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「つくばねの」 (Tsukubane no)
“Feel Love Deepen”

There are many anime of recent vintage that I love, but there’s nothing that feels quite like the experience of watching Chihayafuru.

There was an episode during the first season of Chihayfuru – in fact, it was episode 23, the penultimate Master/Queen qualifier ep – that nearly brought me to tears with a scene involving a character who’d barely appeared at that point, Hiroshi. He was so heartbroken after losing in the finals and – in his mind – letting Harada-sensei down that he was overcome with grief. It’s pretty remarkable for a series to pack such emotional punch when focused on a second tier character and one that most of the audience wouldn’t have been able to pick out of a police lineup, but that’s the magic of this show – it’s so grounded in emotional reality that everyone in it feels like a real person. Chihayafuru is often praised for having no villains, but it’s just as notable for having no Saints either – everyone in this cast is flawed and has their moments of weakness, but that’s what makes them so relatable.

I was put in mind of that this week with one of the scenes involving Tsukuba, a character who – while he’s officially part of the main cast – is still effectively a stranger to us. He was introduced last week but in very superficial fashion, an odd figure played largely for comedy. I can’t say that I ever doubted that with this writer and Miyu Irino playing the role Tsukuba would develop into an arresting character, but that the moments after he’d lost his first match were so powerful is still a surprise, and a testament to just how good Chihayfuru is at making characters real people. In showing us the undeterred adoration of his adorable younger brothers Fuyumasa, Haruomi and Natsusou (Anzai Chika, Sugiura Naoko, Satou Megumi) and Akihito’s despair at having let them down, he immediately became someone we felt we knew and someone we cared about, because those feelings were so understandable (it didn’t hurt that Miyu nailed the scene, as he generally does). Incidentally, I love the Tsukuba family naming systen – Aki (fall), Fuyu (winter), Haru (spring) and Natsu (summer) – is it tradition to do that in Hokkaido (or to teach children to “run into pretty people”)? Of course, Miyu also appeared in the last anime that featured four seasonally-named boys, but he played Haru in that one…

In a way, I suppose, the triumph of that moment adds weight to the argument that Madhouse was right in spending so much creative energy on the new cast members in the first three episodes. Truth be told I warmed up to Tsukuba in this episode more than I have to Sumire so far in three, but there’s no denying that the both of them are indelibly imprinted now. And more than anyone else among the returning cast it was Tsutomu – the unsung hero of the quintet – who was the star of this episode. It represents a lot of trust in this audience to leave the main characters on the sidelines so much for so long, but the fact that these opening episodes haven’t squandered the momentum of S1 vindicates the gamble.

The other thing that’s somewhat striking about this season so far is that it feels as if it’s moving very quickly as compared to the first season. To a certain extent that’s understandable as the structure of the plot was already established, but with the manga ongoing it’s interesting to speculate as to whether this is an adapting choice or wholly a reflection of the corresponding manga chapters. We’re already onto the first tournament of the series, the team championships that were the subject of so much buildup in S1. Competition episodes were a great strength of Chihayafuru in S1, and certainly nothing has changed in that respect – this one flies by in what feels like ten minutes. It’s the first event for the first years, of course, and the initial plan is to let the five experienced members take the lead. Things are a bit different now – Mizusawa is the defending champion, a powerhouse. Sudou-kun has graduated, but Retro-kun declares that Hokuou has a “secret weapon” waiting for Mizusawa in the finals – a match that might not in itself be as crucial, as Tokyo’s region now has enough competitors to earn two teams spots in the Nationals. A Karuta boom to match the one in real life?

What stands out here is the cool confidence on the elite members, and the audacity of Tsukuba – who actually changes the lineup to insert his own name in place of Tsutomu’s. That’s a highly dodgy move, borne out of desperation after telling his brothers that he’d a star for the team that day. It earns him a stern rebuke from Nishida and a whack on the forehead from Taichi, but it’s Tsutomu who makes the big impression. He’s clearly emerged as the master strategist of the club (it’s his lineup that Akihito tampers with), and he comes to Akihito’s aid by suggesting that Sumire be switched in for himself in the first match (against a squad weak against girls) and that Tsukuba replace Kana in the second, against the brash and obnoxious West High (who memorably lost to Mizusawa in S1). His strategy makes perfect sense, but it’s clear that Tsutomu is doing this because he feels something of what Tsukuba feels – he was the weak link last year, the one struggling to find a real place on the team. Tsutomu’s eloquent argument prompts Tsukuba to marvel “He’s so cool!”, and indeed he is. Now if only Kana-chan would get the message.

