Chihayafuru season 2, episode 19 brings us the end of the National high school Karuta team championship. I know there are some who were upset that this was a three episode long game, but it is obviously the climax of the series, so it had to be one of the longest games offered.
Certainly there are still some things that need to be wrapped up before the end of the season, but if one thinks back to the very first episode of the first season, the show has been motivated by Chihaya’s desire to play Karuta with her friends. The game of Karuta is really played one-on-one, so the only real chance to experience the camaraderie of team play is while they are in high school. Everything from the very first time we saw Chihaya in the very first episode (hanging up a sign to advertise the Karuta club), the flashback to her experience playing with Arata and Taichi as a team, her insistence on getting new members this season (when everyone else thought she should be practicing for the Queen tournament), even her willingness in this match to play with a damaged finger, knowing full well that continuing to play in the team match would make it unlikely that she could play the following day in the individual tournament.
I’m not going to deconstruct the match. It was interesting, but I have been wrapped up in this match for so long (they actually started the Naniwa poem 4 weeks ago), that I am ready to set all the tension aside. Instead my mind is lingering over a 10th century poem that Kanade explains during the match.
I am like a boatman without a rudder
Drifting from the mouth of the Yura River into the sea.
Where this love will take me, I do not know.
– Sone no Yoshitada
The poem is associated in the episode with Taichi, who is a pretty remarkable character. He has gone from spoiled brat, that I would have enjoyed punching in the face, to a pretty decent person, who has an unrequited love for Chihaya. But even more than his possibly doomed romance, this poem seems to be about another aspect of his character.
Usually Taichi struggles to achieve his dream. In Karuta he is willing to go to other cities to compete so he can gain a class-A ranking. Fate, however, hasn’t been kind. Earlier the series took some time to point out that despite all of his hard work, the one thing he is lacking in a pinch is luck. Since he doesn’t believe in luck, he takes his losses as personal failings. In this match, however, we see Taichi try to change. For once, he relinquishes responsibility. He realizes that there is nothing else he can do, and thus, he becomes like a boat without a rudder: taken be the current.
I still think it is possible for Taichi to play well in the individual tournament and earn his class-A ranking, but I don’t fully understand the rules on class advancement. We have about 5 episodes left, so there is still time for one more substantial arc before this series is over. How are the producers going to wrap things up?
Chihayafuru season 2 episode 18 is a continuation of the final match of the high school team Karuta championship. There was enough give and take and enough tension to keep me thoroughly engaged (and anxious to see the conclusion), but as intense as that story was, there was another, fascinating story taking place out on the sidelines. Shinobu Wakamiya, the reigning Queen of Karuta watches the match between Chihaya and Rion, and a series of emotions washes over her.
Outside the room, Arata Wataya provides some explanation: people who are deeply involved in Karuta might view the individual matches as the real game, but without the team matches and all of the other ancillary activities, Karuta would die out.
Meanwhile Shinobu, a consummate loner, inwardly finds the source of her awkwardness. Instead of helping her fit in, instead of merely being a consolation for a lonely girl, her Karuta has isolated her from other people. She doesn’t like team matches, but not just because they are a waste of time … not just because she doesn’t get along well with others … she was molded into a loner by adults who wanted to prevent her natural desire to have friends from diminishing her killer instinct.
I have mentioned before that “shinobu” is another word for ninja. Shinobu’s playing style is described by Chihaya as “silent”, and several times in the past few episodes they used Shinobu’s ability to suddenly appear beside people to comic effect. Now there is another way that Shinobu is a character that references popular notions of ninjas: she was socially isolated as a child as part of her training to become the Karuta assassin she is today.
I’m not going to speculate on what will happen in the individual tournament. There is a very real chance that Chihaya won’t be able to play against Shinobu, which is the one thing I was DYING to see this season. … I just can’t think about that right now.
Episode 57 of Space Brothers (Uchuu Kyodai) saw the team working on their entry in the Comeback Competition. Up to now the Comeback arc has focussed mostly on the personal challenges confronting Nanba and his fellow astronaut candidates (in particular Pico, the unhelpful engineer adviser that was assigned to their team). This episode, however, provided a narrative in which the team confronted technical challenges and overcame them with engineering solutions. The result was entertaining and atypical for the anime-viewing experience. While this series has provided some very good episodes that focussed on personal challenges (the self-doubt someone can face when they make a mid-life career change, for example), I am particularly glad that we got an episode out of it that tackled this sort of objective obstacle.
