishida has to face Arata in the next round, and while he puts up a passionate fight, he ultimately loses. Chihaya moves on to the Final 8, but rather than Arata, her next opponent is Shinobu.

Wow, this individual tournament is moving along at quite a clip! In a single episode we go from 32 players to just eight; Chihaya figures out how to switch her game from right to left, defeats two players, and with four episodes left, Chihaya is about to face off against her nememuse, the Queen herself: Wakamiya Shinobu. As a result, while she was saving her right hand for Arata (that just sounds wrong…), she knows she’ll have to use it against Shinobu. That’s a huge gamble, especially when last week a single tentative swipe caused intense pain.

But while the odds are very much against her no matter what hand she uses, Fujisaki’s loss proved that giants can be slain. If Chihaya defeated Shinobu to finally face off against Arata, you can be assured we’d pretty much lose it. That would be like a whole season of Kyousuke and Kuroneko dating. Arata, meanwhile, is just scary good, and even with all the negative energy directed at his game (his parents want him to lose so they don’t have to pay for his college in Tokyo), he eliminates his first opponent and barely breaks a sweat dispatching Nishida. We hope Chihaya’s journey doesn’t end with Shinobu doing to her what Arata did to Nishida.

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Rating: 8 
(Great)

Chihayafuru 2 – 20

Mashima Taichi, Ayase Chihaya

The team receives their championship awards and banner, but Chihaya’s finger has swollen and Miyauchi takes her to an emergency clinic, where she’s diagnosed with a chip fracture and told to avoid strenuous activity. At the inn, Chihaya lies down beside a sleeping Taichi and recalls the matches that got them to the championship. The next morning she decides to use her left hand to play rather than simply forfeit. The four classes split off, and Chihaya first faces off against Akashi’s aggressive Yuube Keiko, who takes an early lead when Chihaya’s left hand proves too slow.

Karuta is such an obscure game, even in its native Japan, that the physician who tends to Chihaya’s finger has no idea just how intense it can get. Yet even within that incredibly narrow, specific world of karuta, we’ve learned that there’s a universe of complexity, beauty and strength. We also learn that the Chairman of Japanese karuta has a similar belief as Shinobu: that team tournaments are no big deal and even chaotic and “messy” compared to the peerless artistry of the individual tournament. It’s kind of mean for the show to pile on the team-hate immediately after Mizusawa played their goddamn hearts out to win the highest team honor there is.

And even if she values the team matches much more than Shinobu or the Chairman or even Arata, even Chihaya can’t help but buy into the superiority of the individual matches. But she also made a promise to win in every class, and that can’t happen if she forfeits. Thus her motivation to play is just as much honoring that promise to her team as it was buying into the primacy of the individuals. There’s no rest for the weary, and when her first ginger attempt to strike the mat causes extreme pain, Chihaya rolls the dice and switches to her left hand. The initial results are less than inspiring, but who knows, maybe she’ll be able make that hand match the speed of her ears and sense.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Stray Observations:

  • Porky’s sister makes her brother’s team congratulatory tees in a new deeper blue color. She’s a class act, plus we were getting bored with the powder blue.
  • These individual matches will either continue into a future third season of Chihayafuru, or be so brief as to be anticlimactic  But its not like the team tournament could’ve been stretched across the rest of this season’s episodes…that would have frankly been torturous.
  • Chihaya lies down beside Taichi, but perpendicularly…a nice visual representation of just how differently they think about each other. 
  • Arata is going to college in Tokyo and Taichi is not happy with that.
  • Sumire learns about the childhood friend love triangle and wigs out. Ironically, if Taichi was into her, everyone would be happy…unless Chihaya isn’t really romantically interested in Arata.
  • Shinobu means to crush everyone. So as it turns out, she learned nothing. Oh well!