That both Sumire and Tsukuba should lose is hardly surprising: Sumire was shocked to be asked to play in the first place, and Tsukuba actually drew the one Class A player on West High, who Chihaya was desperate to play herself (he’s so nervous he even messes up the “Fight!” portion of the team chant). Nishida and Taichi are undefeated, but it’s clear that Chihaya has matured as a player just as she has a person – she dominates both her matches with 25 card perfect scores. She’s become a truly frightening player, a real threat to Shinobu. This impresses Winter, Spring and Summer, who flock to the “So cool! So pretty!” Chiahaya after the match only to be recruited into the Shiranami Society. But again, it’s Tsukuba’s dismay at having let them down – and the fact that the boys’ faith in him is utterly unshaken – that delivers the powerhouse emotional moment of the episode. Akibito Tsukuba, welcome to Chihayafuru.

Not to be forgotten is that we had our first speaking appearance by Arata, who loses in the finals of the Fukui tournament to his reluctant hero, Murao. It’s the great paradox of Arata’s character that he’s rarely seen but casts a huge shadow, and even here he’s only on-screen for a minute. His mind, as always, still goes to Chihaya – and to Taichi, for that matter. Yet his appearance also colors the first appearance of Shinobu, thin again and getting ready for the Queen matches. Her reaction when she hears that Arata is back in the game is telling, and it seems to be saying that we’re in for some very interesting dynamics when the two of them meet again – and how they will impact the situation between Arata, Taichi and Chihaya is impossible to predict. There’s also a very revealing moment with The Empress – who appears to be scamming on behalf of the Karuta Club, since she’s not exactly volunteering the information that they didn’t actually get five new members for more than a day or two. She’s become a powerful behind-the-scene ally, both of the club and of Chihaya herself.

January 26, 2013 at 12:56 am
34 comments »
  • January 26, 2013 at 1:00 amnagi

    Arata’s sexy accent is back!

    • July 15, 2013 at 5:20 pmJina

      You know it!

  • January 26, 2013 at 1:05 amJ-Luke

    Good to see that Shinobu got her old figure back! Her chubby version in S1 masked her beauty too much, which I found quite a waste.

    • January 26, 2013 at 7:13 amNatsu

      seriously?

    • January 26, 2013 at 8:21 amRigelin

      I thought it was a good expression of her eccentricities. It was a bit jarring compared to her usual swift and cool self, but it showed her love of Snowmaru and later during the match, her love of Karuta when she snapped out of her funk.

  • January 26, 2013 at 1:54 amMi-Chan

    To be honest, in this season, what I aspired to see was Taichi’s improvement, to see him at least catch up to Chihaya and Arata in terms of skill, but they haven’t shown me much of that, but I really want to see the fruit of his hardwork someday and that is something I always have at the back of my mind.

    This episode was actually funny, I laughed at Tsubaka’s younger siblings! and that guy who was against Sumire, I almost woke up my sleeping sister! I also felt it was rushed to be honest, wow, two rounds of the previous tournament were done too quickly! but I guess it is because now, our main cast have gotten used to the tournaments that they are more confident this year.

    I liked the Empress when she lied to that old lady man, and I liked it more when she said that ‘it doesn’t appear that Chihaya is thinking, but she is’, to be honest, even though sometimes she’s depicted as an airhead, and to be honest, in some cases, she is, she is still trying her best. I will bring us back to season 1, the episode where they surprised her with a birthday cake, when she lay on her bed thinking ‘people have always told me that I’m oblviious to everything but Kaurta’ (not exactly the words, but something within that) and she seems upset, it worried me, that there’s actually more to Chihaya.

    I said last week that I like to see Arata come in, because like you wrote Enzo, he’s always there, as a shadow, not just for Chihaya but Taichi as well, and to me as an eager fan of this anime. It kind of makes my heart tingle in a way that I don’t know how to describe it. Now for the most earnest part is, how is he related to Shinobu! It appears to me that she probably played against him in a match when they were kids, but we don’t know yet argh!

    I love Chihayafuru so much that I still smile with every episode and watch it more than one time, thanks for your review, always appreciated. What I appreciate more is the Taichi screenis! I kind of loved how firm he was in this episode, maybe he was harsh on Tsubaka-kun, but wasn’t he the same with Deskman-kun? When he said ‘you are free not to attend this game, but you’re coming to to the final’. Good episode!

    Cheers,xx!!!!

    • January 26, 2013 at 5:30 amGuardian Enzo

      Just FYI, that was a man Empress was talking to!

      • January 26, 2013 at 5:41 amMi-Chan

        haha I know -.-’ I was like I hope no1 noticed that >.<'' crap!!!!!

      • January 26, 2013 at 6:32 amGuardian Enzo

        Noticed what? ;-)

    • January 26, 2013 at 8:25 amRigelin

      I completely agree. If anyone’s built up emotional tension and hard work in this series, it’s Taichi. And when it all comes pouring out, his love for Chihaya and his hard work in Karuta, it’s going to be amazing.

