Chihayafuru – Episode 4

And we’re back with more Chihayafuru! Last episode brought us to what I assume is the end of the show’s flashback arc, with Chihaya and her two karuta buddies separating at the end of elementary school. The overall arc left me with some mixed structural feelings, as I felt that not only did this flashback kinda dampen the show’s dramatic momentum, but it also didn’t necessarily sell the depth of the bond between our leads. But even though I had a number of narrative structure concerns, the actual moment-to-moment execution of the show was still very solid throughout. Let’s see what high school brings!

Episode Four

“A Whirlwind of Flower Petals Descends” goddamnit Chihayafuru that’s just every episode

Alright, looks like we’re at least starting back in the past. Still seems like we’re in the conclusion to this flashback, though

Welp, there’s our first whirlwind of descending flower petals

And the camera pans to the sky as horns swell. It’s a canned trick, but hey, it does the job

“Were you daydreaming or something?” Yeah man, for two and a half episodes

Chihaya hasn’t changed much since elementary school. She still can’t really read a room, and still responds to things that annoy her by whacking them. It’s nice to see a show acknowledge we don’t generally grow new personalities – or at least, that someone like Chihaya, who’s always been true to herself, isn’t going to become a new person in high school

Oh no, Taichi’s girlfriend has a generic character design. SHE’S DOOMED

Chihaya lays down a competitive ultimatum, which appears to be her main way of getting people to do things. We’re basically reestablishing the core tenets of her relationship with Taichi – warm greetings, some physical violence, and competitive spirit

This return is actually making me appreciate the childhood segment a lot more, since Chihaya is so very much the same person. Her ranting about Taichi getting a girlfriend is wonderful

The “fated shoujo couples” thing is interacting a little oddly with the rest of this show’s dramatic choices. The show keeps framing Chihaya’s bond with Arata as some mystical thing, but the rest of this show is too down-to-earth for that to feel tonally appropriate

“And here I am.” Aside from the base nature of the big flashback itself, this show has been very good about not wasting our time. There’s very little agonizing about upcoming events or meaningless training – a conflict with clear stakes was established in the previous scene, and now here we are at the tournament

Dr. Harada is as boisterous as ever

“There are many players who spend years in Class B because they can’t rack up the wins to move to the next level.” Man, karuta is such a strange sport. It’s just inherently odd hearing the language of a big professional infrastructure applied to this incredibly singular activity

“I always knew, deep down, that I could spend my entire youth on karuta without becoming better than Arata.” They’re towing a difficult line here. In general, people pressuring Taichi to invest in karuta are pretty much out of line – he’s allowed to have his own goals, he shouldn’t be forced to conform to their narrative of who they want him to be. But in the world of a sports show, “truly passionate effort” and “being true to yourself” are often philosophically aligned with the sport itself, regardless of how ridiculous that would be in the real world. Shows like Girls und Panzer essentially bully their leads into competing with a smile, because in these tiny competitive worlds, the sport itself is tied to virtue or excellence. Navigating that inherent emotional disconnect tends to be one of the fundamental challenges of any sports show

Though I guess for many people, there isn’t necessarily a disconnect there at all. As someone with no competitive urge whatsoever and very little interest in sports, all of this feels arbitrary for me until investment in characters or well-constructed dramatic setups makes it meaningful/interesting

“The point is to overwhelm her opponent.” Using her surprising, dramatic physical presence as a weapon. In a game like this, where your ability to stay cool and react immediately is paramount, I imagine it can be easy to gain and keep momentum. There’s little time to reset and collect yourself, because your opponent is actively gaining points if you’re not

Smart shot of middle school Chihaya practicing in a huge empty hall, placed in the corner to emphasize her isolation

“Everything is for karuta.” I guess I’m just going to have to believe in Chihaya’s belief, since the first three episodes ultimately didn’t sell “I live for karuta now”

And yeah, now Harada is undercutting Taichi’s argument

“That’s the chocolate sign.” The chocolate sign! Chihaya is such a good character

