It’s time for Chihayafuru! The last episode was mostly just a check-in episode that pushed all the characters slightly further down their non-karuta-related personal arcs. It wasn’t a standout, but those rarely are, and I’m guessing it’ll take Arata actually returning to karuta in a big way to make his drama feel that satisfying. At the moment, we’ve currently got one show that’s an urgent and exciting sports drama, where Chihaya and her clubmates all apply their unique talents to satisfying karuta matches. At the same time, we’ve also got a Kimi ni Todoke-style slow-burning shoujo love drama, without the endearing face-to-face scenes or strength of characterization to really make that work. I can’t really invest in a romance between two characters who were friends as kids for a couple on-screen episodes, and since then have exchanged maybe a dozen lines in total with each other. Fortunately, I’m guessing last episode’s subdued nature means the show will start revving up into karuta matches again soon, and with two episodes left in the first season, I have to assume that even the Arata drama will start paying off soon. Either way, I’m loving this show in spite of my complaints, so let’s see what episode twenty four brings!
This shot of Taichi’s house is lovely. This show’s backgrounds can be really great when they aren’t completely drenched in this director’s signature saturated lighting
Oh shit, we’re gonna watch the king and queen matches! I guess that answers the question of how this season will find a karuta-focused endpoint in spite of the fact that Chihaya just got defeated in the most important tournament of the year. Having them watch these matches essentially acts as a teaser for the coming season: “you’ve seen Chihaya grow stronger over all these episodes, now you get to see just how imposing the top of that mountain really is.” And any reason to see Shinobu again is fine by me
Taichi’s mom is here. Apparently she’s supposed to be a very intimidating person?
This The Scream-style Chihaya reaction is excellent, though the setup of Taichi’s mom as a terror hasn’t really been sold yet
And Taichi’s solution is… to invite Chihaya up to his room? Hoo boy Taichi, getting pretty aggressive here
Wow, Chihaya actually recognizes this as a sexually charged situation. I really thought she was solely karutasexual
Chihaya has an incredible memory of what Taichi’s room looked like in grade school. Seems she’s already forgotten this is a charged situation, though
“The karuta club members always look so plain. Taichi, how long are you going to keep playing karuta?” Ah, I remember. She scolded Taichi after he didn’t win as a kid, asking what the point was of participating in something he wouldn’t win. So she supports him financially, but refuses to give him any emotional support, and second-guesses his decisions. Yep, she’s a jerk
Wow, Shinobu definitely has gained a lot of weight
And of course Kana focuses on the important things, her lovely kimono
And Chihaya joins in by praising her Snowmaru pouch. This is a good cast
So apparently Shinobu gained a ton of weight because she ate a huge amount of ice cream in order to earn stickers to send in for a chance of winning a commemorative Snowmaru pouch. That is the most perfectly Shinobu conflict
And yeah, having a meaningful change in body type like that will certainly impact your ability to play as comfortably as usual. This could be bad
Shinobu won the first match, but only by five cards. Chihaya sees she’s not as sharp as she was back when they faced off
This is an unexpected and surprisingly mundane conflict. Normally a “goal” character like Shinobu is presented as incredibly intimidating at almost all times, but not only has the show consistently demonstrated Shinobu’s a dork, but now she’s committed such an egregious tactical error that she might not even be at the top when Chihaya gets there. I suppose that places her more in the “rival” position – rivals are allowed and even encouraged to make mistakes, and tend to end up being as scrappy in their play as the protagonists. In which case Arata would be the more traditional “goal” character, which fits with the way the show has explored him in an emotional sense, but not illustrated his style of karuta in a tactical sense
I’d actually prefer Shinobu to be more of a rival than goal, since that means we’d get a lot more consistent interplay between her and Chihaya. Though Yumin isn’t really an intimidating figure to have stand on the Queen’s throne
Apparently Yumin is a bank teller. I again wonder how much you can actually make playing karuta – apparently it’s monumentally less than shogi, where Rei as a teenager seems to make more than enough to support himself, even though he’s only a mid-level professional
This show’s fat jokes are frustrating, but I appreciate how content Shinobu looks with her decisions
I also like how her eyes are still so damn striking
Looks like this really is Shinobu’s fall – not only are they focusing on her practicing nervous habits that she didn’t back at the high school tournament, but we’re even diving back into her history. I wasn’t expecting season one’s finale to be a Shinobu arc, but I can’t complain!