In fact I would go so far as to say that this episode was the sort of thing I was hoping to get out of Robotics;Notes, but never did. SpaceBros has proven that a robotics competition can provide a compelling narrative without resorting to secret organizations, unreal technology, mysterious powers and so forth. We should have more shows like this, in which a group of people peacefully resolve a challenge. The process by which people act as a team to solve a problem can be an interesting story, and it still offers the opportunity for characterization, humor, setting, and so forth. Another recent show that made the process by which a group of people reasoned towards a solution the substance of the narrative was Hyouka. More of this please!
May 6, 2013
Red Data Girl (RDG) episode 8 was really good, and I can’t wait to see the full resolution version. The show looks just as good as I had expected, but the story is much more interesting than I had guessed it would be. One really good thing about having the low-res versions come out in advance is that I get to watch each episode at least twice, and thus get a little more out of each one.
Episode 17 of season 2 of Chihayafuru officially begins the final match of the National High School Karuta tournament. Mizusawa is playing a team of all A-class players, except for Rion Yamashiro, Chihaya’s opponent. This episode covered quite a number of interesting things: there was backstory on Rion, information about team Fujisaki’s training under coach Sakurazawa, a lot about how the reader of the poems affects the play by those on the tatami, Chihaya’s injury (!), Mizusawa’s resolve, and queen Shinobu’s curiosity is finally piqued.
I won’t bother going into all the little details, even though many of the little details are quite interesting. This was another episode of Chihayafuru in which I really felt the strength of this show is the way it develops multiple simultaneous stories. There are some who believe that the show is better when it focusses on just a couple of characters, but I disagree. I like the way the main characters are a part of a larger world. Many other shows have main characters that nhabit a world of generic background characters, but I think the trials and triumphs of side characters like Yuusei “Niku-man” Nishida give this show depth. If it were merely about Chihaya trying to become number 1, it would be a simple variation on the shounen narrative. Instead the continued presence of side-character Kanade Oe as gradually developed a lore about the poems, and the readers, which was utilized to great effect in this episode.
In terms of events, the two most significant were Chihaya’s injury and the ninja queen finally growing interested by the gameplay in the team tournament. I hope Chihaya’s injury doesn’t prevent her from playing in the individual tournament. I think a team victory for Mizusawa would be sweet, but more than anything I want to see Chihaya play against Shinobu. Speaking of Shinobu, we have confirmation that she remembers Chihaya as a good player, so we can say that the build-up to their match is under way. I really want to see them go at it head to head.
Bonus Service: Coach Sakurazawa
Chihayafuru s2 ep15 ~ if I don’t accept my punishment after breaking the rules, I’ll be incurring the wrath of the gods
April 20, 2013
Chihayafuru season 2 episode 15 was an extraordinary thing. Essentially nothing happened. The entire episode must have been close to real time in the moments between the semi-final and final matches of the National High School Tournament at the Omi Jingu. A lesser show could not have pulled this off. It isn’t uncommon for a Sports anime to have a comic interlude episode between matches, or to have a build-up episode that sets the stakes, introduces new opponents, or difficulties the protagonists must hurdle. The difference, I would say is the way this felt seamlessly connected to the rest of the show, instead of being an interlude episode.
April 17, 2013
The Spring 2013 season is in full swing, and I have enjoyed watching first episodes as usual. As usual some shows are utter rubbish, but it can be fun watching an episode to see how bad it turned. And as usual I have been watching some older shows as well, including a rewatch of Hyouka. I’ve written about Hyouka on multiple occasions before, so I don’t want to rehash that, but I must point out that the series stands up to a re-watch because of four factors: 1) the amazng job KyoAni did on animation, 2) a group of characters that were all quite interesting and endearing, 3) some unusual plot lines, and 4) a nicely detailed setting.
Of these factors, I hadn’t given much thought to Hyouka’s setting on my initial watch. The series is set in the small village of Kamiyama (“Spirit Mountain”) nestled in amongst several national parks. The remote setting adds an interesting element to the series, because episodes examine things like Shinto practices from an insider perspective.
I have enjoyed watching some of the new series, such as Red Data Girl, and Chihayafuru continues to impress, but re-watching Hyouka was far from wasted effort.