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「さしもしらじな もゆるおもひを」 (Sashi mo Shirajina mo Yuru Omohi o)
“I Feel As Though My Body is on Fire with Ibuki Mugwort”

Chihayafuru is definitely proving its versatility this season, but I wonder if it isn’t coming at just a bit of a cost.

I’ve been struck more than once that Chihayafuru feels just a bit different this season than it did in its first two-cour run. In much the same way that the last couple of seasons of Natsume Yuujinchou differed slightly from their predecessors, I don’t think this is a qualitative difference so much a change in tone and focus. The two things I can point to that are different this year are that Chihayafuru is dealing with a much larger cast, and so far it’s much more heavily focused on the game of Karuta itself.

So how does that manifest itself for me as a viewer? Well, one of the remarkable things about this series is its innate ability to transcend genres and specific styles, and that’s certainly been on full display this season. You could talk to five viewers who love Chihayafuru and they might give you five different answers about what they love most (indeed, that would be true of Natsume as well). For me, the series feels just a bit less special than it did because I miss the focus on the core characters, and on their character arcs. We’ve seen the camera all over the map this season, focusing on new characters and previously little-explored old ones, on opposing teams, and much more on the sport itself. Chihayafuru is pulling all this off beautifully, as you’d expect, but there’s less emotional heft for me when Chihaya and especially Taichi have become relatively minor players in many episodes. Whatever you may think of him Taichi had the most intense and dramatic arc of the first season, and as a result of his reduced prominence that arc feels rather stagnant at the moment.

My suspicion – at the very least my hope – is that all this broad focus we’re seeing is an investment in the long-term, developing the story and the rest of the cast because they aren’t going to get as much attention when the series returns to its essential nature in the second cour. And I freely admit that just as it was with Natsume’s subtle shift from being centered on its title character’s youkai world to his human one, this is a matter of personal preference and not a change in quality – I still love Chihayafuru and it’s still brilliant. And I certainly applaud the decision to build an episode around Komano-kun – hell, I’ve been crying out for it – because I’ve always felt he was a real unsung hero in this cast. I don’t want to call Tsutomu a forgotten man, but it does seem very often as if he’s taken for granted – his skills not quite on par with his teammates, his personality not as flashy, his main focus always on the team rather than himself.

As I speculated at the end of last week’s post, the cliffhanger was indeed all about Nishida calling Tsutomu’s desire as a player into question. And it’s hard to blame him, really, when Tsutomu showed little desire to fight for his position. Chihaya passes it off as fatigue, recalling an instance when Harada-sensei (why isn’t he here?) told her that watching a Karuta match intently was more exhausting than playing in one. And there’s something to that, as we see when Komano-kun falls asleep as the others begin their match (only to be thoughtfully covered up by "The Empress’ Jacket of Love"). But I think there’s something to what Nishida said, and Komano knows it. At Karuta, he’s the fifth-best on a five-player team. As a scout and analyst, he’s in his element – that’s his home turf and he’s unquestionably their best. We’ve seen this insecurity in him from the beginning, when he refused to play a match in a pout; just as we’ve seen his selflessness when he more than once tried to tweak the order so he’d be a sacrificial lamb against the enemy’s strongest opponent.

This whole episode with Nishida was quite eye-opening, I think, in that wonderful way Chihayafuru has of making events not just plot-drivers, but character-arc drivers as well. I think Tsutomu-kun needed to hear what Nishida said to rekindle his desire as a player, though in the long-term I still think the direction we’re headed is Tsukuba as the regular starter. I was pleased (for obvious reasons, heh) to see Kana be the one to most vociferously stick up for Tsutomu at what she saw as an attack. Chihaya once again shows just how much she’s grown as a player, stepping in when Taichi hesitates at deciding the order and calmly assessing the situation. The Empress made a very telling comment, that Taichi was "under too much pressure" – indeed, that’s how it’s seemed all season with him, that he was on edge and carrying the weight of the world on his shoulders.

