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「みかさのやまに いでしつきかも」 (Mikasa no Yama ni Ideshi Tsukikamo)
“Which Shines over Mount Mikasa”

Don’t worry, I’ll get to what happened at the end – just keep your shirts on for a minute…

This season of Chihayafuru has already surprised me a few times with its narrative choices, to the net effect that it hasn’t really been better or worse than the first season – just a bit different (like the BGM). What we got this week was another pretty interesting twist – both in terms of the Mizusawa team dynamics and the focus of the larger story. Chihayafuru has shown before that it can take brand new one-shot characters and tell compelling stories about them, but this was a bit different – and just maybe a misstep of the order that this series usually just doesn’t make.

For starters, there are some very interesting developments with the Mizusawa squad as they prepare for the group stage of the national tournament. When Tsukuba opens his eyes you know something big must have happened – and indeed it did, as he was picked for the lineup in the first match (and didn’t even have to furtively change the order to make it happen). Really, this part of the story is all about Tsutomu, who’s always been the unsung hero of the Chihayafuru cast. Here he and Taichi have decided to remove him from the lineup for the group stage (though indications are it was mostly Tsutomu’s idea) so that he can concentrate on scouting the opposition (with Sumire’s help). That’s a pretty darn big deal, and it reflects just how selfless Tsutomu is – he’s never put himself above the team.

But it also reflects the fact that Tsutomu is realistic in his self-analysis. He’s the weakest of the five returning team members, and he knows it – just as he knows he’s the strongest at competitive analysis. It was always a realistic possibility that Tsukuba – bigger, stronger, more athletic – might catch and pass him, though one might have expected it to take a little longer. Still, to voluntarily "take one for the team" by stepping down for the initial matches is amazingly unselfish – so much so that I worry that he might be selling himself short (no pun intended). With his mind Tsutomu should have great Karuta potential, and it’s been proved by Amakasu-kun (not to mention that Kana-chan is even smaller than he is) that diminutive stature is not an insurmountable obstacle in Karuta. We may be looking at an acknowledgement of the fact that Tsutomu and Kana will follow different paths than their friends – Kana has already expressed an interest in pursuing being a reader, and maybe Tsutomu will point his energies towards coaching.

The other interesting thing that we’re pretty well punched in the face with is the difference between how Taichi and Arata currently view Karuta. It’s been pointed out (not by me, though I should have picked up on it) that Arata’s admission to Chihaya that he "wasn’t too interested in team matches" might just have been an important moment from last week. Taichi was eerily quiet at the start of this episode – "intense" is how I would describe his mood – and his focus seems more and more on putting the team above all else. Is this a bit of a security blanket against possible failure in the individual tournament? Perhaps – but it seems to reflect a genuine difference between he and Arata in their viewpoints. This could manifest as a plot point in many different ways – it seems to give Taichi something in common with Chihaya that Arata lacks, for one. It also reflects just how lonely Arata has been, I think – his isolation inside the game isn’t entirely a product of his drive to be Meijin. He also associates team Karuta with Chihaya and Taichi – and since he isn’t with them, team Karuta naturally isn’t foremost in his mindset.

Certainly the most awkward part of the episode – perhaps the most awkward sequence in two seasons of Chihayafuru – was the match against the kids from Chiba International School. Let me say up front, I don’t think Suetsugu-sensei (or Madhouse) meant anything malicious here – but I nevertheless found much of the material involving C.I.S. sort of depressing. What’s sad, for me, is that I don’t think the reaction of the Mizusawa kids was especially unrealistic. Even in this age of globalization, there’s still an instinctive wariness around foreigners in Japan that surely has its roots in the fact that this is an island nation that’s been resolutely isolationist throughout most of its history. I see that in Tokyo, where there are many more Gaijin than in any other region of Japan – in places like Hokkaido (where Tsukuba comes from) it’s even more pronounced. Xenophobia is a very real part of the Japanese mosaic – you see it in the rhetoric of men like current P.M. Shinzou Abe, and you see it creep into art forms like anime sometimes too.

