This was one of those episodes that really caught my attention. It played with a common trope in fiction: the Underdog. With these kinds of competitive series, the underdog is a lot of times the focus: the people who you would not expect to win, yet prove to be surprisingly skillful. They’re very often main characters.
In Chihayafuru though, the characters aren’t underdogs. Perhaps the juniors, but all of the seniors have this undoubted talent, and stand out like they will get very far. And in this episode, they had to fight a group of underdogs. A group of players who only started recently, and yet who made a a huge improvement thanks to a very passionate coach who has regrets over never reaching his own goals.
And I love how they gave the cast a challenge, especially Taichi had a difficult time, and his opponent would have fitted perfectly in any underdog team. I also lvoe the way they were announced: completely out of left field. Taichi has always had his problems, but this was a big moment for him to realize that he thinks too much. In this way he really needs to take an example of Chihaya, whose entire mind is filled with nothing but Karuta. In that area, they really are the complete opposites.
One detail I really loved: Taichi finally dares to ask for a towel, and Chihaya immediately leaps over Tsutomu to give him one. No dialogue, no animation even. The creators just kept focusing on the same shot for what felt like ages. That was simple, but made a ton of impact.
Beyond that this episode also showed how important good readers are in order to keep people on their focus: a different rythm must make things more difficult for the seasoned player who is always used to the same timing.
Rating: 6/8 (Awesome)