      Although, amazing is probably an understatement.

  • January 26, 2013 at 2:39 ambaseone

    best episode so far!

    damn I enjoyed this episode so much. The battle of the two first years was so hilarious! The evil stare of Tsukuba and that opponent of Sumire.

  • January 26, 2013 at 3:02 amTSouL

    Glad to see season 2 is already showing the motivational side of the cast

  • January 26, 2013 at 3:28 aminfo600

    - I’m glad that the “get 5 more club members” situation did not disappear like the wind after only 2 out of 20 stayed in the club (after 3 sessions) in the previous episode, especially when they ended the episode like they only needed 2 more club members instead…

    -This might have been the funniest moment for me in the episode…and here’s part of the second one

    - … now notice how similar these two gentlemen’s fine facial expressions are rather similarly agitated…

  • January 26, 2013 at 4:28 amGreg

    Good as always.

    Also, glad to see the art quality was back to normal this episode, there were some, imho, badly drawn faces here and there in the previous episode.

  • January 26, 2013 at 5:37 amdustShadow

    It says a lot that a series can put the two central cast members Chihaya (a merciless Karuta player by now) and Taichi (an impressive president) on the back-burner. And still deliver a very good episode.

    I don’t really think they’re rushing. It’s actually clever writing to use the qualifying tournament, which they are supposed to win, to work out the two new characters. The new two-team qualifier rule is obviously there to add suspense to the qualifier finale, against Hokuo of course.

  • January 26, 2013 at 6:11 amkist

    The anime has been consistently going at two chapters per episode, so if you feel it’s rushed, it’s because the matches were quick in the manga itself. This applies to the first season too: it covered 49 chapters in 24 episodes (not counting the recap here), though they did rush a bit towards the end, and skipped some scenes, most notably, Suoh showing up at the Master/Queen qualifiers.
    I have to say, I love how they’ve combined character-based scenes with the competitive matches. Tsukuba is interesting to watch.

  • January 26, 2013 at 7:22 amMikako

    Ayase is way faster!
    Nishida is way stronger!
    Mashima is way… uh… prettier?

    Tsukuba is decidedly refreshing, as the first member of Mizusawa who wanted to play karuta and didn’t need to be dragged there by Chihaya.

    • January 26, 2013 at 8:39 amMi-Chan

      I thought like, ‘what about Mashima?’ when he said that! like I said in my post, when will Taichi become so strong he’d send people crying :x!!!!

  • January 26, 2013 at 8:12 amShin

    I like how they tried to give the newer teammates a bit more flavor.

    On a side note Tsukuba must have done much better than was implied because he only lost against a class A player after three of his team mates won. Losing by 13 cards meant he took 12?

    Seems like Shinobu might develop a thing for Arata if she hasn’t already.

    • January 26, 2013 at 11:28 amAnonymous

      They are osanajimmies

  • January 26, 2013 at 8:41 amxephx

    I must admit, I got excited when the tournament was about to start. That and it made me like Tsukuba. Now I only need to like Sumire.

  • January 26, 2013 at 8:43 amRigelin

    I hate to praise and hype up an anime so much, since if it makes a mistake later it’ll hurt so much more; the bigger they are the harder they fall (SAO). Although, judging from like 28 straight strong episodes of Chihayafuru, I’m not too worried about that *knock on wood*.

    Anyways this anime is simply amazing. I would backup this statement with examples of what Chihayafuru did right, but then I’d go on about the whole episode and well.. You’re better off just watching it at that point.

    Some of those emotional moments that makes you almost want to cry (out of happiness) include:
    -Tsutomu fixing the line-up to fix what I thought was a messy situation.
    -Tsutomu’s flashback, showing how far he’s matured, then Tsukuba calling him cool.
    -Sumire finally starting to get into Karuta. Lightning!
    -And probably the biggest was Tsukuba’s little brothers telling Chihaya that they’re brother will catch up to her.

    Some of the small things that just make the episode better:
    -When Kana-chan said it was nice to finally have another female member (since Chihaya didn’t count) haha.
    -Handing back of the trophy, to help reminisce of the first season. It also makes you want to root Mizusawa on even more. Defend the title!
    -Chihaya trying to recruit new members like Dr. Harada rofl.
    -And Sumire’s opponent giving her cards.

    • January 26, 2013 at 8:56 amMi-Chan

      I’d also like to add:
      - Kana’s mum when Taichi calls her Reiko
      - When they say ‘we like to run into attractive people in our family’ or whatever, Deskman-kun’s reaction was just epic xD

      Cheers, xx!!!!

