Chihayafuru 2 – 14

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Team matches certainly present an interesting litany of choices for a sports mangaka, don’t they?

I can’t say I felt entirely confident about which way things would go this week on Chihayafuru, though I was certainly hoping the match with Akashi Girls Academy would be settled one way or the other without further delay.  What I definitely didn’t expect was the insert scene with Arata and Shinobu, as she wowed his “teammates” with her focus and breath control and he turned all his good-boy skills towards writing the best punishment essay ever.  There were some fascinating elements here, not least of which was her “casual” challenge to “play a match to kill time” – one Arata pointedly refused.  “I can’t play – this is a day for team matches.”  Arata definitely walks the walk when it comes to doing things properly – it might be taken to a slightly ridiculous extreme but he is who he is.  To Arata the notion of playing Karuta to kill time is unthinkable – and a reflection of just how bored Shinobu is with her lack of competition.

But the main event, of course, was the semi-final match – the Mizusawa-Akashi one to be precise, as the other one proved far less dramatic.  Hokuo loses decisively – and somewhat anti-climactically, truth be told – to Fujisaki, by a 4-1 score (no word on who their one winner was, though it seems likely to have been Amakasu-kun).  Even Sudou’s eyes have been on the other match, where the white-hot tension that was so palpable last week carries over to this episode.

For me, when Chihayafuru spends extended stretches of time focused on Karuta match play, the series is far better off when the camera focuses somewhere besides Chihaya from time to time.  As dramatic as her matches are (and Megumu’s match was no exception) there are five of them out there, and not only do I care about all of them, it’s not realistic to have every team match always come down to Chihaya’s individual one.  Thankfully, as the two aces continued their duel to the death, we did get our focus elsewhere at least a little.  Nishida lost quickly, as seemed likely, but Kana-chan quickly got that point back, and Taichi followed up with his own win soon after.  Interestingly, for all that self-doubt seems to be dragging him down this season, Taichi has been Mizusawa’s best and most consistent player – as far as we’ve seen I don’t believe he’s lost a match either at the Tokyo qualifiers or the Nationals at Omi Jingu.

With that it all comes down to two matches – the aces, and the unheralded.  The fascinating element about Chihaya’s match with Megumu is that each takes the cards the other is strongest at – Chihaya actually loses the “Impassionate Gods” card, remarkably, and it comes as she’s built a tiny lead in the endgame.  It seems obvious that with Megumu, it’s all about motivation.  She has tremendous talent, but unless there’s something urging her forward, she plays down to the level of the competition.  Having her pride wounded both by her teammate’s usurpation of the leadership role and by Chihaya attacking her comfort zone, Megumu showed why she was the West Representative – and why Chihaya, for all her progress, still has room to grow.

That applies to Chihaya as a teammate as well as a player, as she briefly lapses into the self-absorbed self-pity she often showed in S1 – and it’s only the intervention of Taichi and Kana that brings her around to realize that the entire tournament has come down to Tsutomu’s match, which itself has come down to a luck of the draw.  It’s great to see Tsutomu take center stage with the match on the line for a change, and he wins it in style by throwing caution to the wind after all the dead cards are read (I suspect only he and Taichi knew that was the case) and attacking his opponent’s card rather than protecting his own, and hoping.  Why?  Because his observations tell him that a “The” card comes up slightly more than half the time in a luck of the draw situation.  Hand it to Tsutomu for being fearless and believing in his methods – in truth, it’s really an issue of small sample size because in reality, a 50-50 is a 50-50 and there’s nothing more to his success than guessing right and getting lucky.

What I love about a team match like this is that it gives us the chance to see the complicated emotions at play in such a situation.  Megumu has just won what’s surely the most intense match she’s played in months, yet her team has lost – in her last match with them.  Chihaya has just been vanquished and on her precious personal card to boot, beaten with raw speed – yet her team has scored a glorious win.  Megumu is angry that she’s as sad as she is, and Chihaya dismayed that she’s not happier – yet their reactions are completely understandable.  This leads to the best moment between Chihaya and Taichi all season, and maybe the best moment period, as he clasps her hand – the one she’s clenched so hard that she’s digging her nails into her palm – and slowly, firmly unclenches it.  No words pass between them and he never even looks at her – it’s just another silent reminder that he knows her better than anyone and that she’s never, ever far from his thoughts.

So now we have a final between Mizusawa and Fujisaki, who’ve been set up as a kind of monstrous bogeyman of a team.  We know almost nothing about them except how feared they are, but we know they were able to beat a Hokuo team that beat Mizusawa, and to do so easily.  If this were a true shounen series of course, there’s almost no way Mizusawa could win the team final – the heroes are all second-years, after all, and must meet the requirement that they come close, fail, and come back to win as seniors.  Will that apply to Chihayafuru?  On paper, it’s hard to construct a realistic scenario where Mizusawa could beat a team as strong as Fujisaki seems to be, especially given that Kana is so exhausted that she seems ready to accede to Tsukuba’s suggestion that he replace her for the final.  But the remarkable thing is that Mizusawa has just won a match 3-2 in which both their Class A players lost.  They’re a strange group, and seemingly capable of pulling off the seemingly impossible – but both the empirical evidence and dramatic precedent seem to indicate that Fujisaki should carry the day.

