Chihayafuru – Episode 11

Alright everybody, it is TOURNAMENT TIME WOOO. Technically last episode was actually the start of the tournament, but in practice, that episode was mostly about figuring out how Chihaya’s team will deal with the fact that Kana and Tsutomu are so much worse than their other team members. I’d been worried the show would essentially just push them off to the side, but thankfully, Tsutomu’s feelings of rejection and inadequacy were given almost a full episode’s worth of focus, and the idea of using them to waste their opponent’s best players was raised and rejected. Even Chihaya was forced to acknowledge she hadn’t been accounting for her teammates’ feelings, and considering Chihaya has the emotional intelligence of a large rock, that’s a pretty major breakthrough. But with all that very necessary emotional material settled, the team is now in a position to SLING SOME GODDAMN CARDS. I’ve been waiting for Chihayafuru to fully stretch its sports muscles, and I’m guessing this is the time. Let’s get right to it!

Episode 11

Dr. Harada shows up! Alright, now that we’ve actually got a commentary gallery, we really can get into sports show mode

Granted, my general view on sports show commentary galleries is that they’re far too often used as a crutch, either to vocally explain tactical choices we should be able to infer, or to simply pad for time by cutting to a bunch of reactions in between every meaningful action within the game itself. But as a sports show continues, it’ll accumulate secondary characters and side narratives like barnacles on a ship, and figuring out how to manage those characters’ presence becomes its own kind of skill

And the team does their best to strategize against how their opponents might place their Class A players. But what can you even do here? It feels like your odds of overthinking this are just as high as your odds of underthinking it, and your initial odds of getting the right choice are already far lower than something like Rock-Paper-Scissors, since you’re trying to predict five separate positions

This also makes me feel like there’s a huge element of luck in team karuta, since your positioning relative to your opponent’s positioning is both so important and so random. On the other hand, at a high level, there shouldn’t be as big skill discrepancies between teammates as there are on Chihaya’s team, meaning this could actually result in a bunch of very fun, unexpected matchups. But right here it’s kind of a crapshoot – meaning it basically just comes down to what the author thinks will make for the most dramatically effective matchups

“The player in the center needs to be someone with an active voice, who can keep an eye on everyone else. On our team, that’s Taichi.” Wow, Chihaya actually comes up with a very good tactical point. And yeah, Taichi is the absolute best leader for their team. Not only is he a strong player and generally level-headed guy, but he’s also maybe the most generally considerate member of the team, able to sympathize with the concerns of everybody. The team wouldn’t work without him

And then the two aces on the edges, since they don’t need help, and the two new players in positions where they can be supported. “Instead of worrying about the opponent’s team, we should pick an order that maximizes our own strengths.” Friggin’ great work by Chihaya!

And after offering a legitimately good strategy, she hypes up the whole team. There may be hope for Chihaya yet

Determined Kana is good

Blushing Harada is moe

Now Taichi’s even feeling bad about putting the wrong kind of pressure on Chihaya. His crush issues may not be the best, but he’s still a good egg

Taichi accepts the limitations of his understanding, but still does his best to inspire his teammates

Retro-kun sure is an unfunny dude. Well, the opponents can’t all be winners

The rest of his team seems nice enough though, even though they’re not taking Chihaya’s team seriously. And why would they take Chihaya’s team seriously?

The two glasses dudes adjust their glasses pre-match. There is a ritual

Retro guesses Chihaya’s order correctly, but doesn’t really use that information in a mean way. Instead, the ringers are all facing off against each other

Oh my god, Chihaya’s face when this guy asks for a specific apology is so good

It seems like Chihaya’s favorite card is common knowledge at this point

And Harada begins his commentary

Harada bragging about his favorite pupil to the enemy coach, who looks like he’s twelve years old

And now we’re checking in with Arata! He’s working at a bookstore, and seems to be in a much healthier emotional place than our last meeting

The team gets swept, but Taichi’s there to keep their enthusiasm high. They actually do feel like a team now, a marked change from last episode

Yeah, more Harada commentary. Offensive karuta is meant to create a snowball effect – not only do you start to overwhelm your opponent psychologically, but you force the opponent to go even more defensive by sending cards to their side. Controlling the pace of the game in karuta is critical

Chihaya keeps falling behind, but her team pulls her back. “Every card I take is a card for my team!”

Harada just gave away a key component of Chihaya’s power. Chihaya’s specialty is instinctive speed, and essentially being able to read through the tone of the speaker’s voice which particular sentence they’re completing. Considering she’s already gone through four matches listening to this same speaker, she’s arrived at the point where the natural lilt of the speaker’s voice tells her which line she’s reading. It’s a very powerful trick, but still within the range of believable sports superpowers

“Every card I take is worth more than a card.” She’s even starting to recognize her emotional weight within the team

Smug chibi Chihaya is also good

“I feel so much better when I’m looking down on people.” This opponent is a charmer

It’s pretty tough to humanize every single opponent in a genre like this, that mills through characters on an episodic basis. Sometimes it’s easier to just build some larger-than-life villains

Chihaya’s opponent uses one of Arata’s best techniques, and Chihaya immediately shifts into Horny For Arata mode. Goddamnit Chihaya

Now we’re getting some development for Nishida. The visual effect they’re using for his flashbacks is pretty nice. The heavy linework and faded colors certainly create a sense of distance

Nishida does a goddamn barrel roll to take a card. Good shit

In the end, it does come down to Chihaya’s team having to win with all three of their aces. That makes sense – it’d be pretty ridiculous for Retro’s team, a team that’s fought to the finals here and also regularly passed this tournament in the past, to have anyone who could be beaten by someone who’s just learned to play a few weeks ago. In light of that, this episode barely focused on Kana and Tsutomu’s drama, while still offering them a reasonable amount of respect as competitors

And now we get inside Taichi’s head. Taichi is a very different kind of player – lacking natural talent in terms of reaction time, he focuses heavily on the strategic end of the game, plotting out which cards have been taken and which cards are safe to go for. It’s very fun watching the game from his perspective

“The one thing I have is my memory of what cards have been read”

And now it comes down to Chihaya’s match

Chihaya’s opponent is finally being humanized. Looks like that’s it for you, buddy

Chihaya takes the win. My god this team is so cute

And Done

A very solid episode! That was a fine match altogether, mining strong drama out of Chihaya, Nishida, and Taichi’s matches. The development of their opponents wasn’t all that great, but we really didn’t have time for that – this episode was very constrained in terms of dramatic structure, and it did the best it could given those constraints. I’m frankly still not sure how this show will keep karuta interesting across many matches, since even this one relied heavily on the things we already know about each of their gameplay strengths, but that’s for future episodes to figure out. For now, it’s on to Nationals!

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