I really love this show’s soundtrack. Lovely orchestral melodies that add a ton to the tone

Wonderful expressions for both Taichi and Chihaya during this chocolate episode

“Your brain will burn through the sugar in your body.” Yeah, I don’t doubt it. Long game tournaments that require this kind of constant mental concentration really do burn you out physically as well as mentally

Chihaya actually apologizes for forcing Taichi into making the club, which is nice, I suppose

“I dare say that his card positioning is perfect.” I’d like to learn more about how card positioning actually affects play, and how audiences can judge a player’s card positioning. Of course, major technical details like this are a resource that grounded sports shows (i.e., the ones where not everybody has magic sports powers) have to ration somewhat carefully. A single element of play within a larger game, like the card positioning here, can turn into the dramatic focus of a particular match, but you don’t want to repeat your focus too often, so preserving dramatic space can become a real issue

One common way to deal with that is to frame matches as centered on whatever an opponent specifically brings to the table, but sports don’t necessarily lend themselves to the diversity of “attack styles” that, say, JoJo does. Hajime no Ippo has cannibalized over a century of boxing techniques to keep giving its characters new tricks

“Just look at the way he’s spreading out the cards that start with the same syllable.” It’s actually kinda nice to try and piece together the tactical mechanics of this game with no knowledge at all

“He’s putting pressure on Chihaya, since she normally starts slow.” Yeah, it does seem like momentum is key in this sport. And using an imposing physical presence seems totally okay, too – you’re allowed to essentially “guard the board” in a way, though I’d assume that intentionally blocking your opponent is a no-no. Without rules against that, the best strategy would presumably be “punch your opponent in the face, take all the cards while they’re rolling on the floor”

“Once I’ve taken away your favorite card, it will be easy to break your fifteen-year-old spirit.” Jeez, guy

“She took a card from the opponent’s side.” So each of them get half of the overall cards, and they essentially get to set up defensive positioning with them that plays to their own strengths and hopefully mitigates their opponents

She gives him the Chihaya card because she knows she’s faster on that anyway

And now she’s starting to heat up. A protagonist who starts slow is pretty ideal for a sports drama, since we get a natural come-from-behind narrative. Though of course, you can also spin “powers out the gate, but gets increasingly desperate and exhausted” into a good story too. The mechanics of sports narratives are fun!

Some nice screen-in-screen tricks here to keep the drama moving without flashing through shots too abruptly

The lighting shifts with Chihaya’s mood

Chihaya already enjoys just playing with people who are passionate – she doesn’t need to grow into the right kind of player, she’s already there. This ain’t Ping Pong the Animation, we’re here to have a good time

Chihaya takes the match!

The light of the play room versus the evening outside allows this scene to embrace Chihaya’s light-bringing qualities

Arata is presented in darkness, as always

Oh dang, he stopped playing karuta. SOMEONE could use a little sunshine

And Done

That was a very fine episode! They managed to pack a whole tournament into this episode, and it didn’t feel rushed at all. That last match was also the show’s best battle yet, offering plenty of dramatic hooks to keep the strangest of competitions exciting throughout. It is still kinda remarkable to me that this show manages to make karuta kind of thrilling, but I’m not gonna complain. On to the next episode!

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2 thoughts on “Chihayafuru – Episode 4

  1. Episode 4:
    “shidzu-kokoro naku
    hana no chiruramu”

    Came here for a different reason, chasing a different series’ episode titles as it happens, but got pleasantly sidetracked by Chihayafuru, once again. If you don’t mind me asking, what made you decide to revisit this series now?

    The episode titles are a bit lost in translation but -with a few notable exceptions- are quotes from poetry selected for the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu collection. At this point in your reviews I’m curious to find out if you already know this -and are providing incentive for your audience to check – or if you don’t know and would have looked it up yourself at some point?