Let me be clear that Xenophobia is too strong a word for what we saw here – and for what most Japanese feel towards gaijin. Rather, what was depicted was less insulting than sad. The way the foreigners were depicted as exotic curiosities (sorry, but I think the word fits) and the way the Mizusawa kids panicked just to be close to them was uncomfortably close to the reality on the ground. I found the match between Tsukuba and the young player of African descent especially uncomfortable to watch, dancing far too close to ugly stereotyping. Yet, I don’t think this was malice so much as a reality that I wish was different than what it is – this is simply the way most Japanese look at foreigners (and as we see, even the boy who’d never left Japan still bore the "gaijin" label). The larger message Suetsugu is trying to get across here is one of fellowship around the game all of the kids love – I did like the "He’s lying!" that popped up when Tsukuba thought "There are no black people in Hokkaido!" and especially the moment that Nishida marveled at how "free" the boy opposing him and his teammates were in playing the game. They were unconstrained by the bounds of competitive Karuta – they were just playing a game they love. And I couldn’t help but laugh when Tsukuba thought to himself how odd it was that foreigners loved Karuta when "I mean… Japanese people don’t like it either." This is a small fraternity, even in Japan – though Chihayafuru itself is doing its part to try and change that.

In any event, the match itself was certainly revealing. In addition to some Mamoru Miyano Engrish (not quite as memorable as this) we saw Chihaya again show signs of real growth – she was the only one not put off by her opponents, but instead thrilled that they loved the game. She was also the one – not Taichi – who turned the match around with her timely "One card at a time, Mizusawa!" admonition. As for Kana she was mostly concerned with her shame that the gaijin were wearing Hakana and Mizuswa wasn’t (a concession to the heat), and with the fact that her opponent was wearing hers tied incorrectly (right flap over left, which is how the deceased are dressed – a very common gaijin blunder). Tsukuba managed his first win, always an important milestone. The foreigners proved themselves human just like anyone else – trying to psych the opponent out with English themselves despite not speaking it very well. And I confess, I never expected to hear the legendary Miki Shinichiro playing a high-schooler in this day and age – much less in Chihayafuru! All in all, it was a strange and memorable chapter in this ongoing saga.

And then there was that ending… Once again, Arata is quarantined to the very end of the episode as a plot device. If I’m to be honest, I find that the triangle involving Chihaya, Taichi and Arata is the only element of the series that feels stagnant. We see the same patterns repeating: Arata pops up briefly at the beginning or end, and Taichi looks crestfallen. Taichi continues to brood over his love for Chihaya in silence; she reveals no awareness of the concept of romance. In truth, things aren’t really going anywhere at the moment and haven’t for quite some time. There’s hope that this might finally be changing – Arata seems to be returning from the wilderness, and next week should finally make an appearance that doesn’t have the start of the ED playing over it. Even more, Shinobu and Arata have finally interacted on-screen (the streams have crossed!) and given that she seems to harbor some very strong feelings about him, there’s every reason to hope her involvement will break the logjam that’s turned the relationship of the original main trio into a muddy backwater instead of the clear, flowing river it once was. No, Chihayafuru is not first a romance series and I refuse to demean the totality of it by treating it as one – but neither is it possible to ignore the reality that the ChiTaiAra dynamic is the emotional eye of the hurricane. The series is better off if that dynamic is, well- dynamic, and it’s been too long since it has been. Hopefully, the pieces are in place for that to change starting next week.

March 2, 2013 at 2:19 am
32 comments »
  • March 2, 2013 at 3:52 amVor

    I raged when I saw the ED.

    Need more Chihayafuru!

  • March 2, 2013 at 4:22 amKarutaku

    While I agree that there was some stereotyping in the episode, the question is who was being stereotyped?

