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「なほあまりある むかしなりけり」 (Nao Amari Aru Mukashi Narikeri)
“Be As Dear Now, Those Were the Good Old Days”

“Every poem read sends you back a thousand years. How many sports are capable of such a feat?”

There have been 30 episodes of Chihayafuru in total now, and since the vast majority of them have been excellent (or better) the series has obviously done a lot of fantastic things. But I’m not sure there’s been an episode that was as inspiring as this one when it comes to the sport of Karuta itself. Like Hikaru no Go did with its obscure (to Westerners) Chinese board game, this show has always managed to make Karuta seem interesting even if one didn’t really understand it. But through the Empress’ eyes especially, and through the excellent use of the Hokuo team as a competitive foil, this episode really brought out the magic of the game and made me understand at least a little why people like Suetsugu-sensei love it so much.

Another thing Chihayafuru has always excelled at is making the opponents interesting – in every case, pretty much – and likeable in most. We knew a couple of these Hokuo players from the first season, of course, but the graduation of Sudou has clearly changed a lot. It was surprising at first to see Hokuo’s resident shota, Amakasu-kun, as Captain – but as their top returning player I suppose it makes sense. Before last week we last saw him being liquefied by Shinobu in Nationals, but this was the first time we’ve really had the chance to see him grow as a character. He seems like a path of least resistance sort of kid (we’ve seen a lot of those among the Class A players in this series), not wanting to push himself or work too hard, though much of that seems to come from a fear that he’s not good enough to compete with the real powerhouses of Class A (including Harada-sensei, in his mind). With both teams assured of a place in the Nationals there’s not as much pressure as there would have been and Amakasu seems content to build a strategy around Retro-kun’s predictions for the pairings, leading to an easy 3 wins over “Glasses Boy, Boobie Girl and Mashima”, but Retro’s pride and the arrival of his “secret weapon” seem to spark Amakasu’s competitive fires quite a bit.

Retro’s fires need no stoking – he’s always been among the most passionate Karuta players in the series, and seems to view Taichi as his personal rival. Retro has quietly had quite an interesting and extensive character arc, and we saw that bear fruit this week as he changed the order (Tsukuba tried to do so again as well, irritatingly enough) so that Hokuo would be taking on Mizusawa in a straight-up battle – all the more important to him because Sudou has arrived on the scene as the reader for the finals. I was a bit skeptical of this plot twist, to be honest – it seems odd to me that they’d allow a just-graduated high-schooler to be the reader for such a critical match, never mind the fact that he graduated from one of the competing schools. The fact that he’s apparently been studying readers for years (inspired by the Master, Hisashi Suou) makes it a little more feasible but it still feels a bit like a plot contrivance. In any event he’s at least competent at his job – so much so that Kanade is able to match her rhythm to his almost immediately – and his presence seems to put more pressure on Hokuo than on Mizusawa anyway.  As for Tsukuba’s gambit (Nishida nabbed him in the act again) the most interesting offshoot was the reaction it inspired in Taichi – a rare moment of praise for his mother (and a rare moment of physical contact from Chihaya). Her “Men never say “but!”” advice is pretty revealing as a component of Taichi’s makeup, and why his struggle to – in his own words – “be someone who doesn’t run away” is so critical to him.

These tournament episodes always seem to last about five minutes, and this one was no exception – it was over in a flash, stopping at a most critical point. There were a lot of storylines to follow here. We had Nishida’s sister showing up as Retro’s girlfriend (I would have thought Amakasu was more her type), and though she wasn’t Retro’s secret weapon she seem to have had quite the impact on Nishida, who was also freaked out by his opponents hairpin. Retro and Taichi’s match seems likely to go down to the end (it always seems to), and we don’t see enough of Tsutomu’s match to gather any notion of just how it might be going. Kana-chan seems to be dominating her match, and Chihaya is several cards down to Amakasu – to whom she seems to be paying very little attention, her focus on correcting her mistakes in technique to get closer to the Queen. And all this is playing out to the backdrop not just of Sudou’s presence as reader, but the Mizusawa players using the tasuki that the Empress made for their kimono (a boon for well-endowed players like Kanade and Nishida)  – further cementing the notion that she’s fully come around to being just as much a fan of the Mizusawa Karuta Club as millions of anime viewers and manga readers.

