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「ゆめのかよひざ ひとめよくらむ」 (Yume no Kayohiza Hitome Yokuramu)
“In My Dreams, I Creep Closer to You”

It’s hard to do a sports episode any better than that one.

Whatever your feelings about the direction Chihayafuru has gone this season, in the last two weeks I’ve think we’ve seen the worst and best sides of that change in focus. Coming off that rare stumble that made me feel more than ever than Chihayafuru had well and truly lost a step this season, this episode marks a return to form – not in a harkening back to the series as it was in the first season, but an example of the very best it can be as the show it’s clearly become in the second.

It’s funny that my initial reaction was that ep was a kind of official declaration that Chihayafuru was now a full-on sports shounen, because the series it most reminded me of this week was Ookiku Furikabutte. That, of course, is another genre-straddling series that looks like a shounen, plays like a josei (or even shoujo) and is classified as a seinen – and seinen may be the one major genre tag I’ve never seen applied to Chihayafuru. And you know, it kinds of fits – there are definite seinen elements to this show – but more than anything Chihayafuru remains a series that can’t be limited by any genre classification.

In an avalanche of series premieres this week it certainly feels good to immerse myself in a show that I know as well as any, where I feel as if the characters are family. While I could have done without the 3-minute recap and the irritating cutaways to the loser trio with the cameras, everything else was spot-on – this episode was blisteringly tense and loaded with great character drama. Megumu really blossomed as a screen presence this week (continuing S2 Chihayafuru’s Oofuri-like trend of intense focus on the opposition) as her situation began to take on a nuance and shading it hadn’t before. There were three lines of dialogue that I felt especially framed her character’s role in the story:

"I’m not interested in becoming Queen."

"This is a team event. So why am I the only one saying anything?"

"I have to beat you now."

Just who is Megumu, and what drives her? I was very interested to hear her say she wasn’t interested in being Queen – that indifference towards ambition seems to be a common thread uniting many of the elite players in Chihayafuru, a reflection of the intense pressure trying to rise to the top of such a mentally demanding and fundamentally lonely sport requires. Yet she plays on a team that was basically founded in the first place to showcase her talent and help her become Queen. She obviously feels the weight of that on her shoulders, her teammates constant deference only adding to it. And just as obviously we see her motivated by the newly unflappable nature of Chihaya – and by her talent as well. It’s Chihaya’s unspoken "I will be Queen some day" demeanor that finally goads Megumu into committing all of herself to crushing her opponent.

But this is a new Chihaya, a player who doesn’t allow herself to be buffeted constantly by the currents of emotion and surges of momentum around her. She still lacks subtle analytical skills, but she’s far more self-aware than ever before – and aware of her opponent as well. She’s stronger in every way, and calm in the face of intense pressure is the greatest source of increased strength. She’s able to step back and see the vulnerabilities in Megumu’s game, the minute hesitation her lack of commitment causes. "Megumu-chan is me." she whispers to herself. "She’s the player I’d be if someone hadn’t taught me better."

The matches play out with a magnificent sense of tension, the momentum flowing back and forth like a Newton’s Cradle, urged along by the brilliant use of BGM (much of which is newly composed for the second season). Most of the focus is on Cihaya – with Harada-sensei right behind her – and Megumu’s battle, which comes complete with intense disputes over cards (Chihaya proves she still hasn’t mastered the skill, yet she has mastered the ability to get past those unnerving moments). As has been too often the case this season there’s a sadly lacking focus on the other players, but the sense is that most of the matches are close. Nishida is struggling badly against Akashi’s other Class A player, who finally steps up to vocally urge her team forward when she sees Megumu struggling – which, ironically, pisses Megumu off and drives her to reassert her own dominance.

The one gaping hole in the drama is Taichi, who continues to be far outside the major events taking place and seemingly more and more plagued by self-doubt. At this rate any recovery for his arc this season is going to be difficult to pull off without feeling contrived, because he’s been an unimportant character for almost the entire season. There’s an interesting moment between Tsutomu and Sumire, though, as he proves his resourcefulness by actually figuring something useful out from her inane scouting reports (though this brief moment is the only focus his match gets), and a spark of something seemingly flies between them when their eyes meet (hurry up, Kana!). There’s also a very quiet but truly magnificent moment when we get a close-up of Akashi’s coach having one of his frequent breakdowns and the camera catches The Empress’ face as she reacts – so subtle yet amazingly real, Madhouse showing off their truly superb talent with facial animation.

