“As My Love First Came”

Advice to young girls not so interested in Karuta – don’t ask Harada-sensei “What’s so fun about Karuta?”

I’ve found the experience of watching Chihayafuru 2 a slightly odd one – much more so this week than the premiere. It’s been such a rare occurrence for a series I love to get a second season after that was in doubt that I don’t really know how to watch, in a way. Last week was mostly pure exhilaration that Chihayafuru was back, and relief that it hadn’t lost any of the magic that made the first season such a gem. But oddly enough, I find myself feeling a little possessive about the cast I grew to love so much, and feeling a little put off that the main character of the first two eps has been Sumire-chan. It’s not logical I know, but I learned a long time ago that there’s no point in denying that feelings exist, even if their source doesn’t make a whole lot of sense.

There’s no denying that Sumire has been the focus of much of the fan discussion after the premiere, or that making her the focus of the first two episodes is a bold choice. Is it a wise one? Well, who’s to say this early on – I can certainly see a logic in it. She’s an outsider, a seemingly materialistic and shallow person (though we’re already starting to see the other side of her). Since we’ve already seen the journey of the five main cast members – plus the main cast member who’s not a part of the Mizusawa group – that led to their love of Karuta, it makes sense to bring in someone completely new to make that journey a part of the second season’s beginning, just as it was the first. If a new season is going to be a fresh start, it required a character like Sumire to make it happen.

Towards that end, it makes even more sense to pair her off – however briefly – with Harada-sensei. That this meeting should occur as she was stalking Taichi on his visit to the Shiranami Society is ironic, but irrelevant in practical terms – it doesn’t change the fact that Harada-sensei’s answer (“I’ve been playing for 45 years, and I still don’t know”) to that question of hers planted a seed of curiosity in her mind, one that’s already starting to bear fruit. It shouldn’t be forgotten that Harada-sensei was hugely important in fostering a love of the game in Taichi and especially Chihaya, so perhaps he can fill that role for Sumire as well. Sumire also seems to have a certain connection with Kanade-chan – she certainly recognizes the nature of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu faster than anyone else in the club did besides Kanade did – and while her outward focus seems to be very shallow, it does seem that there’s a romantic’s soul inside her that resonates with the ideas contained in the Ogura.

Sumire might prove an interesting addition to the cast in another way too, and that’s as a catalyst to push things forward (one way or the other) between Taichi and Chihaya. Of course if Arata were present the current relationship between the two wouldn’t be possible, but he’s not – he’s in Fukui, and this allows Taichi to continue to delay the moment where he faces his fear of rejection and lets Chihaya know how he really feels. It seems hard to believe that Chihaya wouldn’t know by now, but how many times have we made that statement about shounen male leads – and really, that’s effectively what Chihaya is. Unencumbered by the baggage of S1 Sumire is free to openly focus on romance – so much so, in fact, that she blurts out her feelings for Taichi in front of the other club members, much to her chagrin. While her pursuit of Taichi seems utterly hopeless, it might force him to be more open about his own feelings for Chihaya – not to the point where we see a definitive result, of course, but enough to take the relationship out of the holding pattern in which it currently resides.

As Sumire sorts through her numerous crises, the other new member of the club is formally introduced at last. In fact he’s the only other new member to stick around, which Chihaya blames herself (mostly though perhaps not entirely unjustly) for, the others having bailed once it became clear Taichi was unavailable and two days a week, not even present. The new member is Tsukuba Akihiro (Irino Miyu) and he’s an odd one. His eyes only open when he sticks out his tongue (or perhaps it’s the reverse), and he brings with him from Hokkaido the game of “Second-Verse Karuta”. It becomes clear right away that this is a very different sort of game, and not just because only the second verses of the Hundred Poets are read – Tsukuba-kun uses both hands, beats the floor to intimidate his opponent and generally turns Karuta into a bit of a barroom brawl. He’s also seemingly quite intent on becoming a star at this new style of Karuta, and appears to have the chops to back it up. We don’t get a lot of development about who he is as a person, but given that he’s being played by probably the best male seiyuu under 40, it seems there’s a good chance his character will have a real arc eventually. We can certainly hope so.

