I won’t lie to you – I’m pretty drained emotionally, and I haven’t even written this post yet. Mondays were amazing this season, and I’ve had to summarize my farewells to four really excellent and totally different series in the past 24 hours. Natsume Yuujinchou Shi delivered the strongest emotional hit with its superb finale, but there’s the likelihood that there will be another season at least. Chihayafuru was always going to be the hardest ending for me – and it was. I actually delayed watching the finale for a few hours, just because I didn’t want to face the prospect of it ending.
So as it stands, the dominant emotion for me is this: I simply don’t want it to be over. These are my friends – it’s rare that an anime can make you feel that way, but this one did. These are wonderful characters and I’m going to miss them terribly. Even though there were no overtly emotional crescendos in this episode, I was on the edge of tears for the entire second half – every gesture, every smile, every group shot was a lump in the throat. To be honest the last anime I felt that way in watching the finale was Cross Game, and in that case I knew, at least, we’d be getting an ending. Not so here – but as it turns out, the episode was very satisfying without needing to manufacture one.
I really wasn’t sure what Asaka-sensei and Madhouse were going to try and do here. I know where things stand in the manga, and while I won’t go into details it’s 90 chapters in and not close to concluding – so any true “end” would have to be original. That never really felt right and I didn’t truly think Madhouse would go that route, and I’m glad they didn’t. But even so, there was no obvious stopping point, and the risk of an emotional letdown based on the relatively flat penultimate ep, with the focus on the comparatively detached Master/Queen matches. Well, they got those out of the way pretty quickly, with the main point this week to show us the true power of the Master, Hisashi Suo – and the impact he has on the main cast. He seems cold and cruel, and to delight in toying with his opponents like a cat with its prey. But there’s another side to Suo, a face he doesn’t show – a deep love for the Japanese language that seems to drive his ability to link his soul to that of the reader. But this is not a face that the Master cares to show the world.
Suo claims to have 28 one-syllable cards – and indeed, shows an incredible ability to anticipate the next syllable from the way the reader pronounces the previous – he can picture the image in their head when they use the word “Like” for example, and from this determine the next. I don’t know how realistic this superhuman “game sense” is, but it’s certainly true that Karuta players have varying abilities to “read the reader”. This, surely, is why Nishida was so intent on having Chihaya watch Suo, because her game sense is almost as strong as his. And little Tsutomu comes through in the clutch here, intently studying his notes and determining that Chihaya herself has 20 one-syllable cards – though of course, she herself didn’t know that. Chihaya is deeply touched (so was I) that Tsutomu worked to hard to do this, just for her, but that’s the bond that’s grown between the members of the Mizusawa Karuta Club.
Watching the Master impacts the others, too. Perhaps the emotional peak of the episode of the episode for was when Taichi called Arata after the Master final – it was such a beautiful full circle moment, and an acknowledgement of how much those two share, how much there is about the other that no one else could understand. Arata shares some wisdom from his grandfather, that “You don’t need game sense to play Karuta. You just need to take cards faster than your opponent.” For each young man those words hold their own meaning, and as Arata settles down to a game with Maruo – who I sense is back in the game primarily to help Arata challenge the Master, and not for his own chances – Taichi remembers the admonishment from Nishida about not practicing his swing (and embraces the importance of gaining a mental advantage). For him, it’s about embracing the weakest part of his game, and to become stronger in the process.
As Chihaya wrestles with what Tsutomu has told her, Kana dreams her own dreams of becoming a Class A Reader and working the Queen matches one day. She surprises Chihaya as the latter is muttering Tsutomu’s notes aloud (“It’s all spoiled when she moves!”) and Chihaya breaks the news to her – in order to even begin acquiring reader experience points, you have to become a Class A player. So for now, Kana’s dreams intersect with the rest of the group, and they all share the same quest. And they have a true advocate in The Empress, who’s turned into a Lioness when it comes to her Karuta cubs – the orchestra professor has designs on their clubroom. After fiercely touting their successes and defending their status, she agrees to a stipulation that if they can recruit five new members in the new term, they can keep the room. And so we end as we began, with Chihaya – still dressed in track pants and a skirt and confusing and frightening besotted boys – putting up posters, and inviting us to come play Karuta…