Chihayafuru – Episode 21

Let’s get the heck back to Chihayafuru! Our last episode saw Taichi at one of his lowest points so far, vainly scrambling to catch up to Chihaya and then promptly being sidetracked by Arata’s return. The episode demonstrated a real danger of slipping back into mopey Destined Karuta Buddies territory, but Taichi fortunately realized that he’s actually happy to see Arata returning, meaning I’ve got reasonable hopes we won’t be returning to the romantic sulk-fest tone. Chihayafuru’s shoujo romance plot is far and away its weakest material, and Arata has unfortunately not gotten much of an opportunity to do anything outside of that particular dramatic mode.

I’d love to see Arata himself playing in a challenging match, but I get the feeling we’re still some distance away from allowing Arata to show competitive vulnerability. Arata’s demonstrated plenty of emotional vulnerability, but as a karuta player, he remains more a summit to aspire to than an active competitor with his own strengths and weaknesses. But even if strong Arata material is still some distance away, with last episode having represented something of a cooldown from the previous tournament, it’s likely we’ll soon be gearing up for our next big matches. Let’s get right back to Chihayafuru!

Episode 21

Chihaya versus final exams! Even Chihaya’s eraser reflects her goofy taste in mascots, a very endearing trait that doubles as a great way to connect her to the queen

Does the empress teach chemistry, or does she just happen to be proctoring that particular exam? I guess it doesn’t really matter what teachers teach in a show where karuta is the only thing worth learning

Oh my god Chihaya’s little bangs-bun is so adorable

“Three days left until the Eastern qualifier!” Hell yeah, we’re getting right back into it!

Nishida got totally dunked by the essay question, but Kana and Taichi are fine

Tsutomu is practicing with Chihaya. It’s nice to see he’s gotten competent enough for them to actually gain something from playing each other

Chihaya is still preoccupied with Arata’s style – “like water.” It’s interesting how this show directly tethers characters’ play styles or “auras” to their general emotional profiles. Arata doesn’t suddenly “turn on” and go into water beast mode during a match, he is represented by the cool, sometimes paralyzing blue of deep water at all times

It feels like Chihaya’s been getting more consistently funny faces lately. I suppose that’s partially a byproduct of the whole team now acting naturally around each other, leading to more incidental gags

“Man, why can’t I get over it? I can still change!” I feel somewhat sorry for Taichi. His main conflict is very normal, and his attempts to overcome his jealousy towards Arata are actually pretty admirable, but the plain fact is his struggle is just not that dramatically engaging. He is better as a character than he is as a participant in this show’s drama, at least when it comes to the romantic stuff. And then when it comes to karuta, his conflicts are so real and well-realized he’s actually the most painful character to follow. Taichi does not have an easy time of it

Nice new horn-driven track for this segment. It feels like a march, emphasizing their steady improvement as they move towards the qualifiers

Oh my god, Taichi just read all the cards from memory while acting as their reader. Holy shit Taichi

Nishida uses this chance to offer some solid critiques of Taichi’s play. Taichi’s karuta takes place entirely in his head, as he works to break down what’s been spoken and what openings still remain. His play is utterly detached from the actual field of cards, and that ends up being reflected in how his mechanical speed and reaction time are still pretty bad for his level. Taichi needs to get a much better sense of karuta on the instinctive level, which would eventually let him react much more smoothly. He essentially lacks all the qualities Chihaya specializes in

This is a very encouraging development – Taichi now has a specific hill to climb, meaning he can train to overcome it instead of just moping about his inadequacy

Also a nice demonstration of this team working together

Of course, this is also a matter of preference to some degree. Nishida actively chooses not to memorize every starting position, so he can adjust more freely to shifted cards during play

Ahaha, the empress is so excited Chihaya didn’t fail her exams

This offers another nice dash of camaraderie, as Chihaya acknowledges Tsutomu’s scholastic support

They can’t wear hakama this time because the room is too hot. They don’t use A/Cs because they’d muffle the sounds of the cards being called. This setup is intense, but favors Chihaya’s specialty

Chihaya’s in the Zone, but then Sudo shows up to talk some trash

Apparently successful karuta players can earn scholarships based on their play

Aaaand now Chihaya’s agreed to a goddamn hair match with Sudo. Goddamnit Chihaya, you can’t advertise Kana’s hakama if you’re friggin’ bald

Memories of Arata clear her head. Arata’s blue is here linked to a blue sky, a mind free of distracting thoughts

“Ayase, I’ll defend your hair!” Good show

Ririka Tachikawa is Chihaya’s opponent. Another child prodigy

Oh my god Ririka is tiny. And her mom is there jeeez

Harada got a first round bye, that lucksack

One of Harada’s other students questions the wisdom of denying Chihaya her speed when she was already developing quickly. This is a sports drama buddy, people gotta be making dramatic leaps in competency or not playing at all!

Ririka is quick, can use her whole body, isn’t afraid of faults, and has great hearing

Oh my god this little story about Ririka being teased for her big ears but then being praised for her hearing in karuta, no stop she’s already my favorite character

Chihaya’s doing it! Focusing on timing instead of speed, making one clean motion at the card, smooth like water

Chihaya is granted confidence by the fact that she can tell she’s improving

Ririka reminds Chihaya of her former self. A good opponent to place against her right here, when we’re trying to emphasize the results of her new practice

Ririka’s celebrity means Chihaya is receiving notice from journalists as Ririka’s strong opponent. It’ll be interesting if the show starts to introduce an element of “dealing with celebrity” as Chihaya continues to move up the ranks

And now Chihaya is actually thinking tactically, considering what her opponent is actively trying to do, and acting accordingly. She’s even thinking in terms of “I have to play around my opponent’s speed,” something she’d previously never consider. Chihaya as a defensive player is a totally new concept, and a welcome advance in her training

Chihaya’s new style also isn’t flashy, which weirdly enough reflects poorly on Ririka for these amateur spectators

“You can use your speed now.” AW SHIT. We’ve arrived at the Chihayafuru-style training weight removal scene, a classic in all training arcs. It’s inherently thrilling to see a character master battling without their biggest strength, and then have that strength reintroduced

Agh Ririka’s gonna cry, I can’t believe they’re being so cruel to this adorable big-eared girl

“I just want you to find something that you like. Something that will help you like yourself.” Ririka’s mom is gonna make me cry

Of course, if Ririka is truly like Chihaya, this’ll be a very positive experience for her in the long term

We finally learn the name of the male Master, Suo Hisashi

One of Arata’s mentors, Murao, seems to have been broken by his fight with the master. Still sad times over here

Ah, a really sweet message from Taichi

And Done

THAT EPISODE MADE ME CRY. Watching Chihaya incorporate her new knowledge into her play was thrilling in its own right, but Ririka’s story was told so well in such an economy of moments that I could barely believe it. Ririka offered a perfect counterpoint to Chihaya’s current strength, simultaneously directly symbolizing a younger Chihaya and also coming across as a clear and sympathetic character in her own right. This episode was great for Chihaya’s competitive development and a terrific match episode in all regards. Chihayafuru is so strong.

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