Chihayafuru – Episode 2

Let’s dive right into Chihayafuru’s second episode. There was a whole lot I liked about the first episode, from the strong use of color to the generally sharp direction and very likable protagonist. There were also things I was a little less enamored with, like the fairly routine love triangle framing and the flash-forward dramatic structure. But the things I liked are things whose worth is immediately apparent, while the things I’m not sold on can easily justify and complicate themselves over time. This is already a fun show, and its reputation is pretty stellar. I don’t need to be convinced here – I’m happy to give it another episode. Let’s get to it!

Episode 2

“The Red That Is.” This episode’s title presumably referring to the Chihaya tile

I like that this show kind of inherently emphasizes how any kind of person can have any kind of hobby. You wouldn’t expect a character like Taichi or Chihaya herself to be into karuta at a glance

Aw dang, Taichi actually got the whole class to shun her. Kids are terrible. I guess we’ll see how Chihaya’s chipper attitude and great sense of right and wrong handle this one

“If you stop talking to the outsider, we’ll stop ignoring you.” Taichi isn’t particularly subtle

Chihaya defends Wataya by celebrating his karuta skills, and that allows him to stand up straighter, more fully in the light

KARUTA SHOWDOWN TIME

Chihaya’s astonishment at the bet fades into the bright blue sky, the meeting point of her sun and his blue colors

Man, this opening really is catchy as hell. Gonna have to download this one

A mom who’s never seen karuta before gets to be our audience avatar here, asking the basic questions so someone else can explain the setup to her/us

Oh man, Taichi’s so proud of even getting the card at all. This feels like when you mention you play some fighting game, a friend says they’re good and want to fight, and then you see they just low kick or heavy attack repeatedly or something. Don’t want to ruin your fun, but… you’re gonna get wrecked

(incidentally, I pretty much actually just do that in a lot of fighting games. I’m one of those hated Melee players)

“You’ll understand once you’ve seen him play.” God, Chihaya has such a good attitude. Even here, with Taichi trying his hardest to be a butt, she’s actually being very understanding to him, as well – framing his jabs not as meanness, but as a simple misunderstanding. Assuming the best of others and always putting your own best face forward is a fiendishly difficult standard to live by

When Wataya settles into concentration, the background fades to deep blue, unsurprisingly

They really work hard to instill these card swipes with a lot of drama. Slow motion on the key moments, and then this low-angle shot that emphasizes both the distance the card has traveled and everyone else’s stunned reactions

Yeah Taichi, you fucked

Now the low-angle shots are on Wataya himself, presenting him as imposing and surrounded by the overhead light’s glow

Taichi’s gonna do something pretty lousy here, I assume. He’s been backed into a corner, and he’s the one who cares about the class’s approval. It’s the bullies who often have the most to lose, and who have to perform at all times

“You have the instinct of a karuta player”

TAICHI YOU LITTLE SHIT

Chihaya believes Taichi would never do the thing he just did. That’s gotta hurt

This is a really mean and selfish act, and I’m happy the show lets its stars do this kind of stuff. Kids are mean!

Taichi wants to get back to the righteous feeling of anger he had when he accepted this challenge, so he tries to provoke Wataya, and tries to downplay how much his own actions have hurt him. But he’s not truly a bad person, so he can’t feel good about this turn of events

The conventional wisdom is “it’s your actions that are important, not your feelings,” because all of us experience very negative and unkind feelings. But in truth, pretty much all of us also end up doing unkind things from time to time, and an underlying sense of empathy and guilt is actually pretty important there

A brief shot of the overall room emphasizes how much work the direction is doing to impart this conflict with dramatic weight. All the extreme closeups and sharp angles create a sense of tension, claustrophobia, and consequence, whereas longer shots would remind us that this is an afterschool activity attended by a handful of kids in a rec room

Wataya briefly rallies using his powerful memorization abilities, but Taichi counters with even more dickishness. There’s the immediate moral counterpoint – feeling bad about your mean actions doesn’t mean a single solitary thing if it doesn’t lead to you changing your behavior. Possessing the potential to be a good person is not the same as being a good person

As Wataya loses hope, he sinks in deep blue. But Chihaya comes to save him, aligned with the autumn leaves that accompany the show’s opening. A show can adopt a relatively “realistic” aesthetic style while still drawing visual power from clear symbology

They saturate the lighting even more than usual for Chihaya’s big arrival

“I’m not doing this for him. I’m the one who’s going to defeat Taichi.” A key moment for her, transitioning from being impressed by other people’s dreams and accomplishments to seeking her own victories

Oh my god, Chihaya is so great. Her absurdly charming personality is definitely enough to build an entire show around, this show’s other strengths aside

The show is smartly making use of Chihaya’s relative weaknesses as a player to create interesting tactical scenarios. Here’s where the sports drama comes in – Chihaya has a clear weakness (the fact that she only knows a third of the cards) but also a clear strength (her insane reaction time relative to Taichi), so she’s immediately developing a strategy that pits her strengths against his weaknesses. Whether Chihaya is the kind of person who’d actually come up with such a sneaky strategy feels a little questionable, but that’s easily handwaved for the sake of fun dramatic action

Incidentally, enabling grounded drama like this is a big part of why sports shows often center on a less physically talented character who succeeds through tactical choices. “I won because I was the strongest” isn’t particularly satisfying for an audience – “I won because I leveraged my specific strengths to overcome difficult odds in an understandable way” is much more interesting, and offers natural opportunities for suspense, twists, desperate gambles, and all the other stuff that complicates any kind of battle

When Taichi thinks “For that loser?”, his mind instinctively jumps to the glasses. You can’t cheat while also feeling superior to your opponent, unless you’re an aim-hacking gamer whose sense of accomplishment is dead to the world

Hahaha, this shot of Chihaya’s card being infused with pink energy. This show is doing its damnedest to make karuta exciting

“That was so fun!” Chihaya’s constant positivity really is the most effective way to pull people like Taichi out of their own negative instincts, but again, it’s such a hard standard to live up to. You don’t want to pat the back of someone who’s actively attacking you

Jeez, brutal scenes with both Chihaya and Taichi’s families. Having finally found something she can be proud of that’s all her own, Chihaya is totally ignored by her mother and sister. And Taichi’s mother just dresses him down for losing in the finals, saying to “only focus on contests you can win.” The shitty parenting olympics have some dynamic frontrunners this year!

“I know you made flashcards for learning the Hundred Poems.” “Don’t tell anyone. They’ll think I’m lame.” Ah, that wonderful absurdity of adolescence, where actually applying yourself to get good at things is considered “lame.” Little do these kids know that learning how to truly apply yourself is basically the one skill you really have to learn in school

“What’s so lame about losing in a fair fight?” CHIHAYA IS SO GOOD

And of course, now they see Wataya applying himself as hard as he can

These outdoor shots are gorgeous. The fading afternoon light emphasizes the importance of this whole segment

Taichi owns up to stealing them, and Wataya responds with real gallantry. Nice work team

And Done

That was another fine episode. I felt the last act kind of played up its own dramatic profundity a bit much, considering every dramatic movement was pretty much the most obvious choice, but the actual tournament segment was excellent. This episode also did plenty of strong work for both Taichi and Wataya, who now each feel like sympathetic characters in their own way. I like that Taichi is just kind of a selfish and grudge-prone person – he’s not a monster, but he has some unkind qualities. There aren’t very many Chihayas in the world. The rest of us have to do the best we can.

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.

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