Posted by SuperWooper on 7 November 2019 with categories: Chihayafuru, Currently Watching:

Raise your hand if you thought it would be Chihaya vs. Taichi in the finals of this tournament. Okay, manga readers, you can put your hands down.

The odds were against them; a former queen, a sadistic Class A beast, and a Meijin hopeful stood between our heroes and the finals of the Yoshino tournament. Sure, Hiroshi scooped to Chihaya in the semis so that she could get some sleep, but defeating Inokuma wasn’t easy for her. And Taichi’s path to the championship match was nothing short of harrowing, so he’s probably going to be wiped out during next week’s episode. Nevertheless, they made it, and their upcoming showdown will likely have a seismic impact on their relationship. Even if you set aside their rivalry and Taichi’s infatuation, one of them is about to win a tournament with dozens of Class A players in attendance. In the immortal words of Eri Ninamori, “That’s pretty good, right?”

Let’s talk about Chihaya first. The thing I loved most about her match was the variety of angles from which the action was “filmed.” Some were directly overhead, while some used a transparent tatami mat to give us an underground perspective. Others were profile shots lined up with the middle of the playing field, putting both women as close to the middle of the action as possible. Inokuma received a lot of close-ups with her face to the far left or right of the frame, with the blank space indicating the direction in which she’d just swiped a card. In all of these instances, her speed was on display – the very same trait her opponent is known for. Despite this overlap in playstyle, though, Chihaya’s rival switch was never flipped. Rather, she found common ground with Inokuma as the match went on, agreeing with her on multiple calls and fangirling at the sight of her son in a Daddy Bear shirt. In fact, Chihaya’s lack of nerves against this former Queen may be a result of her obsession with the current Queen. In her mind, Shinobu is the one and only obstacle to being the best karuta player in the world.

Even more surprising than Chihaya’s victory are Taichi’s back-to-back underdog wins. The match against Murao gets the short stick due to a couple detours midway through episode 5, but the game against Sudo highlighted my favorite attribute of Taichi’s karuta, and that’s his unparalleled memorization. Finally, we got one of those trademark shots with Taichi in the center, cards and poem text surrounding him on all sides, as he analyzes probabilities and card placements like a machine. The kid is a bona fide genius, and it’s those smarts that allowed him to keep things close with Sudo. He may have won by gambling on the final reading, but even reaching that position against a much more experienced player is quite an accomplishment. Chihaya reached an identical last card situation against Inokuma, as well, and the moment that both Shiranami kids doubled down on their aggressive style reinforced this arc’s emphasis on specific karuta societies.

The spotlight was snatched away from Arata in these episodes, as his match against Hiroshi was the first of the quarterfinal contents to finish. It’s one thing to lose before reaching the top 4, but to have your opponent immediately concede his next match has got to hurt. And then to watch your senpai lose the other semifinal match, eliminating your society from a chance at the gold? The Arata Alliance is in shambles right now. With less attention being given to Mr. Fukui, some background players got extra time to shine. My favorite was undoubtedly Chihaya’s mom, who runs a cell phone to her older daughter’s photoshoot while worrying about finances and what to make for dinner. Her appearance provides a break from the show’s nonstop karuta focus, but it also provides a link to Chihaya’s hakata, which her mother bought for her. I could be reading too deeply, but her earlier consciousness of her career plans may have been carried on in Chihaya’s appreciation for her expensive formal wear. Hobbies cost money, after all, and making a living playing karuta is next to impossible – but if she wins in next week’s final match, Chihaya will be one step closer to making that dream a reality.

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