April 6, 2013 at 12:12 am
22 comments »
  • April 6, 2013 at 12:29 amRickyMack

    loved this episode, there was so much tension in the air! megumu’s also quite the enigma, or that’s what she wants everyone to think! her fake goody two shoes persona pisses me off. though considering how her team mate makes such a big deal of not knowing what’s on her mind, i’m sure she’ll get some development like masuzu in oreshura and then we’ll figure out what’s really making her tick.

  • April 6, 2013 at 12:48 amHD

    after enjoying that episode, I didn’t realize 22 minutes already passed.

    another interesting episode where it focuses more on the mental side than the tactical aspect.

  • April 6, 2013 at 12:52 amNic

    I suspect Taichi was left off to hide the fact he’s leading his opponent. When they said they were even, they could have meant that his opponent was in the position Nishida is in right now, struggling a lot and facing probable defeat. Since he’s gone to the Class B finals twice and is likely to make it to class A in the individual tournament, it seems unlikely he’d be in a similar struggle when Kana/Tsutomu seem to be in hard-fought matches.

    Either way, if they go to the finals, I have no doubt they’ll put a lot more focus on Taichi because to win, he’d have to defeat a Class A opponent.

    But anyway, this was a phenomenal episode and whatever outcome it may have, I’ll enjoy. Because it’s Chihayafuru and I trust it to be excellent when it counts.

  • April 6, 2013 at 2:12 amKarutaku

    Fantastic episode and it really contrasts the difference between skill and passion.

    I suspected that Megumu was naturally good at karuta but being the best wasn’t what motivated her to play. That her teammates mourned her loss to Yumi in the previous episode was a big hint. To her, it was important to win because that’s what her friends were expecting her to do.

    Chihaya has grown a lot since we first saw her and she’s no longer winning based on pure speed. She can now take a step back and analyze the situation. She still gets flustered easily of course like when she lost concentration due to Kana’s praise, but at least she can pause and recover now.

    It was great seeing Megumu become less robotic and show more emotion in the face of Chihaya’s challenge. And I enjoyed the fact that everyone’s attention is now shifting from the Fujisaki vs Hokuo match to this one. I have no idea how this match will end, but it looks like Nishida will lose and Tsutomu will win.

    Maybe it’s because I have just watched the Nanoha A’s movie recently and Megumu’s accent, but she and her teammates reminded me of Hayate and the Wolkenritter. The manly Yu of course is Signum :)

  • April 6, 2013 at 5:06 amSolara

    My goodness, is this the same series I saw last week? I just watched a complete 180! First of all, this episode was a complete blast. Megumu left me with a bitter taste in my mouth of utter annoyance and disrespect for the card game last week. I just wanted Chihaya to crush her this week. But Megumu’s comments about not caring about being queen, only piss me off more. Players have motives for why they play Karuta, many have goals and things they want to accomplish out of this game; it wasn’t until the end of the episode that Megumu stated that she was doing it for her friends. A selfless deed from an arrogant brat? I wasn’t expecting that. My bitterness didn’t left after that realization about her, it just bothered me instead. ’What a waste of a talent.’ was all I could think of.

    While many spend countless hours training to be better, faster, as what we have seen from our very own cast you can see that they want to accomplish something, not entirely in the World of Karuta, but to better themselves as humans beings. When Porky stated that he didn’t wish to denied his love for Karuta any longer by subtitling it with Tennis, it made me happy. When Desk-kun stated that he wanted to be better as a person and that Karuta made him see that, it made me happy. When Kana-chan stated boldly about her love and appreciation for the poems, it made me happy. I thought Megumu’s statement about playing Karuta just because she is repaying back the help her friends gave her… didn’t.

    To me it seem like (in chronological order from beginning of the episode to end) “I don’t actually want to do this, but I feel like I must because of you guys. I don’t want to let you down. It’s not like I care about being Queen, but this is fun right? Thanks for sporting my headbands, it’s not a sportsmanship thing, I just didn’t want to look silly wearing one alone. And since I’m competing I might as well win! And even if I don’t want to be Queen, that doesn’t mean I will let you challenge her!” I can’t back up a character or feel anything for them when they’re presenting themselves that way. Chihaya, crush her quickly please.

