Chihayafuru 2 – 19

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Well, that was a surprising turn of events…

Or rather, it would have been if a commenter hadn’t spoiled this week’s ending after last week’s episode.  Be that as it may, always lead with the headline – and the banner is definitely, “Mizuswa wins the title”. In many ways it contradicts the ineffable laws of sports anime to have a team win on their first trip to the big game, so I was rather expecting Fujisaki to defend and be the bogeyman for Mizusawa to shoot for next year.  As some have pointed out most of their elite is third-years, but that doesn’t seem to matter to a school like Fujisaki, which is effectively a Karuta factory – they’d already won four titles in a row, after all.

This certainly takes the series’ development in an interesting direction.  Rion will be the ace and gunning for Chihaya and Mizusawa in the team competition next year, and may be Taichi’s opponent in the Class B final.  A case can be made for either she or Retro-kun – her coach’s “Take the summer and get better” suggests it could be the latter.  It also seems to have taken a major goal off the table – really, there’s nowhere for the team drama to go from here but down, since Mizusawa is already at the summit of Karuta Mt. Everest.  The element that could see more play as a result of that is the third-years expanding their role as mentors, shifting their focus to leaving Mizusawa with a capable Karuta Club after they’ve left it to Tsukuba and Sumire.

In many ways the final was surprisingly predictable, apart from the actual result.  Chihaya won her match, as you’d expect – Tsutomu and Tsukuba lost (though I’d argue Tsukuba fared very well as a Class D against a strong Class A).  It came down, as it’s been looking like it would for a while, to Taichi and Nishida.  Fortunately those two matches were knockouts, especially Taichi’s.  In a way, it’s as if Taichi has been missing in action for most of the season, but this episode was like a throwback to Season One, where his development was so often at the center of the story.  All of his demons were in full evidence this week, his self-doubt and fatalism and desperate longing for Chihaya’s love.  And as it almost always was last year, it was riveting to watch.  Mamoru Miyano hasn’t been asked to do much this season, to be honest, but it was thrilling to hear him step it up this week.

In a very fundamental way, I think Taichi and his teammates are more interesting to watch as Karuta players than Chihaya – or at least just as interesting. So much of what Chihaya does is based on the spur-of-the-moment – not always her raw physical talents (though those are still her greatest weapon, as her win over Rion proved) but even when she strategizes, it’s mostly seat-of-the-pants adjustments based on instinct.  As a result I think Chihayafuru has suffered a bit by focusing probably 80% of its Karuta attention this season on her matches at the expense of everyone else’s.  Nishida is the most experienced and purely strategic of the bunch, and has more than his own share of self-doubt.  Tsutomu brings his uniquely analytical perspective, and Kana is always aware of the spiritual tenor and pure beauty of the moment.  And of course Taichi, in addition to his fascinating struggles with himself, has a phenomenal situational awareness.  He knows exactly what’s happening in every game, which cards are left and which are read, the tendencies of his opponents.  All of these internal monologues are compelling, and this episode really soared when the camera narrowed down to Taichi and Nishida against the world.

We didn’t get as much focus on Nishida’s match as Taichi’s, but it seems to have been quite close for most of the game.  As for Taichi we’ve seen him chip away and chip away at Ryouga’s lead, and it seemed as if the mental control in the match clearly shifted to Taichi.  Rarely for him, we saw him use a little gamesmanship to throw Ryouga off his game – long pauses before sending cards, icy glares.  More than anything, I think Ryouga had a growing sense that he’d undersold his opponent – and it hasn’t been often that we’ve seen Taichi the one with growing confidence and his opponent psychologically dominated.  The pressure eventually forces Ryouga into a rare (especially for a player like him) double-fault – he incorrectly touches a card in Taichi’s territory as Taichi correctly captures one in his.  This means a two-card penalty, and the match is now tied at three cards each.

