I'm going to be really sad next week when there isn't a new episode.
My prediction ended up coming true; Chihayafuru didn't end so much as it just stopped. But to this episode's credit, it was a very good stopping point. Over the last few weeks I've realized that this is a story about growth and perseverance while going after your dreams, and it certainly helps that pretty much all of the characters that we've met over its two-cour run are so likeable, especially the main group. Simply put, this is the best josei series that I've ever seen just going by the development of the characters and the relationships between them. Watching them grow and change over the last two seasons, cheering for them as they overcame their obstacles, and feeling their pain when they would lose or when things just didn't turn out the way they were planned reached beyond the limits of watching an anime; I felt like these characters were my friends too, and I wanted nothing more than to see them succeed in their dreams. But while they've all come a long way, this episode showed that there are still obstacles for them to overcome. For Chihaya, the problem isn't being capable of making it to the Queen's match anymore. She has to find a viable strategy she can use against someone who has a connection to the game far deeper than most would be able to guess. Kanade just realized her own dream--becoming a reader--but finds out in this episode that it's a much harder road than she expected. Tsutomu may not have any innate talent for the game, but he makes up for it by using what he is good at--stat gathering. And Tachi, Arata, and Nishida have to prepare themselves to go up against the Master. And all of this is just on the game side of things, to say nothing of the personal growth and character relationships throughout this show.
I'm glad the show decided to stop at the end of one chapter and the beginning of another. We know what these characters have gone through up until this point, and the show ends by saying that the journey isn't over yet, and that there's still a long way for them to go. It definitely leaves the door open for a sequel, but it comes off feeling more like a bookmark. I felt that even if there was never a second season I still imagine this story moving forward by its own momentum, with these characters continuing to press forward with their dreams. There were little bits of closure here and there too. For once, Tachi and Arata didn't talk about something that was Chihaya-centric! Their conversation really reminded me of how they were as kids, and although Chihaya was the romance factor back then as well, I think that it's good for them to get a little of that old friendship back, instead of constantly acting as rivals. Eventually they will have to face each other, but for now their shared goal is how to face the Master. There were many little moments in the episode like this one; while it was definitely open ended, I still got a sense of closure. Character arcs were starting to come full circle. Over the course of the series (in their time, the last year) they've become better people and players, yet some things still stay the same. I found it really appropriate to end on the image we started with--Chihaya hanging up the posters. This is something that I rarely like in anime since it usually occurs in a reset ending where nothing really changed from start to finish, but it's different here. Things might look the same on the surface, but the journey made everything different.
So while I'm sad to see it go, Chihayafuru was a great journey, and this was the best ending for an ongoing manga that I could've asked for. If they'd forced a rushed ending, I'm not really sure how I would've dealt with it. While I haven't been able to get my hands on the manga yet, I feel like the adapters fell in love with its story too, since the entire show was far more than I expected. Going into it, all I knew about the premise was that it focused around a card game that I had never heard of. Even the television stations are in on the Chihayafuru love! Twenty-five episodes later, I still want more but I'm happy that there was at least some thematic closure. However, I will hold out hope that someday there will be another season, or at least that someone will license the manga and/or the anime. Apparently there's a bilingual English version of the manga floating around out there for purchase, but I'd like to see it get the marketing exposure that it deserves. A show about an obscure traditional Japanese card game has never been and will never be this good again. So goodbye for now, Chihayafuru. In one way or another, we will meet again.
Images from Crunchyroll.com.