Chihayafuru 2 – 18

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An interesting side-effect of the change in focus is that it’s made Chihayafuru a much more difficult show to blog this season.

If you’ve been watching, you know pretty much what to expect out of Chihayafuru this week – another intense, riveting episode spent entirely following events on the tatami.  That’s all well and good, but there is a sort of sameness to it after a while.  On the positive said you could call is “consistency” and this has certainly been a consistent season, especially for the last 8-10 episodes.  But ultimately a lack of real variety and the fact that competition-driven episodes – apart from the final one – by their very nature lack satisfying closure make this season a less fulfilling experience for me as both a viewer and a blogger.

I keep going back to that “exquisite torture” description I used a few weeks back, because it probably comes closest to capturing how I feel about watching Chihayafuru 2.  In S1 this show was more like Cross Game in the sense that the competition eps acted as a sort of bridge between developments, and the biggest drama was the character dynamics.  But I’m hard-pressed to remember even a hard-core sports shounen like Major or Ginga e Kickoff that’s spent such a huge percentage of its time inside the chalk as this one.  Chihayafuru has come to be defined by its Karuta, and of course the flip-side of the exquisite torture label is that it really is exquisite at depicting the sport.  It’s turned this esoteric and ancient game into something truly fascinating.  This episode, like most of them over the last two months, was exciting and felt like it lasted half its actual length (and the increasingly long recaps at the start of the episodes don’t help matters).  And if you go by the rule of “always leave the audience wanting more” the show certainly has a leg up – the cliffhangers are agonizing.  Or, dare I say it, torture.

One thing that’s been limiting is the laser-like focus on Chihaya and her opponent for most of these matches, which has effectively reduced the role of her teammates.  We did see that start to change a bit at the end of this episode, with welcome results – I think the drama really picked up when the camera turned to the other four matches.  It’s ironic, really, that when the major theme of this extended Omi Jingu arc has been the profoundly meaningful nature of team play – and the way not being part of it has isolated Arata and especially Shinobu – the focus of the series has almost been exclusively on one individual, main character or not.  These are, in fact, team matches and two or three minutes total per episode really isn’t enough to do justice to four matches which each have their own intense story.

In fact, the most interesting developments this week might just have come from the two principals not involved in the tournament yet.  It seems clear that Arata is destined to join Fujioka West in the next year – the hints being laid out certainly suggest it.  Arata is generally a rather undemonstrative kid, a rarity in this series of dramatic facial expressions (a Madhouse specially) so you have to glean a lot from his body language.  It was fascinating to see the subtle longing in him as he looked at the closed doors of the competition room and listened to the sounds of the game – Arata has always seemed to be a boy who’s comfortable in his own skin but spends perhaps too much of his time alone.  It’s also interesting to see just how much he’s come to think of himself and Shinobu as kindred spirits, sharing many of the same dreams and frustrations.  That notion is obviously fit to bursting with potential development on the character side of the story, should the series ever decide to get back to it.

As for Shinobu, she’s obviously much easier to read than Arata.  She seems never to have a thought that’s unexpressed on her face, and we’ve spent more time getting inside her head in the last few weeks than at any other time in the series.  In her case, isolation seems not to have been a choice as it debatably was with Arata, but an imposition – the notion (which she eventually bought into) that being around children her own age could only make her weak and dilute her competitive fire.  While it’s clear she’s dealing with strong emotions in watching the team competition (The Empress has had to warn her three times to move back) it’s hard to say which ones are dominating.  Indeed, I’d say she wouldn’t know herself – but frustration is clearly a big part of it.  I think she’s frustrated that she has no personal buy-in to the human drama playing out before her, and frustrated with herself for caring.  Shinobu may be lonely but she’s become an expert at denying to herself that she is.  The only people she seems strongly connected to are Suo – who represents both an ideal and a personification of everything she despises – and Arata, who I think she likewise sees as a kindred spirit (and other things, besides).  And she’s starting to become more interested in Chihaya, as well.

