Chihayafuru – Episode 15

Let’s get right back to Chihayafuru! Last episode put us halfway through the first duel between Chihaya and young Queen Shinobu, which already feels like the most dynamic and dramatically effective karuta match of the show to date. Chihaya has been against the ropes for basically the entire match, but the show still managed to make her slow defeat feel fresh and tense all the way through. After a long period of simply being overwhelmed by Shinobu’s ridiculous arm speed, Chihaya has at last managed to snag a couple cards, including one of her best single syllable cards and her signature Chihaya card. There’s pretty much no way she’ll actually win this battle (even if her opponent hadn’t been clearly framed as a far better player, there’s just no way Chihaya can beat the Queen at episode fifteen and still sustain a show afterwards), but if her slow losing stays this exciting, I’ll have no complaints. Let’s get right to it!

Episode 15

Beginning with those dang cicadas again

The peanut gallery of onlookers isn’t impressed, meaning it’s beyond likely that Chihaya will actually continue to surge back. If this was the best Chihaya was going to do, she’d likely have gotten more tonal reward than this – if the viewers still aren’t supporting her, this narrative still isn’t over

More commentary from the viewers, which I suppose this segment has earned. We can’t start at the high-octane tension that ended the last episode – we need to build back up to a dramatic peak. Given we started this episode in the middle of the match, it makes sense that they’d place the commentary here. That way it doesn’t disrupt the rising tension of the previous episode or take us out of Chihaya’s headspace, and instead offers a new platform and slight recap as we move into the second phase of the match

They’re trying to make the Queen intimidating but the power of Snow Snow is just too strong

Mirrored shots now frame Chihaya and Shinobu as on the same level, something that never happened in the previous episode. Their sighs here seem to imply they’re both pretty exhausted

These shots through the floor are a really inspired idea. Shots from above that attempt to clearly display the board state will be blocked by the players themselves, and also not show their faces. These transparent floor shots neatly solve both those problems

Another mirrored shot, though this one demonstrates that Chihaya is apparently the only one sweating

Chihaya’s aggrieved expressions really remind me of Yotsuba

Apparently multi-syllable cards are Chihaya’s weakness. I suppose that would be because you have to decide between multiple options, and thus a tactical decision is introduced outside of just hearing the speaker’s breath as quickly as possible

“There are less than thirty cards left.” I’d really like to know how winners are declared in this game. Do you win once you’ve successfully taken one more card than half of the total cards? How many cards are used in any given game? These also seem like pieces of tactical exposition the show should have given us by now, particularly if the show’s going to hang drama on lines like that one

Alright good, Taichi is giving us some info here. Apparently they start with fifty cards out of the hundred, and Chihaya gets better the fewer cards are left. Basically anything that moves the game closer to “strike as soon as you hear a sound” favors Chihaya. Her advantage is well-chosen – it’s extremely simple, believable, and results in a number of interesting tactical consequences

Chihaya smartly using her card retrieval time to loosen up her body again. We’re once again tightly framed in her perspective

“I want to get faster!” Yep. Ridiculous competition only fires Chihaya up more

In contrast with Chihaya’s flowers, Shinobu seems tied to black vine silhouettes

Chihaya resolves that moving freely even when playing champions might be the meaning of strength. That may be all she gets from this match

Yep, that’s the end of it. She couldn’t possibly win this fight, but it’s still framed as a step on her journey

More dramatic Shinobu shots undercut by friggin’ Snow Snow

Now we get to follow Shinobu! She seems great, I hope we see more of her. She’s basically the character I expected the club’s final member to be

“Next time, I won’t let you take a single card!” Chill out Shinobu

Oh my god, Shinobu’s reaction to being complimented on her Snowmaru shirt. If she disappears from the show I will riot

Taichi feels worried for Chihaya’s sake, but of course she’s already fired up and trying to improve

Crying while practicing. Turning her frustration into motivation

Taichi’s spending a whole lot of time commenting on and fussing over Chihaya. His role in the plot is still pretty unfortunate

Sudo meets Shinobu in the finals. I’m glad they gave him that, at least

Kana and Tsutomu each make it to the third round!

Ah, excellent. Taichi actually makes it to the Class B finals. It seems the show understands he needs to get out from under Chihaya’s shadow

Or Arata’s shadow, in his own mind. This match seems to be about him escaping his naturally fatalistic attitude towards karuta. Taichi’s tactical approach to karuta extends to his overall relationship with it – he has difficulty mirroring Chihaya’s optimism and enthusiasm because he’s too good at assessing his own limited skill and potential. But we can’t always listen to that voice if we want to succeed

“He still has the positions from the previous match in his head. When you’re tired, forgetting is harder than remembering.” Terrific piece of tactical drama from Nishida. You spend all this time memorizing a specific board state, and then have to entirely refresh and utterly forget that board state in order to challenge your next opponent. These tournaments sound so draining

Taichi making a fault is a perfect articulation of his fundamental conflict. Taichi’s opponent is his own hyperactive mind, a truth that’s carried over from his overarching character conflict to this specific match

Getting inside Taichi’s head makes karuta sound like torture. This is another point where Chihayafuru’s saturated lighting suits the mood – in fact, we even get a shot facing up at Taichi from below where there are two blinding lights on either side of him, emphasizing his stress

Taichi’s monologue is really effective, and demonstrates how much karuta strategy we still haven’t explored

Nice moment of the team holding hands. I particularly like Kana noticing Nishida’s focus and then pulling away. Small sequences like this do solid work in pulling them together

“My mind’s so numb I can only see what’s in front of me.” Again, this match seems like a fine metaphor for his overall journey

“That’s all I need to see.” That’s right, Taichi! You and your karuta are both valid

“I want to move faster, but my arm can’t keep up.” Such a frustrating feeling – knowing what you have to do tactically, but not being physically accomplished enough to manage it

Taichi loses, but there’s no joy in it. He was held back by something he already knew – his own physical limitations

Taichi attempts to mentally tell himself he did well, but the silence and his posture make it clear how frustrated he is

Fortunately, he has friends who are willing to be overtly frustrated for him

The advisor actually feels a kind of fond ownership towards the club now

OP drop! Time to Rocky this shit!

Oh my god it’s Snow Snow’s revenge

We see Arata again, but more important to me is another visual return to the Queen, implying she’ll be returning soon

And Done

Chihayafuru is still going strong! This episode resolved Chihaya’s match with grace, and perhaps more importantly, gave us a great deal of insight into Taichi’s struggles. Taichi’s style of karuta is almost painful to watch, framed around desperately assessing the board and repeating endless mantras of continuously updating tactical decisions. Between his stifling segment and the great material between Chihaya and Shinobu, Chihayafuru seems to be in a very confident place. Let’s keep on rolling!

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