    They didn’t show Matt (the black guy) using pure strength to win or intimidate Tsukuba like a football linebacker would. Or show him celebrating taking a card by going “USA! USA!” They didn’t show Rachel as a blonde big-boobed airhead who mispronounces Japanese either. What they stereotyped was the reaction of a Japanese high-school student to playing against people who looked different from them. And I do think they overdid it since Mizusawa is in Tokyo and the team members should be more cosmopolitan in their thinking.

    However, they could have made the reaction worse too. They didn’t show any of the team members having the notion of “How dare these foreigners play karuta and think they can beat us!” Imagine the opposite where a group of Japanese students donning American football uniforms and trying to win the NCAA tournament.

    If there was any message at all by the author, I believe it is poking at how karuta isn’t popular among the Japanese. In addition to Tsukuba’s line that you mentioned, the TV camera was also there just because of the oddity of foreign-looking people playing karuta. It was only at the end that they realized how beautiful(?) competitive karuta could be.

    • March 2, 2013 at 5:15 amGuardian Enzo

      I certainly think the intent on Suetsugu’s part is positive. I also agree that the reaction on the part of the Mizusawa kids is being ridiculed as much as anything. The sad part, as I said, is that I don’t find it especially different from what I see here on a regular basis. But I also think there’s an issue with the way the gaijin are presented as pretty buffoonish characters, which I think reflects an overwhelming majority opinion among Japanese (even very smart mangaka) that gaijin are just plain weird, oafish and downright bizarre. It’s not entirely impossible to understand given how homogenous Japanese society is to this day, and how little contact the country has had with foreigners historically. But we see a fair amount of foreigners depicted in manga and anime these days, and while I’ve certainly seen a lot worse, I’ve seen better too when it comes to avoiding silly stereotypes.

    • March 3, 2013 at 12:49 aminfo600

      I actually felt “Matt” was playing in a similar way as Haruda-sensei do: with extreme vigor so that your opponent would shriek away in terror…

  • March 2, 2013 at 4:29 amewok40k

    I was the most amused when the Empress had the silent thought of “finish them!”
    Still, the Mizusawa team, despite outclassing the “Gaijin” newbies was playing quite nice, and with general feeling of happiness that there are people “out there” enjoying Karuta as much as they have.
    My hat is again off to Tsutomu, as he puts the good of the team before his own pride and achievement. I was always feeling Tsukuba has great potential in him, simply because of his ambitious drive to be the best. And Tsutomu himself might yet in time become a wizened old sensei teaching the ways of Karuta to the younglings…
    But the biggest bomb is dropped at the end, leaving us with a potential love square instead of triangle anymore… Shinobu indeed has some relation to Arata! I think that considering she is already rival to Chihaya in Karuta, we are in for a very intense rivalry ahead…

  • March 2, 2013 at 5:07 amShroompat

    MI-ZU-SA-WA FIGHT!!

  • March 2, 2013 at 5:17 amMikako

    Shinobu should star in horrors.
    Does anyone else see some Sumire x Tsukuba here?

    • March 2, 2013 at 6:11 amGuardian Enzo

      It occurred to me this week, too. And the math works. But who’s left for Nishida except forever alone?

      • March 2, 2013 at 10:43 amMikako

        He can bring some sparks into Yumin’s uneventful and disappointing life. He’s shown some great sentiment for her before. Of course, he’s healthy eight years younger than her, but when several years pass… who wouldn’t like a lively, young boyfriend, and he would ever have time to bish up!

        No, seriously, nothing feels so cheapening to a ship, like “the working math” (and that’s why I hate the ArataxShinobu idea, though I admit that their encounter was powerful). If one doesn’t have a suitable love interest, they should end up single, it’s no tragedy, especially in high school. Besides, I’d be more worried about Taichi than Nishida, if Arata won the quest for Chihaya…

    • March 2, 2013 at 6:13 amKarutaku

      Sumire X Megumu! Didn’t you see the spark(le)s flying when they first met? :D

    • March 3, 2013 at 7:36 pmnagi

      I was just happy that you pointed out they’re just FREAKING high school. That should’ve calmed down those who are forever waiting on the romance aspect of the show.

