Chihayafuru – Episode 13

Let’s get right the heck back to Chihayafuru! Last episode covered pretty much the entire transition from the end of the club’s first tournament to the beginning of the second one, bringing the whole gang closer together and proving their dedication to their faculty advisor along the way. Chihaya’s breakneck pacing is certainly one of its greatest strengths, and I’m actually even more excited for this tournament than the last one. The club’s first tournament was largely dedicated to actually proving their ability to function as a team – with that soundly accomplished, I’m guessing this next tournament will be the first one that hews to a more traditional sports structure, full of ominous opponents and thrilling faceoffs.

The thing I’m most looking forward to seeing is the show demonstrate that karuta really can support a sports narrative’s dramatic weight. I know that’s an odd thing to question twelve episodes in, but the show so far has leaned heavily on personal drama over sports drama, and in spite of that, has still burned through a worrying number of easy tactical setups. The show’s done a great job keeping karuta interesting so far, but I’m still worried the sport just doesn’t have the complexity to offer fresh-feeling conflicts all the way through. But everybody loves Chihayafuru, so I’m excited to see just how it solves that problem. Let’s get to it!

Episode 13

Ah right, starting right at the OP gate

Some nice atmospheric shots on their approach, creating the sensation of depth in the screen in order to emphasize the vast nature of this place, which in turn emphasizes the sense that they’ve truly graduated to an imposing, potentially overwhelming level of play

“You may find these customs tedious, but the gods are not always so forgiving.” An air of magic around this place. The aura of destiny and fated lovers that defines Chihayafuru’s romantic pretensions also kinda filters into its mundane aesthetic. There’s a sense of larger-than-life romance to everything

Chihaya makes a surprisingly grounded wish. “Keep us free from accidents so we can play.” She didn’t even mention Arata once!

Ah, there it is. She just waited until they were walking down the steps

“My dream hasn’t changed.” Another choice that marks this as a pretty traditional sports narrative. In a story like this, people really can dedicate their entire self to pursuing such a dream

A new challenger appears! A dark-haired girl is framed in a ring at the bottom of the steps. Her dark hair and cold eyes both mark her as Chihaya’s opposite and echo Arata’s features

She and Chihaya share a Fated Passing. Shit’s gonna go down!

And the cicadas rise up to an overwhelming volume, hammering the This Is Ominous bell

Aw, sweet… well, I don’t even know if it counts as a match cut when we’re cutting from that shrine in the show proper to that shrine in the OP. Graceful either way

Oh hey, it’s Kana’s mom! She looks… exactly like Kana’s mom would look

Chihaya looks so good in her hakama that the screen naturally sprouts flowers just looking at her

Chihaya seems to have been poked in the forehead with some god-power or something while praying at the shrine. I’m not really sure where they’re going with that, but we had the initial event and a callback already, so there’s clearly going to be some sort of payoff

Retro’s notes are already paying off – we’re now able to set up various known ringers to build up across the course of this tournament

Of course, having won the Tokyo regionals, Chihaya’s team are pretty imposing themselves. I like that they don’t really get the chance to be the underdogs here

Their first opponents have two B class players. Tsutomu immediately volunteers to be a sacrificial pawn, which is kinda sad – a matchup like this means the team could match best against best with players to spare, thus allowing one of the rookies to win

Of course, truly being a team means understanding the team’s victory is your victory. No grandstanding – whatever role you can play that facilitates victory, you embrace

Alright, we get the best of both worlds – Tsutomu sacrifices himself for the team, but then it turns out their opponents didn’t choose the order they expected, so now Tsutomu also gets to fight

Aw jeez, something really is up with Chihaya. It looks like she might be experiencing the onset of a migraine or something. She freezes while placing cards, her hand stuck holding an ominous “red with blood” card

“There are so many cute boys! I need to take notes.” Kana’s mom… is good

The gang’s placement plan has backfired badly. Arata’s now on the edge, but he needs to inspire the team

Chihaya at least has some kind of fever. A pretty nasty narrative trick

“I didn’t ask for a miracle” contrasted against a shot of Jesus Arata

And now we’re getting more scenes of Arata’s relationship with his grandfather. This story hasn’t been the most gracefully integrated, and Arata still feels like a pretty emotionally distant figure. Hopefully his appearance at this tournament will do some work to humanize him – he’s currently got larger than life Goals and Obstacles, but we haven’t gotten enough small human moments between him and other characters for his emotions to feel all that tangible

“Your grandpa’s not giving up. I’ll learn to take cards with my left hand.” Damn

His grandpa’s painting a pretty vivid picture of the karuta grand championship. This show’s constant use of saturated light and soft focus can be kinda overbearing, but there are several moods it really works for – the lofty romance stuff is one, and the sensation of being overwhelmed in a tense tournament setting is another

Jeez, we’re really going step by step through the progression of his grandfather’s illness. Feeling sorry for a character isn’t the same as generally caring about a character, but this sequence is realistic enough to feel pretty impactful all the same. The slow, torturous goodbye of progressive dementia hits a lot harder than murdering a basketful of puppies

And contrasting this against him walking to the current tournament nicely conveys the way anything related to karuta is deeply triggering for him now. He can’t even think of the sport without reliving the awful pain of his grandfather’s slow decline

Oh god, they’re building up the final break so painfully here. His grandfather briefly resurfaces and urges him to go to a tournament when he’s supposed to be keeping an eye on grandpa, and I’m guessing that’ll be the tournament where his grandfather dies. Nasty stuff

Cicadas once again, underlining Arata’s pain at returning to this place. This episode has done really good work – his character may often be framed in terms of destiny and tragedy, but this episode demonstrated Arata angry, Arata jealous, Arata despairing, Arata feeling all sorts of things. Between that and how well it’s articulated the progression of his relationship with his grandfather, I think Arata can stand as a solid member of the cast at this point

Arata’s internal monologue segues directly into Chihaya’s, emphasizing their shared pain at this moment

Chihaya collapses, and Taichi literally hands her to Arata. THE TRUST BETWEEN FATED ROMANCE BROTHERS

Another situation where the soft focus makes sense: someone drowning in the depths of a fever

Chihaya actually breaks down and sobs after learning she forfeited the match. You can’t doubt her determination, or her dedication to this team

“Your karuta is just like Master Wataya’s.” One of his old teachers offers a key insight – that his grandfather’s karuta could live on through his own play. Playing karuta is painful for him, because it reminds him of the loss of his grandfather. But if he continues to play, he might arrive at a happier place, where karuta reminds him of all the wonderful memories they shared

After an episode where he’s been consistently framed beneath the trees, the sun beams down at this revelation

Tsutomu wins two matches in a row! Hurray for Tsutomu

And then he suggests Chihaya just take the bullet train home. ICE COLD, TSUTOMU

“Next time, we’ll meet in a match.” Hell yeah Arata

And Done

That was not at all the episode I expected, but it turned out to be a pretty satisfying one anyway. This episode worked hard to resolve one of Chihayafuru’s biggest existing issues – Arata’s general distance as a character. This episode’s overall arc was essentially Arata truly coming to terms with his grandfather’s death, framed through his slow approach towards an event that triggered harsh memories at every turn. The methodical progression of flashbacks really helped bring his feelings home, and the light garnish of other actions around that core of tragedy offered texture to his character in a variety of ways. Arata’s been more of a symbol than a character, but this episode did great work granting him some humanity. It’s a shame we didn’t get to see Tsutomu win his match, but a strong episode about serious feelings is pretty great too.

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