Chihayafuru – Episode 12

Let’s get back to Chihayafuru! Last episode saw Chihaya’s whole team win their first tournament, defeating Nerdy Minor Character and his Merry Men in order to advance to the regional competition. Chihayafuru worked mightily to make sure that last episode in particular felt like a team effort, in spite of the fact that it was ultimately the team’s three ringers that actually won and pulled them through. The episode before that was chiefly dedicated to making sure Tsutomu felt valued in spite of his current, er, non-value, so I’ll be interested in seeing how the show does right by its weaker teammates going forward.

That said, I’m guessing that the last few episodes’ total focus on the new team means we’re likely to get caught up in Chihaya’s Arata fixation soon, and I’m also hoping the show can find a way to make that thread a bit more interesting. I’m not invested in Chihaya’s obsession with Arata, but Arata himself seems like he’s grown into a more well-rounded and endearing character, so I wouldn’t mind seeing him again. Let’s find out what’s in store!

Episode 12

Chihayafuru’s main musical refrain is so iconic. They lean on it pretty heavily, but the melody is strong enough to support the weight

Ah, I guess that was the regional tournament. So nationals is next? Pretty serious

I suppose this will also change how they’re treated back at school, presumably

Aw, the gang celebrating together is so sweet. They really do feel like friends now – the shared experience of this tournament managed that just as effectively as individual little character stories might have

And now Retro-kun with the last-minute steal

“This has been in the club room since I entered Hokuo’s middle school. I saw it every day. We’ll take it back next year!” “You better not disgrace Tokyo with your playing!” “But senpai, this was your last tournament!” A full sequence dedicated to celebrating the passion and humanity of their defeated opponents. It’s another sports drama staple, though it feels a little perfunctory here, since we barely got any time to come to know these opponents

As always, the balance of different dramatic priorities requires some give and take. In order to make this segment feel legitimately rewarding, the show would have had to offer this opposing team a degree of characterization and narrative focus that really wouldn’t be appropriate for Chihaya’s own first tournament. Later on, when the bonds of Chihaya’s team are more secure and their default style of play more assumed, there’ll be a great deal more leeway to instead focus on the unique qualities of Chihaya’s opponents – in fact, that’s one of the major ways sports shows find material to keep themselves going. But for now, the focus needs to be squarely on the Chihaya squad’s own personal troubles, meaning this group of opponents gets the short straw

We’re reintroduced to Chihaya’s parents with a shot of the dad cutting her sister’s picture out of a magazine. An extremely direct way to imply that things are pretty much the same in the Chihaya household

And yeah, we get a repeat of the exact same situation – Chihaya attempts to talk about her tournament, her sister storms over her

This is actually pretty endearing. Chihaya-sis was on a quiz show, but never had any of the answers, so the camera never turned to her. Ah well

Chitose herself actually seems like a pretty reasonable person. She’s working to support her family, and if she’s self-centered, it’s likely because her parents so completely fawn on her. They’re the ones at fault here – they’ve clearly picked a favorite daughter, and neglect Chihaya utterly

Big weepy strings as Chihaya walks out of the room. This conflict is too one-note to really sell itself at the moment. I’d really like Chihaya and Chitose to get some time together without their parents there – the parents aren’t even really people at the moment, but I think these two sisters could have some interesting conversations

And even at school, their advisor just wants to talk about the tennis club. Looks like they’re gonna have to rely on their own motivation

Hahaha, this next scene is so good. Chihaya attempting to cheer Tsutomu up, only to abandon tact and straight up beg him not to leave the group. Chihaya does seem to be getting a bit better at dealing with others, which makes her overall personality much easier to take. I’ll happily follow a protagonist who’s insensitive but aware of and working on that fact, whereas one who’s just lauded by the show’s framing in spite of their insensitivity is a lot harder to like

“I’m not so concerned about my grades these days.” Really nice to see Tsutomu experiencing some earned growth. The kid deserves to be happy

His declaration accompanied with a minimalist interpretation of the show’s main musical motif, played on a single guitar string. This is an important moment, but the full string arrangement would definitely be a bit overbearing here