  • March 2, 2013 at 5:28 amBear

    When the Chiba students started speaking “Engrish” I facepalmed. I’m always frustrated that they can’t seem to find someone who is actually fluent in English (or at least can speak it phonetically). I laughed my head off when they revealed they’re native language was Japanese. One of the things that the author is showing is how something can rattle a karuta player. Last week it was Porky who got thrown off. This week the whole team was disturbed (each for their own reason). It was sad that the “Gaijin” had started karuta because they were all outcasts in their school, but we’ve seen that sort of treatment of outsiders time and time again in anime. But then, a lot of anime is about outsiders. Give the Mizusawa kids credit. Once they shook it off they treated them like any other opponents (crush them), but then they showed (their writing on the whiteboard) that their bond with karuta transcended any differences.

    That Tsutomu might end up as a coach and Kana as a reader is a nice touch to the story. You may love a sport but your abilities or interests might not be the same as those who actually compete.

    Wow, Shinobu. Those eyes… That was an interesting entrance.

  • March 2, 2013 at 5:37 amMi-Chan

    I actually liked this episode but nothing creeped me more than Shinobu’s entry, oh gosh she looked like some kind of demonic creature with that hand gesture xD it is funny to me that both Shinobu and Arata have similar looks, his long lost twin (that’s a story twist capable of ruining Chihayfuru on so many levels, and I keep laughing at the thought.)

    I read somewhere that someone said ‘they are from Tokyo, she should be more familiar with foriegners’, but isn’t that why Taichi kind of knew how to talk back to them? (besides that this scene was so funny, and he’s a smart person), there’s no denying that the others might have very less interactions with foriegners, particularly in the field of ‘Karuta’ which is essentially a japanese traditional game that even Japanese people might assume it is too old and outdated. They have never played with foriegners in the field of Karuta, and that was their weakness. I don’t sense anything bad from this episode, but really, its the common reaction to seeing a foreigner play such a game, I should know, I’ve seen this alot of times before, and it was realistic, yet relative to me. I enjoyed it.

    I don’t think there’s differences between Taichi and Arata in terms of what they enjoy more, after all, Arata did come to watch them, he just lied to her (probably because Chihaya will worry too much about him coming that she wouldn’t have played the way she did? maybe).

    Thanks for your review! M. There are times when I know what kind of things I wanna say about Chihayafuru, but there are times when I just stand still with so many thoughts that I have no idea what to say! So mind my nub posts lol seems to get nubier by the time xD “forgive me but your pronounciation is wrong” lol i can’t stop laughing!

    • March 2, 2013 at 7:09 amGuardian Enzo

      In terms of why Taichi was able to talk to the others in Engrish, Tokyo has nothing to do with that. Any Japanese his age will have been taking English as a required subject for several years, and should be able to do at least that well. Most Japanese under 50 took English in school and can actually read and write it quite respectably, but speaking it is another matter – public loss of face is a big deal here, and English and Japanese pronunciations are so fundamentally different that most Japanese are reluctant to risk speaking much English in situations such as that one.

      Where the Tokyo factor comes in isn’t in understanding English, it’s in experience with foreigners. And teens from Tokyo will have seen many more foreigners than most people in the rest of Japan, especially outside the big cities. Yet even here I see the same sort of barely-repressed panic among many locals when they come in close contact with gaijin – though it’s less common among people under 30.

      • March 2, 2013 at 9:09 amMi-Chan

        Ah it was my understanding of wht someone above said and a possibility if it might be true, I agree with what you said though. I forgot to mention that I’d spot ColonelMustang’s voice anywhere lol why did it have to be the blonde guy!! lmao

        Cheers, xx!!!!

