She's really come a long way, and we haven't even gotten to the Queen rematch yet!
I am amazed at Chihaya's progress. Just a few episodes ago she realized the flaws in her playing style, and now we're seeing the results of her re-evaluation. While there's been no doubt throughout the series that Chihaya is a great karuta player, this is the first time that it's easy to call her a pro. For the longest time Chihaya has continued to act pretty much the same way that she did when we were introduced to her character in the flashbacks at the beginning of the series, but her resolve as she's realized that her dream is within reach if she can take her playing to the next level has shown that Chihaya really has matured a bit. For the first time, when we see her concentrating before the match, she's in that bluish-white world that has only been associated with Arata and the Queen up until this point. Last time Chihaya met the Queen, she managed to get under her skin. The next time they play against each other, I think that she'll give the Queen a run for her money. We've still got a few episodes left to go and I'm already really happy to see everyone make progress towards their dreams, not just Chihaya. Tachi made an interesting discovery about his own playing style in this episode which hadn't occurred to me either. He has the opposite problem that Chihaya had; he thinks too much and doesn't have the speed to back it up. I'm looking forward to seeing how he tackles that problem in the last few episodes.
Chihaya's progress was underscored by her opponent, an elementary school prodigy who is a lot like her. The little girl's comments ("She took the card but she's not fast at all") almost mirrored Chihaya's though process during her first A-rank match. And also like Chihaya, she learns that speed is only one of many tools that can be used to win a match. At first, with all the talk of her taking to same route as the current Queen and her mother initially sitting next to Chihaya before the match started, I was worried that this would be situation similar to what Tachi's was as a kid, where she was being pressured to win no matter what. I was pleasantly surprised when the mother clarified that karuta made the girl feel confident in herself and that she wasn't ashamed of her big ears anymore. Whether karuta will turn into a lifelong love for her as it did for Chihaya is anyone's guess, but I think that playing against her, losing, yet still feeling that sense of confidence and accomplishment in the end was good for her. It was also awesome when Chihaya indirectly called out the adults who were saying bad things about the girl after her match. Haters gonna hate. Anyway, I think that this was a great start to what's probably going to be the final story arc of the series. I'm sure that Chihaya will make it all the way.
Images from Crunchyroll.com.