「をのへのさくらさきにけり」 (Onoe no Sakura Saki ni keri)
“Nobody Wishes to See the Beautiful Cherry Blossoms”
As I’m sure someone will try and blame me for not mentioning Arata more in this post, let me get it out of the way – he appeared for about 10 seconds and had no lines. It isn’t my fault – I call it like I see it.
Chihayafuru is my favorite series of the last two seasons, and in the larger sense I think it’s been basically flawless in terms of consistency – every episode has been in a range between very good and spectacular (including I might add, that most contradictory of things, an excellent recap ep). So it’s no surprise that I marveled this week at the way the series continues to find new ways to entertain and amaze, making us care about characters we barely know and like ones we initially disliked, and teaching us new facets of the Karuta world. I know I’m biased, but there have been no missteps in my eyes, only degrees of brilliance – and this week was no exception.
With that said, it looks as if the suspicion I’ve been mentioning for the last couple of posts is proving accurate, and the focus of the finale is going to be on what for me are relatively trivial matters by Chihayafuru standards. I do care about Shinobu, and it’s certainly interesting to see (if not hear from – yet) the Master, Suo Hisashi. Yet in the end, watching minor characters play for titles – and with the mains watching on TV, not live – isn’t what I wanted to see in the penultimate episode. There were hints of something more in the first act, as Chihaya visited Taichi’s home to watch the matches (his is bigger than the other guys. His TV, that is.) and brought the tension with her that you might expect. Even Chihaya wasn’t too dense to note the magnitude of the moment, visiting Taichi’s room again at last – but most of the tension came from Mrs. Pressure, who’s still vying for the title of creepiest parent in anime (and still wants her son to quit Karuta). Eventually though, the rest of the gang shows up too and the focus turns to what’s on the screen, not in front of it.
Among other things that were on the screen was a whole lot more of Shinobu than last we saw her (“Her neck is gone!”), as she gained 10kg by eating ice creams to win the “Snowmaru pouch and handkerchief”. She’s also playing in a million-yen kimono that’s all Kana sees, but Taichi notices immediately that the added weight has thrown off Shinobu’s timing. There’s a very well-done flashback sequence to Shinobu’s childhood, where we learn where her love of Karuta came from. There’s also the matter of Yumin, the challenger – as usual trying to rely on clever tactics and strategy to overcome the physical advantage the younger Queen still has. The outcome of this match is pretty easy to see from the beginning though, even with Shinobu’s lack of match fitness – there’s not much suspense in it. Yumin’s end comes pretty ingloriously, though she does get a nice moment with her coach and society colleagues in the dressing room after the match.
Of the Master, Suo Hisashi, we at last learn a few bits and pieces – just table scraps though, really. He’s in college, probably close to graduating, and is going for his fourth straight title. As in professional tennis’ grand slams the women’s final is best-of-three while the men’s is best-of-five, so after winning the first two matches by identical scores to the Queen (5 and 13 card margins) we’ll get to see Suo polish off his title defense next week. He seems to be a bit of a cold, assassin type – faster than even Shinobu, apparently, and she seems to dislike him generally. Nishida is quite insistent that not just the boys but Chihaya watch him too, as he says her style is a better match for his than for Shinobu’s. For Taichi, the dilemma at the moment is trying to concentrate on what watching these matches can do for his own development and not obsessing solely over what Chihaya is feeling.
It’s all very well-done, but a bit too emotionally distant for me – after bonding with this show for six months, I really want a finale next week that focuses on Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata (and preferably includes Harada and the Chibis) and touches the heart in the way only this show has been able to do lately. In that light I hope the Master final is over in the first act and there’s lots of time for… well, whatever. To be honest I really have no idea how Asaka and Takayama-sensei intend to finish this – with the story right in the middle, just about anything could happen. In my own mind I’m operating under the assumption that this is it as far as the anime is concerned, and whatever closure I get is going to have to come from the manga. That’s fine (well, not really, but what can you do), and I’ll certainly follow that to the end, but I still want the anime – which lives and breathes for me as its own distinct and wonderful story – to have the powerful and moving ending it so richly deserves.