Chihayafuru 2 – 21

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After probably the most satisfying Chihayafuru episode of the season last week, it’s right back into the torture chamber.

This ep was pretty much everything about season two of Chihayfuru in a nutshell.  It was all Karuta, exciting, frustrating as hell, and left me irritated with a cliffhanger I care about despite all that frustration.  And it definitely tied a bow on Taichi’s “Why am I here?” comment from last week, because it made it absolutely clear that once the team tournament is over and done with, he’s very much frozen out – out of the spotlight in the series, out of the center of the Karuta world, and out of Chihaya’s consciousness.

In fact, the star of this episode for me – and it’s really the first time since his “Immelmann Turn” barrel roll winning move last season – was Nishida.  But the main character of the episode was Chihaya, and once I again I find that the series can struggle a bit when it focuses too exclusively on her.  Chihaya for me is simply harder to relate to than some in this cast – most notably Taichi, but also the likes of Kana and Tsutomu – she has the sometimes thankless shounen lead role, the ridiculous talent chasing the ideal of her sport.  Because Chihaya isn’t one who reveals a lot of emotional depth and because her Karuta is so instinctual, I tend to find her less interesting under intense scrutiny than I wish I did – her motivation is harder to identify with.

A more immediate problem for me this week is one of credibility, though.  Simply put, I think it’s a real stretch at best – and an insult to Karuta at worst – to expect us to believe Chihaya is capable of winning two matches against Class A opponents playing left-handed for the first time since she actually learned how to play.  Admittedly this is one of those times where my lack of knowledge about Karuta limits my ability to grasp the mechanics of events in the series, but I can say this – I know a decent amount about a good many sports, and there’s not a one of them where such a thing would be remotely possible.  Frankly, to even suggest it would be flat-out silly.  Is it possible Karuta is that much different from every other athletic endeavor?  Sure – but it’s not the most likely possibility.  And the opponent she beat in the first round, Yuube-san, was no slouch – she trounced Nishida in the semi-finals.  The whole thing feels pretty absurd to me, a dramatic device for it’s own sake.

But that, as they say, is what it is – and Chihaya is through the last 8, still pursuing her never-ending quest to catch up to Arata.  She’s been promising to save her “one right-handed match” for him – but when the draw reveals Shinobu in the quarter-finals, the bandage comes off.  That Chihaya would be dumb enough to actually risk her career playing right-handed is actually much more credible for me, and not just because we’ve seen shounen heroes do such things many times – she’s young, single-minded, an intense competitor and desperate.  I think it’s a terrible mistake (and I’ll be anxious to see if The Empress tries to stop her) but it’s not out of character.  My instinctual reaction is that Shinobu should certainly win, but after the absurd spectacle of Chihaya defeating Class A players lefty I’m not assuming anything.  Maybe she’ll upset the Queen while playing blindfolded.

As for the two big dogs of Class A, they’re predictably dominant in the first round.  Shinobu wins by 25 cards, and Arata actually tops her – he doesn’t just shut out his terrified opponent but wins by 27 cards, as he induces two faults.  This sets up the best part of the episode, Nishida’s second-round match with Arata.  Nishida is feeling confident for once, having won his team match in the finals and his first-rounder here – but he effectively admits defeat as soon as he sees Arata’s name.  Nishida’s “Why is he better than me?” is the best and most heartbreaking line of the episode, the lament of a kid who knows that no matter what, he’ll never be the best – and that’s why his effort isn’t always 100%.  The best he can do against Arata is not give up – a hollow victory at best, but he does at least give Arata a tough match.  There’s more than a hint of condescension in Arata’s words to Nishida after the match – “Are all Mizusawa players like you?” – but Arata is so removed from the world of Karuta mortals that coming from him, it was simply honest surprise.  Nishida is fated to forever come up short in Karuta, whether it be Shinobu, Arata or Chihaya who leaves him in the dust.