It’s here when the drama goes up to eleven and the S2 BGM really kicks in.  Nishida and Taichi being experienced and the most strategic players on Mizusawa realize their situation – they’re down 2-1, and either of them winning matters not a jot if the other loses.  As Retro-kun and Hokuo (who I’m guessing won their match, as they were well ahead at the last look-in) look on like proud papas, Taichi and Nishida use the card-synching strategy Hokuo used on them against an unsuspecting Fujisaki.  This means that when both their matches end up in luck of the draw (which happens just a bit too often in Chihayafuru to be truly credible) they have exactly what they want – winner-take-all.  They’ve effectively turned the team final into a coin flip, despite being down 2-1 – as brilliant a move for them as it was for Hokuo against them.

I’ll say this for Suetsugu-sensei – she’s certainly not afraid to kick in the drama, or to torture Taichi.  Naturally the one card remaining in the luck of the draw is Yuku e Moshiranu Kohi no Michi kana – “I do not know where this love will take me”.  Whether even Taichi with his hyper-senses is aware of the irony of this is debatable, but no poetic moment slips past Kana – as her teammates (especially Sumire) agonize over the tension of the moment, Kana (who’s certainly a Chihaya-Taichi shipper if ever there was one) latches onto the meaning behind the words, as always.  Suetsugu pours everything into this moment: Taichi pleads for Chihaya – who’s fallen asleep immediately after match as usual – to wake up and see his moment in the sun.  All of Taichi’s teammates – and Taichi – reflect on the fact that he’s never had his card read in a luck of the draw.  He even – ominously enough – promises God that if it is this time, he “doesn’t care if it never happens again”.  The fact is that even now, Taichi and all of his friends are convinced he’s cursed.  “The one card I need won’t be read.  It never is.  Is that how my life will go?  Is everything I do futile?”

It could be argued that there’s a somewhat contradictory message at the end of Taichi’s match.  It’s rare in sports manga to see the big moment come down to luck, but there are to be no miraculous faults or stealing the opponent’s card against Ryouga – he’s simply too solid a player.  Yet luck it is that finally smiles on Taichi – not only is his card read, but Chihaya wakes up at the crucial moment and sees it all happen.  What are we to take away from this – has Taichi’s problem been bad luck all along?  As superstitious as Karuta players are that would be a somewhat strange takeaway for a major character, but the fact remains that Taichi has been in this situation before and the only difference between this and, for example the Nishida match, is whose card was read.  We know of course that Taichi largely made his own luck here – he clawed his way back from a large deficit against a higher-ranked player, and seized the momentum and psychological control away from Ryouga by sheer force of will.  But will Taichi see it that way – especially considering what happens after the match?

After the emotional team hug, the inevitable moment happens – when the team walks into the corridor, Arata is waiting for them.  His silence when Chihaya pleadingly asks if he’d watched their match is all the answer she needs, yet she surely misunderstands the meaning behind his absence.  She scolds him, but in a sense she’s wasting her words – Arata has already been won over and realized that he’s been depriving himself of an important part of his life as both a person and a Karuta player.  How will Taichi react to this instance of Arata once again seemingly intruding upon his rare moments of good fortune – will he curse and fate and believe his curse still stands, or will he rejoice at seeing someone he cares for and realize that everything he wants in his life, even Chihaya, is all about what he chooses to do and not about Arata or anyone else?

The individual matches come now, and with 6 episodes remaining seem likely to carry us to the end of the (knock on wood) season.  I would be shocked if Chihaya plays at this point – that would make her injury a Hall of Fame red herring – but she’ll still be part of the drama as Arata (and Shinobu), Taichi, Tsutomu and Kana, and Tsukuba all go to separate tournaments.  I have nightmares of Taichi’s promise to God coming back to haunt him as the last card of the Class B final is read, and even with an Arata-Shinobu final looming that’s the storyline that still holds the greatest potential for drama – Ryouga has pegged Taichi as “That guy who’s on his way up” but as he also says, Taichi has been “kicking around Class B” for a year.  Remarkably, Taichi has not lost a match in any of the team competitions this season – that he should be Class B is a lead weight on his shoulders, and his arc can’t possibly go anywhere until he takes his rightful place alongside Chihaya and Arata in Class A.  I summed up the difference between the two seasons of Chihayafuru this way: “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.”  This episode marks the first time when I really feel that same sense of anticipation bordering on obsession that I did last season, and next Saturday can’t come too soon for me.

