Muse: While last week was Taichi central, this week splits its focus between a lot of different characters, as this show often does during final matches. However, this time around, the tension is based purely around character conflicts and pride, since both schools are guaranteed a spot at the national tournament.Unlike the last tournament, where the team had to prove themselves against Hokuo to be taken seriously, this arc is probably the first of many matches they will have against this group in the upcoming tournament.
However, while the majority of the episode is taken up by the nail-biting matches that we know and love, this show continues to surprise me with how it manages to throw in small moments for secondary characters. The scene right before the match, when their advisor, Ms. Miyauchi, shows up and gives all of them Tasuki to help keep them cool and improve their movement, I was struck by how far she’s come as a character. She’s still a novice to karuta, but she’s making an effort now, which is leaps and bounds ahead of where she was when we met her in the first season. Towards the end of the episode, she also makes a statement that has summarized my experience with this anime:
“The more I learn about competitive karuta, the more magical it seems.”I am still blown away by the fact that I’m completely in love with an anime that covers a sport that I’ve never heard of that relies on poetry in a language I barely understand. I know what you mean, Ms. Miyauchi. If this isn’t magic, I don’t know what is.
Justin: Chihayafuru manages to pace itself in a way that might seem like it’s going too fast, but what it has managed to do so far is cut off the fat. I think if you’ve been watching a lot of anime, you know how there are always scenes where there’s just nothing going on and we just have characters talking before they get to the main point. In this anime, and especially season 2, we’re being moved from one part to another at a fairly torrid pace. The only thing is, it somehow manages to not trip itself up due to its breakneck speed. Sure, we’ll get an episode like last week where Taichi dominated the action, but somehow, someway, there will be small moments that take maybe a minute or two that manage to stick out and be just as interesting as the big moments.
One of those small moments happened to be what Muse described with Ms. Miyauchi. For me, what happened when Porky mentioned how the Hokuo Karuta team had teachers who knew Karuta and had proper coaching, what Ms. Miyauchi did to aid her team despite her lack of knowledge, and the response from the team she’s “advising” ended up taking me back to my Freshman year of college. I was a wide-eyed, foolish Freshman looking for things to do. Inspired by what some of my friends did in high school by starting a Video Game Club, and noticing my college didn’t have the club I wanted to start, I attempted to start an anime club. It wasn’t easy since I didn’t know a lot of people, but after asking for people to join before and after the start of two classes, and then a week later I got one more signature, and I was 90% there. The last thing I needed was an advisor, but again, didn’t know a lot of people...except I knew one because she had been my summer advisor. I asked her, but she didn’t know what anime was (so I had to explain it)-- Just like Ms. Miyauchi. She still joined anyways because I was pretty desperate, and the club got started. Unfortunately, just like Ms. Miyauchi, she wasn’t gonna be there for anime club. Now, granted, anime clubs and karuta clubs are fairly different beasts, so explaining why the mentality is different shouldn’t be necessary. But I wanted to put that out there since, when I see Ms. Miyauchi give her team a Tasuki, and actually be around for certain events with a desire to learn the game, it makes me think if my anime club had an advisor who would be willing to try and learn a bit about anime -- not even be knowledgeable about it -- who knows, it could have been a really good as opposed to just a good club. Still, Miyauchi’s growth in the anime is pretty endearing, considering her role’s pretty small compared to the others, so needless to say, I’m impressed.
Needless to say though, the major focus of Episode 5 was the return of the S, and a pretty darn good karuta player in Sudo, who I guess makes sense as the ultimate weapon Retro mentioned (though when I think about it, why didn’t I guess it?), and by just him showing up, the dynamics of the match between Hokuo and Misuzawa changed drastically. Before that, Amakasu, who had already established himself as someone who didn’t want to have to stress himself or the team so much, showed his anger at Retro’s decision to play Misuzawa straight, as opposed to something else. It may have been a pretty dominating match in favor of Misuzawa, especially since both teams were guaranteed a trip to Nationals. But just him appearing freaked out both sides, but it mostly pressured Hokuo to not screw up while he’s doing the reading.
