「たつたのかはの にしきなりけり」 (Tatsuta no Kahano ni Shikinarikeri)
“To Set the Tatsuta River Ablaze”

Every week is a reminder of just why I love Chihayafuru.

This series has delivered the goods with astonishing consistency over the last 31 episodes, but the last two might just be as good a stretch of Karuta-themed eps as it’s ever had. I guess you could say the series’ shounen side really stood out, because seeing athletic competition depicted this well is so rare, you just can’t fake it. Just as Hotta Yumi clearly loved both Go and sports shounen, I think it’s obvious that Suetsugu Yuki is a similar case with Karuta. And the subtleties of this very strange and ancient sport have never been more alluringly presented than they have been this season (as is apparent in the effect they have on Tsukuba and Sumire).

A lot of the themes of this post will be similar to last week’s, because the episode very clearly built on the pleasures of the last one. In that vein, I have to marvel once again at Chihayafuru’s ability to turn seemingly minor characters into worthy subjects to build episodes around. Amakasu-kun was a throwaway character last season if ever there was one, but the message from Suetsugu – as is often the case with the best sports series – is that everyone has a story, even the people we pass by in life without so much as a second thought. The only really notable thing about him at first glance was his size – but now we see that it was this that pushed him into Karuta in the first place, after a lifetime of rejection by other sports. His reluctance to put himself on the line was sorely tested, and he passed with flying colors – I was really rooting for him against Chihaya – not to win, necessarily, but to find the strength to overcome his doubts and fight her with all his strength. And so he did, in a match that ended up being as close as it’s possible for a match to be.

That competitive balance was pretty much the theme of the entire Hokuo-Mizusawa final. Just as I felt last season that it made more sense from a dramatic standpoint to have Nishida defeat Taichi in their Class B final, it seemed to make sense for Hokuo to win this – and so they did, but what an amazing ride it was to get there. With only Nishida’s match having ended early – and he agonizing over it – the other four were agonizingly close. So close, in fact, that it spelled impending disaster for Mizusawa – but at first, only Nishida saw it, being able to focus on the entire playing field and not just his own match. When the four matches all (somewhat incredibly, truth be told) came down to “luck of the draw”, we were introduced to yet another subtlety of Karuta strategy – splitting cards.

I’m not quite sure what to make of this tactic, which Harada-sensei calls “borderline illegal”. I’ve never cared for the term borderline illegal, because it generally means something isn’t illegal but rather looked down upon by the person applying the label. My sense is that what Hokuo did – sending cards so that the team had two of each of the remaining uncalled cards, theoretically guaranteeing a split of the 4 matches and a 3-2 win, was actually not just legal but quite established (if not, why would all four Hokuo players have immediately spotted the need to implement it?). Tellingly, the two Mizusawa players who catch on first are the mnemonic freak Taichi and the analytical strategist Tsutomu – Kana doesn’t see it coming, but it’s Chihaya’s tunnel vision that proves the most crucial. As always she’s focused like a laser beam on the cards in her match to the exclusion of everything, and by sending her card before Kana’s opponent sent his card she allowed Hokuo to implement the seemingly foolproof strategy.

Far-fetched though this development might be, it certainly sets the stage for some inviting drama. This is Amakasu’s great crucible, the test of him both as a competitor and as a leader. It shows Chihaya’s true fierceness as she refuses to accept that Mizusawa has lost – they merely have to steal a card from under the opponent’s defense (as we saw in the Taichi-Nishida match, nearly impossible). And it’s that match that provides the most poetic justice for this one, for it was perhaps the most obvious example of Taichi’s seeming cursed luck and his tendency to blame it for his failings. Taking inspiration from Chihaya he joins her in practicing offensive swings, putting mental pressure on Retro-kun – so much so, in fact, that when one of the dead cards is read Retro reacts to the first syllable and touches his own card – thus faulting and losing his match. With his triumphant “One win for Mizusawa!” Taichi is effectively saying “F* luck!” and giving some closure to the “bad luck” storyline that began in episode 4.