    It is, I think, Chihayafuru’s biggest obstacle for people who read summaries or hear about the series from fans. Very common questions: Karuta? Japanese poetry? Can I watch and enjoy this without knowing stuff like that?

    Really hope this doesn’t come across the wrong way but, in case you don’t know, would you like a list of episode titles with their corresponding poems for the rest of the two seasons released so far? It is tempting to post such info but doing so would spoil the fun of exploration for those people completely new to this. People who’re reading along and are only just now starting to figure out that this series might actually be even better after some “homework”.

    This comment was posted while trying to balance these thoughts and this urge against the undeniable joy expressed in this sentence from your episode four review: “It’s actually kinda nice to try and piece together the tactical mechanics of this game with no knowledge at all”.

    “why should the blossoms scatter
    with uneasy hearts?”

    The poetic line from the title as transliterated and translated into English in “Pictures of the Heart” by Joshua Mostow.

  2. Readers and watchers with a Japanese education enter this series with a head start. That is so obvious it probably doesn’t really need to be stated. Probably. It isn’t possible to catch up with Chihaya and her classmates within the timespan of these four flashback episodes. It may not be helpful to point that out so starkly either. Not meant to discourage.

    The creators of Chihayafuru too restrain themselves. For the sake of their Japanese audience they reintroduce the basics of Kyōgi Karuta but they don’t have to teach the very basics of their language. These kids are at a stage where Ogura Hyakunin Isshu can be introduced to them in class and Be Love readers are a bit ahead of them. Starting around the age of the flash – back – forward we’re now experiencing. Perhaps you’re purposely following a little bit behind their pace to facilitate a bit of that brushing up too?

    From my own observations about the audience of this series I’ve come to this conclusion about those common questions posted in the first comment. Quite a few people arrive at this answer very early on: “I can watch and enjoy this series without knowing stuff like that” … and never make an effort to learn more after that.

    I’ve seen many people proceed right past the end of season one, then two and the OVA without ever checking beyond what is shown on screen. Sometimes not even that. It is not just binge watchers who never pause on a single frame either…

    I feel incredibly pedantic for writing comments like this -and they’re not written without a sense of self-irony either- but I think that’s a shame and I’d like to figure out ways to encourage more new viewers – not to go through this entire series like that. How then to pace ourselves and how to frame our encouragement to learn? How to make learning fun and desirable? Are we encouraging “them” to take such an approach by giving the impression that it isn’t really necessary to know? Not at the start and not even after watching the entire series. Just to get people to give this series a chance, when such reservations are expressed, I may have given them that impression myself. Despite thinking that karuta, the poetry and literary references are among the most important elements of the story. The very point of its existence, even.

    The manga is being made available in English and I, personally, think it offers a better place to start but even manga readers have managed to follow this series for years without learning how to identify even the most prominent poems from the characters printed on the corresponding cards.

    Comments for episode 1 have been closed. Was that by design? From the review: “But here, the pink “blossoms” are actually hiragana and kanji characters, echoing this show’s wordy subject matter. All of my expectations are being fulfilled at once!”
    A frozen frame right above those words.

    I’m probably an ass for asking but… How many people have posted comments to suggest that there might not be any kanji within that screen-cap or in that opening sequence from which it was taken?

    Has someone come back after watching episode three to suggest that all those characters appear to be hiragana? Has someone else tentatively concluded that -furthermore- those look like a small subset of that syllabary. Looped and multiplied but all the same. The animators appear to be showing only the first characters in hiragana for poems identifiable by their first “sound” right from the start of any karuta match. In the third episode Arata assigns Chihaya to going after such cards.

    In the very first moments of the very first episode these seven characters appear to be raining down in the order of the popular mnemonic device Chihaya repeats within the third episode: む(mu), す(su), め(me), ふ(fu), さ(sa), ほ(ho), せ(se).

    How many people have written to suggest that? If the number is low, is that an indication that we aren’t introducing the series in the right way? You leave time between episodes in which people can go back and check on such details and I’m curious to find out how many actually do?

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