Let’s get back to Chihayafuru! Last episode saw the team competing in the team portion of the national tournament, where a sudden fever by Chihaya was contrasted against Arata’s journey to the tournament itself. Arata’s material there was both critical and very well-executed, simultaneously selling his complex relationship with his grandfather and his own multifaceted personality. The episode more or less shifted Arata from being a mythic, fated goal for Chihaya to being an actual breathing person the audience can truly invest in. Even a sports trope as hoary as “my passion for this sport killed someone I loved, thus I can never play again” can feel believable and emotionally charged with the right execution, and last episode’s mixture of warm memories and well-observed trauma fit the bill. Let’s see how Arata actually fits in to Chihaya’s present-day life!
Opening with a lovely shot of Tsutomu and Nishida looking out from the shade of the hotel into the sweltering heat
“Looks like another hot day.” This show’s generally bleached, oversaturated look works quite well for an oppressively hot summer day. It can get overbearing at other times, but it works here
Chihaya is ready to fight in the solo competition!
Now that I think about it, having Chihaya just pass out in the team competition likely avoided a bunch of not-terribly-exciting drama. The regional competition was largely dedicated to demonstrating how this team can come together, but in truth, Tsutomu and Kana still aren’t really meaningful competitors. The following rounds of the team competition here might have been close matches, but the show would have had to invent meaningful conflicts outside of the bare exchange of cards
Karuta is an interesting design constraint on this show because, fundamentally, it’s just not that exciting to watch people fight over cards. No amount of vivid animation is going to make that process thrilling, and Chihayafuru doesn’t really have impressive animation in the first place. Instead, pretty much every match needs either an overt gimmick (like “the competitors aren’t actually allowed to look at the cards”) or some other dramatic grounding, like some character’s personal conflict or the team’s overall quest to come together. In the absence of either of those variables, and with Chihaya and Taichi being the only characters who can really sell a match on their own individual terms, it’d make sense that the story would have Chihaya pass out and fast-forward through the team competition
Oh jeez, the singles have no preliminaries. Four hundred competitors!
It’s nice to see the Empress taking her adviser role seriously. It’s a pretty fundamentally charming archetype – “you’ll have to win me over to make me take you seriously, but when you do, I expect you to match my own investment in your work”
Looks like the different classes just face each other
Taichi feeling all melancholy about Chihaya and Arata being in the same league. Get up there, Taichi!
Those damn cicadas again. If you need to convey heat or anxiety, just dump out a whole bucket of cicadas
Chihaya’s opponent is Ruri Hanamoto
Sudo seems to have adopted the role of Grim Premonition Maker
Shinobu Wakamiya is the Queen. I’m guessing she’s that black-haired girl we saw?
It’d be pretty remarkable for Chihaya to establish a rivalry with the best female karuta player in the world in her first national tournament. Though I guess Chihayafuru has been moving at top speed from the very start
It’s kind of interesting to compare the progression of this show to something like March comes in like a lion. Shogi is important in that show, and its tactical fundamentals are well-explored, but it’s ultimately a means to more emotional, character-focused ends. In Chihayafuru, it’s the character stuff that’s more garnishing the sports drama, and the narrative is paced in such a way that the story seems clearly finite
“She made Class A when she was in fourth grade.” Well that’s ridiculous
This is indeed our cool, dark-haired rival though
Like Chihaya, she doesn’t really have any concern for conceptions of traditional “feminine beauty.” I appreciate her very stupid t-shirt
Sudo gets dunked by the queen. Apparently they know each other
Her voice is a bit lighter than I expected
“I need to win fast so I can watch the Queen play.” Wow, that sure is a terrible attitude to take into your first match
And yep, she’s swiftly punished for not taking her first opponent seriously. Meanwhile, Queeny is already done
Nice to see Chihaya immediately admitting her fault and working to get her head back in the game. She needs to be a person we think deserves to win
Chihaya ultimately arrives at thinking she wants to play the Queen. That’s very true to Chihaya’s character – challenges only fire her up, they never intimidate her
And right on cue, Chihaya is matched against the Queen. Once again, Chihayafuru hits all the classic beats as quickly as possible, wasting no time on dramatically unnecessary matches. We spent just enough time in the first round for Chihaya to acknowledge the significance of all her matches here, and now we’re right off to a showdown with the one character who’s dramatically meaningful
They’re placed right next to the reader, “close enough to hear her breath.” That’s a significant advantage for Chihaya, whose signature move is coming to understand the sentence construction emphasis of the readers, and thus predict their upcoming words
The show very deliberately emphasizes Chihaya’s specialty, making sure the audience understands that the Queen just beat her at her own game
And unsurprisingly, the Queen is framed in cool blues
“Silent karuta!” Good stuff. The Queen is just on another level from Chihaya entirely – we’re back to “I need to take at least one card” territory
The show just sort of offhandedly dunks on Nishida’s concern for Kana, which, c’mon guys
Interesting shot of the overall field of play as Taichi enters the Class A room. Apparently some people prefer to start with their playing arm held high above their heads, including the Queen. I wasn’t aware that was a legal play – it seems like the distance to the cards is greater, but you can swing at them in one smooth motion, as opposed to first lifting your arm and then jabbing at the cards
Taichi’s here to bring the tactical commentary. The Queen’s talent is the overwhelming speed of her actual arm movement – she doesn’t need to move early, because she moves so fast
“She’s probably ready to throw in the towel.” These people don’t know Chihaya
Chihaya reduces her field of play to just one pair of cards, and still gets beaten to the punch
The Queen’s absurd shirt makes this whole sequence so much better
Dr. Harada’s making some nice appearances here. It’s good to see how his lessons have a material impact on Chihaya’s play
“Daddy Bear?!” Oh my god, the Queen also loves Chihaya’s dorky t-shirt. Now they’re bonding over bad t-shirts this is the best
Ahaha, their expressions here. This scene is adorable
“The Queen is a sixteen year old girl, just like me.” That sequence actually plays a key narrative role. Chihaya needed some way to humanize her opponent, to see her as a fallible person
The Queen beats Chihaya to a card that her hand is already hovering over. God damn
We’re getting some nice dramatic camera tricks on the karuta board. The fact that the cards and floor maintain pretty much the same shape even if the camera’s moving allows them to be a little ambitious in their pans and zooms
The Queen plays defensive karuta, further emphasizing the contrast between them
The Queen quietly laments feeling like she’s playing by herself. Great players want great challengers
Once again, the importance of taking a moment to recalibrate and get out of a negative play loop is emphasized through this guy leaning on the lights. Momentum is key in any sport, and in karuta it feels even more significant
“This has never happened before.” And then we rightly return to her first time playing karuta
Chihaya’s Sudo impression is good
Some great transitions all through Chihaya’s emotional comeback. They build from total silence into variations on the show’s main refrain, while the colors also build into Chihaya’s golden wheelhouse
Chihaya takes a card! And it’s even a card that favors the Queen’s strengths
The melody of the actual background song is matching with the note the speaker is hitting. A clever trick
Great stuff! This was one of the show’s most fully dedicated Match Episodes so far, and Chihayafuru absolutely nailed it. Chihaya managed to make continuously losing for about twelve minutes feel consistently thrilling, with the push and pull of her emotional state leading us through a segment that could easily have felt depressing or tedious with the wrong execution. There was tactical interplay, some nice character moments, and great callbacks to a variety of key lessons. If the Queen is truly going to be Chihaya’s rival, this was a phenomenal debut.
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