Chihayafuru 2 – 10

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Well, Team Chihayafuru managed to drag out the much-anticipated meeting at least one more week.

For better or worse, I’ve never been able to predict just where Chihayafuru was going from week to week this season.  It’s fair to say that 10 episodes in, not one of them has gone precisely as I’ve expected.  From the initial focus on Sumire (especially) and Tsukuba at the expense of the returning cast to the unusual tournament opponents to Arata getting his own episode with no Chihaya or Taichi interaction whatsoever, nothing has gone predictable.  So while I assumed we’d be getting our grand reunion this week after a short delay, that it should prove otherwise shouldn’t in itself be much of a surprise.

I’m guessing (though maybe not) that I’ll be in the minority in saying Arata should be suspended for the individual tournament.  And I give him full credit for saying so himself – Arata is nothing if not scrupulous about the integrity of the game his grandfather dominated.  The fact is that while Arata’s cheating didn’t materially affect the outcome of a match, that’s not to say it couldn’t have – and the fact that he was goaded into it really doesn’t factor into the equation because he still should have known better.  It was a very serious violation (one committee member said it had “never happened before”) – and the fact that the tournament committee pretty much went straight to favoritism as a pretext to give him a slap on the wrist proves it.  Suo is an embarrassment to them with his politically incorrect and very un-Japanese individualism, so unfitting for the face of a sport so rooted in the old traditions.  Arata is a shining beacon of hope, a clean-cut and handsome descendant of a beloved Meijin.  Clearly, it’s important to the world of competitive Karuta that he do well.

But you know, none of that really matters, and Arata knows it better than anyone.  He should be subject to the same punishment as anyone, but we don’t live in that sort of world.  I was more impressed with Arata this week than I have been in a while, not just for his honesty with the committee but with himself.  He admitted what’s been obvious for a while – his aversion to team play is mostly a matter of jealousy and loneliness.  He simply can’t associate team Karuta with anyone but Chihaya and Taichi – for now at least. I admire his reaction to his own mistake but I suspect Shinobu’s blackmail will seal the decision in his favor.  She’s yet another factor trying to draw Arata back into connectedness with the world, which is certainly more important in the long-run than anything that happens here.  Her motives are obvious in the sense that she clearly sees Arata as both a rival when she has few who interest her and a target for some payback.  But it’s hard not to imagine there’s something more there.  As for the Queen herself, she continues to be used as a bit of an outlandish figure in bizarre situations this season – often to very good comic effect, but not offering much in terms of real development for her character.

As for the Mizusawa gang, they continue to be at the center of much drama.  The weird opponent this week is a gang of straight-laced, glasses-wearing brainiacs (“Five Desk-kuns!” thinks Kanade) from one of Japan’s top academic high schools, Mioka.  In fact Taichi recognizes three of them as the winners of a televised quiz show for high-school students – the reason, in fact, that they became involved in Karuta was as practice for such events.  But their ace, astronomy student Nakayama-kun, has fallen hard for the romance of Karuta and now plays it for his own sake.  These guys aren’t as iconoclastic as some the opponents we’ve seen lately, but they are odd enough to consternate the still-inexperienced Mizusawa gang.  They rely on their memorization and deduction to win, placing their cards randomly and moving them after virtually every card is read.

The two parts of this match that are most interesting are the reactions of the Mizusawa kids to this challenge, and the interaction between the Empress and the Mioka advisor.  At first she’s a bit star-struck, but soon realizes he sees Karuta as nothing but a training tool for “more important” things  – and her admiration quickly turns to righteous (if hidden) outrage.  What’s especially telling is how the players react, as we’re given yet another lesson in Karuta strategy.  The strategy that works in quiz shows – hit the buzzer in the middle of the question, because you’ll get another syllable (at least) for free before the reader can stop – “lag” – works in Karuta, too. But as you would expect, Nishida with his experience and Taichi who relies on memorization and strategy to win are least effected by these tactics, and win rather easily.  Tsukuba is rattled and seemingly exhausted, and loses handily – and surprisingly, Kana, though she devises a strategy to avoid trying to memorize placements, loses a narrow match.

