Aim for the Ace!; Chihayafuru S2 Episodes 11-12

Chihayafuru S2 - 12 [720p]_Apr 10, 2013 7.29.37 PM

Chihayafuru returns back to proving the importance of team dynamics through individual contribution, while lining us up for the climax of the Nationals arc.

gallifreyians: As it’s name implies, Chihayafuru is firmly about Chihaya and her relationship with karuta; she is the main character and most developed, and yet Chihaya is surrounded by a cast just as colorful as she is. One of these characters that has languished in the shadows so far is Yusei (affectionately called ‘Porky’ but the other members of the karuta team), who has finally had a light shined on him in episode eleven. Episode ten was left off with the cliffhanger of Yusei telling the group that Komano shouldn’t be play in the next round. When I saw this I was confused, and so left it out of my discussion about episodes eight to ten in order for Yusei’s point to be elaborated on further in the subsequent episodes — which it was in a very wonderful way.

In episode eleven it is revealed that Yusei said this to get a rise out of Komano. Yusei wanted Komano to get angry or excited about this and insist on playing in this next round, which he didn’t, which upset Yusei very much. Yusei’s rude comment about Komano not playing was a ruse, because Yusei actually really cares about Komano and doesn’t want to see him fall into a support role; Yusei doesn’t want to see Komano lose his fire for a match. The thing that Yusei doesn’t seem to understand about Komano is that his passion for karuta is so much different from the rest of the group’s. To Komano, karuta is a puzzle of numbers — probabilities, scores, and percentages that he has to use to win the game — and so data is one of the things integral to Komano’s play style. To Komano, watching matches is just as important as playing, because the more you know about the game and about your opponent, the more you have to use against them.

Yusei doesn’t see how Komano loves karuta out of a misunderstanding of Komano though, Yusei is blind to Komano’s specific passion for the game because in Komano Yusei sees a pattern of behavior during nationals that harkens back to how he felt right before he stopped playing karuta. Yusei stopped being passionate about karuta, and thus lost his ability to play.

One of the things that I’ve loved about this show is how it never limits itself. It would be easy to have a bunch of bland cardboard cutouts as opponents, or use run-of-the-mill high school students as members of the karuta club, or even paint Shinobu as nothing more than an obstacle for Chihaya to overcome, but Chihayafuru is better than that — something that episode eleven really reminded me. Honestly, I give Yuki Suetsugu props for consistently going there and exploring characters that other shows wouldn’t give a second glance at.

Now if we can just get some more focus on Kana and/or Hanano!

illegenes:  As Steven has already covered Komano and Yusei’s relationship, I’m going to talk a little about Episode 12, which sets the stage for the major Ace vs Ace battle that’s to be covered for the next three episodes. Three episodes! It’s a long and arduous match, so it’s important to point out how some things stand out more than others. The main one? It’s Megumu, the Ace of the opposing team in this week’s episode, who is calm, determined, and very good at what she does.

To be honest though? I’m actually not a fan of  Megumu, which is interesting because she’s the first Chihayafuru opponent I haven’t fallen head over heels with at first sight. It took me a while to figure out why this was the case – Megumu has backstory, she’s good at what she can do, and she cares about her teammates (and vice versa). She’s pretty, she loves karuta, and even somewhat admires Chihaya (or isn’t obnoxious about her game). Why then, was I so bothered and irritated with her character?

Faith in the Ace; or the topic that sets up the stage for this intense battle.

The truth is, Megumu doesn’t actually have a voice or point of view of her own. Her passion and drive is molded by other people’s perspectives, as we see with her Coach, who narrates about how Megumu nearly won the West Representative match last year when Chihaya was forced to forfeit.  Megumu was extremely good at karuta, and everyone cheered her on to become the Queen, but all of that stopped when she went against Yamamoto (whom we met in Season 1), who beat her pretty badly. And ever since then, she’s been training, and yet we don’t see any sort of intense passion in her play. Whereas Chihaya takes every game seriously and as a step toward learning more about herself, others, and the game of karuta, Megumu is simply…there. She feels like a stock character that doesn’t seem to have a real personality, and it bugs me, because here we are with the most intense match of Nationals yet, and Chihaya has progressed so much, but this is the person she’s up against? It feels sort of disappointing.

Not that this takes away from the match itself being any less intense – as usual, I was on the edge of my seat, biting my nails, waiting to see who would gain the upper hand. So far, it seems constantly in flux, which is great, because with nearly 30 episodes of card battling, Chihayafuru has become a little predictable when it comes to seeing who will win. Usually the method would be to expose the opponent’s  history, with Chihaya learning a general understanding of the said opponent’s skills, and then battling her way through the finish, but here, I honestly can’t see a clear path as to who will win or not. Both players have obviously progressed since last year, and each has a unique set of skills that allow them dominate some cards over others, but it’s because these two are so evenly matched that the game relies more on mental will rather than physical strength. In the end, it doesn’t matter if Megumu can get certain cards faster than Chihaya, or if Chihaya can rely both on accuracy and reflex. If we have learnt this arc that team contribution matters (which is clearly shown when Kana tells Chihaya to relax, which then allows her to get a card), then we can assume that this entire game of Megumu vs Chihaya isn’t just about them; but rather how much they have progressed due to team effort, as well as the other matches around them. In any case, it’s proving to be one hell of a match, and I look forward to see how this all wraps up in the end!

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