That Hokuo does end up winning after all seems almost irrelevant – it’s the intensity of the competition that really matters. The next card is the one that decides it – Kana defends hers and so does Tsutomu’s opponent, and it all comes down to Chihaya and Amakasu. She very nearly manages to beat him to his own card, but he claims to have touched first – and Chihaya protests, but not that she’s done so herself. She insists it’s a tie – which means Amakasu wins the match, as the card was on his side. For Chihaya it’s important enough that the truth be known, even if she loses anyway – and while this is a sobering moment for Amakasu, he’s still grown enormously over the course of the match and stood tall at the end, regardless of his height.

If there’s one element of this series I confess I find slightly irritating, it’s the tendency to use Arata as a plot device at the very start and very end of episodes – it feels a bit gimmicky to me. Irritating yes, but still effective – he continues to cast a long shadow, and the impact his rare communications have on Chihaya continues to bring every self-doubt in Taichi to the surface. He manages once again to somehow choose the exact right moment to say exactly the right thing – asking Chihaya if she enjoyed the matches, just as she was reflecting on how they were the most fun she’s ever had playing Karuta. The most painful, too, but I suspect it’s the fun part and not the pain that brings on her tears – because it recalls the memories of the fun she had when she (and yes, Taichi) were together with Arata. It’s a moment that’s rich with possibilities for interpretation, but I prefer to let it stand on its own for now.


  1. Enzo, you’re posts are top-notch. Even though the subs come out Friday night, I wait until Saturday morning for the sake of reading this post soon after; Great work.

    Anyways, I feel like the Arata “plot device” was unneeded as well. After all the emotions garnered from the finals, I feel they could’ve left off riding on that note and start the next arc fresh without needing a plot device to carry interest over.

    It’s funny how you compare this to being a shounen because Chihaya is starting to become inhuman, combining the Queen and Master’s play style? Do we have a Bankai or a Super Saiyan 4 fusion going on here? Jeez if she pulls it off she’ll be ridiculous.

    On my last note, F* yeah Taichi. That moment in episode 4 really was a turning point for him and I’m looking forward to seeing more wins, more success, and more aggressiveness (towards Chihaya?) from him. Let’s go episode 7, what’s taking you so long?

  2. I usually write long posts, but I’ll just describe my emotional ride:

    1) feeling Nishida’s anxiety over losing, when Chihaya noticed him, I wonder if she wanted to fight for him.
    2) the suspense of who will win, the whole game had me at the tip of my throat
    3) worrying over whether Misuzawa will lose when it came down to 2 cards
    4) realizing, just like the team itself, that Houko has longer experience in team matches, compred to Misuzawa who have not yet gained enough experience (and here I thought nothing could have been learned more than from last season, but I was wrong.)
    5) Feelign the ‘OH GOD YES!’ when Taichi won, and Harada-sensei said it wasn’t just luck. That little bit of hope for Misazawa, but the cramp in your stomach for Retro-kun.
    6) Feeling Amakasu-kun’s anxiety, knowing his past and his reasons, looks like he also had a story after all.
    7) Admiring Sumire-chan and Tsubaka-kun’s entering Shiranami society.
    8) When Chihaya cried holding the phone, I realized that she was still the same old Chihaya crying, but she also had fun. I felt like crying as well really, because I was happy Arata called her, really, and at the same time I felt I wanted to cry for Taichi, he is unlucky. It is a shame that everytime there might be… something, Arata ruins it, or maybe its how its meant to be. I don’t know, everytime Taichi puts his head down like that I feel so sad that it won’t leave my mind! Arata should be in Omi Jingu though, so I wonder what will happen!

    Thanks for your review. This should have been a small post! but I couldn’t help myself, it was such an emotional ride for me. Cheers, M.

    1. I think I (& even the spectators) didn’t even notice the other match because the intensity the final brings. Congrats for Taichi for the win, it’s moral-encouraging victory. Kana too, for shutting-up her opponent’s underestimate. While Tsutomu will know he has become better, while (looks like it) his opponent did not.

