Chihayafuru – Episode 7

Hey everybody! Today I wanted to watch some Chihayafuru, so damnit, that’s what I’m gonna do. I’ve kinda burned through my buffer of funded Chihayafuru episodes, but hey, that’s what happens when shows have the audacity to be good. Solid character writing and great color work aside, Chihayafuru is fundamentally blessed with a sense of momentum that makes it an easily marathonable show. Outside of a few slower, reflective moments, basically everything in the show is consistently aiming at its next engaging goal. Right now, Chihaya and Taichi are short just two club members, having conscripted the reluctant Kana with promises of fancy competition uniforms. Let’s see who they grab next!

Episode 7

“But for Autumn’s Coming.” I assume all of these episode titles are just the opening words of various karuta cards. A nice minor way to illustrate how the actual meanings behind the cards can reflect on the lives of the players. Kana would approve

Opening with a nice shot of their club room through the trees, emphasizing the peaceful isolation of their club while undercutting it with the familiar karuta tape

Ah, looks like they’ve already found a good role for Kana – she can press the button to make the tape go

I really do wonder how they’re going to keep her relevant. Will she just develop a sudden passion for playing karuta the same way her clubmates do, or is she just going to be sidelined, her commitment assumed from now until the end of time?

It’s kinda funny how fragile show casts tend to be. Characters are often brought together on the most tenuous or specific of pretenses, and even if a particular friend group seems unbreakable, it can be dispelled by the slightest piece of narrative convenience. There are few friendships stronger than the narrative they’re written in

Really digging Taichi’s “Things Make people Happy” shirt. Anime is a friggin’ treasure trove of wonderfully non-sequiturial t-shirt slogans

This scene is basically presenting practice as Chihaya crushing Taichi while Kana watches

Okay good, we’re getting into Taichi’s headspace. Not only does it really help the drama for us to understand Taichi’s tactical decisions (him deciding what cards to aim for based on what cards have already been taken, as well as Chihaya’s strengths, is great), but we also just need to be assured that Taichi is actually invested in this situation

Taichi’s motivation so far has been almost solely “I like Chihaya a lot, so I’m gonna do the things she wants to do.” Getting a glimpse into Taichi’s own competitive spirit here is very important for his character, and also helps this scene feel more friendly than just kind of anxious

This sequence also depicts Taichi as a very different kind of player from Chihaya. He thinks about the tactics and the already-chosen cards, whereas Chihaya focuses much more on her sensory advantages and the “feel” of the cards. That’s kind of an incomplete strategy, but if Chihaya has people like Taichi around her, it’ll help a lot

This also just kinda reminds me that I could never, ever play karuta. Not only do you have to memorize all the cards, but you have to keep a mental log of all the cards that have been pulled, like you’re counting cards in poker while also competing in a high-speed sport. Jeez

Taichi faced with the frustrating fact that sometimes better reflexes and more practice will just wash over a superior strategy

Chihaya predictably collapses right after the match. She’s pretty great

Ah, now I see what Kana is for. Considering both Taichi and Chihaya are now relatively accomplished players, we need a new audience avatar – someone who the more experienced players can explain things to, and thus also explain to the audience. The show’s timeskip means we never saw the scenes where more mid-level tactical concerns would be explained to our leads, but for the audience to appreciate the tactical interplay, someone has to have that stuff explained on-screen

“The speed at which people react to a card being read. Some people say it’s the most important skill in karuta.” I’d kinda figured that was without question the most important skill, so it’s nice to hear there’s even more to the game

Taichi starts lamenting his own lack of innate talent, but Kana just jumps on Chihaya’s potential to advertise her family store

“I don’t care about losing. But if Chihaya were to practice with Arata instead of me, would she become a better player?” Jeez Taichi, there’s a limit to martyring yourself

Chihaya rushes off to recruit the “second-smartest member of our class”

Chihaya’s reflexes might be her greatest weapon, but her unflagging self-confidence is also pretty strong

All of the other class members talkin’ shit about Tsutomu-kun, who apparently translates into Desktomu-kun for some reason the subtitles aren’t really interested in telling me

“Look at him, studying even after school is over.” “Doesn’t he look like a jelly bean?” These are some weak-ass insults

Tsutomu places his sense of self-worth in his ability to succeed as a student, in spite of his cruel classmates. And so people talking about how Taichi is superior actually gets to him

“Can you become number one by playing karuta? There’s no such thing as professional karuta, is there? It’s just a game.” Both Chihaya and Tsutomu have now emphasized the importance of being “number one,” of being the undisputed best at something. That’s a bit of an interesting focus in a sports show, where the emphasis usually ends on enjoying your effort together with a group of friends. I’m assuming their current philosophies will be receiving some pushback eventually

Oh my god, she just drags him out of his desk. Chihaya is not suited to this debate, but this is also a solution, I suppose

Wait, nevermind, she actually does get it. She may not know Tsutomu, but her repping karuta as a “mental game” that rewards the smartest player is precisely the right way to play to his ego

(Incidentally, don’t do this in real life. Chihaya can’t know this, but she’s playing on a weakness Tsutomu developed as a result of being consistently bullied. That’s not really a great way to convince someone to do something)

