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「わたのはら」 (Wata no Hara)
“My Only Thought”

To say that this episode was a long time coming may be an understatement, but it definitely proved worth the wait.

It’s no exaggeration to say that Arata is a highly unusual character in anime, close to unique in the sense that while he’s universally acknowledged as one of the three main characters in Chihayafuru, his screen time has been extremely limited for nearly the entire series. There may be no greater gap between the volume of a character’s physical appearances in the story and their impact on it (and the fans’ perception of it) than there is with Arata. It’s a testament to Suetsugu’s skill as a writer that she’s been able to sustain that for as long as she has, but for me at least it was beginning to have a drag effect on the series in general, and especially on the aspect concerned with the relationships of the ChiTaiAra triumvirate.

For one week, at least – and almost certainly two – we’re given a reprieve from that. But as it has so often this season, Chihayafuru surprises in the choices it makes – giving us not a dramatic reunion of Arata with Taichi and Chihaya, but an entire episode focused on him, with only brief appearances from the Mizusawa collective. For me, this is a welcome turn of events because Arata has become more of a symbolic presence than an actual character, the dark matter of the Chihayaverse – we know he’s there because everything is different because of him, but we really don’t know much about him. After the timeskip in season one his moments in the spotlight were few and far between, but he always managed to make an impact. It’s about time we got inside his head and re-acquainted ourselves with this young man who’s going to be so critical in how the series progresses.

As expected, that brief comment in the phone conversation with Chihaya – “I’m not too interested in team tournaments” – definitely has legs. There’s not so much to be inferred from Arata’s decision to witness the team competition itself, as that can be attributed to simple interest in and loyalty to Chihaya and Taichi, but what happens once he gets there really beings to explore the implications of that statement. First, there’s the brief encounter with Shinobu, in which she reveals that the last time she lost was to Arata four years earlier – and it seems he made a habit of defeating her in tournaments in the first round. There’s obviously a lot of potential in this relationship, and it’s hard to know the precise nature of Shinobu’s feelings for Arata yet. She’s at Ome Jingu not to watch the team event but to pay her respects before heading off to the Biwa Birdman Rally in Hikone (as Tsutomu keenly observes later, great Karuta players are pretty much all oddballs) but before she goes, she makes an even more cutting statement than Arata’s – “Team events are for players who don’t love Karuta”.

If we stop and assess the meaning of that – as Arata certainly did – it’s quite an interesting statement. This concept of team vs. individual Karuta is definitely emerging as a main theme this season, starting with Harada-sensei’s (why isn’t he here yet, BTW?) comment to Taichi that “every team match is an individual match, and every individual match is a team match”. We’ve seen the impact on Taichi in a team setting and I’m 100% convinced we’ll see it in an individual one, but Arata is at the heart of this dilemma as well. To a great degree, Arata as we know him is fundamentally alone. There’s no evidence of close friends, and his closest comrade in Karuta is Murao-san, who’s much older and whose own interest in the sport has waxed and waned at least once that we know of. When Arata thinks of camaraderie and friendship, he thinks of sixth grade – which is pretty sad for an 11th-grader – and he has no associations of Karuta as a team sport apart from Chihaya and Taichi. Yet it’s clear that those memories are still very important to him, and perhaps what happens in this episode will be what reconnects him to the notion of Karuta as a team sport. I believe Taichi is concentrating too much on team Karuta at the expense of his individual goals (as a sort of safety mechanism) but Arata is too focused on the individual side, and he’s giving something up too.

It’s clear that it was Arata’s intention to watch Mizusawa discreetly, as he was perfectly aware that his presence might prove a distraction (though whether he was more worried about Taichi or Chihaya it’s hard to say). Murao’s greeting nearly foils his plans, but he manages to sneak away before he’s spotted. It’s clear the impact even the possibility that he might be there has on Taichi – it really is bordering on a complex at this point – and once again Chihaya proves she really is maturing as a player, warning Taichi to keep his head focused on the next opponent. Meanwhile Tsutomu’s scouting has turned up a potential opponent with 5 Class-A players (more self-confidence carnage on tap for Taichi), including a very odd boy who expresses a rather feminine appearance and likes to balance matches on his eyelashes (could Taichi even be getting NTR’d in the eyelash department?). Meanwhile Fujioka West from Fukui (Arata attends Fujioka East) has arrived with a 3-man squad – and one of their members is stuck in traffic. It’s a bit too convenient as a setup for Arata’s character development just when it was called for, but I won’t deny it’s an effective one.