      • January 26, 2013 at 11:16 amRigelin

        Ahh yes! How could I have missed those. I particularly liked Sumire’s reaction to Reiko too hahha.

  • January 26, 2013 at 9:41 amHD

    If a show makes 20 minutes passes by, then it is well directed & enjoyable. I happy to see Rieko Ōe again (Nishida’s interesting tsundere sister needs an appearance too – maybe to cheer Tsutomu?), & the various expressions that have delighted this episode. Again, the tactical side of Karuta is much appreciated for me.

  • January 26, 2013 at 10:12 amKira526

    As usual, Chihayfuru captures my attention with characters you can’t help but root for! It’s amazing how this season starts out with the spotlight on two new characters while still maintaining everything that’s great about this show. Even with our beloved main characters in the background, I still feel their presence and am glad to have them back. And it was exciting to see some more development with Arata this episode. While his influence is always there, it should be fun to see more personal drama on his end (especially with the Queen being involved).

  • January 26, 2013 at 3:47 pmBear

    I’m amazed at the artwork and direction that manage to amplify the emotion of the matches without seeming trite. While watching this it seems like it’s the most important competition in the world even though it’s just a card game.

    Chihaya has become a karuta Terminator.

    The ending with Shinobo. Does she have a history with Arata?

  • January 26, 2013 at 7:01 pmSolara

    I’m shipping Shinobo with Arata. THERE I SAID IT! What a bold move I say! But I really want Chihaya with Tachi. I hate to see all of his hard work go on vain. . And Arata is a very strong player as it is, so it seems fitting for him to bond with Shinobo, base on that last scene, they appear to have some history. <:

    • January 27, 2013 at 4:57 amnagi

      Chihaya is a very strong player too (and obviously would be stronger than the Queen someday, based on anime laws) so if we go with your logic Chihaya x Arata is the better pair. *winks to co-Chiharata fans*

      But honestly I think it’s too early to start the [bloody] shipping wars. Let us all live in harmony for a few more episodes, ne? :)

      • January 27, 2013 at 10:12 amSolara

        Actually if we go by Anime Law and my Logic, Tachi and Chihaya will still come out on top. Anime cannot be as cruel to let Tachi go unnoticed with all of his ongoing troubles to get the girl of his dreams. Considering he spent most of the first season doing while Arata was in the BG. Don’t get me wrong, those few moments of Arata on screen are very strong and it pulls me in all kinds of crazy directions and I’m very conflicting on who she should end up with if ever. But Tachi is getting stronger as well, while Arata is playing catch up.

        Romance aside, I’m pretty content with Chihaya being a child mentally and caring only about Karuta and not boys yet. I can only see her as being a disaster if she ever notice 2 boys are fighting for her. But this anime cannot be as cruel as to just let those strong relationships and feelings go unnoticed! Yet again anime can be cruel if it’s written by Gen Urobuchi and in that case it’s just expected. Px But yes, I shall see how this will play out since I like either shippings.

      • January 27, 2013 at 6:51 pmnagi

        Sometimes I even think that the boys should just forget Chihaya and be with each other get their just rewards without involving the girl. You know, Arata becoming a superior Meijin in karuta and in life like his grandpa and Taichi defeating his inferiority complex and becoming whoever he wants to be. This is josei so anything can happen.

  • January 27, 2013 at 5:09 amewok40k

    Oh well, this was chihayafur at its best, with everyone contributing to the victory, and even lowest-ranked members doing their part. I presage Tsukuba will become a great player, for he has both talent and ambitious drive to win that will make him do maximum possible effort. I dont think anyone of the group, with perhaps exception of Chihaya, could have taken a single card against A-class opponent in their very first tournament game.
    Sumire might have not the inherent talent, but she has swallowed now the “bacillum caruta” and has tasted the thrill of the competitive game, so I expect her to get bettter too. She was trying to making herself “pro” earlier at taking hearts of boys, now she will take the cards with equal dedication!
    Tsutomu definitely is a quiet hero of the day, both showing how far he has gotten within the year, and masterfully including the first years into his strategy. Way to go!
    Last but not least we have glimpses of “meanwhile in XYZ” involving Arata, and, surprisingly, Shinobu! I am glad to see her slim again, and it seems there is some connection between her and Arata now – this might be great way to up the rivalry betweenher and Chihaya!

    • January 27, 2013 at 10:16 amSolara

      Screw the rivalry, I’m shipping it. Especially if it comes on naturally. It’s almost a win win situation. Nothing is much of a travesty than having the 3rd person alone and lonely. Now we have 4 people who deeply care about karuta! That for me itself is a happy ending.

      • January 27, 2013 at 10:37 amMi-Chan

        Whatever it may end, I assure you, I will drop so many tears :D