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Chihayafuru – 18

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「はなそむかしのかににほいける」 (Hana zo Mukashi no Ka ni Nioikeru)
“The Plum Blossoms Still Smell the Same”

This formula of alternating between relationship episodes and Karuta episodes was already working quite well, but I was especially pleased by the unexpected turn the tournament took this week.

While we got wall-to-wall competitive action this time, some of the familiar themes we’ve seen throughout the series continued to be front and center. As this was a Karuta ep, it’s only fitting that the Karuta themes were dominant – and foremost among them is the fascinating study of how each Mizusawa player approaches the game in their own way – and what they can learn from each other. This is one of those episodes where I wish I understood the sport better than I do, because some of the nuance was surely lost on me. Nevertheless the thrust of Chihaya’s problem is obvious enough even to me, and her opponent this week really brought it into focus.

Needless to say I was surprised to see a tournament episode where Chihaya lost in the first round (her very first Class A match) and the other four club members all advanced to the finals. I welcome the focus on the others, but it’s not as though Chihaya got short-shrift, and while her half of the episode was low-key it was nonetheless memorable. Most of that is thanks to her opponent, Sakura Kanai (Kanai Mika), who’s quite unlike any of the opponents Chihaya has faced. A middle-aged woman with two kids, Sakura-san has been playing Karuta for 35 years and still dreams of being Queen, though she knows now it’ll never happen. While the most memorable and funny exchange of the ep regards Chihaya’s reaction to Sakura’s clothes – “You’re adorable!” “Yes, I l know.” “Oh – she knows!”) Sakura had a lot to teach Chihaya about what Harada-sensei was trying to tell her – speed kills. Sakura used Chihaya’s speed as a weapon against her (Lucky!), literally shrinking the competitive area of the ring to reduce the young girl’s advantage in reflexes, and generally taught Chihaya the difference between timing and speed.

Basically, losing to Sakura was a win for Chihaya for a couple of reasons. It confirmed everything she’d learned from Harada and Tsutomu, and helped her understand it. She also took the loss (six cards) extremely well, clearly viewing it as a learning experience and even thanking Sakura after the match. Some might have found Sakura a little annoying – there’s no doubt her cuteness got a little strained when it became tinged with arrogance – but I rather liked her. And she most certainly let Chihaya know that Class A wasn’t going to be a walkover for her by any stretch of the imagination. The road to facing The Queen (and Arata) is going to be a long and difficult one indeed.

Everything kicked up a gear in the second half, though – louder, tenser and more exciting, with Taichi facing Nikuma for the Class B crown and Kanade facing Tsutomu for the Class D crown. As Chihaya herself said, this will never happen again – the stakes are huge, and two of the club members will be promoted as a result of their final match. While she did fret for a moment about being upstaged, Chihaya at least threw herself into the matches, the main difficulty being which one to watch. And she – and most of the episode – surprised again by looking more closely at the Chibi Bowl, while Retro-kun (who impressed me by sticking around to learn from the winners despite losing in the first round to Taichi, even after all his teammates had left) watched the Class B struggle.

It’s hard to get a read on that match as we didn’t see much of it, but Kana vs. Tsutomu (it was like the Puppy Bowl all over again, 48 hours later!) is a fascinating battle. Kana seems not only to have adopted Chihaya’s suggestions about posture (hard to say if the eavesdropping Tsutomu did as well) but seems to draw a competitive advantage from playing in a Hakama (“My obi supports me!”). Tsutomu, meanwhile, calmly falls back again on his exacting research, using it to dissect Kanade’s game and anticipate her patterns. This one is art vs. science, a classic approach of styles that proved fascinating to watch. My feeling is that from a dramatic standpoint it makes more sense for Kanade and Nikuma to win these matches – Tsutomu is the one with the simmering inferiority complex, and Taichi is the one who’s been questing during the entire series, and both those elements would be undercut by their triumphing too soon. I can’t predict with certainty though, especially in the Class B match – if Taichi is to have an eventual match with Arata in the anime, this might be his only chance to set it up. Where is there more potential drama – in Taichi winning this match, or losing?