Arata has more than his share of interesting moments in this episode as well.  The funniest came with the reveal that his parents – who The Empress was so impressed with in their heartfelt dedication – were actually rooting for him to lose, so they won’t have to find the money for him to attend college in Tokyo.  This was actually the first time Arata has seen Chihaya play in years, of course, and while the circumstances were undeniably irregular to say the least, it re-established a link between them that’s been dormant for a very long time.  There’s no indication, frankly, that Arata has spent anywhere near as much time wondering about her style of Karuta as she has about his, but he’s suitably awestruck by the force of her will if nothing else.  For me some of the drama was leeched from the moment because of the sheer unbelievability of Chihaya’s match – it would have been much more meaningfu if he’d seen her playing in her usual fashion, especially given that so much of their relationship at the moment is based on fantasy rather than reality as it is.

Of the rest of the Mizusawa team there’s nary a sight.  We do get updates from The Empress’ sumaho: Tsutomu and Kana win their matches, Tsukuba wins in a bye, and – surprisingly – Sumire wins her match.  But ominously, not only is there no mention of Taichi’s match, but no sign that she’s remotely concerned that she hasn’t heard from him.  I don’t want to read too much into this, but needless to say it would be vexing in the extreme if Taichi were to have lost in the Class B tournament ignominiously and offscreen – a real disservice to the viewers who’ve been following the series for the past 46 eps.  More likely, I think, is that he’s pissed off at himself and the world that he has to play in Class B while Chihaya and Arata leave him behind and isn’t in the mood to email anyone his results, but even in an episode where he’s entirely absent Taichi’s psychology remains one of the most interest elements for consideration.

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  1. K

    I am not worried about Taichi losing that early in team B. I am thinking he wasn't mentioned because they want us to wonder how he is doing, since he is most likely doing good.

  2. l

    Another possibility regarding Taichi's competitions is that after we finish with the A tournaments, we'll have a slight skip back in time to cover his tournaments. Perhaps the early games will be covered flashback-style? I still believe that Taichi's final game(s) will be the season ending episode(s).

  3. j

    You didn't like it that much? Whoa, I'm usually the chihayafuru hater, but I came here to say this was definitely the best episode this season for me. Haha, it summed up what I liked the most about Chihayafuru:

    -Batshit fast and uninterrupted matches.
    -Not an overdose of unnecessary drama during matches and outside them.
    -Fun (Chihaya vs Yuube)
    -Intense (Nishida vs Arata's SPEED, DAT SPEED)
    -Good progression pace (two rounds in a single episode, oh yes).
    -Character Development (Finally, after 40+ episodes, some interactions with Chihaya and Arata…and they're not excessively dramatic too).
    -Short, funny moments (Chihaya's moe respect face for Yuube, Arata's parents)

    All in all, this episode was a breather for me. Finally…

  4. a

    I actually liked this episode. I agree that it isn't as strong as last week's but if you compare it to those episodes that focused on Chihaya, this one is kinda refreshing. She's actually using her brains properly for once instead of relying on her natural game sense and hearing.

    I think I just liked the fact they discussed how left-handed players have an advantage since right-handed players aren't used to playing them as often as they would like to. It would be interesting to see how Chihaya incorporates this new knowledge once her injury is healed. It would be cool if she became an ambidextrous player. Hahaha, her opponents can't tell which hand she would be using. lol

    Nishida's part was well-delivered. I love it so much although I wish they spent a little more time developing his inner questions. I felt the spotlight for him was so short. I doubt he'll be getting anymore screentime considering we only have 4 episodes left and no other Class matches yet.

  5. R

    I agree — we are back to the torture ride, and — to me — this episode is a drop from what I would expect from Chihayafuru. I, too, was uncomfortable with Chihaya's win. I understand the theme of strong will and passion in pursuing your dream and the exploration of left-handed players, but it's simply unrealistic — if not an insult — for Chihaya to win a Class A player like Yuube-san who had proved to us how good she is as a Class A. Does that mean that hard work and strong determination won't matter when it comes to game sense? This is contradicting to what the show has been showing us. Don't get me wrong — I like Chihaya a lot, and she is amongst my favourite female leads. However, this is overly dramatic — almost too forced for setting up the Chihaya/Shinobu match.

