There was certainly plenty of high drama in this week’s episode, though even with Bishie #2’s return there still isn’t much overt romance. Chihaya seems to be the last person in the world to realize that the most compelling love triangle since <em>True Tears</em> exists here – Taichi and Arata certainly know it. The rest of the team members seem to have sussed it out, and the audience is clearly in on the secret. But for Chihaya, there simply isn’t room in her still immature consciousness for an overt acknowledgement of romantic feelings, whatever they might be. And the complicated non-romantic feelings that exist between the main trio (and the other Mizusawa team members) are plenty powerful enough to drive the story forward.
It’s an axiom of sports shounen (which is a big part of this series’ genetic code) that the team can’t go all the way on their first try, so it was no surprise that Mizusawa fell short in their first trip to Nationals. I was a little surprised it all went down as fast as it did, though, with Chihaya falling ill in the first match and the rest of the team not even getting any camera time as they won two matches but bowed out of the tournament. I would have loved to have seen Tsutomu’s first or even second win on camera, for example, but it didn’t happen that way. That certainly represents a triumph for him, establishing him as a contributing member of the team even as they tried to use him as a sacrificial pawn. I’d love to know more details of how the matches played out – who won, who lost, and how – but I doubt we’ll get that. Whatever on-screen drama we get from the tournament will have to come from the individual event, which Arata apparently isn’t entered in.
The team tournament pretty much confirmed what’s been Chihaya’s obvious weakness as a player. She’s simply too much a victim of her own emotions, getting too high and falling too low. When she loses it’s invariably her own doing, and this was another example, as she became so overexcited and anxious that she literally made herself ill. It fits right in with her open, excitable and erratic temperament – as pointed out by the Empress’ observation that “She looks like a beautiful girl because she’s not talking or moving around!” Pretty much Chihaya’s only states of being seem to be either on fire or unconscious, and that’s both her strength and her vulnerability as a Karuta player. With time – and timely coaching from Harada-sensei (and Arata?) she’ll need to grow through that.
As for Arata, we finally closed the loop on his exit and eventual re-embrace of Karuta, and it was every bit as heartbreaking a story as you’d expect. We knew some of the details already, but the fact that it was his Grandfather (Arimoto Kinryuu) that encouraged him to leave him alone and go to the Fukui tournament just makes it that much much poignant and painful. I thought the scenes between the two – and the portrayal of Grandpa’s gradual decline – were really well done. But in the end, whatever guilt he feels, Arata had to realize that his Grandfather would have wanted him to keep playing, and – as his old teacher pointed out – Master <strike>Sai’s</strike> Wataya’s <strike>Go</strike> Karuta best lives on in <strike>Hikaru</strike> Arata, and there could be no better expression of love than to keep playing the game they both love. And it doesn’t hurt that Chihya and even Taichi, who seem like the closest friends he’s ever had, are still a part of that world.
There should be some fireworks in the individual tournament. I assume Nishida will play, but I wonder if Taichi will. We know “Sadist” Sudo is there, as well as The Queen, who made her appearance in a comically epic crossing of paths with Chihaya on the Shrine steps. All of the major characters are going to be tested here, even if not on the tatami – certainly Taichi will, as he watches Chihaya and Arata interact for the first time in four years. The expression on his face as he saw Arata for the first time, then realized he could entrust the unconscious Chihaya to him says a lot about his growth as a person – though that should have been obvious enough already. I suspect he’ll handle himself well, though it won’t be easy for him.