The other interesting element to all this is what impact it might have on the chemistry of the team itself. Karuta in the Chihayafuru context is always dancing the line between team and individual sport, and it’s hard to imagine there won’t be some hard feelings on the part of the loser in each match. While I’m sure no one will blame the winner for winning, to sit across from that person in practice every day thinking about how they outrank you can’t be easy for anyone (especially if you’re crushing on that person). What seems clear is that what’s true in chess and tennis is true in Karuta – the best way to get better is to play people better than you are, as long as you pay close attention. Mizusawa (Fight-o!) is the living proof of that, and they should be a formidable team if their competitive (and romantic) passions don’t break them apart.

February 7, 2012 at 11:43 pm
36 comments »
  • February 7, 2012 at 11:54 pmreia

    I guess they will show more of Taichi and Nikuman-kun in the next episode..
    This episode had too little Taichi!!!!!!>.<

  • February 8, 2012 at 12:12 aminfo600

    -Well, every match here should be a learning experience for everyone(and I don’t think there’s going to be a “training arc” at all…to whoever said that there was), though Chihaya’s way of adopting to how she’s overreaching the cards on the field was ingenious.

    -Nishida not desiring to get into A class???? Now I’ve seen everything…

    One odd thing that I’m finding about this series: Why does most some people that are getting some good screen time have extremely obvious – and annoying – quirks (ie bad fashion sense)?

    and o wow, Tsutomu, way to get into the mind of Kana-chan there…

    • February 8, 2012 at 12:31 amshin

      >extremely obvious – and annoying – quirks (ie bad fashion sense)

      To try to make matches and opponents more interesting and memorable. I do think that it is a failure or poorly done. Retro is more annoying than interesting.

      Most of the characters besides the Trio are rather 1-D caricatures. The supporting cast is typically very important in sports/games genre and I think this is the point that keeps Chihayafuru’s Karuta from being one of the top in the genre. People are just not personable enough to like. I think that this series will end up being an enjoyable watch but nothing on the par of Hikaru no Go or Major that Enzo is so fond of comparing it to. They are just fundamentally “sports” genre where as this is more slice of life romantic comedy.

      • February 8, 2012 at 6:18 amKarmafan

        Kanade is my favorite character followed by Tsutomu (the 2 beginners) and Chihaya in 3rd place.

      • February 8, 2012 at 10:08 amGuardian Enzo

        I have to strongly disagree about the supporting cast being 1-D. Nikuma isn’t that well-developed, but I think Tsutomu and Kana are fantastic supporting characters. And even the second-tier cast like Harada, Sudo and Retro-kun have some exploration of their motivation and personality. I think the supporting cast is one of the (many) strengths of the show.

      • February 8, 2012 at 4:55 pmShin

        Perhaps you are right. I simply view most of their dialogue and actions as relating to their fatty, classical nerd, book nerd image.

        Instead of saying their opponents lack development perhaps I should say that Chihayafuru tries too hard. Most of their opponents are rather bland and the others are too over the top. None are very easy to simply like. I think the Queen is the only exception for me. Like the latest entry Sakura is far too grating. Retro is far too eccentric. To explain the impact of this lack of personability/charisma, I couldn’t feel anything for him when his team lost to Mizusawa and they were crying their eyes out. So it feels like this series has much less emotional impact in this area. I really have a hard time imagining that this series will ever have a slam dunk moment of an emotional win/loss. It feels far too constructive rather than emotional. Perhaps it helps the slice of life aspect rather than the sports aspect.

        I don’t think that these detraction have that much of an impact on Chihayafuru, but I think it is the distinction that will keep Chihayafuru in the “really nice enjoyable to watch series” zone rather than comparable to the classics in the sports genre.

      • February 8, 2012 at 5:05 pmFencedude

        I feel that Saki is the gold standard in “making the opposing players interesting and sympathetic”.

      • February 8, 2012 at 5:17 pmShin

        Yeah I was thinking about Saki even though its rather lighthearted. I think that even series like Kaiji, with its straightforward nice/bad guy it makes it very easy for people to sympathize with the poor saps or “fun to hate” antagonists.

