Posted by SuperWooper on 31 October 2019 with categories: Chihayafuru, Currently Watching:

Chihayafuru’s cast of characters is its biggest asset, and these two episodes leave no room for debate on the matter. Plenty of sports series can build impressive rosters over multiple seasons, but how many of them can bounce between simultaneous matches in the same room with this degree of naturality? How many anime series (of any genre) can incorporate significant dialogue from upwards of 15 characters in the span of 45 minutes, each of whom make you smile when they burst onto the screen? How many shows with tumultuous shipping wars at the heart of their fandoms can make all three participants in a love triangle so interesting? “Not many” is the answer to all three questions. I was satisfied with last week’s premiere, but these two were on another level, thanks to the fantastic appearances by non-Mizusawa, non-Fujisaki competitors. And we’ve got another double episode coming next week, too! What have I done to deserve this anime bounty?

There’s drama on multiple fronts as episode 2 unfolds. The Mizusawa senior class trip is scheduled for the same weekend as the Meijin and Queen qualifiers, Chihaya is anxious about when her hand will heal, and she’s thinking about her future more concretely than ever before. This last concern is raised after her literature teacher presents their class with a compilation of their tanka poetry – an assignment Chihaya struggled with near the end of season 2. Some students tease their friends about the contents of their poems (including Porky, who notes that hers is about karuta), but Fukusaku-sensei gently rebukes them. “Learn the pain of creating something. And once you’ve learned it, resolve yourself to show lenience to others.” Speaking as a high-minded doofus who criticizes anime on the internet for free, I felt like this line applied directly to me. It would have been hard to feel any other way, given the close-up on his shadowed face and the hush that fell over the class as he spoke.

Chihaya was clearly impressed with his perspective, as well, because she’s now eyeing “teacher” as a potential career. She wants to be an advisor for a karuta club, naturally, but given the effort she put into creating Mizusawa’s own club back in season 1, I’m certain that his words resonated with her. It’s a sign of an oncoming shift in narrative focus that the protagonist’s sports injury is resolved before the question of her future plans. She’s not the only character with new interests, however, as Arata is looking to establish a karuta club of his own. His stuttering shyness during his pitch at a school assembly was cute as hell, and the show put a fun comedic spin on the resulting lack of interest from the student body. Nevertheless, this is a great evolution for his character, as it stems directly from his experience at last season’s team tournament. Though he once considered individual achievements to be the only ones of any importance, he’s begun to come out of his shell. He even told Chihaya that she looked pretty in her hakama in episode 3. Somebody call the stud police!

Episode 3 is the one that features a dozen friendly faces from the series’ past, all of whom come together for the Yoshino tournament. Before I talk about any of them, however, I’ve gotta give props to the stories for each of the Mizusawa kids. Porky and Desktomu both face much stronger opponents than they’re accustomed to, and while the former plays a close match, the latter gets blown out in his first Class B tournament. The sense of post-loss frustration is something Chihayafuru has been able to capture from the beginning, but this time there’s a small redemption for each character. Porky is able to exhaust one of the frontrunners in Sudo, creating a weakness for one of his friends to exploit in a later round. Desktomu is flooded with shame after his defeat, having previously declared his intent to win the whole thing and advance to Class A, but Kana’s faith in his abilities is a victory in itself (especially since he’s got a big old crush on her). And then there’s Taichi.

Taichi’s recent improvement and competitive drive have put him on equal footing with Chihaya, but he’s still hungry to prove himself. As a result, he’s stuck in his own head, and acts like a dick towards Arata during their conversation at the Yoshino tournament. I really love the way this scene unfolds; it begins with Taichi on his own, brings Arata into the picture and drives a wedge between them, then follows Taichi as walks back to the karuta hall alone, before throwing him into the lion’s den of Class A players. The transitions between these parts of the scene are perfectly bridged by his internal monologue and a precarious piano track, representing his wavering emotions. Arata’s mention of the team tournament brings out Taichi’s feelings of jealousy – to him, team competitions are the one arena where he’s the better player, and one of the things he shares with Chihaya that Arata can’t touch. Now that exclusivity is threatened, and Taichi can’t stop himself from making light of his friend’s interest. He admonishes himself for his rudeness immediately afterward, but it clearly affects his play in the round of 16.

All things considered, the main trio and secondary Mizusawa players get nice storylines in these episodes. But the icing on the cake, which is actually more like the cake’s entire second layer, is the appearance of so many familiar faces in episode 3. Sudo the resident sadist appears in two separate matches, and his arrogance is depicted with grace, as usual. I love that Chihayafuru incorporates so many playstyles and mentalities regarding karuta, and his is one of my favorites, in part because it’s so satisfying when he’s taken to the limit of his ability. Harada-sensei and the heads of the other karuta societies banter and brag about how many of their players will advance to the final rounds. Sakurazawa serves as a crucial component in two conversations, including one with Haruka Inokuma, the former Queen returning from maternity leave. Their rivalry spanned half a decade, but Inokuma always came out on top, establishing her as a major hurdle for our girl Chihaya (those two will face off next week). There were too many other guest appearances to name, but they were all fabulous. This show’s construction of such a deep-running karuta universe is much appreciated, and I can’t wait to return to it next week.

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