Regionals; Chihayafuru S2 Episodes 5-7

 Chihayafuru S2 - 07 [720p]_Mar 20, 2013 11.24.42 AM

gallifreyians: We’ve waited far long enough to get back into the rhythm of talking about Chihayafuru with you all. To make things go a little faster in our frantic effort to catch up, Natasha will be handling these three episodes, with me handling a post about episodes eight to ten shortly following.

illegenes: I think we could all agree that when it comes to Chihayafuru, the most exciting and intense aspects of the show are the matches. Filler moments are always really nice, but interestingly enough, a good portion of the character development can be found in the decisive moments of karuta battle. Whereas the first season spent most of its arc trying to get more people to join the Karuta Club, here in the second season, we dive straight into team battles. And boy, are they intense!

Episode 5 and 6 are pretty much about the Regionals, which are essentially needed to clear so that our team can go to the big Nationals. If you remember from the first season, our team was able to get there, but unfortunately, due to too much intensity (whoever said karuta was just another memory game is clearly wrong), Chihaya fainted and was forced to back out of the match. But with two new additions to the group, Chihaya and her gang are high-spirited as ever. Or maybe it’s just Chihaya. I can’t really tell sometimes; her enthusiasm is just so infectious.

Chihaya’s team gangs up against the infamous Hokuo team – now without their leader, Sadist-kun. Needless to say, it’s not like the team has become any less dangerous than they were before, only lazier. But that definitely changes when Amakasu, the new leader of the Hokuo team, goes up against Chihaya and learns the importance of trying hard in every match, whether it actually ‘counts’ as a win or not. As I’ve said before, a really remarkable quality of Chihayafuru is how it’s able to delve into the life and mind of the opponent and make us relate or care about them to a certain level. While I was still rooting for Chihaya, of course, there’s no doubt that my preconceptions of Amakasu as the laid back, child-like player of karuta was broken down once we got to know him a little better. The effort really pays off in the end, when he takes his responsibility as the captain of the team and is acknowledged by Sadist-kun himself.

What’s really great is how this two-parter stresses the importance of team matches. As Haruda-sensei said previously, a team match is an individual match, and vice versa. With Nishida-kun’s loss, the team stumbles toward gaining a victory to balance out the favor; Hokuo takes advantage by using a “near illegal” formation of cards to ensure their victory.

The most emotional part of this two parter, however, was when Chihaya loses by just one card – something we could almost call bad luck. But we all know better: there is no such thing as bad luck to Chihaya; it’s a matter of skill and precision. And while she’s finally able to use both the strengths of the Queen and King, she still lacks the ability to meld them properly together. Chihaya’s skill is more of a hit-and-miss, as she’s able to pick some syllables over others. While part of this can be solved through practice and familiarization of the other cards, I think it’s also important for Chihaya to realize that she needs to do a self-assessment of her own skills rather than relying on what everyone tells her. Desktomu-kun and Harada-sensei’s numbers and words will always help, but as someone who’s participated in competitive sport myself, I’ve always found that looking at my own faults and assessing myself is the best way to improve. Then again, Chihaya has always been slightly air-headed when it comes to introspection, but I do hope this changes a little soon; I want Chihaya to be able to change herself by herself, rather than relying on others to guide her all the time, you know?

If Episode 5 and 6 are all about keeping you on the edge of your seat, Episode 7 is about exploring the areas of Chihaya’s life that we’ve never really seen in depth before. I’m talking of course, about Chihaya’s relationship with her mother and her sister, which proves to be a compelling drama that takes up half of the episode. It’s been mentioned in the previous season that Chihaya’s family isn’t the richest or most well-off; Chihaya’s mom often has to work late at nights or take overtime shifts so she can pay off dues and fees for her children. And while Chihaya’s mother at first, seemed to prioritize Chitose’s career over Chihaya’s (we can all appreciate beauty, but it’s hard to invest in a sport that seems like it’s for kids!!!) I think she really took a step forward in helping Chihaya buy her own hakama. In the end, it doesn’t really matter if Chihaya’s mother understands karuta or not. The fact that she simply supports Chihaya’s decisions in life and is willing to do what it takes for her to get to a Queen title is enough, and it really brought out some sweet emotions and a side to Chihaya’s life that had always been neglected in this show. That can also be said with Chitose, who goes through a low point in this episode when she realizes that her career may very well be a short-lived one. It’s a rather cynical but proper response – after all, beauty can’t always last – but it’s still wonderful to see Chitose realize that she shouldn’t give up on her dreams when Chihaya hasn’t ever since she was a kid. Chihayafuru tells us that while high school life is all games and sports and card-playing, there are important moments that we share with family, and the pricelessness of having a family to root for you, even if they don’t understand the exact nature of the thing you want in life the most.

There’s also the little story of Chihaya’s team making room for the band club, which is also pretty great. We all know Chihaya’s been extremely greedy (even their mentor notices it) but she genuinely does care for the underdogs in school to let them have their share of the room. It doesn’t go to waste either, as the best part of the whole episode is the ending scene when the band shows their appreciation for the karuta club’s efforts and realizing that karuta just isn’t some random sport as they send off our team in high spirits with their own attempt and hard work at performing the school song. And honestly? That’s just the thing about this show – it never ceases to be a delight, no matter what story it decides to tell. Everyone is equally respected and treated with care! From band members to family to potential love interests, everything just fits so well and flows so smoothly. If we had any doubts about season 2 being inferior to season 1, well, they’re pretty much gone now. Chihayafuru has taken its rightfully owned title again in my heart: the sweet spot of number 1, and I’m so glad it’s back.

Lastly is Sumire’s arc, which has grown splendidly over the past episodes. While her interest in Taichi hasn’t subsided, she’s slowly grown attached to the passion and fun that can be found in karuta, and I hope to see more of her growth in the future as she finds her own reason for playing the game.

Next time: Steven covers the Arata and National-filled moments of Episode 8-10, as we catch up and see some even more intense battles in the karuta room! Also featuring international students, the mysterious and elusive Shinobu-chan, and a favorite being banned in tournaments!

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