  • March 2, 2013 at 6:08 amkarice

    and with the fact that her opponent was wearing hers backwards (the horror!)

    This is actually a pretty big faux pas in Japan. What Kana was referring to wasn’t that the kimono was ‘backwards’, but rather that it had been folded right over left rather than left over right. Right over left is actually how the deceased are dressed, so wearing it that way is akin to sticking chopsticks upright in a bowl of rice: it’s seen as a bad omen.

    (p.s. there is also apparently a practical reason for folding left over right – it was allegedly so that swords would be easier to draw…)

    • March 2, 2013 at 6:13 amGuardian Enzo

      Good catch – I was actually aware of that taboo, and I’m always careful to avoid that mistake when wearing a yukata. The bad translation threw me.

    • March 2, 2013 at 6:26 amBear

      I don’t think it’s just allegedly. If you’re right handed and the kimono was folded right over left there’s a good chance you’ll catch the hilt on it when drawing. Mens shirts button the same way. The Japanese drive on the left because historically, if you meet someone on the road you want your sword hand nearest to someone who might attack you (same reason the English drive on the left). Why we drive on the right in the US is another story.

  • March 2, 2013 at 6:16 amTsukuba doesn’t care about black people

    It looks like Shinobu is about to go into cyclops mode and destroy everyone.

    • March 2, 2013 at 6:27 amGuardian Enzo

      Hey – if Kotoura-san can have a battle arc, that might just work as a development for Chihayafuru.

  • March 2, 2013 at 9:26 amJack Spicer

    Okay, seriously Chihaya-furu?!?! If this show doesn’t stop rolling out Arata in the last 30 seconds of every episode I am going to stop watching, so f’in sick of it.

  • March 3, 2013 at 1:11 amowq

    Shinobu-chan is still so cut… mysterious. I want to know more about her.

  • March 3, 2013 at 1:47 amAngelus

    “C/T/A” – what an unfortunate combination of letters to denote a relationship dynamic.

  • March 3, 2013 at 3:36 amJ Jay

    Errrrrrrrrrrrrrrr this episode left me feeling … uncomfortable. I agree with the general point that the portrayal of the Chiba students was not damning per se, but it is all-too-indicative of what happens in Japan. Those scenes with Matt made me cringe.

    On a lighter note, hands up if you expected Miki’s character (name?) to burn the cards or bust out a giant robot sized sniper rifle or get in his Trueno and drift through the match but only touch the card that was read or grow wings when he took a card or

    Hopefully (HOPEFULLY) we will get to see Arata in real life, so to speak although I really hope Shinobu doesn’t suddenly declare an undying love for his di- I mean, his karuta.

  • March 3, 2013 at 5:40 amDein

    The part with the foreign students didn’t go over well with me, and it wasn’t because I felt it was excessively offensive or anything. Just… strange. Almost entirely out of place, even, for a show like Chihaya, that despite showing excellent emotional depth for the characters, doesn’t really dwell beyond it’s well-established boundries of comfort. I do agree that it wasn’t malicious, but this general moment of self-awarness made me feel a little unease, I guess, not because the ideas of xenophobia in japan or other countries are unfamiliar or surprising to me, but rather because I was blindsided by it in a show where it comes off as totally unexpected. At any rate, I think it was a good moment and showed that even shows that have very specifics focuses can have an opportunity to speak of bigger things that don’t have anything to do with the plot.

    As for Arata – I’m honestly getting a little tired of this patyern, and I was probably already tired of it back in season 1, but then there was always the hope that something might change, even though it never did. Arata is such an important character and is one of the 3 main corner stones of the entire plot, but his presence is always put aside and disregarded in every possible way. It feels like the creators are just sitting on him because they have no idea what to do with him or how to properly integrate him into the story. Hopefully, as you say, with Shinobu being involved, Arata can finally become a bigger, and, more importantly, more relevant part of the plot.