      Looking forward for Kana’s match in Level D, & Tsutomu qualifying from Level E.

  3. Oh well, a great finale to the regionals “arc”. I was torn between cheering for Mizusawa, and having respect for both Retro-kun and Amakasu for their fighting spirit, especially after Amakasu manages to hold his own against that monster player Chihaya has become. Combining the styles of Master and Queen? Frightening.
    But my favourite moment was when Chihaya proved heir noble spirit by sticking for fair play and telling the truth about the card, even if this has lost her – and team – match. My hat is off to you, Chihaya.
    Last but not least I can’t but admire the way Kana and Tsutomu have grown within the year, surprising the condescending players of Hokuo as tough opponents!

      1. It’s not even about winning against Taichi (though he’s lost to him several times… and it would truly be an epic trolling if Retro eliminated Mister Pretty at the next Class A Qualifier). It’s about the fact he’s really determined and the only one in his team who’s shown some pride and will to give his best….and then suffers a humiliating defeat by committing a fault.

        Amakasu’s improved a bit comparing to the previous episode, but is still rather laughable to me. I guess I can’t take seriously the line ‘I can hold my own against a GIRL!’ from someone who’d been just eaten by Shinobu.

  4. There’s one thing I haven’t understood yet about how karuta works, and it’s crucial to the 4-at-once ending shown in this episode. Each round of karuta uses only 50 of the 100 cards. But what I can’t figure out is whether in a competition all the individual matches use the same 50 cards. Is it like duplicate bridge, where identical decks are handed out to each pair? Or is it like bingo, where each player has a different set of numbers in play? Setting up an entire room full of duplicate decks sounds like a huge chore, but otherwise how does it make sense that the 4 Misuzawa/Hokuo matches ended up having the same last 2 cards in play?

    The chance of 4 matches ending up with the same 2 cards randomly drawn from 5 unread cards is only 1 in ten thousand. Do they really have a team strategy ready to handle such a rare event?

    1. Hm you have a point, its pretty rare that they almost got the same cards, but think of it this way, 2 got 2 similar cards left, 2 got similar cards left, so there’s only 4 similar cards, the possibility of that happening is more like 250/1000 I think, and it will happen when an episode requires some drama and suspense!

  5. Such an intense match. The direction for this series never fails to impress me. Even without a good grasp on karuta, this match (and generally all the others) are ridiculously immersive. I almost started cheering when Taichi proclaimed his win.

    And yes, I didn’t care for the ending with Arata, either. Never mind the perfect timing to ask the perfect thing, but that’s basically all his role is nowadays — a shoujo manga trope, I’m sure. I’m looking forward to his interaction with Shinobu, as I think those two are better for each other in the end and he shows her a more human side.

    1. Yes, Arata and Shinobo are a better match together! If the series focus on those two a little bit more I would love it to pieces it. I was shipping this pair since episode 3 of this season, when it appears that they do have some history together.

  6. The problem I have with Arata is that he had been basically irrelevant to the story since he left Tokyo. All he has been is a supposed rival to Taichi, but even Taichi doesn’t see that Chihaya hasn’t a clue about romance unrelated to her love of karuta. The author doesn’t see that this supposed rivalry is interfering with the story (at least up until this point). If Arata had been on another team locally, or had only recently left, there would at least have been some personal interaction that could have driven that part of the story.

    As far as the borderline illegal goes. My guess is that it’s close to the equivalent of a golfer receiving advice from someone besides his caddy, or a bridge player sending signals to their partner outside of the normal bidding process. Both are illegal, but If done subtly enough may be borderline. Even though they could have guessed what they were supposed to do, they signaled their intent.

    BTW, is this team only? Don’t they have singles matches?

    1. I dunno, Bear – receiving advice from a non-cady isn’t borderline illegal, it’s illegal. I don’t see any evidence (though I’m no expert) that what Hokuo did was illegal. And if it’s so edgy why did the five most experienced players in the match all think of it at the same time? That tells me it’s an accepted strategic gambit.

