Chihayafuru – Episode 20

Let’s dive right back in to Chihayafuru! Episode nineteen was definitely one of the show’s best so far, showcasing two riveting matches between the four non-Chihaya members of the main team. All four of these characters have become strong enough to carry matches through their own dramatic weight, and though Nishida’s style likely still needs a bit more texturing, all three of the others have developed distinctive and engaging specialties. Tsutomu’s mix of anxiety and opponent analysis make for tense and easily followed matches, Kana’s focus on the narrative of the cards makes her sequences some of the most visually creative of the overall show, and Taichi’s mastery of memorization and constant self-analysis can make it physically painful to watch him fight. I’d be happy to see any of them headline a match again soon.

The show’s likely going to change gears a bit now that their current tournament is over, but Chihayafuru is so fast-paced that I have to imagine we’re only half an episode away from whatever the next match will be. Is it finally time for Arata to rejoin the narrative? Either way, I am extremely ready for some more Chihayafuru!

Episode 20

Welp, back to practicing with the whole crew. And Chihaya seems to have retained her renewed conviction from the tournament

At last, she’s actively considering tactical concerns outside of “I need to get faster.” Forcing herself to be positioned as far away from the cards as she can get, to improve her overall assessment of the board and stop using her speed as a crutch. The lines of the tatami mat allow for a natural little “power level” gauge in terms of how much she can handicap herself

And also considering how she’ll change her style to attack the multi-syllable cards. “Timing is important, but you have to have control”

“What do I have besides my speed?” Reaching a new level of competitive understanding can be a humbling experience. Before this tournament, Chihaya felt the mountain she had to climb was a difficult but straightforward one, and that climbing it would only require honing the one skill she’s always relied on. Having become a better player, she now has the opportunity to actually see all the different ways she needs to improve. Our own abilities and our comprehension of the possible range of abilities don’t necessarily move forward at a rate consistent with each other, and there will be times in any discipline where you feel your understanding of your shortcomings vastly outstrips your present talents

Nice shot of her framed through the chair that emphasizes the solo nature of her practice. Chihayafuru generally doesn’t work very hard to create a sense of physical space, but occasional gestures in that direction are welcome

Tsutomu leads into the OP with an offhand line about Chihaya’s bad grades, and now the post-OP scene has her being lectured by the Empress about how she might get held back. Raising that topic with a joke does a little bit of work to make this sudden priority feel more natural

And now Tsutomu will be her tutor. I’m not super excited about watching Chihaya study, but I’m perfectly happy to watch Tsutomu give her shit for two days

“Call me ‘Tutor.’” YES TSUTOMU

Apparently it’s actually your own karuta society that decides what it will take for you to advance between professional levels, which is interesting. Both Taichi and Nishida’s societies demand an actual tournament win to advance to A, not a sequence of second places

I feel like Nishida gets the least dedicated material of any of the group members, which kind of makes sense. He’s much further along his journey than Tsutomu and Kana, not a true lead like Taichi and Chihaya, and much of his material can kind of reflect off of Taichi’s story

Cute shot of the group doing the door lurk

Alright, so we’re getting a bit of a montage as Taichi and Chihaya each handle their own challenges. It makes sense that Chihaya’s scholastic troubles wouldn’t eat up a whole episode

Dr. Harada is there too, and actually competing. With only Taichi here, Harada gets to escape the commentary slot

Arata is there! Aaand Chihaya’s off to cheer for Taichi. This’ll be interesting

And of course their actual coaches are old buddies. None of the old farts are gonna play along with your melodramatic love triangle, kids

Well, Taichi was playing well today, but now he’s probably going to fall to pieces

Tsutomu isn’t mad, he’s just disappointed

Chihaya keeping up the face brigade

And as expected, Arata’s appearance made Taichi lose his nerve and fail in the third round. But now Arata is playing, and we might actually get to see him play for the first time since childhood. In spite of his theoretical significance in the plot, the show has been able to hold off until now on revealing what “Arata’s karuta” is really like – we know he’s a talented player, but lack the specific context of the other present-day characters

I like this effect where the camera swings with Arata’s swing, and literally blows Chihaya’s hair back. She’s dazzled once again

Of course Harada plays as exuberantly as he does everything else

Arata’s opponent has a shirt that just says HERO. I want all of this show’s shirts

Meanwhile, Taichi sits dejected by himself. Chihaya’s gotten better about emotional sensitivity, but I still wouldn’t call her a particularly sensitive person. This is a terrible moment for Taichi, and he’s left alone

The return of Arata’s karuta is portrayed through one of the most vivid dashes of animation we’ve seen in the show yet. Arata’s blue, water-toned karuta is portrayed as his arm dashing through surf, which once again blows back Chihaya

Meanwhile, Taichi is also presented as at the bottom of the sea in a very different way. Arata’s visual motifs gracefully apply to both of these situations in a visual and dramatic sense – even though he didn’t mean to, Arata dragged Taichi down into this place

“Part of me didn’t want to see him here, but deep down, I’m celebrating.” Whew. This narrative would be a lot more thorny if Taichi weren’t still legitimately invested in Arata’s path, and were wholly doing this for Chihaya’s sake

Hah! And now Chihaya has adopted Tsutomu’s habit of analyzing every match he sees. This is a very Deku moment. Chihaya may become a great player yet

More visual embellishment for Chihaya and Arata’s true reunion. This show really cares about this reunion

Oh my god Kana is in a disguise and it’s so cute

Huh, Arata was actually being sensitive to the fact that Taichi and Chihaya might be a couple now. It’s been so long that it’s kinda tough to feel invested in Arata at the moment, so it’s very nice to see him acting bashful and sensitive, not just doomed and remote

Chihaya making explicit the fact that her relationship with Arata is framed with the same mythic reverence as the stories of the hundred poems

Tsutomu actually has a terrific tutor speech for her ready for her return. Tsutomu is such a good boy

Taichi’s fellow club member reflects on his goal of reaching the Master, and Taichi realizes he wasted an opportunity to study. Taichi is extremely good at beating himself up

I really like this almost ominous, driving piano track used for Taichi reiterating his convictions. Also some nice, if obvious, use of the passing train to emphasize Taichi’s words

And Done

Well, huh. Visually speaking, that was one of the most creatively storyboarded and solidly animated episodes of the show so far. Dramatically speaking, it definitely wasn’t one of my favorites. Though the show did push the main trio’s relationship forward a bit, much of this episode felt almost like an emotional recap, reestablishing the current conflicted feelings of all the main characters. But I think the Arata material is going to get continuously more rewarding from here. From an initial position as a weird tragic ideal, he’s finally reentered the narrative proper, and having him be active in tournaments will give the show plenty of chances to humanize him. I’m ready for the Eastern qualifiers!

This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.