Chihayafuru 2 – 18

Ayase Chihaya, Yamashiro Rion

Chihaya overcomes her injury to cut down Rion’s lead, but it’s still nagging her. Nishida is desperate for a win after two girls injured themselves giving it their all. After mis-analyzing his hair blowing, Tsutomu loses to Yamai, who energizes Rion, whom he secretly admires for her beautiful play. At the third-place game, Akashi and Hokuo continue to play hard, disgusting Shinobu, who suddenly remembers how she was isolated to strengthen her. Tsukuba loses to Ichimura, putting Mizusawa down 0-2. Nishida, Taichi and Chihaya will all have to win their games to take the championship away from Fujisaki.

Arata nudged Shinobu into sitting in on the karuta game, but not just to fulfill her duty as queen, but to try to change her mind about team karuta. She wasn’t very moved last week, but this week as the games intensify, like the Grinch, she starts to feel something in her she doesn’t recognize: excitement. Interest. Well, maybe. There’s a lot of conditioning to cut through to get to Shinobu’s soft side. After all, she was kept away from others her age so she wouldn’t ever go easy on anyone. The idea was, the more alone she was, the stronger she’d get. She is a strong karuta player – the strongest, but she’s a terrible queen and her social development has also suffered.

But back to the game: while Mizusawa had five chances at three miracles against Fujisaki, two of those chances go quietly into the night. We don’t mind Tsutomu and Tsukuba losing so forcefully; no amount of fighting spirit could overcome the sheer gap in ability and experience. By episode’s end we only know that Taichi is four cards down against Eroga, not a great place to be but not hopeless, while Chihaya and Porky’s scores remain a mystery. Mizusawa’s back is definitely up against the wall, but their three strongest players still stand, and there’s still a chance they can pull out a win. If not, we’ll be sorely disappointed. We already saw them lose in the last series. We want a win.

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Rating:7 (Very Good)

Chihayafuru 2 – 17

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The match with Fujisaki begins, and Fujisaki jumps out to a huge lead, dominating the Mizusawa players with their superior speed, strength, and precision, a legacy that has been built in Coach Sakurazawa’s 12-year reign. Chihaya remembers what Kana calling Yamashiro’s reading “multicolor”, and is able to swipe her first card from Rion by “hearing” its color. She takes another by borrowing a move from Megumu, but jams her right index finger. Not letting the pain get to her, she swipes another card with queen-like speed, prompting Shinobu, watching in the crowd, to recall her match with Chihaya.

Fujisaki is the most focused, disciplined, and talented team Mizusawa has yet faced. Even Desktomu’s scouting notes can only go so far, and no amount of preparation is adequate for the match that begins to unfold this week. In this beginning, Fujisaki simply takes care of business. It doesn’t particularly matter to them who they’re playing; they’re the best, period. That’s not to say there aren’t chinks in the armor; the first one to rear its head is Rion’s very specific way of playing. She’s a brilliant prodigy to be sure, and quite possibly autistic, but the ability to hear colors and otherworldly game sense may not be enough against Chihaya, who has been constantly diversifying her game to overcome every weakness.

We breathe a sigh of relief when she finally snaps out of her funk, remembers Kana’s sage words, and snatches her first card with authority. When she sneaks under Rion’s hand for another score, the flusterer becomes the flustered and Chihaya builds momentum. She’s not the only one who won’t go quietly into the night; both Taichi and Porky have something to prove, and are going to give it everything they have. Never has Mizusawa’s back been more up against the wall, but there’s still a glimmer of hope that they can pull out a win…one card at a time.


Rating: 8 (Great)

Stray Observations:

  • Shinobu immediately deems the match she’s grudgingly attended to be a boring waste of time, but we imagine she’ll grow more and more interested if Chihaya can take Rion down and other Miszusawa players rise to the occasion.
  • She also doesn’t fathom just how much inspirational power and influence her position as queen carries. How can she, when she’s never bothered to use it?
  • Rion has never won a tournament, and this match is her first chance to be a winner.
  • Chihaya’s subtle, deft use of her injury to throw Rion off her rhythm was pretty awesome.

