Chihayafuru 21 ~ humans aren’t supposed to be perfect
February 28, 2012
Maybe humans aren’t supposed to be perfect, but Chihayafuru clearly is. This series will go down in my book as the most solid series that I have ever seen. I have a tendency to love anime that show brilliance, even if they can be a bit uneven. I’m willing to overlook some flaws, because I tend to think of that as a sign of Art pushed to its limit. And yet here is Chihayafuru, a series that delivers a compelling viewing experience episode after episode. To me the pace has never once dragged. I have been sucked in to this show from the beginning of episode 1, and each week something remarkable is delivered. My only concern is that this wonderful experience will end.
Now, I’m not saying that Chihayafuru is the most mind-blowing show I have ever seen. I still have a soft spot for shows like Mawaru PenguinDrum and Tatami Galaxy that delight with crazy ideas, even if there are times when they go a bit off the rails. Instead Chihayafuru is consistent — the amazing part is that it is so consistently GOOD.
The dreaded exams that everyone was studying for in the last episode are over the second episode 21 opens. Attention naturally turns directly to Karuta. We get a funny mini-story in which Taichi Mashima trains himself while “reading” for the other club members. This causes Yuusei Nishida to go ballistic. Taichi is making a similar mistake to the one Chihaya made before. His strength is memorization, so he continues to develop it, but what he really needs to do is improve his weaknesses, such as his speed. There were two things that made this section so great; first the subtle way they revealed that Taichi was calling all 100 cards from memory, and second Nishida’s sincere concern for his friend.
This was followed up immediately by a funny and touching scene in which the club’s adviser shouts from a window that Chihaya somehow didn’t fail her exams. While Kanade feels embarrassed for Chihaya, the follow-up comment from the Empress, wishing good luck at the Eastern Meijin Qualifier gets Chihaya all teary and she thanks Tsutomu for his tutoring. The whole scene is over quickly. It manages to show the development that has occurred in the various relationships, but it just takes about 40 SECONDS. It also flows smoothly from the previous scene between Mashima and Nishida and into the following scene at the Qualifier.
The rest of the episode is the setup and execution of Chihaya’s first round in the Qualifier. This turns out to be an interesting match, where Chihaya gets to show (much as she did on her exams) that she has been working hard to improve. As Harada-sensei puts it, she has a new weapon to use for when she needs to face a truly formidable opponent like Queen Shinobu. This remark seems appropriate to Taichi as well, who hopefully will take Nishida’s advice and develop a new weapon of his own.
Part of what made this match memorable was that Chihaya’s opponent was very likable and by no means a pushover. Plus a couple of things happened to hamstring Chihaya going into the match. Her concentration was blown by Akito Sudou, and Chihaya is following Harada-sensei’s advice to abandon her speed. With all of that, Chihaya finds herself up against a prodigy. Well, sorry Ririka, but you’re going down!
Chihaya managed to “accidentally” bet Akito Sudou that whichever of them lost first would have to shave their head. I hope Chihaya doesn’t have to shave her head. She looks great with that long hair. Besides, I’m hoping to see Chihaya face off against the Queen, Shinobu Wakamiya, or even Arata Wataya. We only have four more episodes. Please don’t let everything end with Chihaya losing and having to cut all of her hair off!