The quarter-final match is against Shoyo ("Show You!") a team from Kyoto – and I couldn’t help but laugh at Taichi’s comment that all their players looked like "ancient Karuta officials from textbooks". Maybe it’s my fanciful Gaijin imagination but I’m always struck by how different Kyotoite faces look from folks in the rest of Japan – they really do resemble what I’ve always imagined Heian nobles look like. In any event Mizusawa does indeed go with the same order from the group stage while Tsutomu sleeps it off, and they win after a bit of an early struggle, thanks to his notes (we’re never given the individual results) and some world-class feminine wiles from Kanade. For the semi-finals (Hokuo has advanced, too), though, Tsutomu does indeed step into the picture against Akashi Girls Academy – and it seems as if Tsukuba really gets shafted here, as everyone rushes to embrace Tsutomu without a thought for his own efforts in helping the team advance. Akashi features Ousaka-san, the reigning Western Japan champion – and the issue here is Chihaya’s burning desire to take her on vs. the logical notion of trying to match Chihaya against one of Akashi’s three weaker (though still Class B) players. Again she shows her maturity – volunteering herself to follow that plan. But Taichi decides to stick with the same order on the guise that Mizusawa doesn’t want to duck their opponent, though he – and Tsutomu – know full-well that Akashi has been riding the same order because they’re saving any potential changes for what they perceive to be stronger opponents.

Next week should prove interesting indeed, as Akashi seems to be taking Mizusawa for granted and this looks like it might finally be the match where Chihaya loses and everything comes down to the other members (dare I hope, maybe Tsutomu) to save the day. Meanwhile Arata (Shinobu is currently wearing his pants) has indeed gotten a slap on the wrist – his punishment is to skip watching the team tournament and write an essay on what he did wrong. If that somewhat laughable sentence is the last we hear of the incident it’ll be a bit of an anti-climax, given that I thought Arata’s open admission that he deserved to be suspended from the individual tournament was quite admirable, and this seems like a victory for favoritism (and blackmail). Nevertheless this does offer the first realistic possibility of Chihaya and Arata playing in a meaningful match, though I kind of doubt that will happen this early in the season. But then, it isn’t really all that early – after we finish the team and individual stages the season will be more than half over, there’s still presumably the Meijin and Queen tournaments to be covered and we’ve seen very little focus on Taichi’s quest for Class A or on any of the personal lives of the characters. And that does make me a little sad, if I’m to be honest, as much as I love the supporting cast and the Karuta episodes.

March 23, 2013 at 2:49 am
29 comments »
  • March 23, 2013 at 3:48 ambaseone

    Desktomu-kun have a bright future as a profiler IMO and Kana pouting so cute.

    • March 23, 2013 at 5:12 amMi-Chan

      lmao +1

    • March 25, 2013 at 2:42 amewok40k

      Tsutomu? I’ve heard certain arms dealer is watching him as her next intel officer… /jk
      He can even gather some serious info from Hanano’s cute yet superficial observations.
      Tsutomu is really the brains behind Mizusawa’s wins. No match shows it better than this episode, as EVERYONE including Chihaya relied on his info, resulting in relatively easy win.
      All this comes at a cost of both strong effort and forfeiting his chances to play himself. This is his burden, and it is good that everyone tries to support him. Even Nishida who wanted to allow Tsutomu to play more, eventually found out his worth more in the supporting role.
      Secondly, we see Chihaya developing again, wanting against own warrior instinct to support team strategy. In the end it didnt work out and she got paired with opposition’s ace, but her intentions do count!
      Thirdly, the Empress shines again, from minding the food and drinks for her team, to the “jacket of love” , to silently cheering them in thought. We are so used to 2 types of teachers in anime, young, single and nice, or old, ugly and pestersome. Empress is neither, instead she is realistically drawn in both senses of the world, deeply caring for her pupils and warm-hearted under harsh exterior!
      Last but not least, Hokuo team is up thru play-offs and into semifinals, too! Sudo showing up and making them freeze in terror made me LOL. I feel I am not the only one who wants the two teams from Tokyo meet again in the finals? This would be EPIC! (and a chance for Mizusawa for revenge for Tokyo finals…)

  • March 23, 2013 at 4:21 amnagi

    Desktomu-kun is very admirable in this arc (can’t blame anyone seeing Desktomu X Nikuman there). Arguably, we can also see a character development for Chihaya here since she’s the one who realized that Desktomu-kun is tired with all that info-gathering (as the Empress pointed out, she’s only been reliable at matches, but hey, not anymore!). Anyway, Kana-chan pouting and Sudo holding the pink banner are easily the highlights of the episode.

