Chiyafuru – Episode 16/17

Let’s keep on chugging with Chihayafuru! Last episode represented the conclusion to another of Chihayafuru’s mini-arcs, as both Chihaya and Taichi found themselves defeated in the team’s first major tournament. That arc also introduced Shinobu, who is awesome, but I’m guessing we won’t be seeing her for a little while. Chihayafuru is fast-paced, but it still generally obeys the tenets of its genre, and concluding a tournament means it’s likely we’ll be cooling down with either training, character development, or some kind of lighthearted segue material. I’m guessing we’ll be shifting gears to focus on Arata’s return to karuta, but without a clear next goal already established, the show could go in a variety of directions from here. Wherever things end up, I’m having a great time with Chihayafuru, and am excited to continue. Let’s get right to it!

Episode 16

“Since my sister never gets any screentime, she’s taking over with a story from six years ago!” Okay, didn’t expect that one. I guess the end of that last arc means it’s actually time for a formal intermission

“New Year’s Money – Part 1.” Part one? We’re dedicating a multi-episode arc to Chihaya’s mostly irrelevant sister? I don’t know where you’re going with this, Chihayafuru

Alright, I do like this episode’s snappy scene transitions. They nicely evoke the sense that this is a story being summarized, not a full dramatic sequence

And we open with… Chitose lying to her sister in order to steal money from her grandmother. Wow, that’s a striking debut

Aaand… oh, we’re already at the end of Part One. Alright, now I get it

So I’m guessing we’re bouncing through what were originally 4koma skits in the original manga? Those normally don’t get adapted, but they often do offer exactly this sort of unique thing – snappy comedy and reflections on side characters, little asides that don’t naturally fit into the ongoing narrative. It’s interesting to think about those 4koma codas as a specific “narrative resource” of manga that anime can’t generally duplicate. Most mediums don’t have an accepted outlet for tiny sub-stories within a larger story, but manga like Genshiken actually rely on the bonus page codas to flesh out their characters. The segments of Genshiken where all the characters introduced themselves in their fanzine offered a unique glimpse into all the characters’ self-image, letting them control their presentation in a way the standard pages emphatically avoided

Chihaya’s utterly perfect little sisterness warms her sister’s heart

Oh my god, Arata’s parents used the same lie. This is a very good payoff

This segment’s execution actually feels even more confident than the show’s usual dramatic mode. This director can handle comedy very well

Taichi’s parents are friggin’ loaded

Alright, now we’re moving into a standard episode

WAIT, THIS IS A RECAP EPISODE. ONE SECOND…

Episode 17

Alright, take two!

And we’re opening with the school’s athletic festival

The karuta club managed to fight its way into the relay finals. Chihaya looking very strong with a red bandana

Oh my god, Chihaya uses her crazy ear powers to hear the starting shot before anyone else. That’s not how this works, that’s not how any of this works

“The karuta club has a lead! But the track team is also fast!” Yes, you’d assume so

It doesn’t seem very fair that the track and karuta teams can use reasonable batons versus basketballs and whatnot. Maybe I’m taking this event too seriously

DO IT NISHIDA. YOU GOT THIS

Chihaya flat on the floor is good

Looks like their relay performance failed to gain them any new club members. That sucks for them, but was pretty much inevitable in a narrative sense. The core team is solid now, and they’ve spent several episodes focused on getting this particular group to work well together

Kana and Tsutomu are very cute together

Looks like they’ve got a couple upcoming tournaments, and then a Queen qualifier in about a month and a half. Given this show’s generally speedy pacing, I wouldn’t be surprised if we end on that

Ah, that tournament actually decides who gets to face the Queen the following year

Haha, Taichi just casually breaks up with his girlfriend out in the hall. I feel a little bad for her, but Taichi is in the Shoujo Zone, and it’s better for all other girls to steer clear

The scene frames all the other characters as romantic failures, but who the heck wouldn’t date any of these cuties