In addition to Sumire’s rough introduction to high school, the other major focus continues to be the somewhat tense atmosphere that seems to have taken hold among the five holdover members of the club. At the poles are Chihaya, who continues to dream impossible dreams of Misusawa GO glory, and Nishida – who’s focused like a laser on the upcoming Nationals to the point where he’d obviously rather not be bothered with the first-years at all. Possibly the most rewarding thing about these first two eps is that they’ve shown us real growth in Chihaya at last – not in her powers of observation vis à vis Taichi perhaps (or her spatial awareness) but in terms of her selflessness. Chihaya was extremely inwardly-focused most of the time in S1 when it came to Karuta, to the point where her behavior towards her teammates could be somewhat thoughtless. She’s clearly become a more self-aware person, and in the process a less self-absorbed one – she sees the importance of her role as the best player in the group, and her responsibility as the one who dragged each and every other club member into the club in the first place.

Does Nishida’s decision to take Tsukuba under his wing indicate that he’s finally come to accept his role as a club leader and not just a competitive Karuta player? In any event, Tsukuba and Sumire aren’t enough to satisfy the Empress’ demands to keep the clubroom, and it appears the cast is pretty much filled out – so we’ll have to see where that goes. As for Sumire, it’s Kana-chan who really steps up to the plate and delivers after Sumire’s disastrous unintended confession – while the boys (especially Yuusei) seem content to write her off (in their defense, she did say “I have no interest in playing Karuta”) and Chihaya takes a desk for the team, Kanade chases after Sumire. In many ways these two girls seem so opposite – the modern, social animal and the ultimate Nadeshiko-to-be – but Kana recognizes something of herself in Sumire. With the most memorable line of the episode – “I believe crying in the embarrassment is the sign of a beautiful soul” – she persuades the younger girl to return and face her shame head-on. I’m not sure I agree with Kana on that, but I think saying it to someone else who’s just cried in embarrassment is certainly the sign of the beautiful soul inside Kanade. It was the sort of moment that made the first season such an emotionally powerful experience, and I expect many more of them over the next six months.


  1. Not to mention that we’ve learned that Chihaya’s obsession with the first-years doesn’t only come from grandiose ambitions but also from a feeling of guilt from last year’s team tournament.

    1. For me, Chihaya Ayase is a brilliant anime character. Driven yet clumsy. Beautiful but a bit of an air head. I also like her input about Tsukuba (which he’ll very much appreciate – considering he is into Karuta), & how she trying to persuade Sumire’s to get closer to the core of Karuta, in ways Sumire would approach. If she is a football player, she’s a very good professional senior player, like Homare Sawa.

  2. I think what Kana meant was this: Someone who cries from embarrassment is someone who is capable of feeling total humility, at the very least temporarily. And a person like that is also someone who feels things strongly and is capable of great passion. If you read into it like that, it is the sign of a beautiful soul. I think Sumire has the potential to become someone very beautiful one day.

    1. I think I can agree with you that Sumire can develop into a beautiful character. What I mean is that she is interesting enough this early on to show us the enormous room to grow as a character and can (perhaps together with the other new character) as a strong catalyst to the story — a catalyst of progressing the club and of adding spark to the relationship between Taichi and Chihaya.

    2. I think it’s rather more straightforward. If you can feel shame enough to weep you must have things you value enough to feel so strongly about them. It’s a very old fashioned Japanese sentiment if you think about it.

  3. I think shifting the perspective to a new character was a wise move for the start of the 2nd season. First, we get to know Sumire better and how she thinks and how she matures. We already know the main cast very well so it makes sense to focus on the first years at this point. Wouldn’t be surprised to see the focus go to Tsukuba next episode. In a way, he reminds me a bit of Taichi before he met Arata. Over-confident, a bit of a nasty streak and with some good basic skills for his age. I expect Nishida to give him a little dose of humility to turn him into a good player. I feel he’ll improve pretty quickly too.

  4. Am I the only one watching Chihayafuru with a smile on my face?

    Enzo,I sort of agree with you about the focus on Sumire, not that I don’t enjoy it. Though I slightly think the flow of her entrance makes me think that there was not even a year break between this season and the previous one. Though, I also want to add, after meeting the main five cast members and like thinking that it was perfect as it is, I can only accept a new member to offer me some kind of uniqueness, and I think Sumire delivered that. Sometimes I wonder, did they make Sumire’s charecter just to mock us girls who would chase after Taichi if we were part of Chihayafuru? He’ll never choose us T__T (hypothetically speaking.)