      1. @Guardian Enzo
        Yes, receiving help from a non caddy is illegal, but if you see someone shrug or do a face palm has someone done something illegal? In karuta is telling your teammates where to place cards illegal? Retrokun started to make a move and took it back. Could that be inferred as signaling? Seemed like they weren’t even sure whether that went over the line as far as the rules went.

  7. I guess I’m shallow compared to you, because regardless of the back story shown I still wanted Mizusawa to win. However I had a feeling they would come in second place so it doesn’t bother me.
    About Arata I compleately agree with you. My problem with him however is that even though I like him, its not even close of how much I care about the main 5 members of the Karuta club. So the times when he simply appears at the end charms Chihaya and saddens Taichi are kind of annoying.

  8. I would give anything at this point to see a Chihaya and Tachi chi moment not to be ruin by Arata. I used to love the guy, but it appears the it’s just a plot device as of late.

    Either become more involve in the storyline or just butt out in those vital moments. I find it amusing that the side characters get more screen time than Arata who is considered the main 3.

  9. I really liked the card-splitting tactic! Mainly because this show continually astounds me with its ability to introduce new strategies/tactics for a game that initially seemed so simple. It was very clever of Hokuo even though Retro foiled it with his fault.

    My hope for Arata is that the thing he was going to ask his parents for (that we didn’t see) is to become a transfer student in Tokyo if he wins the individual national tournament. It just seems like something that would make sense, and it’d be fantastic to finally have Arata as an active, everyday, human presence in Chihaya and Taichi’s lives again, instead of this godlike figure they kind of imagine him as when they’re separated.

    1. That would seem to be the only way out of the development Groundhog Day Arata is in now. He’s basically been reduced to an omake who sends shock waves through the main plot. If he moves back to Tokyo he can become a real character again. Ironically, it would probably be easier for Taichi too, because he’d be competing against an actual person – with flaws and vulnerabilities just like everyone else – rather than an idealized memory. And it might finally push him to be more open about his own feelings for Chihaya.

      1. Ironically, it would probably be easier for Taichi too, because he’d be competing against an actual person

        That’s actually the main reason why I want Arata back, I couldn’t have said it better myself Enzo. Tachi has been ‘seeing’ things at a certain perspective where he becomes really unlucky to even believing the negative feedback, and tends to over think things as well.

        I don’t think Tachi was upset that Arata reached Chihaya, he was upset because of how a simple text moved her so much that she cried. That a mere sign of affection can dramatically shocked Chihaya that can ultimately leave anyone bother especially if they aren’t here next to you. To be up against someone like that that ‘appears’ to have much power can be overwhelming to the point of disappointment and thinking in failure. Mentally he could be thinking that he doesn’t compare to the ‘greatness’ that is Arata in Chihaya’s eyes. And the series has seem to prove this, that no matter how hard Tachi tries and goes through so many ordeals with his team and Chihaya together, he will always come short by a split second of kindness from someone else.

        This. Bothers. ME. And the more I see it the more unfair I think this is and the more I cheer for Tachi with Chihaya.

        (Note to self: I gotta stop writing any comments through my cell, my earlier post had silly errors. Lol)

      2. The only thing is that it’s not clear that Chihaya has any romantic feelings for either of them. Her focus has always been on karuta. When she was hit on in the other match she almost freaked out and I think she had a similar reaction when she was thinking about dating previously. She seems to see Arata as her karuta idol and not necessarily a romantic target. If either or both of them confront her with confessions I’m guessing she has a meltdown because she’s never even contemplated the idea.

      3. I agree, Bear. Chihaya doesn’t show any romantic feelings for anyone as of late, and I’m more than content with her just focusing on Karuta for as long as it is, but since the plot is throwing so much feelings from Tachi, and ironical from Arata when it comes to that final scene, you are reminded of the love triangle. Actually, I don’t think I see a LOVE triangle at all. Tachi is the only character from those 3 who actually admitted (to the viewers) being in love with Chihaya, Arata and Chihaya haven’t admit any feelings to either nor anyone. For all I know Arata can be in the same boat as Chihaya.