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  1. i

    Forza Misazawa!

    This episode I think confirmed for me that this tournament will in all likelihood be what we watch for the remainder of the season. We still have the match with Fujisaki (2 episodes), a quick break in which Arata will meet with the gang (1 episode) and if Chihaya is to go further than last year and face either him or Shinobu then another (3-4) episodes plus any other big matches involving the rest of Misazawa, Arata, Shinobu and vanquished foes from the team battles.

    No way we'll get the Meijin/Queen in now so here's for season 3.

  2. a

    I appreciate how you discussed in the match and it's implications in detail. Although to be honest, that wasn't the highlight for me in this episode. We all speculated that it would be up to Tsutomu to win the team match and how Kana will end up winning as well. There was no surprise there but it's great how these two are shaping to become a good pillar for the team. What I really wanted to talk about were the gestures that went unnoticed.

    I love the scene wherein Taichi unfolds Chihaya's clenched fists. That was a really sweet gesture. It says so much. One of things that conveyed was how Chihaya does not have to torment herself for her lost. He understands how hard she is on herself, because he's also like that with himself. It also showed how much he cares about her since he's always watching out for her. I love Taichi as a character but as a potential love pair, I always believed Arata had the upper hand. For the first time, I felt Taichi really stepped out. It's in those moments where he only focuses on Chihaya where he shines. It's nice to see jealously in his face for once this season.

    As for the next match, this is just my speculation I also believe Mizusawa will definitely lose the match against Fujisaki. Let's face it, the national champions are no easy feat. They crushed Hokuo so easily that everyone else decided to watch the match between First Akaishi Girls vs Mizusawa instead. Even spectators were amazed with the progress of a no-name school has achieved. Personally, I think Fujisaki will become their next goal as a team. For the following year, they'll get even stronger so that one day, they can evenly match them. This year for Mizusawa is meant more for recognition of skills. That hey, there's a good team in Tokyo just waiting to be known.

    As for Tsukuba replacing Kana in the final match, it's great how this time it isn't driven by selfish desires to play but because he was genuinely worried about Kana's condition. Obviously, he'll lose but I'm hoping he got something out of the match against Akaishi. What I would love to see in him is he doesn't give up and throw away the match like he always does. It's disrespecting not only his opponent but also his team.

    Sorry for the long post Enzo, but it's been awhile since I commented some like this for Chihayafuru 😛

  3. m

    aww taichi (the moment was so beautifully animated, oh Madhouse)

    I still would complain about how nishida doesn't seem determined enough or strong for an A-class player, and that each episode is TOO short

  4. Thanks for the comment, Azure and Ishruns. Melodic, to me it's always seemed pretty obvious that in terms of ability, Taichi is stronger than Nishida. I think that's part of the problem – Taichi knows he's better than many Class A players out there. He continually wins his matches in team play. Yet he's never been able to get over the hump. So knowing he's better does him more harm than good, and the longer he goes without moving up the more pressure he puts on himself because of it.

  5. K

    Enzo, did you consider that Taichi has a chance to move up during the individual tournaments?

    Although I think even when Taichi movies up to Class A his struggles will not be over. After he moves up to Class A he will want to match up with the stronger Class A players.

  6. i

    I honestly think Arata vs Taichi will be the east and west Meijin match towards the end of the series, so Taichi has to hurry and get to Class A.

    @Kim does the National Tournament count as a tournament win when its only for highschoolers while the other tournaments are free for all?

  7. K

    I might be misremembering but I was pretty sure in the individual HS tournaments you are still divided by class and if you win your class you move up (if you are in B-D that is).

  8. m

    but i'm not comparing taichi to nishida, i just feel that nishida's mentality doesn't deserve him a top class in karuta. i mean… it should be pretty hard to make it there, though they never did mention approx how many players there are in class A
    but well, that may be a fault with the focus of chihayafuru. it's not concerning how he seems to lose matches a lot, but how we never see him grow

  9. Kim, I certainly know that's possible – but I don't think it contradicts anything I've said, does it?

  10. K

    @Enzo And I wasn't contradicting anything you said either. 🙂

    I know you were worried about Taichi's role this season based on previous posts and since you brought up his path to Class in this post, I just thought I would mention that possibility.

  11. i

    @Kim well in that case I guess that Taichi might move up this year.

    If the scene with Harada-sensei last season was the highlight of Taichi's growth then I think a tournament like this will be his one chance to rise just because its the first major individual event since that proclamation.

  12. L

    AFAIK, this tournament is considered official. So, yes you can move up the ladder. The possibility of Taichi going up to class A in this latter half would be a great moment for this season.

  13. K

    The final match coming down to Komano was just perfect to me. I think Chihayafuru really does a great job balancing all its characters. Chihaya might be the strongest player on the team but she isn't the team. And I think this episode highlighted that beautifully.