Yeah, Taichi’s just wistfully thinking about Arata

I actually am very happy to see that. Taichi’s story has generally been just an extension of Chihaya’s story, but if he’s focusing more on competing with Arata, that signifies he wants to improve for his own sake. It’s much healthier for him to see Arata as a rival in karuta than as a rival in seeking Chihaya’s affections, and it’s also much easier to sympathize with that urge. The more Taichi escapes his love doldrums, the more satisfying it will be to watch him play

And now we’re getting a little focus on Tsutomu and his insecurities. Tsutomu is basically the anti-Chihaya – while she’s all competition and enthusiasm, he easily gets discouraged, even about things he’d previously come to accept

It’s nice to see this cooldown episode sort of doing a check-in on everybody, while also pushing each of their journeys forward. It’s essentially another kind of recap that doubles as necessary character growth

“I won’t let you beat me, Desktomu-kun.” Kana and Tsutomu kind of need each other, dramatically speaking. They’re the each the only ones who can meet the other on equal terms, and relate to their journey

The classic golden light for Tsutomu’s resolution to change himself. There’s not really a huge amount to dig into with this show’s visual storytelling, but it’s still established a firm motif vocabulary

Some cute faces for Chihaya and Taichi’s training

Once again, the train in the late afternoon offers some of Chihayafuru’s most beautiful shots

This show also doesn’t really have that much character acting, but it’s doing a good job of conveying Taichi’s stiffness the moment Chihaya leans on him. His body language is extremely uncomfortable, and the wide eyes are well illustrated

Ooh, very good. Taichi mentally admits that the way he treats Chihaya is deceitful and crappy. That’s obviously not as good as stopping that behavior, but I am hugely relieved the show itself understands that Taichi’s behavior isn’t romantic, but instead just kind of subtly predatory

Haha, Nishida also snuck out to this tournament by himself

I like this little exchange between Taichi and Nishida. Chihaya generally doesn’t have good conversations with Nishida, but these two treat each other as equals

Fighting Shinobu was the perfect thing for Chihaya. She lives and breathes for competition, so facing the greatest possible competition has fired her up as much as anything ever could. She’s mentally training against the strongest opponent at all times now

“You may be fast, Chihaya, but you don’t scare me.” An interesting closing line. Does that mean that, in addition to fixing her sloppy play and mental errors, she’ll now have to prioritize creating a greater, more intimidating presence at the table? That’s certainly an element of karuta, and something the Queen excels at

Dr. Harada tells her to “stop taking cards with her speed.” Is it time for karuta weight training?

Now we’re emphasizing their post-high school plans, which is a very interesting choice. Sports shows often take place in worlds where nothing really exists outside of that sport. Acknowledging that there’s a larger world, and that high school sports careers end, can sort of dilute the drama. On the other hand, placing this show in the real world definitely makes its characters feel more well-rounded and alive

Lol, nevermind. Chihaya isn’t bothered by career application forms, she’s just mulling over Harada’s advice

Yeah, Harada sees her speed as a crutch. It prevents her from having to become a well-rounded player

Holy crap. Tsutomu has statistics on the locations of all the cards he’s taken from Chihaya. A nice choice – it’s believable for his character, and it clearly illustrates Chihaya’s lopsided strengths

And now the finer strategies of karuta are becoming clear – if you organize the cards your enemy is weak against in areas they struggle with, you can change the dynamics just as much as organizing placement for your own play benefit

This segment also allows the various teammates to demonstrate their distinct strengths. Tsutomu offers some statistical analysis, and then Kana helps Chihaya separate two similar cards by expanding on each of their stories

Some lovely rich greens and neat visual tricks for explicating the colors of these cards. Kana’s stories always push the show to put its best visual foot forward

And Done

Another solid episode! We’re essentially in a training arc now, but the reasons for and mechanics of that training arc are clear and compelling. Chihaya has always been a one-note player, but Tsutomu and Kana are each perfectly positioned to extend her strengths in other important directions. I’m very happy to see the show make such effective use of its supporting cast, and am looking forward to seeing more of Tsutomu and Kana’s karuta. Chihayafuru isn’t reinventing the wheel, but it is executing on its sports drama fundamentals with grace and precision!

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