Tsutomu took the bait – he doesn’t respond with “that’s stupid/pointless,” he responds with “that’s impossible,” letting Chihaya keep repping the game

I really like all of Tsutomu’s endearing little physical mannerisms. Even his design is unique, if only because he looks too bland to be a leading character. They’re doing a lot of characterization through visual stuff here

I was worried Taichi’s presence would just frustrate Tsutomu, but instead he’s intrigued. That sets him up as someone with the right attitude – people who beat you aren’t a source of frustration, but inspiration

Tsugomu provokes them to up the ante, playing with the cards flipped over entirely

“But I can’t back down now!” Chihaya is such a sports MC

A nice shot that includes Chihaya’s dulled eyes, reflecting how hard she’s working to keep all of the card positions straight in her head

This was a pretty clever way to make the new guy’s registration rely on the show’s principal source of sports drama – Taichi/Chihaya matches

The soundtrack is offering a nice counterpoint to the chanting verse here. Having to work around the audio constraints of karuta is an interesting challenge

“Our memory will be fresh early. The problem is later, when the cards start getting passed around.” Oh my god this sounds so insanely impossible to me

Taichi suddenly realizes this is his chance to beat Chihaya, and his whole demeanor changes

They’re doing some nice doubling of character work here. While the narrative purpose of this match is to grab Tsutomu for the club, it’s also pushing Taichi to an emotional place where he can feel more confident in his own play, and more determined to improve for his own sake

“I definitely hate to lose!” There it is

And now Chihaya gets to be the frustrated one. Taichi remembers how nice it feels to win

“Why do people like him exist?” Okay, here’s Tsutomu’s resentment

Tsutomu knows he’s only tolerated for his talent, but he can’t see any other path, and so Taichi’s relative success seems totally unfair

“All I can do is study. I belong behind my desk!” Aw, this is such a good, sad scene

Nice long shot for the fallout of his outburst

Taichi finds a kindred spirit. Though Chihaya can feel motivated to be number one, Taichi knows he doesn’t have the talent. And so he forcefully pushes back against Tsugomu’s fear of failure. A great, natural counterpoint to both their starting positions this episode

“Instead of a karuta genius, I’d rather our new member be someone who puts in effort”

Tsutomu drops his desk and turns back to Taichi. I don’t think I have to spell the desk metaphor out

And Done

Hot damn! I actually think that was my favorite episode of the show so far. Tsutomu’s introduction was both a fine character piece in its own right and a terrific way of pushing Taichi’s character forward as well. On top of that, both their attitudes reflected thoughtfully on this show’s general focus on why we compete, and what competition gives us. This was easily the best Taichi episode of the whole show, and Tsutomu already seems like a strong addition to the cast. I could not be happier with this one.

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4 thoughts on “Chihayafuru – Episode 7

  1. Tsukue is japanese for “desk”. So Tsutomu’s classmates call him Tsukue-kun. Desktomu is the sub’s way of communicating that they are both saying part of his name, and the word desk.

    • In one of the screenshots embedded in this review we see the subtitles for Taichi’s reaction to Komano. According to these English subs Taichi wonders out loud “Who is this annoying brat?”

      Because of the regional restrictions of Kodansha Comics license for the distribution of their Digital Edition of the manga I don’t have access to the most recent translation of the manga chapters adapted into this seventh anime episode. If you do have access to the third volume of the Digital Edition, I wonder if you would mind providing the translation given there for this line spoken by Taichi in this episode:
      (From Japanese Volume 3, Chapter 12, page 17)

      In the bilingual edition Taichi’s comment is translated as: “Chihaya … who is that short, ugly, disgusting kid?”
      (From the bilingual Japanese/ English edition, Vol. 2, Ch. 12, p. 105.)

    • The kanji Suetsugu-sensei picked for the names of her characters in this series is itself also noteworthy, I think. Tsutomu Komano is written: 勉 駒野.
      As is, I suspect the way names are pronounced. As you indicate, the word play she employs isn’t restricted to the poetry but extends to names and nicknames as well.

      A thankless task for subtitle translators to try to capture some of that in English translation. We’ll have to see how Sentai’s translators tackled such matters easier addressed in comment sections than in the limited time and space they have available in subtitle text and on screen notes.

  2. ““But for Autumn’s Coming.” I assume all of these episode titles are just the opening words of various karuta cards.”

    Why assume? Not all of them are. The English translation of the episode titles helps with directly getting some of the poetic meaning of the words across but the English translation does not really help with the identification of the specific poems from which the words and phrases were selected for episode titles. The English translation appears to be unique to the Chihayafuru animation series and does therefore not really connect back to the poems with the same immediacy as the original Japanese.

    In this episode the words come from the “Shimonoku” of:
    やへむぐら しげれるやどの さびしきに
    ひとこそみえね あきはきにけり

    In the “Karuta” episode of NHK’s documentary series “Begin Japanology”, a section towards the end of the program shows that eternal queen Saki Kusunoki’s practice regimen includes an exercise in which the cards are covered after the memorisation period. She finds the cards without seeing them – as do Chihaya and Taichi during their demonstration match to convince Komano in this episode.
    “Begin Japanology: Karuta” first aired January 15, 2010 and is available with English commentary provided by NHK World.

    [Hi Bread]

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