    As for the new member, I’m bad with names, but I think that toungue and eyes pose is gonna stick between me and my sis, once she finishes her exams. It is creepy and funny at the same time!

    Thing is though, the way season 1 was like through the five main charecters, we saw how Chihaya went after Kanade, and we liked it, Taichi after Deskman-kun (that’s how I call him xD), and their reunion with Nishida, we saw both Taichi and Chihaya trying. First it was Chihaya, and then Taichi got lured in, then he helped her, and now… in season two, when Kanade ran after Sumire, I was happy, the other team is also going to try hard for Karuta, and for Chihaya, including Nishida and the new joiner. It makes me worry though, will it affect how the story was from season 1? I don’t know!

    I think the producers are mocking us when Sumire says she’s after Taichi, and I don’t know about others, but I wanted Chihaya’s reaction, and they give you this ‘shocked’ look and then beat you down the moment after xD I like how she’s developing, but even though she’s becoming less self-focused or karuta-focused and began to look at others, she still has those big dreams, you’re right.

    Oh gosh, when Arata comes in it’s going to be so exciting!

    Thanks for your review, sorry for the long reply xD I guess it’s my reaction to your long post. Oh and I loved how Taichi reached out to Sumire when she came in the room.

    Cheers, xx!!!!

    1. Oh gosh, when Arata comes in it’s going to be so exciting!

      Judging on the pacing (1-2 chapters per episode) we’re going to see more of Arata very soon. There should have been a cutscene about him at the end of this episode (hopefully they will show it next ep). Nevertheless Arata will get more love this season! ^_^

  5. As Mi-chan talking about Taichi’s reaching out and welcoming Sumire back to the club, it reminds me of the many chuckles that I had with this episode. The first one that I had was of course when Harada-sensei asked what Sumire’s peeking into…I couldn’t help laughing out loud especially with his voice. Then when Harada-sensei gave a mind-screwing answer to Sumire’s question about the fun of Karuta, I couldn’t help slamming my lap…what a brilliant sensei he is.

    I also like seeing the growth like you said — it’s now Kana-chan and the rest to not just be players of club but the leaders and mentors. I guess with that the second season will form a very nice shell for a lot of stories to be told. Having said that, I do want to see more of the main cast and get acquainted more and deeper with them again, as well as some exhilarating competitions.

  6. Why are the characters so good? Why can’t every anime be like this? It’s hard to tell if there even is a main cast here because everyone is so good. They all have their fair share of screen time, all with their own ideals and individuality.

    And best of all the character interactions are smooth, the emotions real, the character development natural, and the dialogue is well… To die for.

    Mashima Taichi continues to prove to me why he’s my favorite all-time character.

    1. Yup…Taichi is one of my favourite characters, too…and agree, this show is great in developing its characters into real persons. I love also the bond that they share. Not only that, to make a very traditional and Japanese-unique game known to the world and interesting isn’t an easy task — Chihayafuru so totally delivers that. Sometimes I don’t know if it was the plot that developed the characters, or if it’s the characters that advanced the plot — it’s just that this is a brilliant show that can do it both ways. Simply can’t say enough how much I love Chihayafuru.

      1. Oh that brings up another point. I’m surprised they can still incorporate karuta the way they do! I found myself still learning intently some of the rules and difficulties of the game.

        They’re subtle too; when Sumire followed Taichi to the society, she pointed out that the opponents cards were upside down. I had never though about that. Forget about memorizing 50 cards, you gotta memorize half of them upside down.

        The more obvious one was Tsukuba where he illustrated some rules but doing what shouldn’t be done.

  7. The show is looking damn good so far, and the new character fill interesting new positions with the new guy being the only one other than Chihaya, who has an ambition to be “the best” while coming from an entirely different background and having a more quiet, focused personality. I look forward to the show focusing the spotlight on Tsukuba later on and hopefully seeing more interaction between him and Chihaya, because if his ambitions are real, they’re the only ones in the club who can properly relate to each other.