    As for whether they will win the finals at first I thought no because they are 2nd years and in true story fashion it might make sense to make them win next year. Of course that is bad for us anime fans because we might not get to see in animated.

    However I've been thinking we spent so much time on this team match (it's been longer than any other). We actually saw them play every match. In some ways I think having them win after that will actually make sense because it adds meaning to every match we saw. We won't just see them win, but we will see how they won.

    Well I hope I am right because I do want to see them win and I want to see it animated. 🙂

  14. e

    'This leads to the best moment between Chihaya and Taichi all season, and maybe the best moment period, as he clasps her hand – the one she's clenched so hard that she's digging her nails into her palm – and slowly, firmly unclenches it. No words pass between them and he never even looks at her – it's just another silent reminder that he knows her better than anyone and that she's never, ever far from his thoughts.'That's the spirit. Uncle Andre Grandier would be proud of you Taichi my boy ;).
    Well, I'm glad this match at least is over – and that Kanade and Tsutomu (best girl! 2nd best boy!) were the first and last seal to the team's comeback. Yeeeeee 8D – It was well managed nd I really like the combo karuta matches+bgm but I'm finding myself increasingly relieved whenever any non-match scene pops up honestly. The Arata and Shinobu breather was so much needed. And by now she's a mistress of the horror movie shots on top of feeeeeeeeling the cards.
    I don't know if Mizusawa will come out on top this year (and season) as a team, but so far it seems to me although we've been shown they're making progress quickly it's still too soon. *preparing for season 3 if any*

  15. R

    Tsutomu's winning was the moment that moved me…it felt like the moment when Mizusawa won the Tokyo tournament in S1. Taichi's unfolding the clenched hand of Chihaya was a long-awaited surprise. In such a simple gesture it said so much about Taichi and Chihaya — and of course it drew back the emotion that has left with us from S1.

    While I still like S1 better — it has a nice balance between the exciting Karuta matches and the emotional drama driven by its characters — S2 is still a very strong series setting high standards and playing them out consistently. While I longed for the moments focusing more on the characters, S2 never failed in glueing my eyes to the screen even when it's pretty much all about the matches, and I am happy to see the growth in Chihaya — which was lacking in S1.

    I don't expect Mizusawa to win — that will be quite against the realism that the show has displayed — but perhaps the match will build up something that will make the individual matches more exciting. Chances may be slim as how the series progresses, but I still hope for the moment when Taichi wins his seat in Class A. I guess I just crave for moments focusing on Taichi where the emotional display is the strongest.

  16. l

    I see arguments both for and against Mizusawa winning the tournament. Against are all the valid points everyone has mentioned. They're second years (mostly) who need that final victory in their third year before it's too late. Their opponent is a team who decimated the team that beat them at the regional. However, the for argument is that defending a title is said to be harder than winning the title in the first place. The only way the Mizusawa second years can defend a title in their third year is if they win this year. So I don't feel confident predicting a team winner for this year's national.

  17. d

    This is SPORTS SHOUNEN! In my view, I love the fact that the true hero of the team, Tsutomu, finally emerge from the shadows and gave the team the win they need to reach the finals. I'm still rooting for Mizusawa for a win in the finals but I don't think they will. Instead, I feel like they will focus more on the individual matches especially with Taichi and Chihaya. I am glad to see that Chihaya's growth isn't like a shounen hero and her growth seems realistic.
    As for the Arata and Shinobu scene, I was hoping to see a match between the two but I guess we will have to wait till later or maybe never. I'm glad to see the imagery of Shinobu sensing strong opponents clawing their way at her because she seems way too lonely even for a player and I really hope that either Arata or Chihaya will show her the merits of team Karuta.

  18. L

    I feel that Mizusawa will lose too. However, the thing about "going back the next year and we'll defeat you by then" seems to be quite moot since the frontrunners of Fujisaki are all third years unless they are keeping some great junior or freshie players to be used for the final round. By the time, Fujisaki and Mizusawa will face again… it's not the same match anymore.

  19. A

    Wow, just wow. What an incredible episode. Props to Desktomu sticking with his beliefs for the gamble. The part when suddenly everything rested on him to win… what dramatic tension.

    Now when will Taichi be in the spotlight this season? While having Arata around is fine, Taichi needs to have his moment.

  20. r

    Another great episode!

    The parallel between Megumu's and Chihaya's feelings here is quite understandable. Megumu won her own game but her team did not and she somehow did not expect herself to be too upset. While Chihaya on the other hand wondered where she lacked and keeps on brooding, she lost but her team won, and she sure seems not that happy.

    There are two moments here that I like. The first one was Tsutomu's "here I come to save the day" play. And with a matching nice BGM to boot and boost the mood. It's great to see that even though he's Class C he's able to topple a class B player!

    And of course as a Taichi supporter who would not love the unclenching hand scene! Yes, he did not utter a word but Chihaya clearly understood what his message is… she needs to relax…

    Good going Taichi! >///<

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