    • March 23, 2013 at 5:16 amMi-Chan

      I want the Empress’s jacket of love XD

  • March 23, 2013 at 5:07 amSolara

    OMG OMG OMG OMG -Freakish fangirl scream @ Shinobo wearing Arata’s clothes- OxO!!
    Like holy shitz! (┛#゚Д゚)┛彡┻━┻ I’m flipping tables here!! I’m shipping the fuck out of this!
    Arata X Shinobo = <33333 moar flipping tables (งˆヮˆ)ง┻━┻!!

    She is raping that phone. Look at her go. Girl is an expert surfer. ಠ_ಠ

    Which reminds me, just how close are they? You don't normally let friends surf on your cell. But to me what that scene did for me was simple: They’re comfortable with one another. Dawww.

    COUGH. Oh yes the episode, I’m glad they focus around Desk-kun and Porky-kun, I thought Porky wanted to fight for calling out Desk-kun, but the reasons behind it were wonderful. I love how Chihayafuru always makes me see things in a different perspective, can’t wait to see next week! I hope we get to see Arata and Shinobo on the mat soon. With each other or someone else, just get on the mat! O<

    • March 23, 2013 at 12:06 pmMikako

      It’s Shinobu, not Shinobo.
      And yeah, while I initially immensely disliked this ship (it seemed so forced and created just in favor of sending Arata out of the way of TaichixChihaya), I’m now starting to crack. Still not sure about the whole pairing idea, but god yes, Shinobu and Arata are definitely forming the best duo that’s ever appeared in this show. We needed Arata to see how adorable Shinobu can be, aside of being a cold beauty (though glimpses could be seen during her interactions with Chihaya in Season One), and they just bring out the best of each other.

      • March 23, 2013 at 6:35 pmSolara

        My cell automatically spelled it that way. LOL I know it’s Shinobu, I fail to realize it after I had posted it.

        I wasn’t expecting for her to be that amusing, since she striked a different vibe in Season one, but both are welcome and they both steal the spotlight every time! I guess off the mat Shinobu is rather amusing, while on the mat she is very quick and deadly. I hope I get to see her sport more Daddy Bear t-shirts, I would freaken die if Arata sports it for support or offers her one. OTP!!!

    • March 24, 2013 at 2:20 amnagi

      Can’t blame you for seeing Arata x Shinobu there, but for me, their interactions are more like brother-sister. Suetsugu-sensei could have steamed this ship if she wants to, and I honestly think it could work because they are both interesting, but at this point IMO it’s baseless (no blushing, no flowery backgrounds, no hint at all).

  • March 23, 2013 at 5:11 amMi-Chan

    I agree with Enzo, the shift of focus from the main cast to the supporting cast does have an impact, but even though those support cast are focused within the episode, I think there’s much growth they cause on other charecters. In the episode where Tsubaka-kun changes the order, and Deskman-kun just watches for a second and then agrees, I think it was semi of what has developed us into this episode.

    I wouldn’t lie, I was on Nishida’s side, I actually felt realy sad and I almost had a tear in my eye, wanting to say “Why Deskman-kun, why?” but I think he wanted the best of the team 80%, and wanted to play 10% and 10% of him feared the stress of being in a game. I love Deskman-kun, he’s become really good strategist. A part of me sees him replacing Taichi, who I am still adamant to say that he appears to be ‘falling behind’ everyone, despite winning his matches. I see people develop, but him still lingering, even becoming worse with his reaction to Chihaya whenever she thinks/speaks/asks about Arata, and it bugs me,it does. Chihaya is more of a leader than him lately and Deskman-kun’s a strategist, but we don’t see much of Taichi, or is it just me, I wouldn’t know.

