The tag-team posts on Chihayafuru 2 with Justin from Organization Anti-Social Geniuses continues! This week, our heroes head for the high school tournament!
Muse: I said in about the first episode, but I really felt it here; Chihayafuru is back. I didn’t mind the sidebar into Sumire’s love life, but the last two episodes have been sadly lacking in actual matches. So, I was really happy when I saw that there wouldn’t be any more preamble. It’s time for the high school tournament, and the original members of the karuta club are shining in the spotlight.
Throughout the team matches depicted in this episode--alongside the very brief and well-done flashbacks--I really noticed for the first time how much better the group has gotten since the last time they were there. Objectively I knew that; the first season is pretty much dedicated to showing each character’s growth. But here we were really starting to see the results, and it came through the eyes of the first years. Tsukuba and Sumire are awed by how the upperclassmen play, especially by Chihaya, and maybe for the first time realize why they were pushed to work so hard. Tsukuba is learning that “mainland” karuta is its own beast and that he needs to put in the same amount of time to master it as he did with second-verse karuta, and Sumire unfortunately is the victim of some sexism because of her looks (at least she got the card). I can’t think of any other examples of that happening in this show, but I still think that it was an interesting moment when Sumire looked at Chihaya and thought:
“She wasn’t belittled for being a girl.”For a character like Sumire, who has made a huge deal about her looks, admitting that she wants to be respected for more than just that was a great moment that I hope will be explored more.
Justin: After I’ve said over and over that Chihayafuru would definitely be karuta over romance, despite the first two episodes saying otherwise, it was good that I was not only proven correct in thinking so, but also that the matches are still just as great a watch as they were in S1. Chances are they will get better as the series continues, but in seeing the Mizusawa team take part in the tournament -- the tournament they won -- I’m reminded again why this series manages to click with me. It helps that we have characters to get behind, whether it is the original team from S1, or our two new members, and as we watch them compete in matches, we end up just learning more about them in a way that doesn’t take away from the experience of watching their matches play out.
The series has covered Sumire for two episodes for the most part, but it was only a matter of time before we would understand the role Tsukuba would play in the series. Initially, the only thing we knew about him was he played Second-Verse Karuta with a team, and he wags his tongue while barely opening his eyes. In this episode, we learn how much he wants to prove himself in a new environment: playing “mainland” karuta, he wants to show that he can be just as dominant a player with regular karuta as he is in Second-Verse. He also wants to prove that to his brothers, who also play the game. Unfortunately, he lacks experience. In trying to sneak his way into the first match and then to end up facing a Class A player when he gets the chance, his desire to prove himself almost ended in failure. The only reason it didn’t end in failure was because while he didn’t win his match, he showed flashes of being someone to look out for down the road, and as he experiences and plays in more matches, especially in tournaments, he’ll definitely wind up as a major karuta player that can compete well. It also helped that he had support from his brothers and that talk with Tsutomu was telling as well.
I think the main thing that I can take away from this episode is: Chihaya was right all along. Most of us saw her as 100% all karuta, and not exactly someone using her brain. I certainly thought so too. Even as there were moments in the first two episodes that had her show a more mature and thoughtful side of her, they were replaced by moments of Chihaya’s one track mind and her lack of focus when it came to matters outside of karuta. This episode didn’t exactly take that element out, as she still manages to show where her mind is at. But I think, if it wasn’t clear enough in S1, she proved in Ep 3 that she has changed for the better, which not only allows herself to play better karuta, but the other members as well. Ms. Miyauchi, their teacher, said it best when she believed that she acts like she never thinks but she does. Taichi’s desire to go the Shiranami Society in Ep 1; Chihaya’s focus on keeping the first years because of her passing out in the tournament in Ep 2; and now, in Ep 3, her play and actions got Sumire and Tsukuba to try harder, even though it ended in losses; and then, Kana ends up validating Chihaya’s insistence on having first years in the club:
“We wouldn't be this strong if the first years weren't here."Now, will this help everyone achieve what they want to achieve when it comes to playing karuta? Chances are, not everyone. But the fact that Chihaya has shown she’s not being completely silly when it comes to helping everyone else out, and her of course still being dominant at karuta, it shows she has matured, even if only a little bit, and considering how long it’s taken to get to this, it’s impressive how her change has evolved without feeling fake or forced. It’s pretty subtle, and the subtleness works well here.
