Chihayafuru – Episode 10

Let’s get back to Chihayafuru! With her team fully established and a tournament goal already in sight, last episode saw Chihaya and the gang setting up a grueling training regimen. I had somewhat mixed feelings on how the episode handled Chihaya’s behavior there – it initially seemed like the show was going to acknowledge that Chihaya was acting in a pretty terrible way, but the finale saw her teammates forgiving her in a way that seemed like the show tonally supported her actions. Chihaya’s let’s-plow-ahead exuberance is her most powerful quality, but her actions aren’t always justified, and I’m hoping the show mines that for interesting drama eventually. Either way, we’re fast approaching the school team’s first tournament, so let’s get to it!

Episode 10

We open on a rainy day at school

Chihaya’s warming up in one of Kana’s hakamas. I suppose it is some consolation that Kana is still getting exactly what she wants out of this relationship, even if she has to practice under the eye of a karuta slavedriver to get there

And just like before, the show doesn’t waste any time on diversions between big narrative beats. We had three episodes of teammate recruitment, one episode of consolidation and training, and now we’re diving right into their first tournament!

I always love this cut in the OP where Chihaya literally cuts into the frame by slicing at a card, and then slides out of view like she’s flowing down a river of golden hair

YES KANA, SEIZE YOUR MOMENT

She’s even taking this opportunity to advertise her family’s shop. Get ‘em, Kana

“Everybody here is bonkers for karuta!” Chihaya has the lowest emotional intelligence of any lead I’ve seen in quite a while. It’s a unique experience having a person like her be the lead of an uplifting sports drama

“You’ve been texting Arata a lot. Does he ever reply?” “It’s shocking how he never replies!” Goddamnit Chihaya

“We understand that Chihaya belongs to both of us.” Well Taichi, that sounds incredibly healthy

There really hasn’t been a hint of truly sympathetic romance in this show. Chihaya is basically just horny for karuta, and Taichi puts her on a pedestal while never actually being honest with her

Retro-kun comes back to brag about his powerhouse high school team. I’m sorry dude, but they only brought you back to give Chihaya a known character to smash. You’re not even important enough to be saved as a dramatic reveal opponent later on

Chihaya is getting some great faces this episode. She’s kind of a jerk of a person, but her faces make it easy to see why people like her

Chihaya’s competitive spirit is as strong as ever. Basically any hurdle just makes her feel that much more determined to succeed. She is as straightforward as they come

But yeah, Retro-kun’s team actually has two Class A players. Chihaya’s newbies will have no chance there, and even her ringers are just Class B

“A woman must always move with grace, even in a fight for her life.” I really appreciate that this show allows Kana’s form of strength to be greatly valued. The two newbies are actually my favorite characters at the moment – both of them have solid stories and unique reasons to be here

“We just need three people to win their matches for a victory.” I assume that’s how these tournaments play out in real life, but in narrative terms, that’s also a good way to make every single match feel important even though our team is composed of people with wildly different skill levels. I hope the tournament actually uses that – that Kana and Tsutomu aren’t just murdered immediately, and are given opponents that let them demonstrate a lower but still exciting level of karuta play, as they come to internalize some of the more basic techniques

In fact, it’d be a huge waste to squander their growth. Chihayafuru only spent a couple episodes on Chihaya’s own early time with the sport, so there’s plenty of beginner concepts that haven’t been mined yet which could be applied to Kana and Tsutomu’s play

“They wouldn’t say that if they knew how strong the current Queen is.” CHIHAYA’S FINAL BOSS

Tsutomu and Kana both get crushed in the first group stage, as you’d expect in reality. Hopefully we get to see them rally at least a bit

This conversation is so cruel. Nishida saying they should match Kana and Tsutomu against the Class A players of their opponents – they won’t have any chance at winning, but that would raise the chances the other three can get them their three wins. I’m glad the camera focuses on Tsutomu’s reaction to this proposed strategy, emphasizing how much it disregards all the work he’s put in

Kana is totally down for Chihaya’s star-crossed lovers deal

Kana is perfectly fine with taking it easy and losing, as long as she’s enjoying herself and with friends and slowly improving. Tsutomu’s personality is more like Chihaya’s – his enjoyment is tied to his competitive performance, and he wouldn’t be here if he didn’t think he had a chance to be the best. Both reactions to this sport are fine, but they’re not really competing on the same terms

That difference in their approach definitely made focusing on Tsutomu here the right choice, give this show’s overall narrative is built around validating Chihaya’s style of feelings

Oh goddamnit Kana won lol

His teammates’ support doesn’t help; he was just facing a stronger opponent. This is very good

One of Chihaya’s biggest strengths is that defeats don’t discourage her, they make her more energized to win in the future. That, combined with her strong competitive instinct, make her a very “mentally sound” player. But not all people are like that – Tsutomu is competitive and wants to win, but defeats actually do get to him. It’s nice that we’re validating that feeling today

Nishida again emphasizing tactical play, saying they should throw Tsutomu to their next opponent’s stronger player. Ouch

Tsutomu finally explodes, and it feels totally justified. They really have been treating him like an accessory, not a valued teammate, and that’s after forcing him both onto the team and into extreme practice sessions

Thankfully Taichi gets it, and takes his side. I appreciate that even an action as extreme as “you guys suck, I’m going home” is validated here, given this show’s general love of competition

“I never realized that Tsutomu felt that way.” Well, yeah, of course not. You never notice how anyone feels, Chihaya

Their next opponents actually play like a team, encouraging each other all the while

Chihaya’s out of sorts, and can’t even grab her own card

This is a good conflict for a character like her. Chihaya’s strength is based largely in her natural instincts – she plays emotionally, not intellectually. Having some external emotional event rock her concentration will affect her more deeply than other characters

Now we’re hyping up the finals opponents a bit, and even going into the unique strengths of the team’s current opponents

A pair of players duck into Tsutomu’s weeping room to loudly exposit the current events of the semifinals. Here’s to you, narrative convenience

“How do I usually take cards?” Yeah, a bad mental break makes Chihaya useless

Great sequence using this bird to echo her escape from the darkness

And we get this episode’s best sequence, as Kana finally acknowledges her own feelings about being a rookie, and Tsutomu honestly congratulates her on her win. These two are kinda carrying the show for me

And Done

That was a great episode! Definitely the best of the last several, offering a very strong mix of competitive drama and collective character development. The show was able to lean on both Tsutomu and Chihaya’s negative qualities to stir up some very satisfying team drama, escaping from Chihaya’s relentlessly positive perspective to demonstrate the ambiguity this sort of team event might hold for her teammates. The show made solid use of Chihaya’s weaknesses as well, and Tsutomu’s ultimate reunion with the team felt pretty solidly earned. I figured this show’s tournaments would be its big strength, and so far, it really does feel like this is the show hitting its stride.

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