  • March 3, 2013 at 12:04 pmSolara

    Holy shit, Shinobo actually scared the crap out of me. She should seriously be in horror films, notably flicks like ‘The Ring/Ringu’.

    I’m honestly dropping any romantic notion I had about this series, and just focus on the bloody Karuta, my ships are so totally over. It was fun to linger on it and even hope with it, but it’s clear that the author has other plans that it’s just not the focus, so if anything we’re wasting time on it. It has been 8 episodes so far and nothing. If it indicts anything, Arata does know Shinobo, and vice versa, look at that super cute smile she has on! If anyone was shipping Arata with Shinobo, this is the strongest moment for it.

    My BIGGEST fear is that if Shinobo is really linked to Arata, will we only see her mins before the ending of each episode just like Arata!? NUUUU. In all honesty… I inticipated the arrival of Shinobo more than I am with Arata. Shinobo is like this impetus to Chihaya to becoming a better player altogether and be a Queen someday, and it’s general focus centrally on Karuta. Whereas with Arata, she just wants to be ‘good’ enough to see him someday since he is far. An understandable gesture in season one. So if anything Shinobo is a stronger force in this series than Arata is. And like Arata, Shinobo wasn’t physical present, but Chihaya has been fixated with her from watching her match on the DVD, to constantly thinking of her during her matches, to even late at night in a comical comment troll thanks to a romantic question. If I had to pick about who gets the most screen time between Arata and Shinobo, Shinobo plz. I’m fine with Arata having the last minutes of each episode. Lulz

    What surprise me about this episode was Tachi’s comment about being infected by Chihaya’s obsession with being number one, I didn’t expected that considering that the last episodes of the last season he mention about stop being there for Chihaya when she was into the Master and Queen match. It seem like his breaking point of ‘moving on’. I like this change of development, cause it just means they just want to focus on Karuta whatever means necessary and nothing romantic at all. WHY ISN’T IT NEXT WEEK!?

  • March 3, 2013 at 3:55 pmsgl

    I wouldn’t blame Madhouse for the Chiba arc. In this case they are adapting the source material pretty faithfully and while it is politically incorrect, they actually minimized it instead of playing it up.

    I think though that some of the events here around Tsutsomu were changed. I’m pretty sure the manga there was a switcheroo… this wasn’t tactical.

  • March 3, 2013 at 6:29 pmKidokuOuyou

    Ousaka Megumu looks sharp when she appear last season during battle with Yumin, and I thought she is iinchou or bungaku-shoujo type. but popular airhead sharp-tongue meganekko is all I need

  • March 3, 2013 at 7:27 pmnagi

    “the gaijin were wearing Hakana and Mizuswa ”

    GE, just wanted to point out you misspelled some words..

    Anyway! I was surprised that some RL gaijins were offended by the Chiba arc. As a gaijin myself, I didn’t feel any negative vibes in it (I was quite impressed on the good English grammar.. well, as compared to most animes). I can even say it’s one of the better presentations of foreigners in anime. I was even touched by their last scene where they declared that they’ll be a better Karuta team next year (and I lol’ed at Kana-chan’s little note on wearing Hakama – she just can’t let it pass eh?).

    So I see that Shinobu’s comeback with Arata was interpreted as a kick off on the main trio’s romance. Well, Show Spoiler ▼

  • March 3, 2013 at 10:35 pmLGrey

    Do we have a release date for the OP/ ED?

  • March 4, 2013 at 12:42 amRentarou

    I still thought it was not in great taste when at the end they wrote “we’d like to play again” in English. The episode established that these were people of foreign descent who lived in Japan their whole lives. Japanese is actually their first language, so why create distance and write it in English? まあ、細かい文句かもしれないけど、そういうのってわざと距離を入れてる気がしていらいらするな~

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