Muse: I was expecting this episode to jump right into the Nationals the way that the first season did, but instead we got a “calm before the storm” episode. I use that phrase loosely though, since nothing is ever calm in Chihayafuru, especially when it comes to character relationships. This episode did a great job of revisiting some secondary characters that have gotten lost in the focus on our main group as well as set up some of the drama that is likely to dominate the National tournament arc.
Most of the focus in this episode goes to Chihaya’s family, particularly her mother and sister. Chitose has always been a bit of a sore point for me, since I never really liked her and thought that she was just a brat. This episode sheds a bit more light on what was brought up briefly in the recap episode from the first season; Chitose feels insecure around Chihaya because she isn’t passionate about anything the way Chihaya is about karuta. She keeps up her modeling and acting job so that she has something “normal” to lord over her. However, this plan is backfiring; since she doesn’t really care, it’s showing through in her work, and people are ripping into her online because of it. I don’t really feel much sympathy for her character, but it provided an interesting counter-thread as Chihaya beats herself up for trying to emulate Shinobu in the final match.
The sister also brings up an interesting question to consider: if you don’t have the talent, is it worth putting in the hard work? Of course, everyone who’s watched the show this long knows that Chihaya is a hard worker as well as talented with a dash of luck. The main difference between Chihaya and her sister is that she has a strong internal motivation to continue with karuta, while her sister just wants bragging rights. It makes her look pretty pathetic by comparison, in my opinion.
Justin: I always find it nice to rest sometimes after a pretty big episode in anime, and for Chihayafuru, it basically had its intense match...is it time to jump straight into Nationals? Nope, says Madhouse, as it’s time to take somewhat of a break and instead focus on what the characters are doing to get better in order to do well at Nationals. But the break here is a bit different here, since even with it being a fairly standard episode, a number of things took place in the episode. One of those things included taking a look into Chihaya’s family. We had of course seen them a bit in Season 1, but they barely made their presence felt in Season 2. This episode showcases them and how Chihaya has influenced their thinking. As Muse had touched on, we did not exactly see Chitose as someone to like. She was obsessed, seemed to have a huge ego, and didn’t treat Chihaya exactly like a sister should. However, her effectiveness this season seemed to mostly just be background noise, but instead her struggles are highlighted, which is in stark contrast to Chihaya’s struggles as she tries to emulate Shinobu’s game. From someone who seemed like she liked modeling to suddenly deciding it was best to go to college, it seemed like a bit of a fall from where she was. In the end, it only makes sense that the one who’s really into something, like Chihaya is with karuta, manages to inspire Chitose to actually become passionate about modeling, or at the very least, to not give up like she was about to do so easily.
We then get to Chihaya’s mom, who initially we didn’t quite see how much she supported Chihaya in playing karuta, until they ended up showing a moment where she stopped by the Shiranami Society back when Chihaya was a kid. It’s interesting how much she really believes that no matter what her future holds, as long as Chihaya’s playing karuta, she’ll be all right. Of course, she’s not the only one to have brought up Chihaya’s future since this was discussed by Ms. Miyauchi a few episodes ago. But just like Ms. Miyauchi, Chihaya’s mom believes she does know what she’s doing, even though it always seems like she doesn’t. So it definitely must have been a surprise for her when she saw how depressed Chihaya was after the loss despite going to Nationals anyways. That’s why it was pretty nice of her to go take her to actually get a Hakama, instead of just using a borrowed one. Even though that would cost a bit of money! But whatever the case, it’s all kind of come full circle in a sense -- at the start, everyone happened to be fawning over Chitose and celebrating her accomplishments while whatever Chihaya did, nobody really cared. Now, it’s finally about equal I think within the family as both Ayase sisters may just be able to accomplish what they want. But of course, we’ll be mostly focused on Chihaya’s success since this anime revolves around her.
Muse: It’s interesting how the overall theme of this episode turned to “support.” For a while now, karuta has been portrayed as a niche that only insiders can understand, which makes sense given the nature of the game. However, in this episode we see that the team is not alone, especially Chihaya, since she has many people around her who support her even though they don’t understand her obsession all the time. It was nice to see Mom take the initiative in this episode and get a Hakama for her daughter (even though it probably wasn’t the best time spending wise) because of her belief that someday, maybe even this year, Chihaya is going to be on that televised Queen match. And like Justin mentioned, her statements that Chihaya is going to be just fine as long as she follows her heart are a good assessment of her character.
