Chihayafuru 2 – 13

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It’s hard to do a sports episode any better than that one.

Whatever your feelings about the direction Chihayafuru has gone this season, in the last two weeks I’ve think we’ve seen the worst and best sides of that change in focus.  Coming off that rare stumble that made me feel more than ever than Chihayafuru had well and truly lost a step this season, this episode marks a return to form – not in a harkening back to the series as it was in the first season, but an example of the very best it can be as the show it’s clearly become in the second.

It’s funny that my initial reaction was that ep was a kind of official declaration that Chihayafuru was now a full-on sports shounen, because the series it most reminded me of this week was Ookiku Furikabutte.  That, of course, is another genre-straddling series that looks like a shounen, plays like a josei (or even shoujo) and is classified as a seinen – and seinen may be the one major genre tag I’ve never seen applied to Chihayafuru.  And you know, it kinds of fits – there are definite seinen elements to this show – but more than anything Chihayafuru remains a series that can’t be limited by any genre classification.

In an avalanche of series premieres this week it certainly feels good to immerse myself in a show that I know as well as any, where I feel as if the characters are family.  While I could have done without the 3-minute recap and the irritating cutaways to the loser trio with the cameras, everything else was spot-on – this episode was blisteringly tense and loaded with great character drama.  Megumu really blossomed as a screen presence this week (continuing S2 Chihayafuru’s Oofuri-like trend of intense focus on the opposition) as her situation began to take on a nuance and shading it hadn’t before.  There were three lines of dialogue that I felt especially framed her character’s role in the story:

“I’m not interested in becoming Queen.”
“This is a team event.  So why am I the only one saying anything?”
“I have to beat you now.”

Just who is Megumu, and what drives her?  I was very interested to hear her say she wasn’t interested in being Queen – that indifference towards ambition seems to be a common thread uniting many of the elite players in Chihayafuru, a reflection of the intense pressure trying to rise to the top of such a mentally demanding and fundamentally lonely sport requires.  Yet she plays on a team that was basically founded in the first place to showcase her talent and help her become Queen.  She obviously feels the weight of that on her shoulders, her teammates constant deference only adding to it.  And just as obviously we see her motivated by the newly unflappable nature of Chihaya – and by her talent as well.  It’s Chihaya’s unspoken “I will be Queen some day” demeanor that finally goads Megumu into committing all of herself to crushing her opponent.

But this is a new Chihaya, a player who doesn’t allow herself to be buffeted constantly by the currents of emotion and surges of momentum around her.  She still lacks subtle analytical skills, but she’s far more self-aware than ever before – and aware of her opponent as well.  She’s stronger in every way, and calm in the face of intense pressure is the greatest source of increased strength.  She’s able to step back and see the vulnerabilities in Megumu’s game, the minute hesitation her lack of commitment causes.  “Megumu-chan is me.” she whispers to herself.  “She’s the player I’d be if someone hadn’t taught me better.”

The matches play out with a magnificent sense of tension, the momentum flowing back and forth like a Newton’s Cradle, urged along by the brilliant use of BGM (much of which is newly composed for the second season).  Most of the focus is on Cihaya – with Harada-sensei right behind her – and Megumu’s battle, which comes complete with intense disputes over cards (Chihaya proves she still hasn’t mastered the skill, yet she has mastered the ability to get past those unnerving moments).  As has been too often the case this season there’s a sadly lacking focus on the other players, but the sense is that most of the matches are close.  Nishida is struggling badly against Akashi’s other Class A player, who finally steps up to vocally urge her team forward when she sees Megumu struggling – which, ironically, pisses Megumu off and drives her to reassert her own dominance.

The one gaping hole in the drama is Taichi, who continues to be far outside the major events taking place and seemingly more and more plagued by self-doubt.  At this rate any recovery for his arc this season is going to be difficult to pull off without feeling contrived, because he’s been an unimportant character for almost the entire season.  There’s an interesting moment between Tsutomu and Sumire, though, as he proves his resourcefulness by actually figuring something useful out from her inane scouting reports (though this brief moment is the only focus his match gets), and a spark of something seemingly flies between them when their eyes meet (hurry up, Kana!).  There’s also a very quiet but truly magnificent moment when we get a close-up of Akashi’s coach having one of his frequent breakdowns and the camera catches The Empress’ face as she reacts – so subtle yet amazingly real, Madhouse showing off their truly superb talent with facial animation.

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  1. i

    I just rewatched oofuri this week (a time wasting habit before.finals but it spurs me on). I also think the two have shown similarities but I think oofuri handles the view of both sides much better. In chihayafuru it feels more like an attempt to show different kinds of karuta players than a genuine match and all the matches before this could have easily been packed into one focussing more on komano.

    The match with megumu though was as intense as any in oofuri except the cut aways in oofuri were a lot better because those three creeps wouldn't be allowed in oofuri.

    On taichi i expected a more hidden transformation one that will come out of the blue to shock chihaya and take her attention away from arata. Also i don't think we'll be getting the queen/meisei qualifiers this season just because of how much of this tournament is left to adapt. Hope for an s3

  2. m

    Surprised you brought that up. Oofuri and Chihayafuru are the only sports anime/manga I've read and watched before. (Apart from Slam Dunk but that's a childhood classic)

    You can feel they're both equally as character focused as much as sport focused, and they make it hard to root for just one particular team.

    Here's hoping for a third season of Oofuri!

  3. H

    New episode review up? Wait guys I got this, ahem "where the heck is Harada-sensei?!"
    Okay, now that we've gotten that out of the way, I really do hope this match gets finished up soon, sure it's great (and it's been awesome to see how the rest of the room has slowly started watching their match) but I really just want to see if Misuzawa advances or not. And I laughed when I saw that screenshot of the Empress, I was watching the show expecting them to show a cut like that and somehow missed it, I swear I think that coach is from a shonen show with how he keeps going on about youth.

  4. Harada-sensei is happily crouching behind Chihaya in astral form, hand on her shoulder and whispers in her ear.

  5. i

    That could be taken as he's a creepy old man with a thing for airhead highschool girls. Lol

  6. i

    I miss Taichi too, but I suspect the focus will shift to him more for the individual tournament, as that's where we'll be able to see real growth from him. –And seriously, if he doesn't make Class A, I'm gonna throw a brick thru my TV. ;_;

    Team matches have always been his strong suit tho, so it sort of makes sense to focus on the others for now. Speaking of, has Taichi ever LOST a game in a team match? I'm trying to remember one but I can't think of any…

  7. K

    Yeah I think Taichi actually has won all his team matches so far but I am not 100% sure either. If he hasn't won them all he has won most.

    And also think Taichi will shine in the individual matches since it is another chance for him to become Team A.

  8. r

    I thought their fight will end within this episode…-_-; But still a great ep!

    Lol @ Harada sensei popping out of no where! XD And I agree!!! I need a huuuge dose of Taichi now!! 0_o Although I'm honestly satisfied since he still appeared. And as far as I'm concerned, I think I haven't seen him lost any team matches yet…? Mostly Tsukuba and Kana lost their game if I'm not mistaken?

    Hopefully, we'll see a good satisfying conclusion next ep… (I hope so >_<)

  9. m

    my take for the change in pace is the change in focus of character. as much as taichi is a rollercoaster of emotions (hence, the brilliance of the first season), chihaya is simple and straightforward. this may be why this season is so straightforwardly shounen, there's only so much chihaya thinks of – becoming queen, by overcoming her opponents.

    i still want to see more taichi too. and nishida, it's time they give him so exposure and closure

    omg, i miss harada-sensei. with his lack of screen time he can almost win hisoka with the influence he makes with each of them

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