A couple of weeks ago someone might have joked about this entire season taking place at Omi Jingu with the national high school championships, and I would have gotten a good laugh about it. But now I’m not so sure. The pacing has been quite a bit slower than it was in the first season already, but many more episodes like this one – five minutes for background on the creepy losers taking photos of a minor character? – and we might just be looking at that seemingly silly notion becoming reality. We managed to get all of six cards read in this match, which is only the semi-finals of the team event – then there’s the individual event after that, which – given all the dramatic permutations that are possible just in the Class A portion – is likely to take up several episodes on its own.
It’s a testament to just how good Chihayafuru is that it can stage an episode like this and still be very entertaining, without any feeling of dragging. But it’s definitely not the emotional powerhouse it was in the first season for me, for reasons that I laid out last week having no idea that this episode would exemplify them in such dramatic fashion. I don’t know whether this shift in focus and pacing takes place in exactly the same fashion in the manga, and it’s hard to blame Morio-sensei for following it faithfully if that’s the case. But given how much is left undone in what until very recently I felt confident in believing were the major plot arcs, it seems obvious we’re not going to get anywhere near closure on any of them in 25 episodes. Hopefully there’s going to be a third season, because if there isn’t Chihayafuru is probably going to feel very much like an unfinished story in anime form.
Points for consistency – every single opponent this season has been developed in much detail, either in terms of the team or its key individual. And now we finally have one who’s truly significant enough to warrant that development in Ousaka Megumu, a player serious enough to have been the Western finalist in the Queen qualifiers before being taken out by Yumi in a memorable match from the first season. Megumu was an afterthought then but she’s in full focus now – and she managed to make me dislike her pretty much immediately with her casual arrogance. The opponents on Chihayafuru are nearly always oddballs (so are the heroes, of course) and often do unsympathetic things, but this show is remarkably good at humanizing them. They have some work to do with Megumu – we’ve seen questionable sportsmanship but rarely anything quite so irritatingly improper as her “They should just let us play the final now.” Confidence is one thing, but casually disrespecting the opponent (she also sits down in front of Fujisaki instead of Mizusawa at first) so openly crosses any line of sportsmanship you might care to draw.
I’ll be honest – when this match was set up, I was sort of hoping Chihaya would lose because the cycle of every team match boiling down to her individual one is getting a bit repetitive – it would be fun to see everything come down to Tsutomu or Nishida for once. Well, no longer – I’m really hoping Chihaya pounds some respect into Ousaka. And Chihaya’s maturity is perhaps the most welcome change from the first season – we see signs of it just about every week. She doesn’t panic when Ousaka takes the first four cards (although in truth Chihaya seems to fall behind in every match), even when one of them was a card she was camping. Not only that, she remembers Komano-kun’s advice about scouting the cards based on the opponent’s name, and remembers details from Ousaka’s performance in the Queen qualifier. She could use a little work on now showing her emotional state so openly on her face – that often puts her at a competitive disadvantage – but in terms of the emotional state itself, what a difference a year makes. She’s patient, calm and even though she’s irritated by Megumu’s poor behavior she doesn’t pointlessly rage about it – she channels it into a stronger desire to prove Megumu wrong.
As for the rest of the matches, well – there’s not much to say because we have no idea how any of the boys are doing (only that Nishida is sweating profusely, but that’s normal). We do at least see that Kanade is up by four cards – and indeed, that she’s impressing the hell out of an exhausted Tsukuba by performing so well despite having played every match and lost two by agonizingly close margins. And Kana also delivers the finest moment of the episode, where she and Chihaya bond over a shared memory of the “When winds blow” card – one that has special meaning for both of them. In this small way we see that Kana-chan has subtly influenced Chihaya’s Karuta – to see the meaning in the poem and not just the syllables that comprise it doesn’t come naturally to Chihaya, but here we see it as a source of inspiration for her.