Is the the calm before the storm?
Perhaps more accurately, the mild storm before the hurricane, because things were pretty lively in these two chapters of Chihayafuru. But it still felt very preliminary, and there’s a real sense that Suetsugu-sensei is setting up something bigger on the horizon.
The most immediate order of business if, of course, surviving the Tokyo qualifier. And Mizusawa has lost their match to Tsuboguchi and Houmei High, 3-2. I was surprised to see that it was Oe who sat out this match, with Tsukuba playing – though they swap for the next one. Thankfully for Mizusawa this is a round robin, which means that their fate has not been sealed by this loss.
The other interesting result in the first round is Retro-kun losing to his Tomihara West opponent by a whopping 20 cards. Retro plays a major role in these chapters – in addition to his shocking results, he’s also texting Taichi after every round, informing him of the results and urging him to get his ass to the tournament. Retro seems quite lost of late, and he really seemed to measure himself against Taichi more than anyone else did. I think he wants Taichi there more for his own psyche than for Mizusawa.
Fortunately for Retro, his team is one of Houkou’s strongest despite their captain’s struggles. They dominate both their first two matches 4-1, and coast into the final match with their advancement to nationals guaranteed, allowing them to start three first-years in that match. Mizusawa, meanwhile, struggles to a 3-2 win over Tomihara – eliminating that school, and giving themselves a fighting chance to survive – but needing to beat Houkou to have any chance, banking on a better overall individual record than Houmei if they beat Tomihara in their final match.
Mizusawa is still a mess. Tamaru’s confidence is shot, seemingly as a result of Komano-kun’s cutting comment about praise easily given. It certainly seemed at the time to be something that needed to be said, but the result – like the impact of Chihaya’s shutout win – was unpredictably negative. Nishida has lost his second match, and right now only Komano seems to be fully confident in his own ability to build on Chihaya’s dominance. She, for her part, actually sandbags in her second match – toying with her opponent so as not to win too quickly and to allow her to stay in the trenches with her teammates. She’s sure Taichi has done the same and maybe he has, but is it respectful to the opponent?
Probably the most interesting element of these chapters for me is the presence of the moms. Oe-san laments Taichi’s absence (cougar), but fascinatingly Mrs. Pressure herself is here. Why? She suspects Taichi is still playing Karuta, and she’s surprised he actually quit the team seemingly in response to her threats over his grade. Her offhand remark about seeking Oe-san’s advice should Taichi need a Hakama may or may not be foreshadowing, but the implication is that something is brewing here. Has Mrs. Pressure finally realized that her smothering parental practices have helped produce a deeply troubled and unhappy son?