Let’s first talk about the story of these two episodes. Most notably, Arata. The creators used him for a story that involved two completely unrelated characters and at the start, I really had to wonder why they had to spend an episode on them. It could have easily be omitted… or so I thought. But even then, it looked like a bit of an odd choice to spend an episode on when you look at just the premise: Arata almost gets into trouble when he breaks the rules. It’s this kind of hijinks side story that is often used to fill up time or something.
But holy crap, the execution. These two episodes were roller-coaster rides. These two episodes just kept going with the mood switches and plot twists that just went completely against my expectations. At the start I really wondered what the heck the creators were thinking with such a random subplot. Then Arata nearly got expelled, and I wondered why on earth the creators would be including this. Wasn’t it in the benefit of everything if he just ended up playing? What are you doing here creating “pointless” extra drama? And then the Queen randomly appeared from out of nowhere, and I understood completely. The climax for that subplo really surprised me, but it paid off incredibly well. And in the meantime it did a brilliant job of fleshing everyone out: Arata’s feelings about not competing in the team matches, the Queen’s feelings over Arata, the headaches that everyone is having with the King. Not to mention how Arata’s shadow has been constantly looming over Chihaya and Satoru.
And then, there was the match against that ultra high-class school. That was pretty much one of the best told karuta matches against gimmick teams. The opponents were really interesting, but what really made it stand out is how it was brought, making clever use of how it appears to lump everyone together, only to do the complete opposite. It’s the kind of match that the team was bound to win due to the other team being completely insignificant, and yet Chihaya’s win just felt so incredibly good. The creators really cleverly just focused on one match: Chihaya’s. At the same time it just casually ignored that she pretty much was the only one in big trouble by the opponents’ playstyle, not to mention that she was up against their best player who really was a complete genius in terms of memorization.
The creators just kept throwing different twists and turns to the match. They gave some good characterization of the guy, Chihaya’s mix of admiration and fear was hilarious, the Queen’s random appearance was also perfectly timed and the moment when there were only six cards left and Chihaya’s strengths started to show: it was glorious.
Rating: 6/8 (Awesome)