Chihayafuru – Episode 23

Alright, let’s get right back to Chihayafuru! Chihaya suffered a pretty crushing defeat last week, finding herself beaten by the eternal Rules Lawyer Queen and prior Actual Queen. Chihaya has begun to internalize processes of reading her opponent, and
moving beyond her wholly speed-based play, but this battle demonstrated that she’s still not mentally strong enough to avoid being easily rattled. Our heroine’s natural focus has thus become its own kind of liability – Chihaya is generally so competitive that
she doesn’t really need to work on settling her nerves, but when her confidence is actually shaken, that means she’s also not really equipped to handle it. We may spend some time attempting to overcome that hurdle now, or we may jump over to Arata’s own struggles. Either way, we’ve only got a few episodes left in Chihayafuru’s first season, so we’re hopefully building up to something. Let’s see what episode twenty-three brings!

Episode 23

And we start off where we ended, with Chihaya stunned by her defeat

Yumin’s renewed conviction is contrasted against Chihaya losing her nerve. Of course, Chihaya isn’t particularly good at stewing, so she dashes across the visitor hall and tries to hide in a locker

Gotta take some moping lessons from Taichi, Chihaya

“I’m sorry for cheering on Yumin the whole time!” Not helping, Nishida

Sudo comes to collect on his head-shaving bet, and Harada arrives with the save. Nice to see Harada getting more to do than just play mentor

Kana is entranced by Harada’s cool save, which somehow feels perfectly in character for her

Taichi sits waiting outside of Chihaya’s locked box of emotions while the others all drift away. An awkwardly accurate metaphor for their overall relationship

I really, really like this sequence of Taichi speaking to Chihaya over his shoulder, and her just responding by banging against the door. It’s a very endearing exaggeration of how Chihaya is already so blunt and bad about expressing her emotions. I’d like
it even more if it weren’t so completely tied to Arata’s tournament performance, though – having his successes be the thing that drags her out of her slump feels meaningless for her character, and also a trick they’ve pulled many times before. Arata’s
absurd influence on Chihaya’s mental state is a thread that either needs to be bolstered through actual, meaningful conversations between the two of them or just dropped entirely

Heh, this splash of watery noise as Chihaya thinks about Arata’s cold blue play is so goofy

Harada and Sudo are facing off in round four!

It makes sense that Taichi is articulating Chihaya’s feelings here, since he’s so much more attuned to everyone’s emotions and able to articulate them than she is

“Only Arata’s words can reach her.” Of for fuck’s sake. This conflict is so bad

Oh good, that was basically just a fakeout. Chihaya herself opens the door, and lectures Taichi on not heading out to watch his rivals. Taichi was applying his own feelings of insecurity to Chihaya, not accurately describing her own mental stage, and it’s
actually Chihaya that pulls him out of it

That mixup reflects a kind of natural awkwardness in how we handle mental exposition in shows like this. Normally, you wouldn’t necessarily expect other characters to have a perfect internal read of what emotions some given character is going
through, as this scene demonstrates – we often apply our own assumptions to others, and totally knowing someone else’s mind is impossible. But in a sports drama, it’s often necessary to let the gallery of spectators directly articulate the mental conflicts
the characters are going through, with the most perceptive members of the audience noticing some shift in a battle’s tenor just as soon as the competitors themselves notice it. It’s unrealistic, but an embellishment we accept because that’s both
assumed within the genre and also necessary to keep sideline characters involved. But when Chihayafuru jumps from its sports drama to its romantic/character-focused drama, those expectations don’t necessarily carry through, and we end up with a
sequence like this

“I’m hopeless. Hopelessly in love.” Oh Taichi

“I lost because I was too focused on myself.” Chihaya taking a variety of good lessons from her defeat. That’s all anyone can really hope for

Harada wins a close match and then lectures Chihaya about being a gracious opponent without skipping a beat. Harada strong

Harada’s age underlines the physically strenuous nature of these all-day tournaments. Basically any physically or mentally intense activity will become exhausting when performed for this long, and karuta can’t be easy on the knees

Yumin takes the qualifier!

