Chihayafuru 2 – Episode 1

What the heck you guys let’s watch some more Chihayafuru. Chihayafuru has become one of my steadiest comfort projects in recent months – it’s always a joy to watch, and every episode offers plenty to talk about in a craft sense too, whether it’s through the show’s character work, overall sports drama structure, or the individual choices that bring its matches to life. Though the show certainly has its share of dramatic and aesthetic problems, it nails that ineffable “just one more episode” appeal that is incredibly difficult to achieve and incredibly valuable to possess.

The show’s first season ended on a somewhat unusual conflict, as instead of watching Chihaya herself compete, we last saw the Queen and Master each defend their own titles. In a practical sense, that was pretty much the inevitable result of a faithful adaptation of an ongoing manga – but it also conveniently set the stage for our heroes’ next challenges, and also brought Arata back into the foreground. At this point, my only source of hesitance in starting this season is the fact that we’re probably going to be changing opening songs, and Chihayafuru’s first opening song is one of my all-time favorites. But to live is to change and to change is to suffer, so let’s just accept what we must and GET ON WITH THE KARUTA.

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Chihayafuru – Episode 25

Let’s finish the first season of Chihayafuru! This show has been a wonderful ride so far, building up an incredibly charming cast and methodically establishing karuta as a robust sports drama platform. Its matches have slowly but surely laid the groundwork for battles that are now both totally comprehensible in a tactical sense and also inherent reflections of their participants’ styles and personalities. And at this point, the cast is broad enough that the show can pull off exciting matches that don’t even even include any of the main characters.

The show’s weaknesses are equally clear. On the narrative front, the Chihaya-Arata-Taichi love triangle exists in a wibbly-wobbly shoujo romance space that is just never as compelling as the karuta-related drama. Though the show has worked to humanize Arata, in an immediate narrative sense, he’s still framed as some kind of lofty goal for Chihaya in a way that doesn’t really invite any sympathy for her situation. Beyond that, the show’s visual style reflects its director’s fairly one-note vision, bathing everything in golden light and generally aiming more for “functional” than “beautiful.” But the story being told and the matches being played are so enjoyable that I’m not really put out by Chihayafuru’s various issues. Let’s check out the Master finals, and finally see the mountain our boys have before them!

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Chihayafuru – Episode 24

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!

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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!

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Chihayafuru – Episode 22

Let’s dive right into Chihayafuru number twenty-two! Last episode turned out to be one of my favorite episodes of the show so far, with both Chihaya’s development as a player and Ririko’s story as her opponent offering strong and emotionally charged drama. “Creating opponents that you also want to cheer for” is pretty much a given when it comes to strong sports drama properties, but by the end of last episode, I was actually tearing up over how Ririko’s efforts reflected her coming to love herself. Ririko’s appearance also made for a clear parallel with Chihaya, her own former play weaknesses embodied in the play style of her opponent.

It was also just very satisfying seeing Chihaya legitimately grow as a player, internalizing the lessons of both her teachers and former opponents, and turning that into a more well-rounded approach to karuta. Chihaya has earned this level up, and I’m excited to see how Chihaya Mk. II plays against her upcoming challengers. Let’s get right to it!

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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!

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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!

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Chihayafuru – Episode 19

Let’s get back to Chihayafuru! It’s been a few weeks since I watched Chihayafuru on my end, since, well, I burned through both my monthly covered episodes within a week. And even now, I’m technically writing this a few days before my next month is covered, and dipping into that month’s prospective episodes. But here’s the thing: Chihayafuru is good, and I enjoy watching and writing about it. Every episode is so much fun that it can sometimes feel impossible to stick to my two-episodes-a-month structure. So damn the schedule, and let’s watch some Chihayafuru.

Last episode saw Chihaya learning some much-needed humility, as she found herself defeated by an opponent with slower hands but a much sharper tactical sense for the game. Following that, we saw all four of our other teammates pairing up, and right now we’ve got Kana and Tsutomu engaged in a brutal head-to-head battle. Let’s get right to it!

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Chihayafuru – Episode 18

Let’s get back to Chihayafuru! It’s been a full one and a half episodes since the show’s last tournament, so given our prior pace, I’m guessing we’ll be getting back into the action soon. Last episode was necessary, though – Chihayafuru has established Chihaya’s play as binary in a very specific way, and interrogating her speed-focused play was a smart way to provoke her into growing as a player. Illustrating a sports hero’s weaknesses is just as important as illustrating their strengths, since if we’re to invest in their growth as a player, we need to see a solid progression from stage one to wherever they end up. In a show where the tactical mechanics of competition are critical to the stakes of the drama, characters can’t just grow in an emotional sense – they have to level up in a clear tactical one as well. I’m excited to see how the show illustrates Chihaya balancing out her skill set, and can’t wait for her next confrontation with the Queen. Let’s get to it!

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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!

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