    But that’s where Chihaya and Megumu differed. Chihaya makes it clear to her peers who she wants to be, even where she wants her team to be soon: “Best of Japan!” Why she is trying so hard regardless of how bad the odds are against her. It’s ‘admirable’ to want to keep bettering yourself as a human, and Karuta helps her become a better person, not just a good player. And it’s such a positive thing, that I can see why her teammates are behind her on it. It benefits everyone as a TEAM, not just her. But I was shocked to see that her friend Yu (which by the looks of it is actually trying her hardest to be in the finals to face the Queen more than Megumu!!), didn’t even know for certain if Megumu wanted to be Queen or not. Like ‘how close are you guys to not even cover the basics of why you are even here on the mat playing now!’ This isn’t a team effort, regardless of it being a team match, it seems like it’s all about the ace, Megumu, and the saddest part of it all, she doesn’t even care about it. And to that I say…. what a waste.

    I really hope next week will conclude at least this match so I can finally see the individual’s matches that’ll follow. We need some Arata and Shinobu screen time! Can’t wait for next week!

  • April 6, 2013 at 7:11 amFaint Smile

    Cant wait to see how the match will end.. Though I hope this time Kana will win since she lost all her previous matches..

  • April 6, 2013 at 7:42 amqwert

    Who are we supposed to be cheering for again?

    I think halfway through I switched to team Megumu.

  • April 6, 2013 at 9:17 amJack Spicer

    I was a bit disappointed that the match did not end in this episode. Given that there is still the one-on-one matches left in the tournament, it seems likely to me that Team Mizusawa is going to lose this one.

  • April 6, 2013 at 9:47 amewok40k

    Oh my… Megumu shows true colors now. She acts high and mighty, but in the center of this is a shy girl wanting to please everyone around her…
    I can’t even decide what I feel at this moment, sadness? Pity, even? How sad it is to live your life only to please others, without own happiness in sights?
    And while Chihaya has become better player by overcoming her shortcomings, one thing she just should give up on, is contesting cards…
    Also, note that other members of the team are all encouraging each other. Their rivals depend on Megumu too much, but Mizusawa is supporting Chihaya much more, in a way. It is like difference between lone strongman pulling a cart while others cheer, and between team pulling the cart together. There is no gap between “ace” and rest of the team.
    This is probbaly the most tense episode – and fight – yet. I just can’t wait for the conclusion.
    And the spectators are a mini-chapter of the story in themselves, their silent comments – from the Quiz-boy analyzing Chihaya’s moves, to Sudou thinking Megumu “is definitely S”, to priceless contrast between Empress and the girls team trainer/club counselor.
    My hat is off to the Chihayafuru. Sports anime at its best!

  • April 6, 2013 at 12:02 pmShalaKairos

    The art, especially the attention to details with regards to the audience in the background, was superb this episode!

  • April 6, 2013 at 12:20 pmLeena

    I dont remember the last chihayafuru episode where I was this focused on the match,when the ending started I was like WHAAAT? ITS OVER?? sigh great episode cant wait for next week.

    • April 6, 2013 at 11:37 pmJani

      I was the same exact way. I seriously thought I was going to see the end of this match and then the ending came on. I hope Chihaya beats megumu, she has annoyed me so much these past two episodes.

  • April 7, 2013 at 10:28 amDollar Nil

    I know everyone says Shinobu looks like Arata, but IMO Megumu looks even more like him. Quite disturbing, frankly.

  • April 7, 2013 at 1:00 pmbanzemanga

    lol. So much Megumu hate. People hating others because of some baseless ground. Such person has certain personality so i hate him/her. I was rooting for Chihaya but not hating Megumu. On the other hand, it got me curious and wanted to know more about Megumu.

  • April 8, 2013 at 6:36 amJ Jay

    It’s hard to do a sports episode any better than that one.

    Girls und Panzer managed quite a few, most notably without the ridiculous cutaways and flashbacks and everyone-finishes-each-others-sentences-in-their-heads. Let’s get this match finished soon please, the “revelations” from Chihaya and Megumu aren’t worth practically dumping the rest of the main cast for. Not read the manga, but I predict: Show Spoiler ▼

  • April 8, 2013 at 11:44 amshiznet

    Worst episode of the entire run of Chihayafuru, which breaks my heart to say. As my friend put it, this was an episode of POT. We barely saw any of the match and the bulk of the episode 80-90% of it was reaction shots and people commenting, or flashing back (to what JUST happened on screen). Watching it for the third time, really hammers in just how much of the episode was simply the camera going around the room to catch faces doing things. Compared to season 1 and even early season 2 the direction and pacing was terrible.