Some dude actually asks Chihaya out on a date, and she has no idea how to respond. Pretty surprising that this is the first time someone’s asked her out, though I suppose her mix of unapproachable beauty and utter karuta fixation might drive away
anyone closer to home

Kana says no, because she is very protective of her daughter. Kana is a good mom

Taichi gets insanely jealous pretty much immediately, and actually blocks the guy’s phone number. Kana sees this behavior as super romantic, which kinda underlines my fundamental distance from this show’s views on romance. Its shoujo moments
betray an old-fashioned to the point of creepy perspective on love, where pining after one person without telling them for years and years is seen as romantic, and interfering in their love life in order to preserve your perfect crush even more so

Arata lost his own qualifier in the fourth round, which is a very solid performance for someone who’s been away from the game for years. But of course, being just as competitive as Chihaya, he sees that as a failure

Arata has unfortunately run out of clubmates who can actually compete with him. He goes to grab Murao and convince him to return

This integration of Arata’s ongoing narrative isn’t exactly graceful, but I’m not quite sure how they could improve it. It feels like us getting these piecemeal check-in segments is more obligatory narrative threading than anything with its own dramatic
weight – “oh hey, Arata’s important, here’s what he’s been up to lately”

I appreciate that everyone outside of Chihaya recognizes Arata is an intimidating and kinda creepy dude

Alright, looks like we’re seeing Yumin challenge the other qualifier

A show like this is somewhat obligated to give its non-protagonist contenders their own full characters and stories. Not only is that a great natural source of drama once the leads’ own conflicts and abilities have been established, but their stories allow the
show to simultaneously rest in a character-arc sense while still offering new thrills in a sports-drama sense. This is also a very natural way to introduce even more characters, like if the show wants to debut a ringer fighting someone we know without
actually forcing one of the leads to take a dive in some tournament

It looks like the male eastern qualifier is another of Harada’s students, and only won because Harada wore out his last opponent

“The players there represent east and west Japan. They represent us!” So much of Chihaya’s development centers on “think of people beyond yourself” in a variety of ways. From not feeling jealous here, to focusing more on her opponent’s play style, to
simply recognizing how much her friends are working to support her

Meanwhile, Arata destroys a young child so utterly he starts crying

Yumin takes the win!

We get another echo of the pain of losing, as Harada’s student is consoled after his loss

Time for more faffing about around Christmas. Looks like the break from actual important matches will continue

Okay, good, they’re actually just speeding through these offtime activities. And Chihaya actually spending time talking to her other classmates does do some work to sturdy the foundations of this show’s overall world. The fact that the karuta club isn’t
really a major club at the school means you can’t bank on classmates being invested in Chihaya’s story the way they might be if this were a baseball narrative or whatnot

Chihaya makes a dramatic Christmas eve phone call to Arata, and then hangs up after saying “it was nice to hear your voice”

The show is really leaning hard on this “destined love” between them, and it just doesn’t work at all. Narrative romance is built out of actual compatibility – we care about some pair getting together because we actually think they belong together. But this is just “we’re fated to be together,” and meanwhile I can’t even visualize the two of them sharing one complete conversation. There’s no chemistry at all

And Done

Welp, that was kind of a nothing episode. We basically just fast-forwarded through a bunch of drama that didn’t really relate to either our main characters or their karuta fortunes, while also doing some slight work rekindling the show’s central love triangle. This was never going to be a particularly standout episode given its board-adjusting nature, but Chihayafuru’s big romantic aspirations continue to suffer from the fact that its romance just kinda sucks. I’ll begin to care about Chihaya getting with either Taichi or Arata once I’m convinced she’d actually work with either of them – as of now, the show’s argument is mostly just “because fate,” and I’m not buying it.

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