    • February 8, 2012 at 2:31 aminfo600

      I’m sorry, I meant to say one time characters not the recuring ones (at least the recuring ones have a chance to show a bit more about the self)

      Now…back to Kanai-san – at first I thought she was as one dimension as she was showing herself throughout her part of the episode (bad first impressions can ruin a person’s image); but then she IS a mother, and her reactions during the match looks more of a surprise that her opponent is that bad (sry Chihaya)…in a way I think she’s surprised to be able to play for that long(getting into the second round)

  • February 8, 2012 at 12:20 amshin

    I didnt mind any of Sakura-san’s actions that much, but her middle aged woman trying to act like a ditzy girl act was kind of repulsive. Reminded me of Sakakibara Yui singing nyan koi.

    I think one thing I noticed is that I really never care who wins karuta.

    • February 8, 2012 at 2:59 amFling

      I was mildly reminded of Umbridge from Harry Potter before the anime put her in a better spotlight.

      • February 9, 2012 at 9:05 pmZero

        PINK! (O).(O)

  • February 8, 2012 at 12:25 amstarblacks

    If there is one match I do want to see while at the same time never hope to see, it’s Arata vs Taichi.

    One thing about karuta that I always find exciting compared to other sports is the simplicity of the concept, but the scientific strategy that it involves, which is so beautifully illustrated through Chihayafuru, is really complex. It’s a real sport, and while it may not have the complexity of Go, it’s still thoroughly amazing.

    Actually, being not as complex as Go is probably a good thing, as I’d probably be overwhelmed in a second XD

  • February 8, 2012 at 12:51 amCaroline

    This show…..is so pretty!

  • February 8, 2012 at 4:16 amnagi

    Just noticed that this post is one day late – a first I think for Chihayafuru :)

    • February 8, 2012 at 10:03 amGuardian Enzo

      No it’s not – I posted it at 11:43 PM my time!

      • February 8, 2012 at 3:52 pmnagi

        Oh, my bad. Just remembered that we’re on different (and exactly opposite?) time zones :)

  • February 8, 2012 at 7:13 amewok40k

    Oh well, I am maybe a little crazy, but the “Chibi Bowl” between Kanade and Tsutomu felt more exciting to me than Chihaya’s (futile) attempts at reigning in her own ultrafast reflexes. I must admit though that “cute MILF” was great to watch. “I know!”
    While the youngest Mizusawa players are not yet very strong, I am thinking even Chihaya who so far relied on her speed only can learn from them. And best players learn even from those who are lower in rankings but have something new and interesting to show. Tsutomu and Kanade btw have makings of great players as they learn and adapt nonstop.
    Overall great episode and another consecutive one in one of best series of the season!

    • February 8, 2012 at 8:56 amJoojoobees

      I just want to +1 “best series of the season”. I always enjoy watching this show, and nothing compares to it in terms of getting me emotionally whipped up.

    • February 8, 2012 at 10:05 amGuardian Enzo

      The funny thing is, all the Mizusawas are first-years – we know Chihaya is older than Taichi (unless we skipped his birthday) but for all we know, the chibis could be the oldest ones on the team.

      I think the Puppy Bowl and the Taichi-Nikuma match were definitely more exciting than the Chihaya half, but I think they were supposed to be. I think the first half was going more for thoughtful and funny.

  • February 8, 2012 at 12:21 pmGibble

    “Needless to say I was surprised to see a tournament episode where Chihaya lost in the first round (her very first Class A match)

    You are referring only to this episode, right? Because Chihaya has obviously beaten Class A players before.

    • February 8, 2012 at 1:42 pmGuardian Enzo

      As she said in the episode, this was her first match in a Class A tournament.

    • February 8, 2012 at 5:11 pmDayriff

      It was her first “all-ages” Class A match. Previously she’s never faced Class A adults, only other high school students.

    • February 9, 2012 at 1:43 amnagi

      Coming from the episode..

      Chihaya: “A-kyu ni natte, koukousei dake ja nai hajimete no koushikisen”

      In short, this is Chihaya’s first “official” Class A tournament (also implied there that she has competed with HS-level tourneys before).

