This show keeps plugging along like it wasn't ending next week...
First things first... Shinobu, what happened to you?! That bag and handkerchief might be cute, but they're not worth sacrificing your figure! And she paid for it too, making the Queen match more even just because her weight slowed her down. I did find it funny that it took her about halfway through the match to realize that it wasn't the kimono that was heavy, it was her own weight. The focus on the Queen match for the majority of the episode did give some interesting insights into Shinobu's character, her weight gain apparently only part of a larger personality quirk where she throws herself completely into the things that she likes. The backstory involving her being pressured to learn something "useful" so that it wouldn't be awkward for her and her mother to live in her grandmother's house was sad, yet I still took away the impression that karuta was something that Shinobu chose for herself rather than something that she picked to make her mother and grandmother happy. There were a couple lines that Shinobu said during the flashback ("Just as I love karuta, karuta loves me") and the Queen match ("It doesn't matter. It's not like my grandmother is watching.") that played into that as well, and I'm glad that we got to see a bit more of what was behind that cold mask, since the last time Shinobu was depicted as a normal girl was when Chihaya complimented her Snowmaru shirt.
Anyway, regardless of weight, Shinobu is still Shinobu and she managed to hold on to her title. As nice as it was to see the former Queen lose once again--seriously, she's going to need a better strategy than contesting cards if she's going up against someone with Shinobu's speed, and in this match they had cameras and instant replay--the surprising part was that despite the fact that the episode focused on the Queen match and rounding out Shinobu's character a bit more, the episode was stolen by the official introduction of the current Master. He's been alluded to and shown in hazy outlines up until this point, but no one has ever really talked about him. And the way that they introduced him was probably the most interesting part; a card flies out from his match, hitting Shinobu on the back and making her miss a card. As Chihaya immediately points out, that means that he's much faster than Shinobu, and since this show has spent a lot of its time hyping her up to be Chihaya's final obstacle to her dream and possibly the strongest opponent that she will ever face, the show introduces this new character by immediately showing how much better he is than the current Queen. Also, in the way the end of the episode was set up, I think that the current Master will be the same kind of rival to Tachi as Shinobu is to Chihaya, since he mentions that he can't dedicate himself to Chihaya when he's going to be facing opponents good enough to take this guy on. Arata appears to have other problems, like getting his head out of karuta-land (put the cards away and just watch the match!) so I think that the focus on him will be a little bit different. But with just one episode left, I don't know how they're going to wrap all this up! There's so much going on and it's all equally interesting, so I don't want it to end! Can we have a surprise second season announcement proving the sales numbers wrong? Maybe in a better time-slot even?
Images from Crunchyroll.com.