    Season 1 Chihaya would have managed to make this match 1 episode and still fit in the development and tenseness (chihaya’s decision to start contesting cards, megumu development). This feels like bloated filler. Really hoping that this was for budget reasons and not some kind of change in direction for the rest of the season.

    • April 9, 2013 at 8:27 pmnagi

      Actually the episode is pretty much mirrored to what has happened in the manga so if there’s anything the director should be blamed for, it’s his faithfulness to the source. I really don’t want to think that Suetsugu-sensei has purposely dragged out this boring semi-finals when she wrote this, but everyone can feel that she did (I mean, why do you need to give frames to those paparazzi perverts during the match??)

      Anyway, I know everyone will have a change of heart (in a good way) once the individual tournament begins.

      • April 10, 2013 at 10:35 amhyperborealis

        The paparazzi exist to point out “the gap in [Megumu's] behavior.” They do their annoying swoon every time she pretends something she doesn’t actually feel–for example, when she offers her teammates headbands, which the coach things shows her team spirit, but which they know really reflects a selfish wish not to stand out.

        All that’s so that you notice when the camera boys don’t swoon–namely, at the end of the episode, when Megumu is firing up her team. We get from that the understanding that there is no gap now, that Megumu herself really wants to win, and isn’t just playing since everyone wants and expects her to.

        It’s a nice payoff. That may not make the trio less annoying, maybe, but there’s a definite reason they are there.

      • April 11, 2013 at 12:33 pmshiznet

        Thank goodness, this is where the gap in the translations occur, so we debated on how faithful the adaption was (and whether the faults were from that).

        See you’re right, but that’s the “excuse” for why the paparazzi exist. In most of the other matches Megumu herself would have been the one doing that, and really she more or less spells that out in her inner thoughts so we don’t HAVE to have the paparazzi. I get it, but holy crap they’re annoying and honestly I might have liked Megumu more if we didn’t have to see her stalker fan club.

        Also you do notice, but only briefly because their reaction is basically 1 out of 60 by the end of the episode. Used sparingly it would have been super effective, as is though it just kind of blended in with the rest of the ep, and undercut what we got from Megumu herself.

  • April 8, 2013 at 1:58 pmAmaya

    At first I found Megumu irritating but the more she appears in the show, the deeper her character gets. True, she may not be as likeable as Chihaya, but her motives and mysterious vibe really does contribute to the show.

  • April 12, 2013 at 9:59 pmAlana

    Without leaking out any sort of spoilers of any sort, I can see to head how it may seem at this point that all this tiny details of the focus to the individual match between Megumu and Chihaya might urk. Heck, I think it might have been annoying for the whole of the season. But basing on observation of whatever episode has been released until now, I say it’s a slow build up. And I think that whatever slow development and peculiar pacing we are seeing now, is showing the face of how we really develop as people. Taichi might be sidelined for now but we know for sure that his self-doubt as a plot element will be addressed and I believe it is a build up to how his confidence grows. Just like how for Chihaya, her change as a player a year ago and now, it shows and despite us not seeing this progress in S1, I think we see all that progress coming into full circle here.

    So, similar to how the season has been aired and executed, I think…. Coming to heads with the finals of the Team National matches and to the result, I believe the winds of change might have a heavy blow in terms of character development and plot development. In this time between then and now, I believe it will be a culmination of whatever has come to pass here. And I think showing such growth in each person, is what I believe, prove that Suetsugu-sensei is an excellent writer. Because how can there be growth only in the main characters without those of supporting cast?

    Stagnation of the whole story would result from that. Oh speaking of which, I loved the dynamics between Chihaya and Megumu, it showed a difference between Chihaya’s previous behaviour and now. And… I think just thinking about her growth from here onwards excite me. Her playing style will surely change into something more gripping.

  • May 23, 2013 at 4:45 pmkarutasuki

    I hate Megumu so much !!!

    Fighting Chihayachan