Because one of the boys on the Fujioka squad knew Arata from middle school (he was the one Arata punched) he drafts Arata into competing for the squad, because with only two players they wouldn’t even be allowed to play a match. This means a disguise (mask, no glasses – the mask part would be a lot harder to explain in the West), which of course takes Arata back in his mind to the last time he played without his glasses – and the aftermath. Maybe my impressions were influenced by that but seeing Arata without his glasses was a real throwback – he looks much younger without them, and in a way it felt as if we were seeing him in a way we hadn’t since he was 12. Being involved in a team match – even one where he’s helpless because he can’t see – shows Arata a world he hasn’t seen in such a long time that he’s almost forgotten it. He’s struck by the passion of the players on both teams, by how much this experience means to them – the frustration of his opponent that he isn’t fighting back, the agony of his teammate when he loses his match. Arata in effect chooses the integrity of the sport over self-interest by putting his glasses on and playing to win, despite knowing that the sensei at his Karuta society is watching. The fact that he only does so after Fujioka West is guaranteed a team loss (with only three players, they start out with an 0-2 deficit) is fortunate, but it’s interesting to speculate what Arata might have done if the result of the match depended on his game.

Sadly for Arata, his ruse is discovered by his sensei – whose own integrity compels him to turn Arata in. This could potentially mean a disqualification from the individual event, as his actions blatantly broke the rules (which would be especially interesting for Chihaya, as it’s suggested that Shinobu might skip the individual competition to watch the Birdman rally, delayed for a day by rain). I think this would be a battle lost but a war won for Arata, as he really needed this to shock him out of his isolation and reintegrate him into a world where social interactions are more than texts and one-minute phone calls twice a year. It’s interesting to speculate what this might mean for Arata long-term – we know he has a standing request to his parents, which I’d assumed was to move to Tokyo for his senior year – but perhaps he might decide to stay in Fukui and help either his own school or Fujioka West field a team that might threaten at Nationals next year. I rather hope he doesn’t go back to being an occasional accessory and plot driver, because things between Taichi and Chihaya can’t really escape their rut until Arata is fully part of the picture again. As for the team tournament, it’s clear that Mizusawa has their hands full with several tough opponents standing in their way – I expect the series to be at Omi Jingu for several more episodes.

March 9, 2013 at 5:59 am
35 comments »
  • March 9, 2013 at 6:26 amGermanguy

    This kind of “Battle Card” Game, is unknown to me. How is this calling? And is there some Wikipedia Info about it?

    • March 9, 2013 at 7:24 amZnail

      There is info at wiki about it. The short story is that it’s not really a popular game, not even in Japan. It barely qualifies as being called a game in the first place as it’s originally a tool to help with memorising some 100 old Japanese poems. Thus Japanese students ‘play’ this as part of Japanese literature class.

  • March 9, 2013 at 6:47 amJ Jay

    Yeah, the setup was contrived to say the least, but the potential result outweighs the drawbacks. The ethical dilemma is much more interesting to me than Tournament Arc Mk IV. Don’t forget that whatever the outcome, Chihaya & the rest will come to know about what happened …

  • March 9, 2013 at 6:55 amLGrey

    Episode 9: Where Budget Runs Dry, Too.

    This week’s Vivid Red’s wonky animation seems contagious.
    Fortunately, not affecting the whole episode.
    LOL

    • March 9, 2013 at 7:29 amMikako

      Actually it was painful to watch how the sole Arata-centric episode was done in such crappy quality. And it was not especially interesting (flashback-padding for the half of it aside, lol), so it’s a pity that Arata’s probably gonna be disqualified for the rest of the tournament for this plot.

      Actually the brightest point of the episode was Shinobu’s epicness. She’s actually kind of dorky and adorable, when is not acting cool and aloof.

  • March 9, 2013 at 7:06 amDein

    This episode was like a breath of fresh air. I was hoping Arata would be a bigger part of story this week, but I couldn’t even hope that they would make him the focus of the whole episode. My only issue with the twist in the end is that it might turn out to be a simple excuse to put Arata back on the 30 second screen time shelf, now that he may no longer have his main reason to even be at the tournament. Hopefully, though, it won’t be as simple as that and this episode just marks the first step in a changing dynamic, where Arata will finally become a more relevant part of the whole thing.