 

Chihayafuru 2 – 15

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The national final between Mizusawa and Fujisaki is about to begin. Fujisaki’s Coach Sakurazawa switches out third-year Suzuki Manata with second-year girl Yamashiro Rion. Rion will play Chihaya. Porky will play the other Suzuki twin, Kanata. Taichi will play the other captain, Emuro Ryoga. Tsukuba (replacing Kana) will play Ichimura Mitsuki, and Desktomu will play Yamai Makoto. Meanwhile Hokuo will play a third-place match against First Akashi. Retro tells Arata that Mizusawa is in the final, but he won’t defy his punishment. Reluctantly, Shinobu takes it upon herself to sit in on the match.

Every match in Chihayafuru is a web of many smaller stories about the dynamic between individual players and their inner thoughts, on both sides. This episode, while all set-up, is nevertheless engaging and perfectly whets our appetite for the match itself. It pull out all the stops to methodically lay out more sub-stories than could ever be elaborated upon in one more episode. Never once did we grow impatient or long for the match to begin. There had to be proper preparation for a match of this magnitude, and there was.

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On the Mizusawa v. Fujisaki front, we learn a huge amount about the team and its coach. The episode is very efficient in sketching quick outlines of their personalities and temperaments  and quirks. And every Fujisaki player is matched up perfectly with a player on Mizusawa for the most engaging interactions. Chihaya and Rion are both second-year girls aiming for greatness, but Rion seems more emotionally detached  like her Ice Queen coach more concerned with the future success of the team than meting out glory to her players. We say “seems” because her quick little evil smirk may portend an inner fire to match or exceed Chihaya’s.

Nishida and Suzuki are both emotional players, but Nishida is playing to avenge his anguish over his past losses, while Suzuki is playing to avenge his twin brother’s. Taichi going after the other captain is his way of stepping up his game. If he loses, he won’t be surprised, but if he wins, it may change his luck, not just with karuta, but with Chihaya, who he may believe loves Arata more because he’s a better player. Ryoga also resembles Arata, but is obsessed with boob size, lamenting that the busty Kana-chan isn’t playing (she jammed a finger in her last match).

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Tsukuba and Ichimura are perhaps the least interesting match-up (both seem proud, strange, and have fox-eyes), while Tsutomu, who doubts he can win, nevertheless has a bunch of research against his emotional opponent Makoto to at least be able to shake up his game. Makoto has also just realized that while he used to believe the third-years loved Rion, in fact he’s the only one who seems to be, which irks him.

So that’s where we stand. A lot of possibilities for great action and drama await us in the episode(s) that cover the final itself. All we ask, ultimately, is that Mizusawa wins. Call us greedy (like Chihaya!), but we want a reward for following the show this far. Anything less than a national championship will be a huge disappointment…and will annoy us.


Rating: 9 (Superior)

Stray Observations:

  • There was so much to cover with the match setup, we nearly forgot to mention the Arata/Shinobu B-plot. Arata wants more than anything to watch something Shinobu thinks is a silly waste of time. She even looks down on mighty Fujisaki, who are goofing off in the hall. The episode has us believe she doesn’t care and is headed home until the last minute, when she appears at the match. We kinda doubt she’s doing this to encourage the other teams and players present, but rather to try to understand better what Arata is so keen to watch. She also strips down to her skivvies, which…isn’t as exciting as it sounds.
  • There’s something desperately cute about Kana reciting poetry at the moon, then asking a poetic question to her coach in a super-sobby voice.
  • For the match, a Level 7 Certified Reader will read. She sounds awesome, and the show makes sure we understand how awesome with the visuals that accompany her voice. But will subtle nepotism come into play, as she’s Rion’s grandma? Coach
  • Sakurazawa  may seem cold, but she’s doing what all great coaches do: keep an eye on the future and play the long game. It’s because of her and people like her that Fujisaki has its reputation. Will Mizusawa’s team endure after its members graduate?
  • The ep was replete with great close-up shots, some of which we’ve posted to our Tumblr.