So Shinobu’s mother left her husband and returned to her own mother’s house, and Shinobu was raised by her grandmother, a woman who demanded Shinobu find some skill to pursue that would best make use of her talents
Oh my god so many adorable tiny Shinobus ahhh
So Shinobu was initially drawn to karuta because of the cute pictures. Interesting – that might mean she doesn’t really possess the competitive drive Chihaya has, but has simply found excellence through natural skill and extraordinary, family-driven practice
Shinobu’s vines are a very nice character motif. Chihaya is sunlight, Arata is water, and I guess Shinobu is, uh, grass type?
“Operation who gives a damn about broadcast schedules.” Ahaha. Yumin’s incredibly mercenary style of play is satisfying in its own way, and has a ton of personality to it. Wearing Shinobu down by artificially extending the match is certainly a little underhanded, but it’s perfectly legal
“Sorry I missed you.” Shinobu seems to have an emotional relationship with the cards that somewhat echoes Kana’s passion, but is more focused on the cards themselves as friends than as tokens of the poems
Yeah, Shinobu isn’t used to moving her own body at this weight in a professional context, so she’s making tiny mistakes that deeply impact her extremely refined play
Aw jeez, Shinobu apologizing to her cards is so heartbreaking. She didn’t have friends to play with like Chihaya, so the cards themselves became her best friends
“Just as I love karuta, the karuta also loves me.” OH MY GOD THIS IS THE MOST ENDEARING EPISODE AHHH
Oof, gorgeous shot of the “threads” connecting Shinobu to her cards
“Shinobu would never attack the cards.” Chihaya realizes that Shinobu has internalized “the cards are your friends” more than anyone else
Hah, love these wailing guitars for Shinobu getting into her groove
I appreciate that Nishida is here to shout for Yumin’s sake
And now the guitar melody is being interplayed against the Chihayafuru theme on trumpet. This is a really nice piece
Shinobu takes the win, but not before we’re introduced to the intimidating presence of the guy who must be the Master
Best out of three feels like a pretty short number of matches to decide the Master and Queen. I’d figure it’d be best out of five
Aw, poor Yumin. I’m glad we’ve gotten to know her
We are finally in the period where Chihayafuru has enough sympathetic challengers that the show can pull off exciting, emotionally charged matches without any of the main characters in them. It’s a very nice feeling
Yumin breaking down and thinking about how she never had a chance. Yumin is not an emotionally strong player. Chihaya’s too competitive to be discouraged for long, and Shinobu’s some kind of oblivious natural, but Yumin struggles and fails and feels really bad about it
Very cute moment with all her supporters, though
“I’m not attached to the cards the way Shinobu and Kana are.” Huh, Chihaya also makes that connection
“Today is the only day we get to see Suo Hisashi play.” Alright, time for the Master match
So it looks like the Master match actually is best out of five
This is Suo’s fourth year as the Master, so clearly he’s quite the powerhouse
And he still hasn’t graduated from college? Even more impressive
“There are 28 one-syllable cards for him.” So his skill is the same as Chihaya’s – he can hear the card coming in the speaker’s breath
HECK YEAH SHINOBU EPISODE EVERYTHING IS GREAT. I wasn’t exactly sure how Chihayafuru was going to find a reasonable conclusion for its first season, but ending on the Queen and Master matches certainly fits the bill. It was fantastic to get all that insight into Shinobu’s character, and I’m guessing the Master match will be combined with a general wrap-up, giving the season a fine sense of closure. “Shinobu ate too much ice cream in order to win a novelty purse” was not the conflict I expected, but hey, whatever works!
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.