    I’m also hoping that once the cast and the dynamics of the new season are established, we’ll finally see Arata being properly involved in the story, as opposed to being an off-screen Boogeyman for Taichi and an inspirational symbol to Chihaya like he was for most of the previous season.

  8. “Lessons of tough love.
    Tears of embarrassment flow
    Like the April rain.”

    I haven’t honestly warmed up to Sumire as quickly as I did the rest of the S1 cast, as the majority of the first episode (bar the last 30sec) portrayed her in the kind of light that grates on me a bit – that shallow, self-absorbed, naive kind of light. I guess it makes sense since she’s a first year in high school, more concerned about appearances than anything else.

    This episode at least gave me a glimpse of the depth of her character, and I’m looking forward to seeing how she develops. I believe that true passion, be it for someone or something, makes a person more beautiful, and I hope that the karuta club can present her with something different to be truly passionate about (besides Taichi, since he’s undeniably Chihaya’s, not in body but in heart).

    Looking forward to seeing how Akihiro develops as well, since he didn’t get too much in the way of character development in this episode. We did get a glimpse of his abilities though, which should be fascinating to watch in both practice and competition.

  9. There’s a reason why I personally love this show – no one is the main focus without ignoring everyone else, no one is the (complete) ace here…

    -I feel (mostly) sorry for Hiroshi-san for his high school Karuta club predicament of only girls…
    -that set of second verse karuta is rather unique, since we only see plastic sets, not WOODEN ones
    -personally, I think Nishida is teaching Tsukuba out of concerns of Chihaya’s feelings (of chasing away 18 others away from the club)

    Still, they’re learning from each other more than ever, just like how the core 5 began to take the others’ favorite card in karuta.

  10. The various characters illustrate the multi facets of karuta. Kana brings out the poetry, Nishida the competitiveness, Sumire the literal romantic meaning of the cards, Chihaya the wonder and love of the cards themselves, and Taichi the never ending struggle of self-improvement needed to play karuta.

    1. When it comes to the game, Chihaya represents more the instinctive, natural approach, gifted as she is with speed and hearing. This is what she translates into her ‘love’ for the cards. You also left out Tsutomu who represents the tactical/statistical aspect of the game.
      I wonder how they are going to fit Tsukuba into the picture.

  11. My only qualm this episode is the obvious animation quality drop (which is expected given how beautiful episode 1 is) but the OST definitely made up for it. Can I praise the OST some more? It brings life to every scene, it fits perfectly, it gives me this warm and fuzzy feeling which I rarely feel on anime these days. I love it!

    Also props to Megumi Han and MiyuMiyu because they magically made the first-years likeable. When I was reading the manga I dislike Sumire and Tsukuba (especially in the next episodes) but the seiyuus delivered their roles so well that I’m starting to like them a bit.

    I know it’s still early to call but maybe this is one of the rare occurences that the anime adaptation does a better job at delivering the story than the original source (manga).

    1. Kind of agree to your statement in the second paragraph. The two of them aren’t too likable in the manga maybe because of the lack of more info if the two of them are just being insensitive in an innocent way or malicious by the looks of their actions and words said to the older five.

      I don’t mind minor deviations to how Sumire and Tsukuba are being portrayed in the anime. Show Spoiler ▼

  12. I was at first a bit exasperated with the new arrivals first yars, but now I am hopeful they eventually will become a valuable addition to the club – and, become better people themselves.

  13. Even after Sumire made the ultimate conclusion that Tachi was never going to love her base on their brief train conversation previously, she is very determine in this episode to chase after him much like she did out of the train. Even so after she voiced her feelings/confession in the heat of the minute. Whether she decided to stopped chasing him now, we’ll see next episode. She did came back into the room and seems to want to give Karuta a try, (serious enough to cut off her nails) which means she isn’t someone who will fade into the distance but will remain for the long haul. At least I hope so. I hope that they don’t downplay her confession to Tachi later on, or have him forget about it or play stupid and say she was in denial or something juvenile but hopefully a more properly ‘closing’ to it.

    She seems like a character that would be fun to explore since she has come out pretty shallow and mostly on the negative side. If Karuta can be used to build great character developments, which it has, I want to see where this will lead! Is it next week yet?


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