    The second half was better. I like the animation of Arata's speedy swing, and we finally get to see him play (Yay!). It's quite a shame that we don't get the full grasp of Arata as a character but only tidbits — his personality, his feelings, his thoughts, his struggles are all too vague to us. It could be very interesting to flesh out and develop a character like Arata, who is like a genius, but because of that, I sometimes wonder what the real purpose of Arata the character is in the mind of Suetsugu-sensei.

    The best part of this episode was really the focus on Nishida — he brought some of the essence of the show back. The way that he pulled himeself back to not give up was admirable, but the way that he reflected on his match with Arata — the display of his inner conflict and emotions at that moment — was captivating. I wish that we could have seen more of our main cast outside of Karuta, or even right after a match…

    Yes, Taichi was completely out of the picture — and even the mind of the Empress, but I think the creator did that on purpose to "surprise" us later with Taichi's match and his win of Class B. Well, I admit — this is my wishful thinking. I hope that we can see two things before the series ends — Arata/Shinobu match and Taichi's making Class A. It's coming close to the end of the show, but at least I can be like Nishida to not give up on what I hope for…lol.

  6. r

    It's still watchable, at least I was able to see Taichi in a flashback! >///<

    Hmm… yeah, the best part for me was Nishida and Arata's match. He was able to give a decent fight against Arata with only less than 10 card difference. That's pretty decent considering Arata is the God of karuta! lol

    Kidding aside, it's pretty unrealistic for Chihaya winning 2 consecutive games against class A players. She was able to move to top 8 by using her left hand for the first time?!… I guess I'll just go with it since I want to see her rematch against Shinobu… although it's not really a rematch since Chihaya is injured.

  7. f

    I enjoyed this episode because of the Nishida-Arata match…but I have never wished defeat on Chihaya more than I do now. I really hope the Queen puts her in her place. I know, I know, I should be directing my anger at the writer rather than the character. But the poor writing right now is making me like Chihaya even less than I did before. As you said, Enzo, Chihaya is the least interesting character on the cast. The fact that so much of this season was focused on her karuta matches is probably the biggest reason why it's so inferior to the first season.

  8. H

    I'm gonna disagree with the torture ride comment, the pacing is back to normal and after the super slow pacing earlier nothing seems as torterous. As for Chihaya winning, that also did seem like it was stretching it a bit for me but we know that her first opponent didn't become A class until recently and perhaps that was the case with her second opponent as well, Chihaya has been playing Class A opponents for over a year now and considering how wide a range of skill that can be it's not impossible that she played another, significantly weaker, player in the second round.

  9. H

    Chihaya's wins this episode felt just like her win over Sudo in season 1, impossible. Apart from that, I already miss Taichi's presence in the episode. Still a good one though and the last part, when Chihaya remove her bandage is really epic^^. I think she will lose to Shinobu but I might get a surprise. Also, anyone notice how Taichi's always out of the trio? The moments between Chihaya and Arata always fell so much better, take the birthday in the first season for example, Chihaya receive a mail from Arata and the day suddenly became the best of her life! Slap in the face for Taichi. I think it will sadly be a couple of Chihaya and Arata if there's one in the end.

  10. B

    If Chihaya loses to Shinobu then I'll forgive her winning those two matches this week. If they ask me to accept that she can beat the current Queen (who defeated her handily not so long ago) while injured, I'm going to have say "No, Chihayafuru, I'm not accepting this". Most of the problems I've had with the show, especially this season, are minor things that can be forgotten as long as the whole is satisfying. But Chihaya beating Shinobu in her state would be the first major, unerasable blemish on the show's record.

  11. m

    I agree with mostly everything written except I didn't think Arata was being condescending when talking to Nishida. I thought he was showing his respect that he did play a good game. And that they are lucky to have such teammates. They work hard together and strive to get better together.

    That's what I thought that was about.

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