To be honest, I’m kind of torn on who I want to win this match. While there are seeding issues at stake I’m sure, the fact is that this match is mostly about pride – and I think the long-term rivalry between Mizusawa and Hokuo is probably more interesting if Hokuo restores their pride by winning this match without Sudou as an anchor. It would also be nice to see Retro and Amakasu glean some reward for the progress they’ve made as characters, especially Retro’s decision to change the order and battle straight-up. On the other hand it’s tough to root against Chihaya and Taichi, and they’re obviously going to have to win if Mizusawa is going to get through this match. And it would be nice to see the Empress rewarded for her hard work with the tasuki, in the form on a team victory (though the collective bow the team spontaneously gave her was certainly heartwarming, and perhaps reward enough).

There’s a lot of tension for what’s basically a preliminary, but it’s as Harada-sensei said – every team match is an individual match. These matches are critical for everyone on the team for their personal development – Taichi’s desperate flailing for Class A, Tsutomu and Kanade trying to make Class B and become formidable in their own right (Kanade seems to have moved well ahead), and most especially Chihaya. If there’s a theme to her arc this season, it seems to be “I want it all!” She’s wants to pursue her individual goals while still focusing on growing the club, and those personal goals could hardly be higher – not only is she trying to catch up to Shinobu (and Arata, if we’re honest) but trying to do so by adapting elements from both Shinobu and Suou’s playing styles. I like the fact that Amakasu is pissed off that Chihaya is disrespecting him (though like every other time she’s rude, it’s cluelessness rather than malice) by basically ignoring him during their match to focus on her own mistakes – it shows some real pride, and he’s a player with serious talent whose success has lagged behind it due to too little confidence and motivation, and anger can be a remedy for both. But it’s hard to imagine he can hold off Chihaya when she really gets serious, as she surely will now after Nishida’s big loss. My guess is that the match will likely come down to Taichi and Retro, and that would be fitting as I suspect they’re the two players in the battle who most desperately want to win their match.

February 9, 2013 at 4:50 am
26 comments »
  • February 9, 2013 at 5:06 amJ-Luke

    Yep, that Nishida’s sister all right…
    Chihaya’s face during the match was absolutely stunning in close-up.

  • February 9, 2013 at 5:16 amMikako

    BOOBIES PRIDE KANA-CHAN CRUSH HIM!

  • February 9, 2013 at 5:32 amMi-Chan

    I think something has striked me this season in Chihayafuru and it was ‘Chihaya’ herself. In some awkward way, in season 1, we had many moments where she paid ’0′ attention to Taichi, but this season, the awkward moment when she touched him, was so out of her normal behaviour that I quickly thought of how Chihaya might just be starting to see her ‘surrounding’ more often. We had Taichi who was always aware of his ‘surrounding’ be looking at himself for once, and Chihaya who had always been ‘self-focused’ begin to notice others around him.

    That moment when Taichi snapped was cool and epic, only because Tsubaka’s behaviour was begining to annoy me as well, and I was about to snap as well. I think what Taichi’s mother taught him, might actually bear fruit in Nishida, who realized that the reasons he made were nothing but excuses when he said ‘Date.’ The way he covers his mouth with both hands, he did that in episode 1 too, is just funny in my opinion.

    I’m torn up on who I want to win as much as you are Enzo. Houko seemed to be very relaxed and under the leadership of Amakasu-kun was surpsing to me. Although him playing Gameboy (or whatever it was) last season during the matches showed me that he was the type of person that might be ‘careless’ and ‘not so serious.’ I think unlike many other players who have ‘back stories’ to why they want to win Karuta (Chihaya to be the queen, Taichi to never give up, Arata to reunite with his friends, the Shinobu’s friendship with the cards) that I reckon that Amakasu just liked the game because it was ‘fun’, and the way others seem to be into it puts him off, well both Chihaya and the Queen didn’t even look at him during the game, its just the cards. Reminds me of me and my sis playing chess: I move the best pieaces randomly, she puts alot of thought into it, and she wins, while I just want to have fun.