The club in general also gets an interesting bit of support from an unexpected place: the concert band club! Towards the beginning of the episode, Chihaya decides to let the concert band use the second floor of their club space for storage--which was honestly a surprise to me, since I thought that they literally only had that one room, not a second floor! Anyway, Chihaya guessed correctly that they might get something out of it if they help them, and the band decides to send them off before the Nationals by playing the full, long version of the school song. It’s pretty cute and very unexpected. Chihaya’s charm is working in favor of the club, since without a huge amount of members (only two stayed out of twenty applications... ouch...) it might help them down the road to have friends in random places. Of course, it’s possible that this event is just a one-off to pad for time within the episode, but it was cute to watch nevertheless.
Justin: Oh Muse. Considering this is Chihayafuru, I can only expect that this won’t be the last time we have a part of the school supporting the Karuta club. Hence the part where I said school; as Muse mentioned, karuta is fairly niche, and aside from those that are really into the game, it’s not exactly of high interest to everyone else. You can say that for mostly everything we get ourselves involved in of course, but for this Band, it’s pretty interesting. Remember, they would have had to practice in the halls if they didn’t get the room. That would have been pretty awkward actually! But Chihaya decides (while thinking of karuta first and foremost) to let them take the room. It easily could have just passed off as a one note thing, but there was effort expended by the Band Club just to thank the Karuta Club for letting them have the room. I always find it fun when clubs can support each other, and in this case, considering karuta seemed to be isolated from everyone else, I not only found it cool, but I see it as a bit of trend. I get this feeling that as the Karuta Club does well in Nationals, it will eventually lead to more clubs checking the team out, and finally making karuta seem relevant aside from the interested parties.
I think one thing we’ll definitely have to watch out for is Sumire’s desire to play karuta. Basically, everyone except her wants to admit she’s falling in love with karuta. The real question then becomes what will she fall in love with more -- Taichi or karuta? She still seems to claim that she’s playing karuta just to get Taichi’s attention, but just by joining the Shiranami Society, I feel she wants to do more than just get Taichi’s attention. I feel she actually wants to get better at the game and win. Needless to say, we’ll find out how good she might have gotten as Nationals begin.
Muse: And the circle turns back to the ongoing love saga! But first, Sumire. This episode briefly returns to “the feelings expressed are dependant on the rules” line, with Sumire clarifying it a little bit with how it applies to her:
“The rule in this love is to be serious about karuta!”This line and her other actions in the episode reveal that she still thinks of karuta as a means to an end, just a way to get Taichi to notice her. However, as we’ve seen in the previous episodes, there’s more to her interest than just using karuta to get a date. Tsukuba even says as much to her during this episode, but Sumire doesn’t realize it herself. If she didn’t care about the game at all, then she would’ve dropped out along with the twenty other girls who only cared about how hot Taichi is. There’s more to Sumire than the surface layer than she puts on for other people, but she won’t even let herself dig that deep. ...Also, I think she’s cuter without makeup.
Sumire’s ambitions aside, towards the end of the episode she asks the million dollar question: Who does Chihaya really like? While we initially get a funny faux-yuri moment when Chihaya mentions Shinobu, we get the real answer when Taichi finds her in the lobby, talking to Arata and asking when he is going to show up for Nationals.
That scene gave me an interesting mix of emotions. On the one hand, the side of me that declared my support of Arata early on when I blogged the first season was really happy and excited, but the other half that has grown attached to Taichi during the series’ run was heartbroken for him. Making matters worse, there’s still no indicator whether Arata feels the same way about Chihaya or just sees her as a friend, leaving open the possibility of an unrequited love circle. The matches themselves are emotional enough! I don’t need relationship drama too! ...Of course, I’m kidding. I love it.
Justin: Ok. I guess I have to be the bearer of bad news. Readers, you can also join me in highlighting the obvious truth: it’s over. It’s a wrap. Back in Season 1, you could realistically say we didn’t know who Chihaya would ultimately be with. It was a toss up between Taichi and Arata. But in Season 2, Taichi has had more screentime, more chances to be with Chihaya, and more of a reason to get together with Chihaya, yet in all 30 or less minutes of Arata appearing on the screen, he manages to influence Chihaya more often than Taichi’s over 100 minutes of air time. Seven episodes into Season 2, and the only time Taichi and Chihaya realistically got close was back when Taichi took over one episode. But nothing seems to change Chihaya more than just speaking with or even just getting a text from Arata. It is painfully obvious where this is gonna go, and it’s not gonna go well for those who believed in Chihaya X Taichi. It’s time to let go...time to move on...
...And let’s face it, Taichi probably will have to move on, if he’s gonna find his own path when it comes to love.
Muse: I hope he does, because if that extra screentime has proved anything, it’s that Taichi deserves to be happy and not have to wait around for someone who’s looking another way.
Images from Crunchyroll.com