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  1. R

    Congrats, Team Mizusawa. I couldn’t help but shed tears when the “Like a boatsman” card was read. It was certainly a surprising turn of events for the show, but I don't care now — I am overjoyed.

    “I do not know what this love will take me…” — what a fitting title it is for not only this episode but also the characters.

    For me, this is a rewarding episode on many levels — it gave me what I wished for from last week. Karuta was still the focus, but Taichi played a pivotal role in delivering the drama and drawing in our emotions.

    Many things to love about…
    – I loved that, as Kana-chan said, Taichi made his attempt to change. Yes, he doubted himself again, but he did not give up…even in his head calling for help from Kami-sama and urging Chihaya to wake up and witness his game.
    – I loved how Nishida’s swing gave Taichi the boost to go on the attack mode, and the BGM that came on when Nishada made his swing totally elevated the emotional level.
    – I loved how Nishida and Taichi synchronized their cards. This is no simple coincidence but the result of their bond that they could set it up — and it brought me back to the conversation between the two after Taichi lost to Nishida.
    – I loved that when Kyoko-chan read the second phase, “I do not know what this love will take me,” it panned to Taichi and ended with Chihaya hugging both Taichi and Nishida…
    – I loved that Chihaya’s thought of Arata simply came from her wish, as always, to play Karuta again as a team with the two male leads, just like when they were kids. That’s why she wanted to convince Arata, and that’s why it showed us the flashback…including the young Taichi’s saying, “The three of us will win together…”
    – I loved the writing of this episode, as well as the pacing and the BGM.

    Of the many reasons for loving this episode, I have to be honest and can’t take away the fact that it’s been too long to see Taichi shine and the awesomeness of season 1 that brought us those wonderful characters that made me love this episode so much.

    Okay, the first goal — winning the national tournament — achieved. I wonder if we can see the team achieving another goal — like Taichi winning his Class A seat — in the remaining episodes, or if the show will put the Mizusawa team members on the sideline and shift focus to let Arata and Shinobu take the spotlight. I welcome both scenarios but mostly hope to see Taichi winning his Class A seat.

    Sorry for making such a long post…it’s just too long the wait… Oh, Enzo, I love your comment about having Chihayafuru (S1) in your mind all week long, and yes, I so long for next week’s episode to come. Another wishful thought…will there be a season 3? I certainly hope so.

  2. G

    It was a very satisfying win. I hope next week we get to see the celebration before they start into the individual matches arc. I'm surprised we never saw even a mwention or look to see what the Queen was thinking as she watched the finals.

  3. A

    I'm glad you mentioned the soundtrack. The BGM that plays immediately after Chihaya's win has got to be the most badass "shit got real now" audio cue I've heard since freaking Gurren Lagann. Brilliant!

    It's too bad we didn't get to see Shinobu's reaction to that comeback, but I guess they wanted to focus on their reunion with Arata.

  4. j

    "the summit of Karuta Mt. Everest" "a Hall of Fame red herring"

    Haha, nicely done. Wish more of your writing had this extra humor!

    I won't hide the fact that I thought almost the entire S2 and most of S1 wasn't to my liking. Really, this S2 has been the embodiment of what I hate from anime – stale narrative, stale characters. It feels like I went back to DBZ – these Karuta players can't play two consecutive moves without letting the camera switch to everyone's reactions – annoying gasps or unnecessary explanations, most of the time. And it's a pity, because S1 kept these moments down to a minimum.
    As for love relationships, I find it hard to believe none of the 3 main chars would ever phone someone and talk srs bsns and sort things out. They even played the "I don't have a cellphone" copout-card in S1…It's just unnecessary drama, bad writing; a cheap solution to make a story engaging.

    What I loved the most from S1 was Taichi's inner monologues; his seiyuu deserves all the love he can get. I wish he could have had more screentime here, since he's such a likeable guy. As for your point that Chihaya is by now perhaps the least interesting character, I'd add that that could be because of all the screentime she has had up till now – in a way, they 'developed' Chihaya so much that everything we see from her now isn't surprising. So yeah, more screentime for other would be great. Especially Nishida! He's also a pretty damn likeable guy – his match in S1 where he threw himself off-balance while swinging in a karuta match was so over-the-top that it was awesome; definitely one of my fav scenes from back then.