    This episode I loved Retro-kun. A team cannot relax just because the ‘Retrot cards’ always played it right, they need to try their best. The flashback when he grabbed the cup was worth knowing how much it meant to him having the cup back, after all, ‘he has seen it in Houko ever since he joined’ and his year ‘led to its loss.’ I have to give it though to Nishida’s sister, her prsence was the heighlight of the episode for me as well as much as it was to Nishida, and her boyfriend to be Retro-kun it was just funny.

    I have to admit that Sudo-kun’s return was worth it! I wanted to see him in the finals for Houko academy. I have to think though, perhaps he’s the reader because he actually became a ‘certified reader’? It doesn’t mention that, I think, which doesn’t make me think his intro was awkward at all. I love Sudo for some reason, and I see his hair is back!

    Thanks for your review, I know I wrote a lot, sorry, and no one has to read it, but I really feel passionate about this anime, I think there’s a few lessons to learn from it.

    Cheers, M.

    • February 9, 2013 at 5:49 amGuardian Enzo

      Please don’t apologize for being inspired to verbosity by this show – it happens to a lot of us!

      • February 9, 2013 at 5:52 amMi-Chan

        hehe thanks:)

    • February 10, 2013 at 4:35 pmnagi

      I look forward to your posts as well :)

  • February 9, 2013 at 5:33 amKisara

    Chihayafuru certainly weaseled its way into my heart during its first season. Now I’m always looking forward to any new anime episode or manga chapter. Sudou’s return was a big surprise to say the least and I couldn’t shake the feeling that this is an added advantage for Hokuo. Not just because of the pressure he’s so obviously putting on his former teammates but also because he has most certainly read during their practices as well. Every reader has certain quirks. Oh well, we’ll see how it affects the outcome of the game.

    On another note, I hope we’ll get to see more of Sudou this season.

    The collective bow was a nice touch. I like how in almost any sports anime/manga the players always show a lot of respect to their trainers or in this case advisors.

    Show Spoiler ▼

    And of course it’s always great to see more character development for Taichi. Heh, and the return od Mrs. Pressure, even if it’s just in a flashback.

    Great review as always!

  • February 9, 2013 at 6:11 amShalaKairos

    Kanade has truly grown from being almost hopeless in her first attempt at karuta. I love her determination.

  • February 9, 2013 at 7:45 amShroompat

    Chihaya Ganbarou!!

  • February 9, 2013 at 7:46 amxephx

    Well since I heard that the first two teams go to nationals anyway, I’ve thought that they were probably going to lose the final. I’m pretty sure that turn of events has shown up somewhere else, even though I’m not into normal sport animes.
    Still pretty exiting though, because I still want to see them win. Right now I want Kana-chan to prove them wrong at least, after all shes my second favorite after Taichi.

    • February 9, 2013 at 7:50 amMi-Chan

      I think the fire within the ’3′ that Houko thought are weakest is gonna burn them to victory! That could be one end, though not sure :p…. Go Kana! Go Deskman-kun and Go Taichi!

  • February 9, 2013 at 8:13 amSolara

    I could had sworn that you have to be a certified reader to be one. Since when did Sudo get time to do this? Either way it was a nice surprise and it’s benefiting opposite team more. Who knows we might see Kana-chan be the reader before the season is over since she wanted one for Chihaya. That would be nice to see.

    I feel the pressure is off since both teams will make it to finals, the question of how is getting interesting.

    Tsukuba is getting on my freaken nerves I’m so glad he was stopped. When will they realize that giving him the list order is a horrible idea? The ending of the episode left me craving for the next one, well done Chihayafuru! You haven’t lost your touch in over 30 episodes. I am so interested by the exciting turns of events! I’m sure I’m not the only one who wants to see Chihaya merge two amazing skills in one!