  • March 9, 2013 at 7:18 amMi-Chan

    I wonder about many things in this episode. Is Taichi easy to read now or is Chihaya starting to look at him more? It seems to me that Taichi is kind of falling behind in some aspects, that I don’t seem to get. Tsumuto has become a strategist more than he is and Chihaya is more focused than he is. I don’t get it. It is pretty much like his reaction when he hears Arata’s name, is he worried about Chihaya looking out for Arata and not focusing on the game? Or is he worried about his own feelings? It is like in season 1 when he was upset she went to see him, but once he was there, he appeared to care for Arata. I know we have seen something in Taichi develop in the first episodes, but it seems like the others are moving faster than he has, I don’t know… there are so many questions I’m confused about.

    On another note, this episode has recindled my love for Arata! Only Arata is capable of giving people a sentence that would make them shed tears (points back at season 1 and coward at Taichi) and now Shinobu, I thought it was really funny! Though, I think their relationship is that of her wanting to beat him in a game because she always lost to him, and she wants to fix that. Maybe….

    I liked the reminscent parts and the future Arata playing in a team match. Sometimes you need to remember how you felt before you can make statements. I hope he doesn’t get disqualified, but well, the bird rally kind of felt like it hinted it to me.

    Leaving that aside, I think, Enzo, the reason why the only friends he seems to remember are those he knew from 6th grade is because ever since he left Tokyo, Arata has been ‘held back by his grandfather’s’ sickness. He had become only focused on his grandad, and when he passed away, he was slightly lost for a while until Chihaya and Taichi put some sense back into him. Though we don’t really see much of his high school life anyway. I am so happy that he has finally had some screen time!

    Thanks for your review. I think Shinobu can officially be a villian in some other anime with the evil look at the begining!

    Cheers, M.

  • March 9, 2013 at 7:22 amKrim

    Arata! This was a great episode, and I’m glad that as usual the show is presented realistic consequences for characters’ actions. But I also personally really hope that Arata isn’t disqualified, both to see him in action against Shinobu and Chihaya, and also in the hopes that yes, he might win and ask to be a transfer student in Tokyo.

  • March 9, 2013 at 8:32 amJack Spicer

    I will take this episode as a great lesson in, “careful what you wish for.” I had earlier hoped that either Arata would take a bigger role or simply be cut from the show entirely. After watching this very contrived episode, I realize that I should have been putting all my hopes on Arata being bounced from the show.

    An episode that shifts the focus entirely off Chihaya and the rest of her Karuta Club feels entirely lacking.

  • March 9, 2013 at 8:38 amJ-Luke

    “the mask part would be a lot harder to explain in the West”
    Not too hard, if he were to simulate having a cold or so.
    Also, the Kansai-ben is strong with this episode…

    • March 9, 2013 at 11:48 amYourIdeas

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think by West, he meant a non-Asian audience. Living in Japan before, it’s a common sight seeing people wearing a mask to prevent spreading germs. This isn’t very common in other parts of the world, so if Chihayafuru were to get translated into English, it would be difficult to “localize” an explanation for the mask.

      • March 9, 2013 at 5:01 pmGuardian Enzo

        Exactly. Until I moved to SF with its large Asian population I never saw a single person in the US wearing one of those things.

  • March 9, 2013 at 10:16 amronbb

    I was thinking why did Arata take off his mask right after the match and not storm out of the room…? It’s a bit too convenient for setting up a cliffhanger for next week. Having said that, I really enjoyed all the emotions conveyed, and my heartstrings were tugged.

  • March 9, 2013 at 11:11 amedo

    chihaya likes arata more than taichi

    Taichi should move on

    • March 10, 2013 at 5:53 amMikako

      Haha, you’re getting yourself a hatestorm in thumbs-down.

      But I agree and have to say that seeing an episode almost without Taichi (c’mon, he’s been devouring a lot more screentime than even Chihaya, since long time ago) was unbelievably refreshing.

  • March 9, 2013 at 11:35 aminfo600

    It’s funny how Shinobu’s usual facial expression has zero effect on Arata. Speaking of Arata, his mind must be going through a lot for us to see all those flashbacks and voice overs.

    -The exceptional hearing, they’re happening all over the place.

    -Kuriyama-Sensei is confused…(care to fill in the next part?)