    I don’t think Tsubaka-kun and Hanano-san were left behind in that scene, a part of me considered that, but then I thought, the first group’s love for Karuta is much more than just for the game, it is a love of themselves as team-mates and the game as well, something the new members need to understand, Karuta is for the team.

    I predit there will be an arc with Hanano-san’s resolution on Karuta, Tsubaka’s strife to improve and jump grades in Karuta, and ofcourse, the Taichi B-class dilemma. Of course the episode will come when Arata, Taichi and Chihaya come into one screen, and in that moment, I think, my heart will break and be filled with many happy thoughts. I wonder if I want that as soon as possible, or I want to wait it out, maybe I’m like Deskman-kun in this aspect.

    Thanks for your review, I love it :) As for Natsume, I can’t see how it compares, but I think it was his growth from a world of focused youkai to the world filled with the friends he finally made.

    I am so immersed in the world of RPG’s and MMoRPG’s lately that I watched the episodoes late thost past two weeks, that and my slow internet connection that barely downloads.

    Cheers,
    M.

    • March 23, 2013 at 5:15 amMi-Chan

      I forgot to mention that Kana-chan’s sly yet very cute behaviour made me laugh, and that Arata and Shinobu moment, it was just funny. Though Sudo with that sign was epic!

    • March 23, 2013 at 6:20 amhwighting

      It backfired on Kana. I woudnt blame him since he gets to see those sweet knockers from above. dont blame him one bit.

      • March 23, 2013 at 7:21 amSuperscooper

        You are a god

    • March 23, 2013 at 7:23 amJani

      Definitely agree with you about Taichi,*sigh*. I love his character so much it hurts. As for the series as a whole I understand what you and Enzo are saying. I feel like it will shift back around to focus on the core characters eventually, mind you I haven’t read the manga so I’m only speculating. Changing topics Kana’s pout face was absolutely adorable, and Sudo was… well Sudo haha. By the way, thanks for the great review Enzo!

  • March 23, 2013 at 7:20 amMikako

    Now Taichi can smell, when Chihaya’s thinking of Arata:
    http://randomc.net/image/Chihayafuru/Chihayafuru%202%20-%2011%20-%20Large%2039.jpg
    It’s seriously creepy.

    My feelings of what was epic in this episode are torn between Kana’s Master of Manipulation performance and Sudo holding dat banner with a serious face.

  • March 23, 2013 at 7:32 amBear

    The way they played it with Nishida’s attitude towards Tsutomu was well done. The appearance of indifference to his friend, followed by anger at his lack of “fire in the belly” and finishing with what was really bothering him, that he was losing his friend as a teammate. Nishida doesn’t often show emotion but this moved me. We know how upset Nishida was because it looked like the cafeteria was going to run out of curry!

    The other thing that has stood out for me is that the team is not just focused on their own play but the play of their opponents, including the psychological aspects, mostly due to Tsutomu’s scouting. They were able to figure out how to deal with their opponents idiosyncrasies which usually threw their game off in the past. Tsutomu’s figuring out Akashi’s playing styles from Sumire’s “fashion notes” was hilarious. As baseone said, he’s got a great future as a profiler.

    It almost felt as if Chihaya and Taichi are swapping personalities. He is becoming more and more indecisive and she is stepping up and making sound judgements. Even her wanting to play Akashi’s A level player makes some sense. She can’t improve playing against weaker opponents and can lose her edge doing it.

    • March 23, 2013 at 7:51 amGuardian Enzo

      I do agree that Chihaya and Taichi seem to be moving in opposite directions at the moment, but as to strategy I think Chihaya was right in the first place – it would have been better for her to avoid facing Ousaka. The time for Chihaya to be worrying about improving and not losing her edge isn’t in a vital team match, where the team’s success should come first.

  • March 23, 2013 at 8:24 amSilentCid

    Taichi from what I’ve seen still (Up at this point of the anime)is stuck on jealousy of Arata.

    • March 23, 2013 at 9:41 amRigelin

      If you’ve only watched this season, I can see why you’d say that. IMO though, last season it was very different.