It all comes down to Chihaya and Nakayama, and while she’s the strongest of any Mizusawa player she’s naturally the most thrown off by this strategy.  When the board is full of cards, the constant movement throws her already dicey memorization skills into disarray and nullifies her speed advantage.  But as the board shrinks, more and more cards become one-syllable cards and memorization becomes easier and easier, and she begins to turn the tide in her favor (and her astronomical sex appeal doesn’t hurt either).  Again, we see a surprising (and welcome) increase in self-awareness for Chihaya this season, even if it doesn’t extend to romantic feelings.  She becomes aware of what’s happening to her, and manages to control her discomfort with Nakayama’s playing style and be patient enough for the game to turn around.  Which, of course, it does – and though the 3-2 margin was closer than one might have expected, a win is still a win and Mizusawa moves on to the elimination round.

We’re still faced with some serious questions heading into that next phase.  There’s the matter of whether Arata will be allowed to play, and now Sumire has unwittingly tipped off Chihaya and Taichi that he’s present. Taichi’s motives for so fiercely admonishing Chihaya not to worry about Arata while there are matches to be played are obviously complicated.  He’s jealous, certainly, but also quite right in thinking that Arata’s presence is capable of causing a major distraction – Arata thought so too – but is he more worried about himself or Chihaya?  Then there’s the matter of the lineup, which seems a non-issue especially after Tsukuba asks to be replaced by Tsutomu.  But Nishida, surprisingly, argues that the team should keep the same lineup, which means leaving Tsutomu out.  It’s always seemed possible that we were headed towards Tsutomu being a non-factor as a player, but I’m surprised (again) to see it potentially coming to a head this soon.  I’ll be very interested to hear Nishida’s reasoning, since the evidence on the ground – Komano-kun’s experience, Tsukuba’s weariness, and the fact that Tsutomu can do more with the information he’s scouted than anyone – seems to support the notion that he should be playing.  Is it possible that Nishida is casting doubt on Tsutomu’s desire as a player?

*I saw this cute little fellow all over Otsu during my trip in January.  He seems to be a mascot for the local tourist association.

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  1. S

    "The fact is that while Arata’s cheating didn’t materially affect the outcome of a match, that’s not to say it couldn’t have"
    I know that it potentially "could have" affected the outcome, but it should be taken into account that Arata wasn't even able to see during the match until he knew his teammates had both lost, essentially canceling out any worry of changing the outcome. These were just some guys who wanted to actually have a chance to play a game. I think Arata deserves a slap on the wrist, but nothing so extreme as keeping him from the only reason that he's actually there. Those are just my thoughts on it at least.
    Great episode though, I really liked seeing into Kana's mind a bit and learning some of her methods of memorization. I'm also rather eager to learn what exactly Nishida's reasons are for keeping the current lineup.

  2. Arata only took his glasses off when he realized his sensei was watching. Would he have intentionally tanked his match if that hadn't been the case? The fact is, we'll never know.

  3. S

    Hah, I thought that mascot was supposed to be Queen-figurine, from her chubby days. I'm guessing Nishida is in fact going to say something mean and stupid, but the team will learn from it.

    anyway, my line-up guess is

    and, if Chihayafuru really want to throw a curve-ball, then:
    Chihaya-Kana-Taichi-Sumire-Desk-kun, depending just how mean Nishida is.

  4. Try as I might, I can't think of any reason for including Sumire that would hold water. She simply isn't nearly as good a player as Tsutomu or Tsukuba, plain and simple.

  5. K

    "I saw this cute little fellow all over Otsu during my trip in January. He seems to be a mascot for the local tourist association."

    I remember seeing him exactly where they showed it in the series. I walked by the building when I was at Omi Jingu but could not recall that was where the karuta games were played (I was a bit in awe and overwhelmed).

    If I had remembered I would have taken a picture but I guess this is an excuse to go back.

  6. l

    I'm not convinced that Arata will compete for 3 reasons.

    First, if the mangaka wants to delay the reunion for story-telling reasons, she's set up the perfect excuse to do so.

    Second, this could be the tournament where Taichi earns his A class rank. But I just can't see him winning an individual tournament knowing that Arata is on the premises. That's simply too much of a distraction for him.