      So much for that.

  • February 8, 2012 at 2:25 pmzani

    I noticed a typo. Shouldn’t it be hakama instead of hadama?

    Anyway, another great episode which focuses on learning and growth despite the loses. This is still true in any aspect of life but Chihayafuru just puts it together so beautifully!

  • February 8, 2012 at 4:45 pmnagi

    “Some might have found Sakura a little annoying ”

    Oh she really was, especially that continuous “Lucky!~” with that air of arrogance and a bit of hostility around her. I mean, I liked the fact that she’s been a good instrument for Chihaya’s realization on her mistakes, but still…

    Anyway, it just came to me that Arata and Chihaya wouldn’t even meet in a match, since the competition for Master/Queen is strictly for boy vs boy/girl vs girl, right? Unless there would be a match between Master and Queen.. hmm.. that sounds interesting (we can even start with “who would be the Master?”)

    • February 8, 2012 at 5:01 pmShin

      If you recall that HS tournament where Chihaya met the queen, the queen also played Sudo. I am sure they are building up to meet Arata there again in a match. I think that the queen competition is just a separate bag that Chihaya will pursue.

      Perhaps meet Arata again but not on his level, Chihaya challenges and becomes queen, Chihaya finally serious vs Arata.

    • February 8, 2012 at 6:21 pmGuardian Enzo

      There are “open” A tournaments that are not gender-specific – only the Master and Queen tournaments are limited. So theoretically there’s no reason that Arata and Chihaya won’t play – though I’ve come to think that when it comes to Karuta, Arata is more Taichi’s obsession than Chihaya’s.

    • February 8, 2012 at 9:27 pmnagi

      Oh, let me revise that. Arata and Chihaya won’t even meet in the nearest upcoming match (which was the Master/Queen tournament after the East qualifier), thus destroying Arata’s “the next time we meet would be in a match”. That was just based on my obversation on the plot progression, since I haven’t read the manga. Unless, there would be an open class A tournament before that, which IMO is a bit anticlimactic (Chihaya vs Arata first before Taichi vs Arata?)

    • February 8, 2012 at 10:26 pmshin

      I haven’t read the manga or know much about Karuta, but I doubt the next time they play/meet it will be the Karuta Masters on the line. I assumed that he meant the next time they meet it would be when they would play each other at the HS nationals they were currently at (as at the time he met them but didn’t play).

      I assume the typical course would be that tourney Arata beats the Queen. Arata meets Taichi and beats him. Arata and Chihaya meet in the finals and Arata wins. Or perhaps Chihaya falls to the queen.

  • February 8, 2012 at 6:03 pmxephx

    Kind of sad that we only get to see one match of the rest of the club and its against each other. They are all awesome, but; Go Taichi and Kana-chan!!!

  • February 9, 2012 at 4:23 amLeticia

    Gosh, I love love love this series, and I’ll miss it so much when it’s over =(

  • February 9, 2012 at 6:40 amShamus

    Who is Karuta? “…and generally taught Karuta the difference between timing and speed.” That swapping of someone’s name and the name of the sport happens at least twice! :D

  • February 9, 2012 at 7:19 pmKRILL

    Sakura Kanai opened her eyes like twice the whole match. Hahaha! I love that fox eye because of the characters that usually portray such style of eye. The bada$$es that know what’s really going down, stay calm and always seem to have a hold of the situation. Squid Girl with the sister who was a fighting expert comes to mind. That condescending tone of confidence! Just like Sudo was it? The one who stands up to look down on his opponents, lost to the queen. Anyway, love those eyes!

  • February 10, 2012 at 9:02 pmBeckett

    If I was Chihaya that constant “Lucky!” from the older woman would have seriously pissed me off. It’s like, you’re beating her already which is bad enough, you’re going to rub salt in the wound too by implying that she’s getting beat so bad because of bad luck? Show a little goddamn sportsmanship maybe?

  • February 14, 2012 at 7:38 pmnagi

    Just watched the latest episode and I only got one question: Is it okay for Chihayafuru to be THIS epic??