That was quite the unexpected turn of events.
What a strange chapter of Chihayafuru this was. I found it quite unsatisfying, and there was something that just felt “off” to me – though there was certainly a good deal of tension inside the Mizusawa ranks as they prepared for the preliminaries to start.
The first order of business is that Kana quite unilaterally decides that Chihaya isn’t going to be allowed to play in the prelims. I support this decision, as I said in my post on Chapter 144 – it’s simply unfair for Chihaya to waltz in and displace one of the younger players (or the trio of seniors) who’ve been busting tail in her absence. I do think Kana was out of line to make this call on her own, and I believe this is the reason she apologizes to Komano.
The unfortunate result of this, though, is that Tamaru takes it as a confirmation of her self-appointed “ace” status – a direct result of the way the third-years let her bully them earlier. Tamaru is a chore, plain and simple – Suetsugu can give her all the backstory she wants now, Tamaru is still a pain in the ass. I was delighted that Hashidate-kun (whose name I confess I didn’t even remember) told her off for the obnoxious little attention whore she is – it’s obviously not ideal for a fellow first-year to slam a classmate in the middle of a tournament, but somebody had to say something. Tamaru predictably folds like a cheap tent in the next round, but Kana still (again, on her own) declines to replace her with Chihaya.
The other weird thing that’s going on here is that the qualifier has adopted a bizarre set of new rules to speed up play – no sweeps, no dead cards, “speed readers”. And perhaps worst of all, no memorization time. I get that with more schools involved measures have to be taken, but this really seems like a kind of mockery of Karuta to me – and if I were a Class A player like Chihaya I’d frankly be worried it could screw me up for regulation Karuta. For all I know this has really happened as a result of a Chhayafuru-inspired Karuta boom, but in context the whole thing feels like kind of a random construct by Suetsugu-sensei.
All this is set against a backdrop where rather than playing team matches, teams simply get a point for every win one of their players gets in an individual round-robin, with four teams advancing to the final round. This presents a real problem with Mizusawa slips to fifth after the second set of matches (Retro-kun’s revitalized Hokuo – with three Class A first-years – is in the lead). Things are bad enough (and safe enough for Hokuo) that Nishida’s sister actually takes a moment to tell him she cares about him, and that his game has become too compact. I believe it’s the first sign of sibling affection we’ve ever seen from that family.