  • March 9, 2013 at 11:42 amJani

    I really loved the episode but am also really depressed for Taichi. After seeing Arata play, Taichi is like years behind. I just don’t understand why Taichi isn’t developing in skills as fast as the rest of them are.

    • March 9, 2013 at 5:04 pmGuardian Enzo

      Correct me if I’m wrong, but I don’t believe Taichi has lost a match this season.

      • March 9, 2013 at 6:08 pmJani

        Not unless you want to count the matches he lost in the summer that prevented him from making it to class A. But I guess I should have worded it better. It’s just me feeling that I won’t get my chance to see Taichi beat Arata in a match is all. From what I just saw today, I really do not think Taichi has a chance in hell. Arata’s speed and precision are superb. Yes Taichi is a great player, but it just feels like he is soooo far behind Arata and chihaya in terms of skill and I feel like he shouldn’t be :( !!. I don’t know where I was going with this lol basically it’s me sulking because I’m so team Taichi and I just really really want him to beat Arata (even though I like him too!) :)

    • March 9, 2013 at 10:52 pmpham huynh quang huy

      May be you don’t fell like that because we saw taichi strong in memorization skill rather than arata speed skill in the anime? each skill has its good and bad you know

    • March 10, 2013 at 4:14 amMi-Chan

      I absolutely agree with you on this point, you worded it better than I did in my above post :)

    • March 10, 2013 at 3:22 pmdustShadow

      Jack-of-all-trads

    • March 11, 2013 at 10:20 amFairlee

      It’s because Taichi is not a genius in karuta like Arata and Chihaya.
      He’s a hardworker.
      I’ve read the manga and I’d say that it’s like Taichi will develop quite significantly later

  • March 9, 2013 at 2:43 pmShinji

    I have this feeling Arata will join Chihaya’s team sooner or later. Not sure if I could see Shinobu-chan joining in as well?

  • March 9, 2013 at 3:24 pmnagi

    I was just smiling throughout the episode. If this is not a character development for Arata, I don’t know what is.

  • March 9, 2013 at 4:48 pmmickey

    This episode brought so much laughter to me especially when Chihaya told Taichi to focus and when the sensei kept sensing the fujioka ‘west’ player plays so similar to Arata hahaha

    And directing to your last sentence “I expect the series to be at Ome Jingu for several more episodes.” I’m pretty sure its suppose to be spelled as ‘Omi Jingu’ and not ‘Ome Jingu’

  • March 9, 2013 at 11:52 pmewok40k

    It would be really sad to have Arata get banned from individual tournament, but it could be worse – imagine his team winning that round and running into Mizusawa…
    Shinobu makes some interesting points here, from how it was Arata who has been her bane up until 4 years ago, to the statement of superiority of individual Karuta. While I am willing to accept that it is in individual duels that skill in Karuta gets to the top high, I’d say it is in team matches that love for Karuta shines the most.
    The storm starting in the episode is a pretty symbol of trouble ahead. Mizusawa will run into increasingly difficult opponents as weaker teams are eliminated out. And Arata might get banned from his tournament altogether – which would make Shinobu sad as she definitely would love to play against Arata again…

    • March 10, 2013 at 1:15 amGuardian Enzo

      I’m not convinced Shinobu is going to play either.

  • March 10, 2013 at 7:35 amfoxglove212

    Why did Arata punch that kid in the flashback? Also *glasses on … serious mode activate.

    • March 10, 2013 at 5:35 pmGuardian Enzo

      Because he implied that Arata was using his Grandfather’s illness for personal benefit, when in fact it was ripping him to pieces.

  • March 10, 2013 at 7:58 amDollar Nil

    Oh, Arata. I must’ve watched the pre-opening scene ten times. While he’s certainly graceful in the karuta department, he’s rather graceless when it comes to people skills. (There’s at least one thing Taichi is better at, lol.) I did like this episode very much, since Arata’s been getting WAY too little screen time this season for a main character, but did they really have to repeat Shinobu-chan’s line so many times?
    And the ACCENTS ohhh~

  • March 10, 2013 at 6:59 pmFaint Smile

    Finally, an episode for Arata!.. Awesome!..

  • March 11, 2013 at 2:16 pmLayfon

    If I remember correctly, Arata asked his father to do something if he won the individual tournament. I doubt that he’ll get disqualified if the author put this in.

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