As for Chihaya, she at last notices Shinobu watching her match – surely a watershed moment for her, though the main factor continues to be her injury.  With pain shooting up her wrist it’s obvious she’s done more than jam her finger – most likely there are ligaments damaged – and I suspect the path we’re headed down is that she’ll be unable to play in the individual tournament.  That has its own implications – it even more shifts the dramatic emphasis to the Class B tournament, but it could also present a moment where Chihaya has to choose between watching Taichi or Arata play.  If Taichi were in the Class B final and Arata were playing Shinobu in the Class A final, what would Chihaya do?  That’s a potentially huge moment but still theoretical – for now what matters is that Chihya’s injury has gotten her thinking that the team match is her last shot, and she has no reason to hold anything back.  Rion, for her part, is proving that despite her great natural ability she’s still too easily thrown off her game – and Makoto’s stalker-like obsession with her puts even more pressure on her.  This is and always has been a game Chihaya should win, the only match on the board that favors Mizusawa on paper – and I expect Chihaya to take care of business.

As for the others, the predictable has happened – both Tsutomu and Tsukuba have lost.  I would have liked more focus on their struggle but they simply weren’t given enough screen time, and their endings were rather abrupt.  But assuming Chihaya wins her match (she’s fought back to even) that leaves the final where it always looked as if it would be decided, with Taichi and Nishida.  Both trail with 8 cards remaining – Taichi by four cards and Nishida by either two or four, depending on the unseen results of the last card.  Nishida was basically ignored this ep after the promising teaser last week, but Taichi at last got some focus at the very end.  As always he’s doubting himself, and as always the others are bemoaning his bad luck – five cards in a row on his side when he desperately needed to attack.  Though  Ryouga is really nothing like Arata the superficial resemblance has given Taichi another pretext for doubting himself.  “Arata – I’m happy when I forget you.  But I feel encouraged when I think of you.  I’m no good – I’m bad at forgetting.”  As always, Taichi’s main opponent is himself, and as always, he seems to draw the worst possible physical opponent to exacerbate the problem.  Even Ryouga’s implacable (he doesn’t even seem to sweat), balanced style reminds Taichi that he’s afraid to play the same way, and compensates by relying on memorization.  They’ve gotten much less attention this season, but Taichi’s personal demons remain one of the most compelling threads in Chihayafuru – and if Mizusawa is to pull a miracle comeback in the team match, it seems inevitable that his conquering them will prove the climactic moment.

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  1. r

    Even if Harada sensei is not physically present, he keeps on popping up between Chihaya and Taichi's mind! lol
    It's nice to see Taichi's school age version again. So kawaii!

    This episode makes me want to pull the days and make it Friday again! Waiting makes me more impatient! >_<;
    And yes! Can't wait to see the team finale! As well as the start of the individual tournaments!

    Thanks for blogging this! >.<

  2. j

    It's could be ligaments, but when you said "up her wrist" I'm imagining it might be a neuron issue, possibly Carpal tunnel

  3. I don't see any way a finger injury would cause damage to her carpal tunnel. It could be some sort of nerve issue I suppose, but whatever it is, it seems serious from the way it's being played up.

  4. j

    Just to make sure, you know that carpal tunnel is just the name of the problem right? Carpals are hand bones that are near the wrist. The more you know eh? 😛

    Anyways, the reason I brought it up was because I didn't feel that Rion had done anything during that card defense that would have led to such a bad injury (on the contrary, it looked very clean and harmless). I'm pretty sure Chihaya had once again pushed herself so much that she didn't notice the harm she was doing to her body. With all that forward-leaning karuta players do during games, it's not surprising that the nerves in your wrist get irritated from all the pressure being put on it.

    So yeah, my (imaginary) money is on Chihaya having carpal tunnel. I've had it before typing up long lab reports…it's really painful to just move your fingers since there's a lot connected going from your fingers to your wrist.

  5. Actually, the carpals are bones, but the carpal tunnel is the passageway in the wrist that tendons and nerves pass through. It's when this passageway is compressed that people get what's generically called "carpal tunnel syndrome". Generally it's a result of repetitive stress rather than an acute injury, though not always.