      Maybe because as Enzo mentions, there’s less of a focus on the core characters this season, but last season although Taichi may have been jealous, it seemed like he was fighting it, fighting Arata.

      It seemed more like a fist fight rather than an outright “stuck on jealousy.” Idk that’s just how I see it.

    • March 24, 2013 at 5:05 amMi-Chan

      I have watched season 1 and saw how Taichi is, but now he’s becoming the ‘jelous’ type and even raising his voice everytime the thought of Arata comes in, that annoys me and confuses me most of the time. I understand Taichi, but I’m confused about what he is thinking, he might either be (1) jelous, or (2) worried that Chihaya may focus on Arata so much that she’ll forget the team, she has the tendency to kick Taichi in the corner when Arata is in the picture sometimes. They have not portrayed what Taichi is really thinking in my opinion, and I won’t make any opinions till that is clarified, now I wonder when will he have more screen time :D

  • March 23, 2013 at 8:49 amYourIdeas

    Can’t tell what was best this episode. “Empress’s Jacket of Love,” Sudo holding up the pretty pink banner and Hokuo’s follow-up reactions, or Kana’s pouting. Overly dramatic lunchlady was good also. Just too much funny in this episode.

    • March 23, 2013 at 9:54 amKira526

      I definitely laughed the hardest when Sudo showed up to hold the sign. He kills me XD But yes, this episode had way too many funny moments to choose from! Shinobu in Arata’s clothes was also pretty hilarious!

  • March 23, 2013 at 9:51 amKira526

    I agree about the shift of focus in this show so far. While the show hasn’t lost any of its brilliance, I do miss the focus on character relationships over karuta itself. Don’t get me wrong, I love learning more about karuta and each episode makes me want to learn how to play it. But now that Arata is finally a more physical presence, I’d really like it if the show spent more time on exploring the new and changing relationships. Karuta will always be the main focus, but I think the true driving force behind this show is its wonderful characters. So I was definitely excited when we got a Desktomu centric episode with a little bit of adorable Nishida (and pouting Kana) thrown in there. I hope this is a sign of more character driven episodes to come! And I would definitely like to see Chihaya and Taichi (and possibly Arata… please!) take center stage again for a while.

  • March 23, 2013 at 10:49 aminfo600

    I feel like Retro-kun’s words on heading into a match “in a straight up battle” (Enzo’s words from ep.5) are haunting the show (and Taichi) again…

  • March 23, 2013 at 8:22 pmLayfon

    I love how the show uses the colors, lighting, and music in every episode so far.

  • March 25, 2013 at 3:05 pmdustShadow

    I’m wondering whether they’ll pull off semis and the final match in one episode.
    But we’ll return to the main characters obviously when the individual tournament starts. Chihaya will face Shinobu and Arata, Taichi has a quest to win the B series. The other characters don’t really have anything to play for and will fall by the wayside.
    Note that three or four episodes ago I predicted a dilemma match between Chihaya and Arata. Now I’m wondering how they’ll handle the triangle in the tournament. Even Chihayafuru can’t pull off having two of them being defeated by outsiders.
    Also, Miyauchi-sensei is right again: Taichi is cracking under the pressure. Luckily his gameplay seems to be holding up so far, but outside the matches he’s starting to lose control of his team.

    • March 26, 2013 at 2:28 amYourIdeas

      Semi and finals probably won’t be a single episode. Semi may take half an episode (I suspect the focus will be mostly on Chihaya/Megumu) but final probably has to take at least a full episode’s worth to cover.

  • March 25, 2013 at 6:35 pmraitei_shourai

    I can’t be the only one who let out a groan that Arata’s punishment was to not be allowed to go cheer his friends. And I was so hoping they’d finally be able to meet up again this episode…

    • March 25, 2013 at 11:08 pmnagi

      Nah you’re not the only one, but it’s a whole lot better than him not making it to the individual tournaments at all! Don’t worry, they’ll meet very soon. :)

      (Off-topic: Love your name. Syaoran FTW!)