Tom Watson. Turnberry. 2009.
There was quite a bit of lingering doubt in my mind going into this chapter about how I’d feel when the moment of truth came – such is the brilliance of Suetsugu-sensei’s humanization of Suou-meijin. But when those final cards were being read, despite all that and despite the somewhat chippy behavior of Harada-sensei at points during these matches, I was desperately hoping it was his card that was going to be read.
As discussed last time, the nature of this particular luck of the draw was an especially cruel one, with each player having a “Nani” card, and a dead “Nani” card as well. This meant is wasn’t so simple as defending your card and waiting for the coin to land your way – there was a little strategy and a lot of psychology at work here. Harada-sensei was consistent right up to the end – putting his faith in matters strictly spiritual, believing in the importance of an “urge” of a card to be called, and the likelihood of the same card coming up twice in luck of the draws in one match.
As Harada’s old rival (and now fan) Kitano-sensei thinks to himself, Harada was “cornered” here. He has the 2-1 advantage, but it’s hard for anyone to imagine him winning a fifth game at his age after coming this close. And it’s clear he’s feeling the strain – he feels the attacking aura from Suou, even as the Meijin never makes a move as two dead cards are read. Harada-sensei knows his opponent has better hearing, and he fears he must defend his card aggressively against an attack he fears is coming.
The irony here, of course, is that Suou-meijin ends up winning this game in exactly the same fashion he always does – by forcing faults rather than taking cards. And the grin he flashes after Harada-sensei faults to lose the fourth game has a bit of the unsavory to it, the first time during this match that I’ve felt a sense of why he makes people so uncomfortable. Indeed, at this moment Chihaya has to flee outside in tears, raging “Why couldn’t I be a boy?”, so strong is her desire to unseat this Meijin. But at this point she sees Shinobu and realizes she has her own mountain to climb, and it indeed seems from Shinobu’s behavior that she really has gained a kind of humility and perspective from this match with Inokuma-san.
It really is hard to see Harada-sensei coming back from this – yes, those knees will be throbbing but even more, the psychology of the moment is brutal for him. Who knows what Suetsugu has in store for us, but both the wait and the next chapter itself could be pretty brutal. And that’s not the only cliffhanger, either – Arata, cold and all, has made his way to Omi Jingu and naturally he stumbles in just as Taichi has made his way out of the hall to fetch Chihaya. Any time these three are physically together the dramatic tension is thick enough to cut with a knife – will this finally be the moment where that plot lurches forward? For the nonce, all we can do it wait…