  • February 9, 2013 at 8:54 amHD

    I was expecting Nishida’s tsundere sister to appear some point, but was surprise & pleased of her role here. Probably Nishida learn a lot about his weaknesses after this.

    Sudou arrival is nice & very much appreciated by Kanade. The nickname that Hokuo gave to Kanade, can it be called ‘unprofessional behaviour’ (kinda like diving or faking an injury in football) especially that her opponent spoke it clearly during their match? and can it be deemed a warning/caution/foul by the supervisors (referee/umpire) of the game?

    Speaking of Sudou & the sadist nature he brings, I think this (from episode 25 of season 1), is most sadist that I’ve know from the series.

    • February 9, 2013 at 9:07 amMi-Chan

      ‘I will burn all of your daddy bears’ xD….

    • February 9, 2013 at 12:58 pmMikako

      Watching Retro’s (no) reaction to Nishida-nee-chan, I came to wonder if he KNOWS she’s his gf.

    • February 9, 2013 at 4:46 pmGuardian Enzo

      I don’t think giving an opponent a nickname could possibly violate any special rule, apart from common courtesy. In some sports mentioning it during a match as the Hokuo guy did mighe be illegal, but AFAIK not in Karuta.

      Let’s be blunt – is “Boobie Girl” – not to mention “Glasses Guy” – any worse than the nicknames Chihaya gave her own teammates? It could be argued that “Pork Bun” and “Desk-kun” are actually more insulting.

      • February 9, 2013 at 5:31 pmMikako

        They won’t fall under sexual harassment. ‘Boobie girl’ might. But apparently in karuta all sorts of psychological tricks are okay, so…

        Also, Kana-chan is so cute. The very first thought she paid to her boobs in the series was how a kimono is designed to move in it with them <3

  • February 9, 2013 at 10:45 aminfo600

    One fun detail:
    - A match for third and fourth place is happening as well.

  • February 9, 2013 at 12:03 pmLeena

    Taichi never give to Tsukuba the lineup paper please!

  • February 9, 2013 at 3:12 pmPtolemaios00

    Boin-chan is strong!

  • February 9, 2013 at 3:20 pmTSouL

    Retro-kun went for an honorable fight than a cheasy win. Props for him!
    And I can’t believe I have so much anticipation already and it’s just episode 5 (kinda had same feeling in season 1 too)

  • February 9, 2013 at 5:46 pm†Croos†

    This episode reminded me of “Seiyuu Quiz” that Takaii keeps making in the past

  • February 10, 2013 at 5:19 pmnagi

    “Men should never start their sentences with “but”!”

    Now if only every men would live up to those words…

  • February 12, 2013 at 4:07 amewok40k

    So, ladies and gentlemen, place your bets!
    Even with themporary setback, I don’t see Chihaya losing, especially when she will perfect – or even just get started – her combo of Shinobu’s precision and Suou’s “voice intuition”.
    I think Kanade might pull off a surprise victory since her oponent evidently was underestimating “boob girl” – I see her at her best now, going with the rhytm of the words, comfortable in her kimono and resolved to show she is not to be ignored!
    Tsutomu is in a close match, it can go both ways. Not much was shown of his play, so we can’t be sure…
    And if he loses, Chihaya and Kanade both pull off victories, it will be all decided by the titanic match of wills between Retro-kun and Taichi. Other players might be better talented, more skillful, but those two have the astonishing willpower that propels them both towards excellence!

  • February 12, 2013 at 11:30 amRyC

    I personally think that Sudou was allowed to be the reader for this match because it wasn’t a critical match. Also, If even the Queen is a high-schooler I don’t see why the reader can’t be someone who had just graduated from high school…

    • February 14, 2013 at 11:33 amMi-Chan

      well possibly it shows that the organizers probably didn’t care since they weren’t taking it seriously (they had only one reader last time) but that’s only a guess..