  5. G

    So why spend so much of your time watching a series you don't like any more?

  6. j

    Good question! I don't know really. Maybe it's because I rarely drop shows, maybe because deep inside me I hope the series can change or end in a good note.

  7. r

    Although I already knew the outcome of the match, seeing this final team match animated still made me feel everything that the cast felt especially Taichi's. His internal monologues are one of the best parts for me when I watched this episode.

    The build up to make this a memorable winning moment for the Mizusawa team is almost or more than perfect. There's only a very few sports related anime that made me think I won with them, and this show just made my tears flow while beaming with joy when finally "luck" smiles on Taichi (and Nishida), thus, securing the number 1 spot for the Mizusawa team. And they are indeed, officially, the best team in the world.

  8. a

    I was also quite surprised with the outcome of this episode. Nevertheless, it was a satisfying win. Like everyone has mentioned, Taichi's internal monologues are the best parts of the series. It was welcoming that he was the focus of the series once more. I could feel his desperation and doubt in these lines, "The one card I need is never read. It never is. Is that how my life will go? Is everything I do the futile?"

    I'm glad he was able to surpass all those dark emotions. As Ryouga said, "He's a Class B on his way up." That line reassured me that Taichi will finally reach Class A this time around. So whoever his opponent will be – whether it be Rion or Retro, I just want good match that proves Taichi's change and growth from the last season.

  9. i

    GE sucks that it was spoiled to you because I think episodes like this make Aniblogging worth it. I couldn't watch it siting still, I was pounding the table, jumping up and down. When that piano/guitar BGM kicked in I really thought about praying as hard as Kana and Sumire to the gods of shounen anime that Misuzawa wins. And when they did I let off as big a 'YES' and thumped my fist as if Federer had won the French Open beating Nadal to it. It really felt like a huge emotional blowout that was well worth the extreeemely long journey to it. What an episode.

    To me there are no sports anime episodes better than that of Oofuri ep 23-24 but this was up there. Right up there and that focus switched from Chihaya to Taichi makes it all the better. I agree that watching a natural win her way up doesn't have the same punch as watching someone who doesn't have those instincts, who has to think hard to get anywhere. I really hope this is a precursor to the eventual battle between east and west Meijin Representitives Arata and Taichi next year and one will face Chihaya in the battle for Japan's No 1, or rather the world's No 1.

    And even if we get the anticipated Arata vs Shinobu final, I'd say like last season Chihayafuru has early climaxes.

  10. l

    Thank you for explaining just what the double fault was. I was going to ask someone because I didn't fully understand that detail.

    About the luck element… I've been thinking about that all night long. I think we Westerners may be trivializing the element by thinking of it as "luck". I think we should be looking at it from a more religious point of view. Taichi prays to the god of karuta for its blessing. The opposing coach says that if she were the god of karuta, she would have blessed Mizusawa for their team play. The shrine which houses the god of karuta appears in the OP. The team as a whole is shown paying their respects to that god at its house of worship. Combine these things and I think it points to something more than luck or superstition as we perceive them in the West.

  11. A

    That was a marvellous episode, I was quite literally on the edge of my seat waiting for the outcome of the match. One thing this show knows is how to crank up the tension.

    Wonder where it'll go in the remaining episodes, and I do so hope we get a season 3.

  12. m

    Great episode. No surprise that Taichi was capable of mental intimidation. How many times do you think he's gotten that death stare from his mother?

    Luck in this show is interesting. In karuta it often does come down to luck becasue, well, it's a card game. Outside karuta, in their own lives, there can be elements of luck, but fundamentally the choices people make, how they view each other and the world depend on many factors much more important than luck. I'll be disappointed if development of the Taichi-Chihaya-Arata triangle depends on luck. That said, I don't really expect much development from Chihaya right now, she's just too bananas for karuta. I could see Taichi moving on, however. There was this moment when Sumire was looking at Taichi during this episode when I thought she really 'got' him for the first time. That, combined with her other experiences during the tournament, could make her a much less insipid person and maybe someone Taichi could like.

  13. K

    I am crying and laughing… and that promise will come back and bite Taichi in the ass, I just know it.

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