Whatever genre you want to lump this series in with – and I’m past worrying about it – my personal view is that it does an amazing number of things well. That’s been obvious for a while, but it’s pretty remarkable how much the show was able to accomplish this week. This is how you do a sports episode, that’s for sure – it was edge-of-the-seat tension from start to finish, and the emotional peaks were incredibly intense (especially at the end of the Class B match). Not only that, though, but it really involved me in the mechanics of a sport I still don’t understand very well – and even made those mechanical aspects understandable by the end. For the first time and in my own small way, this episode made me feel like I get Karuta.
Both of these final matches were tough to watch, because they involved characters I’ve come to love competing against each other. The results ended up being exactly what I thought they’d be, because that’s what made sense from a dramatic standpoint. They were never tipped off though, and I remained in doubt until the very end of both matches. Of the two, the Class D match was really closer to a “no lose” situation – both players would be advancing, and neither of them probably expected to win the Saitama Tournament. And they both did themselves proud, sticking to their style of game and overcoming their bad habits. Kana relaxed and kept her form fundamentally strong, and Tsutomu never gave up right until the very end, even devising the very clever strategy of grouping all his remaining cards together late in the game, facing an eight-card deficit. The fact that the two of them are as well-matched as any pairing I’ve seen in anime lately softens the blow too, and the affection between them was clear after the match ended.
Though Chihaya wasn’t even paying attention (which broke Taichi’s heart a little) the Class B match was more intense – and ultimately heartbreaking. The stakes were higher, the pressure harsher, and it was as close as possible. The entire match went down to the last card, making it effectively a contest of pure luck – defend the one card you have left and you have a 50-50% chance depending on whose card is read first. Except Taichi didn’t play it that way – he remembered every single dead card that was left, and used that to get inside of Nishida’s head, attacking as dead card after dead card was read the and suspense ratcheted up to unbearable levels. In the end it was Nishida who was, as Sakura would say, “Lucky!” – it was his card that was read, and he who moved up to Class A.
I fully understand the dramatics of the situation, but my heart was shattered for Taichi yet again. I don’t think it’s possible to work harder or want it more than he did, and the worst thing is that he really deserved the win. He was the aggressor at the end, his memory was superior (so was Tsutomu’s, interestingly), and it was his grasp of the remaining cards that would have given him the win if only he’d had a tiny amount of luck. It really feels as if Taichi is destined to be a tragic character start to finish in this story – always to smile, to support the others, to be the gracious loser and get back to work. In Karuta and life, it’s my great fear that Taichi is simply never going to be rewarded for all the hard work he does and the endless time he spends being a supportive friend – both to Chihaya and the team. What’s really sad is that he deserves better – he deserves to be in Class A, and he deserves not to have Arata swoop in out of nowhere and take Chihaya away from him. Yet in the manga if not the anime, I suspect that’s exactly what’s going to happen – because that seems to be Taichi’s lot in life, the good guy who’s always there when you need him. Good on Nishida for fighting his way back to Class A, and for finally calling Chihaya out on the insensitive “Meatbun” and “Desk-kun” nonsense – and for accepting that it’s just how she is. He’s a good guy and a great character – but the way that match ended still gutted me.
So now the drama turns to the upcoming Meiji qualifiers, which we know Arata has decided to attend after seeing Nishida and Taichi’s names atop the results from Saitama. I think both names mean something to him – Nishida because he was his rival as a child, and Taichi because- well, you know. I’m not sure if there are other chances for Taichi to advance in rank before the Meiji, and that’s certainly an important element in the plot – Taichi vs. Arata at Karuta would be quite a dramatic highlight. But to be honest I care more about the personal side of things, and what will happen when Arata comes back into Chihaya and Taichi’s life. It was a bittersweet moment (and one that brought this writer precipitously close to a tear or two) when Chihaya took the sleeping Taichi’s head and rested it on her shoulder on the way home, a gesture that contrasts strongly with the prior episode’s scene on the train where Taichi couldn’t bring himself to take the sleeping Chihaya’s hand. He always thinks too much, and she is, as Nishida says, an “airhead”. But in each case those are strengths as well as weaknesses, and it makes me feel as if Chihaya and Taichi are as perfectly matched as Tsutomu and Kana-chan. I don’t care whose card was read first in the match, and I don’t care who wins Chihaya’s heart when the manga ends – as long as Chihayafuru is around, Tuesdays will always be Taichi Tuesdays to me…