    The problem with that as a cause for Chihaya's issue is that she has a finger injury, and a finger injury can't – by definition – cause carpal tunnel syndrome. In order for your theory to work, Chihaya's finger injury would have to be completely coincidental. I'm not buying it.

  6. j

    hmmm true, I totally forgot that it first started out as a finger pain which eventually traveled up her arm. I think I'll just stope trying so hard to diagnose a problem in a fictional story…sorry for trying to act like a smarty pants! haha

  7. i

    Taichi foucs Woohoo.

    As this could take arguably another 2-3 episodes to get the team tourney out of the way, I think the only highlight of the individual one is Arata vs Shinobu. And this match or another B class final with Taichi. Which would Chihaya watch, isn't it obvious. The girl still has the sensitivity of a doorbell. And even if she did want to watch Taichi, I bet he'd say she should go watch Arata play. Really feel it will come to that. Kana and Sumire will support him though.

  8. K

    I like these episodes a lot because hey I love Karuta. The mixture of game play & poetry is so unique and for me. It makes me want to play.

    However staying so long on one plot line the team tournament is frustrating because you know there is more story to tell & who knows if we will ever get to see it. Our only hope is another season.

    I was hoping we will get to the individual tournaments but I have been worried about that. Will we even have enough episodes. Is that arc shorter than this one?

  9. G

    I just hope they win the tournament. Getting tired of seeing them go thru all this only to see them lose at the end. Kinda heartbreaking.

  10. H

    I remember that Big Windup spent just about all it's time in tournaments but at least there I knew what I was getting into, here I was expecting more of those character driven episodes from season 1 and I am so ready for this match to be done by now. And I agree about Arata probably going to Fujioka West next year, the show has been telegraphing that in the background pretty clearly and, even though he was probably initially planning to have his parents let him return to Tokyo if he won the tournament I think the allure of a team near him, whom he seems to get along with reasonably well these days, it going to keep him isolated from Taichi and Chihaya even longer. That and I'm sure the manga-ka wouldn't pass up a chance to draw out that tension even longer, especially with how these matches are going.

  11. R

    So happy that Taichi had some screen time in this episode, and not only that, he gave his best swing and showed us his determination of not giving up urging Chihaya and Nishida to do the same. I hope that we can see more of the three — getting inside their heads and feeling what they are feeling — in the next episode.

    I agree, Enzo — it's quite an exquisite torture watching S2. I love S1. It was my best anime of the year last year. S1 had many things done right and in high standards, but its strength was in its characters — it shone like no others in how well that the characters were portrayed and their emotions conveyed. I absolutely agree with Enzo giving Chihayafuru the best in Character Drama award. With that, I come with the same expectation for S2, but it's different…so different.

    Season 2 is still a very strong show — it's very entertaining in almost every episode. You can see the high standards consistently played out. Portraying the characters is still its strength, but it goes with almost every character (and dog) that comes to screen — it becomes secondary and a tool for making the tournaments more exciting and intense. If I think of the show this way, I think it has succeeded. However, I want more…I want more focus on the main cast… That's what made me fall in love with the show. With only 7 episodes left, I doubt if it will change direction and let its biggest strength shine like S1, but I am happy to see the main cast play in the individual matches…that's the only chance that we can hear them more and feel them more while Karuta is still the focus.

    It may be too early to say…I initially thought that Chihayafuru could rival SSY for my Best Anime of the Year, but I think I am giving it to SSY still.

  12. We'll see how the last 7 episodes go. For me, there's no question that Chihayafuru S1 was a stronger series than S2 is so far. It's still massively entertaining, but I used to have Chihayafuru on the brain all week long because I was so wrapped up in the characters. Now, once an episode ends I don't think about it until the next one starts.

  13. R

    Thanks Enzo. You said it…that's exactly the difference in my reaction towards the two seasons. I love the main cast — well, Taichi is my favourite — and I love the bond that they share. My feelings towards the characters stay in my heart. The tournaments are exciting in S2, and the show is so well executed…but the episodes just come and go. I still like the show a whole lot and think that it's way better than many others in both the last and current seasons, but this is no Chihayafuru S1.

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