        Granted, Arata gave minor hints when he was reading a model magzine of Chihaya’s sister, and thought of Chihaya which made him blush. Tachi proves to be the strongest character when it comes to admiting their feelings. Just the way things are presented that it appears like a lve triangle.

      4. I prefer the story Suetsugu is telling to your alternative. With Arata in Fukui, the story cannot devolve into a romantic competition fir Chihaya, but focuses instead on karuta. This is a considered decision on the mangaka’s part, decided at the start of the manga, when she has Arata move away from Tokyo. In literary terms, I think this has worked brilliantly. The romance is a tantalizing backstory, serving mainly to advance the characterization of one of the. main three characters. Karuta, by contrast, allows Suetsugu a canvas to draw all rhe characters together, to bring in Japanese tradition and literary history, and to demonstrate the values that inhere in attaining excellence in sport.

        Arata’s email was set up in the prior episode: Arata’s mom (!) reminds him the tournament is going on. Given that he is not part of the day-to-day narrative, he is only ever going to appear episodically, at the starts and finishes of the episodes. But he allows Suetsugu to illustrate different versions of friendship: Taichi’s daily presence, and Arata’s regular but infrequent hails from afar. It is a good thing Chihaya has distant friends–her life is rich and full that way…

  10. I’ll be honest – Chihaya’s “All Your Powers Combined” shtick bothered me much, much more than Ara-levance (sorta) showing up. It left me in the unenviable position of wanting Hokou (specifically Amakusa) to win, and not just because it would make the more fitting conclusion. I suppose Shinobu has been portrayed as so far ahead of everyone else that, to borrow card game lingo, Chihaya needs a hefty dose of power creep to be able to put up a fight in such a short space of time.

    But I do agree, it isn’t fair for Taichi to be up against what is essentially a perfect ghost, especially given how much development he has had over the series. Hopefully the Nationals will sort this out. SumirexTaichixChihayaxArataxShinobu love pentagon here we come!

    J Jay
  11. They always kind of ruin the feel of such an intensely engaging episode by throwing Arata in at the end. I know its some form of foreshadowing and the ever present love triangle is still lurking, but wish they’d stop doing that. I like Chihaya as her competitive, supportive, leader-role, and although the ‘just a teenage girl’ side is impossible to dismiss, I can’t stand when they bring her down to that peg like that sometimes. That feel-good-even-though-we-lost feeling was lost as soon as she starte tearing up of Arata and Taichi’s unresolved bitterness came back to bite him.
    But aside from the ending, this was an awesome and intense episode. This show begs me to learn Karuta for real more and more each week!

  12. Sometimes interjecting one form of intensity with another, um, “form” is a welcome relief. I may be totally outgunned here, but if I may squeak a slightly different opinion, this segue (if you can call it that) was actually well placed. The “shadow” of love over the intense poetry of matches is a good thing in this case, IMO.

  13. Ok I confess I’m a sore loser! Sorry folks, I hate you Houko!! That was cheating in my book!! I was enraged when Chihaya spoke to say it was a “draw”. I watched the replay a dozen times and it was clearly her win. It was season 1 all over again when she played that other woman that will contest every single play! /end rage

    I tried to sink down the: “I had fun” from Chihaya, that was altruistic and all; still I want our group to win so much it hurts. In the end Chihaya did “waste” the first part of the match and had to come from behind which put her in a bad spot; also the tunnel vision or lack of team play experience did hurt them a lot. This is getting evil as Saki, I want our team to destroy the competition, guess they will need to bite the dust a bit more before they get there. How a “card” game has become such a stress, like soccer, is beyond me. I love this series with all my hearth.

    Oh did all four of them won the “chihayafuru” card?

    Come team – time for summer camp training/sukumizu episode to wipe the competition in the nationals!

  14. What’s with all this hate on Arata’s appearances? Everything was well placed because it keeps you reminded that in Chihayafuru, everything that Suetsugu-sensei placed is moving, little by little. That last part was not even about love, but about the beauty of finding happiness even on a defeat and I almost cried while watching. Forget your biases and see the big picture.


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