Chihayafuru 17 ~ Speed isn’t enough
February 1, 2012
Episode 17 of Chihayafuru didn’t really have a theme, but somehow the episode rose above being a mere series of vignettes. Development was shown in several club members, or at least they have a direction, a clear goal that they lacked earlier in the series, even if they are still struggling on their way to achieve it. I liked, in particular, how Chihaya is aided, not by the Mashima or Nishida, the two next strongest members of the club, but rather by Ooe and Komano. It also gives us a clear focus for up-coming episodes.
The episode opens with a brief, amusing story showing the Karuta club competing in the relay event on Sports Day. Despite the publicity of winning the event, the club is unsuccessful getting new members, as anyone curious enough to check out a meeting is scared off by the reality of competitive Karuta.
Mashima and Nishida have been busy preparing a schedule of Karuta events throughout Japan. This is critical because each member of the club needs to win a tournament at some level to move up. Of most significance, however is the Master/Queen Qualifier, which comes up in October. This event is critical for Chihaya, as she wants a rematch with the Queen, but it also is critical for Taichi, if he is to face off against Arata Wataya, who, presumably, will win the Western Qualifier. Unfortunately for Taichi, he needs to qualify for the qualifier first, by making it to A-rank. That means winning a tournament before October.
This gives a lot of structure to what is about to come. There was a sense, when the queen match ended that a rematch between Chihaya and the reigning queen was inevitable, but what would come in the meantime? Training sessions? Suddenly the schedule seems packed, and at least one character is already feeling the pressure of time.
As an aside, Taichi also dumps his girlfriend. We haven’t seen her since one of the earliest episodes, but it was clear from the start that he would have no problem dumping her for Chihaya. With all of the time he spent on the Karuta club, he clearly wasn’t showing her any attention. The rest of the Karuta club members are shocked at how quickly and dispassionately he can conclude the relationship, but what is really interesting is that his thoughts are on, not just the Karuta club, but on how he can win an A-rank position, so he can challenge Arata.
There were a lot of little threads of difference stories this time (even a Retro-kun cameo), but what really impressed me was the way the junior members assisted Chihaya. Chihaya has been obsessing about becoming faster since her match with the queen, but Harada-sensei, observing her game, says she needs to stop focussing on her speed. This confounds Chihaya, but Tsutomu and Kanade both step forward with constructive criticisms of her game.
Tsutomu gives a very statistics-based analysis of her play over the past few months, to show how he may not be able to win, but has a strategy that gets him to snatch points from her. If someone else uses the same strategy, who also is a better player, she would be in trouble.
For her part Kanade called out Chihaya on her tendency to fault unnecessarily. To Chihaya the differences between two cards can be a tiny matter of a changed syllable, but to Kanade the poems each have a distinct meaning and history. There is no question that Chihaya can learn from both of these junior members, since developing a stronger game on the basis of something other than speed will still get the benefit of her speed as well. I’m sure this is what Harada-sensei was driving at: by only polishing her greatest strength, she is losing out on opportunities to improve her game in all sorts of other ways.
We have a strong sense of what needs to be done now. Taichi is desperate to achieve the A-rank, so he can compete in the Master/Queen Qualifier. Chihaya is also aiming to improve her game in advance of the Qualifier. Nishida is in much the same boat as Taichi, eager to achieve A-rank, which means he must compete in tournaments as well. I would also like to see Tsutomu and Kanade advance in rank. Honestly, Tsutomu seems to put a lot of work into his game, and it would be nice to see that hard work pay off for him.