They made the newspaper! And Kana’s hakuma are included in the title! GET ‘EM KANA

The three new members all head off for intensive training

Doctor Harada drops like a full minute’s worth of tactical knowledge on Chihaya and Taichi. It all sounds pretty legitimate, too – there are clear weaknesses in both our heroes’ play, and Harada sees all of it

And now we get Chihaya facing off against Harada himself. Half an episode after the end of the last tournament, Chihayafuru’s already found a new match worth caring about. This show really doesn’t waste any time, which is important – sports shows rely on momentum even more than most other genres

Chihaya feels paralyzed by the weight of responsibility from winning the tournament. She can’t disappoint the teams she’s defeated

The fact that she’s not really much of a strategist also makes it harder for her to analyze her own play with an eye for improvement. She just feels overwhelmed by Harada’s advice, not sure how she can actually put it into practice

Excellent squished Chihaya faces

“I’m scared of Nationals” accompanies the lowering of the train crossing’s gate. This episode’s visual metaphors sure are on the nose

That metaphor does at least prompt this beautiful shot of the train passing them!

And Taichi bonks her on the head. Chihaya is not the sort of person who should be falling into these kinds of unproductive anxiety loops. Chihaya charges!

Apparently Retro-kun gave them a full binder of scouting data on nationals. Not only is that just a generally nice gesture, it’ll also justify a whole bunch of tactical opposition-focused exposition once we actually do get to nationals

“We’re taking Hokuo and the other schools with us to Nationals. They’re our closest allies.” An assumed truth of sports shows. Girls und Panzer der Film takes this particularly literally, with wonderful results

Chihaya’s obsession with Arata seems to make more sense in light of her family situation. In spite of being a very enthusiastic person, it doesn’t seem like Chihaya has any actual friends, or any hobbies outside of karuta. Her family isn’t supportive of her passion, and so it feels like her only consistent friend is Dr. Harada. Given her extremely cloistered life, it’s reasonable for her to still be clinging to the theoretical significance of her relationship with Arata

Of course, the assumption that they’re intentionally portraying Chihaya as a lonely and not particularly well-adjusted person is a tricky thing to make in the context of a show like this. If this were the real world, Chihaya’s behavior would be very worrying – but this is a sports drama-slash-shoujo romance, and both of those genres tend to eschew realism in a manner that directly affects our perception of a situation like this. In terms of sports shows, it’s actually very common for characters to not exhibit any hobbies or friendships unrelated to their big passion – that’s just how narrative economy works. In terms of shoujo romance, it’s often accepted that a brief love from your childhood will act as your guiding principle even years down the line – that’s just an assumed truth of the genre. Given both those genre realities, it’s tough for me to say how much Chihaya is supposed to come across as a very troubled person here

Aw jeez, Chihaya’s dad actually has been collecting all of her newspaper clippings. An adorable moment

Kana organizes her karuta cards according to their season. Her tactical decisions are just as adorable as the rest of her

Nishida thinks she should order them in a more tactically intelligent way, but screw that

Oh my god Kana’s reaction to him not knowing the full poem. Kana is an irreplaceable treasure

The teacher finally gets a chance to see how hard they’re working

This episode is full of great physical comedy. Chihaya and Kana in particular are really physically expressive

Gorgeous pan back from Kana looking at the sunset

“The human heart never changes.” The idea of fated love that permeates so many of the actual poems reflects nicely on this show’s own narrative

Aw, the Empress puts their trophy in a place of honor

Oh my god, she gets a dramatic OP drop and a pan in her sunhat and shades. What an amazing turnaround for the Empress

Oh dang, and we’ve actually reached the temple from the OP. As usual, no time is wasted between big narrative events

And Done

That was terrific! In spite of in theory being a transition episode, mostly dedicated to getting the team from one tournament to the next, that turned out to be one of my favorite episodes of the show so far. Chihaya in particular got a bunch of excellent material here – not only did she demonstrate clear emotional growth in the aftermath of the first tournament, but her relationship with her family was progressed in a charming and ultimately impactful way. The episode was also just funny and propulsive, and we got a variety of nice emotional payoffs. Chihayafuru feels like it’s getting stronger all the time.

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