Chihayafuru 14 ~ her hand slices through the air like a needle
January 11, 2012
I was already looking forward to this episode because there has been some interesting build up. Chihaya has wanted to be the Queen, the strongest female Karuta player, since she was in grade school. As exciting as some of the team mechanics were, episode 14 of Chihayafuru finally returns us to one-on-one matches, and the ultimate rival appears. I was on edge almost the entire episode, and for the first time (and in the exact right game) a match isn’t concluded before the end of the episode — cliff hanger! In many respects this episode was all about the reigning Queen, so she will be the focus of this post as well.
In my opinion, the Queen is an excellent character. They did some build up, so we knew she was good at Karuta, but this episode managed to show a number of contradictory sides of her, which made her intriguing. To start off, we have her formal introduction. Sudou, the captain of the team that represented Tokyo several years in a row is on hand to provide commentary, such as her being the youngest Queen in Karuta history, and that she made A class when she was still in the fourth grade. But her comments about how tough an opponent she will be are then undercut by comments from the crowd, saying that she has the “fashion sense of a rock”. This kind of complex characterization is one of the incredible strengths of Chihayafuru.
There are several other examples of this complexity. Chihaya, for example, is a wonderful combination of nobility and goofy dork. Another great example is Taichi, whose failings and strengths are both constantly on display.
One interesting aspect of the Queen’s character is that, upon first entering the room, she walked straight up to Sudou, a character who said in an earlier episode that he enjoys toying with pretty girls. She then proceeds to compliment the strength of his Karuta, while pointing out that his team lost the regional championship this year. In other words she is incredibly confident, and possibly a little vicious. Then we have this …
In the midst of everything, the two opponents almost bond over their chosen character T-shirts. Chihaya realizes that the Queen is wearing a rare Snow-maru T-shirt. Snow-maru is a character that wears a fez to cover his top braid. ???
But this turns out to be only a momentary diversion in the midst of a heated battle.
And here we get to another interesting aspect of the Queen, her name and the nature of her Karuta. Shinobu actually means “stealth” in Japanese, and is a form of the word that is often used instead of Ninja (Shinobi). Meanwhile Queen Shinobu’s playing is so fast that it can’t be seen. Chihaya calls it “Silent Karuta”.
I like the way they dealt with this in the anime. In addition to effective use of changes of tempo (that is the actual card taking is very fast, and then there is a slow motion tumble of the card), the teams adviser and Taichi use a video camera to do slow motion replays to try to figure out what happened after cards are played.
This entire match had me bunched up in knots. I kept feeling the tension, and had to keep reminding my body to stop clenching up. What this show needed was a real nail-biter of a game, and this was the perfect opportunity. Chihaya is up against the Queen, and she is losing badly. And to top it all off, we have a cliff-hanger. Is Chihaya going to be able to hold on? We’ll have to tune in next week to find out.