Justin: I think it’s pretty clear there’s a good chance Hokuo and Misuzawa will meet at some point during the Nationals.
Well, it’s going to be hard to trump what happened between them in this episode.
It would only be a matter of time before practically two evenly matched teams would face off, and of course one of those teams would be Misuzawa, since...they’re kind of the main team in this anime. However, it would also be a matter of time where experience finally pays off, except instead of that showing in a positive light, it turned out to be shown negatively, as Hokuo showcased their team experience and put Misuzawa onto the brink of an automatic loss. Weighed down by Porky’s stunning defeat, it seemed difficult that Misuzawa would be able to overcome that and find a way to get 3 wins; but they found a way to compete and keep it close. But when it got too close to call, Hokuo managed to go split their cards (should probably add a thanks to Chihaya in there somewhere) and virtually guarantee themselves a win. Except the virtual guarantee failed once Retro committed a fault; it then went back to anyone’s game. That was basically when we had a too close to call moment when Chihaya and Amakasu touched the card. But as I said earlier, experience finally paid off negatively as the card needed to be on Chihaya’s side, not Amakasu’s side. That’s where Hokuo’s team experience paid off. And that is how Misuzawa failed to repeat.
But in the end, we shouldn’t look at it as Misuzawa lost. Instead, we should look at how they’ve grown. Chihaya is basically on another planet by herself; Taichi has shown his own improvement throughout this tournament arc; Kana and Tsutomu played great in the final match, showing they’re not gonna be pushovers to anyone; and Porky...well, Porky just had some bad luck. Whatever the case, if they gained anything, they gained two things: fun and more experience. As they head to Nationals, they will have to continue to learn more about themselves and what the game of Karuta can do to them, and that is probably how they’ll be able to win at Nationals.
Muse: I agree that the finals were all about experience, but Mizusawa weren’t the only ones getting some needed practice in this match. Hokuo did win in the end because they have spent more time in team matches (while our main characters have only the two tournaments), but the fact that victory was ultimately decided by a technicality in the rules instead of straight-out talent or skill on either side seems to have given a taste of reality to the formerly all-too-confident Hokuo team.
There is a strong indication that even though Hokuo carried the day, Mizusawa has the better players: in the final call, Amakasu says that he took the final card, but Chihaya calmly states that they both took it at the same time. However, since it was on Amakasu’s side, it’s his win. I forget who said this, but in the last season it was stated that the best karuta players can always tell who took a card, regardless whether the other player contests it or not. And Amakasu even admits it; he moved because Chihaya did, and he would’ve made a fault just like Retro if luck wasn’t on his side.
The entire match sparked a change in Amakasu’s outlook; even the statements he makes towards the end of the match are contrasted with flashbacks from the previous episode. Going up against Chihaya--who isn’t concerned about her accuracy anymore and is making him fight for each card--makes him want to win because he wants to prove himself as the ace and Sudou’s successor, to prove that his school is the best. He doesn’t want an easy win anymore.
But while they did get the trophy back as promised, Amakasu admits that Hokuo is not the best. However, there’s not much sadness in that statement. After all, they’ve got another tournament to look forward to, and plenty of chances for a rematch!
Justin: By then though, it’ll be interesting to see how the dynamics of the Misuzawa team will be. While we still have the core five members looking like they’re gonna be primed and ready, there are those first years to consider. At the onset, we weren’t exactly sure how Tsukuba, and especially Sumire, would turn out to be. At worst, they would just be on the team and interested in karuta enough to be passable. But at best, not only would they become interested in karuta, but they would like to surpass or become just as good as the rest of them. For Tsukuba, it’s an exercise in re-learning the game he used to dominate, as along with his brothers, joining the Shiranami society should allow him to get better as a player; for Sumire, who believed she could get Taichi just like that and focus all her efforts on love and nothing else, she has come full circle, and seems to now be focused on learning how to play karuta by joining the society as well. These two could potentially provide just as much drama as they have done so far, but let’s add a spot on competing in matches consistently to maybe intensify the drama in the upcoming episodes (but we’ll have to see on that).
But seriously...the real drama comes from a guy who’s probably had maybe 20 minutes of screentime, yet still manages to poke his head every now and again to say, “I exist” and “I matter.” And in this episode, all Arata has to do is send a text message asking Chihaya if she had fun for her to start crying over how much fun she had (and how bitter the loss was), and for anyone who has their romantic pairings all set to maybe feel like they’re just being toyed with by Madhouse somehow. And...for many to maybe feel sorry for Taichi. Just maybe. Whatever the case, with his involvement with Shinobu still unknown and for him to finally shine in the spotlight a mystery, Arata somehow manages to be a factor, and really, he should thank season 1 for that. The development of his character then, and especially when he was a child, manages to make his brief appearances in Season 2 have much more of an impact than it normally should.
Muse: A-ra-ta! Stop messing around and use your fabulous pink phone to tell your childhood friends what you’re up to already. You’re going to give all of the fangirls heart attacks from waiting. Anyway, yes, I agree that his relevance so far in this season has been the equivalent of smiling and waving while remaining mysterious. Again, whatever he’s got going on in his life and the unexplained connection to Shinobu are probably topics being saved for the next tournament, since he will be there. I refuse to entertain the possibility that he won’t be there for the sake of drama. He’ll be there, and he’ll explain himself with that cute accent of his.
...Where was I. Right, tournament and plot. While the inevitable reunion will be emotional, as we all know, Chihayafuru likes to have character and plot arcs across tournaments (which is something that can probably be said of most anime/manga sport series, but I haven’t seen/read enough of them to really make a statement on that). Leaving Arata’s plans and the Shinobu connection ambiguous leaves plenty of fodder for the tournament, not discounting Hokuo and the new members of the Mizusawa team. In all likelihood, Arata is likely to get another big dose of character treatment that we haven’t seen since the start of season one, and if we do, it’s about time. All signs point to an emotional roller coaster regardless of where the spotlight will fall.
Justin: So, I guess before we wrap this up, I think we should touch on one thing that kind of bugged me with this episode. See, the match between Hokuo and Mizusawa was pretty cool and a great watch, and this episode was pretty enjoyable in that respect. However, the explanation involving Hokuo splitting the cards was...kind of out of my league. When I say that, it honestly makes me wonder just how much karuta do we need to know to understand that Mizusawa mathematically lost the match once Chihaya sent her card over? We were told just how dire it was, but it felt like for me to truly understand the weight and impact of the moment, I had to remember and know what karuta cards were left to read. It honestly made me realize I watched 31 episodes of karuta and while I know some things, I don’t know everything about it. So it makes me wonder if this show has done enough explaining of karuta. Did you feel the same way Muse?
Muse: I thought that the scene was pretty well done in how it managed to keep the high tension of the moment despite having to break into an exposition moment to describe what was going on. That said, I did feel like I was missing some of the finer details, since I have a bad grasp on the purpose of sending cards and their placement. Everything I know about the game comes from this show. While it’s possible that I just didn’t pay enough attention when I was first watching season one, having the match--and by extension, the emotional part of the current plot--hinge on a technicality assumes that the viewer understands what’s going on. Some of that problem was fixed by the short explanation, but it still assumes more familiarity with the rules that I’m not sure I have. Maybe it’s just because I’m not Japanese?
Justin: So I’m curious: did any of you guys get lost in that scene? Do you feel the game of karuta has been explained enough? Or...have we finally just lost it? Feel free to sound off in the comments below!
Images from Crunchyroll.com.