The Megumu vs Chihaya match comes to its breathtaking and final moments as we finally witness the meaning of what it really means to be an Ace.
So far, there have been valid complaints about this season’s Chihayafuru, which wildly differs from the first season. For starters, the first half fo Chihayafuru season 1 was about introducing the characters and their motivations to play karuta in the first place. The second half was about these characters finding their own weaknesses and strengths in the way they play karuta, leaving the last couple of episodes as a sort of open-ending conclusion for the value of karuta and the impact it had on their lives. The result? A very well-balanced show that prioritized strong character development over plot development.
Season 2 seems to be a bit of a turn then, though not for the worse. As far as I understand it, Season 2 inverses the balance, now prioritizing plot development over characterization, as only 2 new characters have been introduced this time. However, it’s important to note that character development hasn’t vanished entirely – it plays a central theme throughout, as proven in this arc of the Nationals, where it’s not so much about individual talent as it is about team contribution. I personally think that’s an excellent way to develop the story and focus on the characters at the same time without becoming hackneyed and repetitive. That said, the formula for winning or losing battles has become a bit noticeable by now, and yet, this Nationals Arc once again proves that the twists in Chihayafuru are as surprising as they are well-reasoned; I for one, was not expecting Chihaya to lose this match against Megumu.
We open to where we left off: Chihaya finally finds her own momentum and grabs a couple of cards from Megumu’s side. The victory is short-lived however, as what was once just a controlled battle becomes a passionate struggle to wound each other’s honor and grab the other’s favorite and most prized cards. And in turn, each one makes a mistake. Chihaya tries to go for three consecutive wins, and nearly loses every time. Megumu tries to keep her 10+ card lead intact, but consistently underestimates Chihaya’s potential. And so, we, the audience, are rooted in a rally between two experienced players, struggling to reach the top. Chihaya’s drive, no doubt, is fueled by that singular thought: to become better. To become the Queen, and to finally beat her rival, Shinobu Wakamiya. But it’s only in these episodes that we learn two very important things: what drives Megumu, and how Chihaya and Megumu are different from one another.
We know what pushes Chihaya to reach the top, but these two episodes also show us Megumu’s side – not an uncommon thing, as the show has done a great job of showing how human and powerful the other side can be. But interestingly enough, Megumu lacks an actual reason to become a Queen. In fact, she doesn’t even want to become Queen. Megumu only wants to play karuta just so she can keep her friends happy, which is odd because she’s so good and had the potential of improving and reaching higher standards. That said, it’s only when Chihaya starts getting cards that Megumu states that she “has” to win because she doesn’t want to disappoint her team. On one level, we could understand this as devotion to the team, but it’s only towards the end that Megumu finds that all along, she wanted to win for herself, and that she does want to become Queen. It’s a weird transition, and I can’t say it’s the best I’ve seen in Chihayafuru as a whole – in fact, I’d say Megumu is a pretty weak character – but I am glad that she did find a reason in the end. With that in mind, the bigger question still remains: if both Aces are so passionately balanced, what makes one better than the other? Why does Miyazawa win in the end? It all comes back to that one word: team.
Our team is supporting Chihaya through any means. Whether it be through Kana’s comforting touch, Taichi’s battle cries, or Tsutomu’s final moments of the match which leads to their win – Chihayafuru consistently reminds us that this is a team battle, even though the stars are Chihaya and Megumu. And frankly, that’s what the Akashi team lacks in the end. Chihaya’s bond with her team is a shared one, whereas Megumu only relies on her team for comfort, but not for passion. The teams are equal in their fighting spirit and desire to win, but I think it ultimately boils down to the fact that Team Mizusawa’s teamwork is balanced on both sides. Chihaya improves with the help of her fellow teammates, and her teammates are inspired by Chihaya’s greediness to become better players. That bond has carried them to Nationals twice now, and it’s that bond that allows them to secure the final win, even though it comes down to a last draw of cards (something most people call luck, but as Tsutomu says, it’s more of instinct and guts) and thus, Miyazawa’s win and Chihaya’s loss seems reasonable and proper.
Meanwhile: Arata and Shinobu’s adventures continue! To be honest, I was more engaged in these comedy breaks than, let’s say, the creeper/stalker trio of boys who liked to capture Megumu’s move, but it wasn’t just because the dynamic between Arata and Shinobu is somewhat hilarious. It’s also because these are well-spent moments that flesh out these two characters. It’s enough for me to say that Arata has come a long way from where he was in the first season: alone, impassionate and lost. Here, he’s come to root for his friends and realize the importance of team battles. On the other hand, Shinobu continues to underestimate team matches’ importance, trying to convince Arata that individual matches are the only ones that matter. Instead of portraying Shinobu as the elusive and formidable Queen that we’ve seen so often however, the show almost puts her in a light of pity. She’s incredibly alone with no one to actually play with since she’s so strong (it’s here that I realize that Shinobu is very much like Nanami from Katanagatari) and thus, she only has the cards to connect with. But as we’ve seen, everyone is desperately trying to reach her place, so I have hopes that one day, she’ll realize that karuta isn’t just about winning or the cards – it’s about the people you play with and against.
It’s been a heavy three episodes that have had me catching my breath, biting my fingernails, and licking my lips, but we’re not even done yet. The Semis are over and our players have barely any time to rest before they come face to face with their final opponent: Fujisaki. Chihaya is up against the mysterious pink haired girl, whoever she is, so I’m betting a good amount of multi syllable cards that the tension has just begun – we’re in for yet another great match here, and I look forward to see who secures the victory.