...Wait, Muse, he’s doing the reading?
Muse: Yep! Apparently Sudo has been taking reading classes, and as we see when Kanade counts the beats, he’s pretty good at it. This makes an interesting contrast to the reader from the last episode, who got nervous and messed up. I guess that this shouldn’t be too surprising though, since we know that Sudo is a perfectionist as well as a sadist. And like Justin mentioned, he also plays a role in leveling the field for the Mizusawa vs. Hokuo match. After losing their confidence when Retro changes his “prediction” (which I’ll get to in a minute), they get some fear and serious knocked into them with Sudo’s surprise entrance. Although, again, I guess we shouldn’t be too surprised...Sudo’s got a reason to want Mizusawa to lose, even though he’s not playing. But the underlying sentiment is that he wants his former school to win with it’s own power, not through tricks or cop-outs, and prove why it’s known as the best.
That sentiment carries over very strongly to Retro, a character who I never really liked (he’s just plain weird) but he got some respect from me during this episode when he stood up to Amakasu, pitting himself against Taichi and Amakasu against Chihaya. While Amakasu’s initial idea of playing off their opponent's order and gaining easy wins is a viable strategy, it’s pretty rude towards the Mizusawa team and the final match in general. Isn’t conserving your energy something you should do in early matches, not against the opponent who took the cup from you last time?
Anyway, while Retro’s insistence to play against Mizusawa fair and square is admirable, Amakasu’s thought process doesn’t seem to be deliberately condescending; he just just doesn’t want to put the effort in. He’s a bit of a paradox. He’s an A-ranked player, easily going toe-to-toe against Chihaya in this episode, yet he doesn’t want to do anything to get better at karuta. He just wants to win as quickly and easily as possible with the minimal amount of effort expended. That said, his mentality in this episode is his best tool against Chihaya, who takes an opposite approach; she focuses on why she fails to take cards, trying to refine her style to match Shinobu’s. And Amakasu figures it out pretty quickly:
“You can keep your eyes focused on a distant goal while you lose the match you’re in.”When he says this, it’s a valid assessment; Chihaya’s down in cards, and her primary focus isn’t winning. That is, until she switches gears and reveals something really interesting; she’s trying to combine the styles of both the current King and Queen!
Justin: That’s what kind of makes me want to think up a new word for scary, since it’s starting to get to the point where Chihaya is in another class from her opponents. As the match was going on and they showed Chihaya trying to focus on getting cards a certain way -- only for that to blow up in her face -- once Amakasu pointed out how disrespectful it was for her to review her mistakes while she’s in a match, I thought that was when she would either show some focus or surprisingly reveal a weakness in her game that we had yet to see this season. But as that battle raged and we neared the end of the episode, she was still trying to focus on a certain way to win the game! It made me wonder just what she was really trying to do. That is, until she managed to perfectly get a card where the timing, the movement, all of it was on point. After what Dr. Harada said at the end -- that Chihaya is trying to combine Hisashi and Shinobu’s styles -- my immediate, legit thought was, “...is she trolling?” Is she at a state where she’s just so good at Karuta that she could afford to try a style while facing a Class A player? Worse yet, what if she has been trying to play that way through the whole tournament?
...Yep, we definitely need a new word aside from scary, Muse.
Muse: I’d also call her crazy along with scary, but they say that geniuses are also crazy people because they think outside the box, and I think that Chihaya has something here even though it came out of left field. Imagine being able to read your opponent within a few turns and know whether you need pinpoint accuracy or brute force to win against them. That sounds like “best player in the world” material. Also, while it is incredibly risky to try out a new play style against an A-ranked player (and in the final match!) what other time is she going to get to try her new tactics against someone she hasn’t played time and time again?
Chihaya still has a ways to go, but I can really see her becoming a contender for Queen this year. If she can pull this off, number one may not be that long of a road.
Images from Crunchyroll.com.