Muse: Chihaya has definitely grown, and not only as a karuta player. I don’t think that she’ll ever be able to completely convince the people around here that she isn’t just barrelling her way through things without her karuta blinders fully attached, but we’re getting more and more evidence in S2 that she’s thinking about the long-term effects of her actions, and it’s starting to pay off. Insisting on training the first years properly has resulted in two promising new members, and they’re watching her with awe during the tournament. That awe is also helping them to grow as characters as well; I talked about Sumire above, and Tsukuba swallowing his pride was a big moment in the episode as well. The whole thing is made a bit more touching with the context of how the team struggled back in season one, when they made a lot of the same mistakes as the first years, and even some bigger ones. I wondered what they would think if they heard the full story of what went down in the last tournament and what followed, but then again, they need to make that journey on their own. The important thing is what Tsutomu mentioned:
“I’ve been in your shoes. I was also given a chance. There’s no rush. You’ll get better very soon.”They didn’t have anyone who’d already walked that path to encourage them. Even though they didn’t agree with Chihaya at first, I think that the rest of the group will be happy to help the new members from here on out.
Jumping onto another topic here, I really want to talk about Arata. He’s been pretty absent these last two episodes, which isn’t a huge surprise, but him not being around played more of a thematic role in the first season. So far in S2, it feels like there was no time because the show was discussing Sumire. I was pretty excited to see Arata at the beginning of the episode, especially declaring his intent to participate in the high school tournament. (The Arata vs. Taichi rematch is coming, I can feel it. Match of the century, buy your tickets now.) However, I was really surprised by his appearance at the end. Or rather, the flashback at the end and who was having it. I guess it makes sense for Shinobu to have met him at some point, especially considering their skill levels, but I wonder what kind of history they have to make her completely zone out like that.
Justin: Needless to say, when Shinobu reacted the way she did that had her see a young Arata behind her, my first thought was, “Uh, did this angle ever develop in S1?” the second thing is it seems she had someone who may have rivaled her in skill. We all know how great Arata was back when he was a kid and toying with Chihaya and Taichi, but aside from his moments with them and his grandpa, his past wasn’t fully explored. It didn’t need to be explored so fully since he’s technically at a rival society and we went through enough of his past already. But a connection with the Ice Queen? When and how? I can only guess it was someone Shinobu could never beat in a match, or somehow, he inspired her to play the game? Whatever the case, it seems the next episode might delve into that angle a bit, or it might hold out until later in the series, since we still are focused on the high school tournament right now. I’m pretty sure I’m looking forward to seeing how that will play out, especially if it then turns out to impact Chihaya and Taichi in future episodes.
Muse: In terms of Arata’s past, we get everything that we need to know that’s relevant to his character and his motivations right now in the story. Shinobu, on the other hand, has been mostly shrouded in mystery, presented as the last barrier that Chihaya will have to overcome, since the show has made it clear that Shinobu is good enough to keep her title as Queen until Chihaya is ready to really challenge her. Presenting Arata as a kid in a kind of flashback to bookend the episode (teenaged Arata at the beginning, kid Arata at the end) suggests that Shinobu is going to become a bigger character than just her title as Queen, and that we’re going to need to know more about her as whatever is planned develops. I’m excited to see what the connection between them is, since there’s no doubt that they’re the best of the best. Maybe we’ll even get a match between the two of them? That would be awesome.
Justin: A match between Arata and Shinobu? Now I definitely would be looking forward to that.
Images from Crunchyroll.com.