    Third, given how much the mangaka loves and respects karuta, I can't see her letting a player, even one as well-intentioned as Arata was, break the rules without receiving a significant punishment. To do so would show a lot of disrespect to the game. It maybe that Arata makes the decision himself and refuses to show up for the competition even though the officials made the less honorable decision and allow him to play. This would show Arata's respect for the game despite having been the one to break the rules before.

    When I think about those 3 points, I just don't see Arata competing or even attending the individual tournament.

  7. A

    Not necessarily.

    Since it is neither necessary for a sculptor to be beautiful in order to create beautiful art, nor is it necessary for the moralist to possess the very virtue she theorizes about, then the mangaka does not need to be an politically correct person to write great stories or only write ham-handed, didactic lessons.

  8. T

    I'm starting to get a bit bugged about Kana getting the short stick in every tournament. There is absolutely no reason why they couldn't let her win that match, and I would argue it would have made far more sense to have Kana win the match than Chihaya. That would have been a much better ending too because you could have had Chihaya lose and then she would have looked over to see that the team pulled out the win despite the struggle. It would have been a nice, and appropriate, twist.

  9. H

    I'm crossing my fingers and hoping that Kana moves up to B rank with this tournament, especially since the show has been, well, showing that she has really improved in the game and I'm surprised she hasn't won many of her matches so far this season.

  10. I don't see Kana getting the short stick. She's won more often than not – more than Tsutomu for sure. When the Kanto tournament came down to 4 luck of the draws, Suetsugu gave her the win and Tsutomu the loss. When they played each other in the Class D final, she won. I think she does at least as well as a player at her level could be expected to do.

  11. T

    Also, part of the greatness of the series is to see the growth in the players. But, despite the growth, the results have seemed to stay the same. Taichi continues to be B-class, Chihaya continues to be the best on the team, and more sadly Desk-kun and Kana continue to be routinely ignored and remain 5th and 4th place on the team respectively, routinely losing matches. It would be nice to see their improvement as well.

  12. Seriously, you don't see the growth of Chihaya as a player this season? Once you're Class A that doesn't mean you stop improving. She's advanced tremendously in terms of maturity.

    As for Taichi, not having read the manga it's my guess that his quest for Class A is going to be one of the 2 or 3 top dramatic spines of the season. It's obvious that he's too good to be stuck in B – it's a major plot point. He's the only Mizusawa player undefeated this season, while the two Class A's have lost matches.

    I think the hard truth is, Kana and Tsutomu have already identified other goals for themselves in Karuta that don't involve being great players. They simply aren't driven the way the top three are. Tsukuba is clearly going to be stepping in as a serious player with serious ambition and ability, and it's possible Sumire could as well, though it's too early to say.

  13. H

    But Kana wants to be a reader and they said last season that you have to be class A to do so, clearly she's gotta move up the ranks if she's ever going to do that (hence why I think we might see her go up to class B this season, to keep that subplot moving).

  14. This is true, but it still sucks some of the urgency out of her quest, as being a great player isn't really the point. I agree she'll move up to B this season, and I think she's doing just fine competitively right now.

  15. R

    I am with Enzo — I think Arata should be punished regardless of his intention. He is experienced enough to know that he breaks the rule and is well aware of the result. If the committee chooses not to punish Arata, it only imposes unfairness to others — the creditability of the committee and the worthiness of the rules that everyone needs to follow are in question. If there is a problem with the rules, the committee can improve or amend but after the incident with Arata. I am saying this for not because of Arata but for what I believe in. However, this is only what I believe in in real life — I am keen to find out what comes next to Arata that will still make the story believable…

    I have to be honest, and call me a Taichi fan…I will happily admit. I am longing to see Taichi back in the centre stage. I find that episodes that focused on Taichi the most compelling and emotionally gripping. It seems to me that the last few episodes tried to cover a lot. While it's moving the story along, executed well in each episode that showed a bit of the characters and Karuta, it seems to lack the focus on one emotionally impact that wows. That happened in season 1 a lot when Taichi was the focus…and this is what I am longing to see…

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