Chihayafuru 23 ~ and the rest of us will spend the next year as losers

March 14, 2012

Chihaya isn't the only one crying this episode.

How will a show that has thrilled and charmed handle one of the final episodes? By breaking our hearts. Episode 23 of Chihayafuru continues the punishingly bad news for our favorite Karuta players. There are also moments of comedy and kyaa, but for the most part we get to watch as every character we can pin some hope on gets pushed under. Karuta is a harsh mistress.

Sudou has a unique method for cheering people up.

After her loss last week, Chihaya locks herself in a closet and cries. Sudou comes over to remind her to make good on the bet. Harada-sensei takes the matter in to his own hands, winning over Kanade (and thus knocking down Yuusei and Tsutomu’s chances with her).

Hidehiro Harada-sensei, head of the Shiranami Karuta Society.

Harada-sensei wins his match against Sudou, thus saving Chihaya’s gorgeous locks, but it is already obvious that his knees are giving him problems. He still has two more matches if he is going to win the qualifier. His tone as he heads back into the competition hall speaks volumes about what is going to happen. Harada-sensei just doesn’t have the stamina to go all the way to the final round.

I really like the inclusion of Harada-sensei’s character. He is somewhat unusual in anime, as a fairly serious adult character. When we first met him at the start of the series I thought he would turn out to be a character of minimal importance once the characters had grown. It is really great that we get to see him, not only as a comedic character, and as the wise old coach figure, but also as a Karuta player who has his own triumphs and tragedies.

Meanwhile Arata Wataya has his own problems.

At the Western qualifier, Arata also gets knocked out. He recognizes that the winner wasn’t an overall better player than he is, but that he has more stamina, because he has been playing regularly in tournaments. Meanwhile Arata’s year and a half away from the sport have left him ill-prepared for competing at the highest level.

I had been looking forward to seeing Arata winning the Western qualifier, and, as the various characters, starting with Taichi, lost their chance to represent Eastern Japan, Arata’s triumph was the only victory I could imagine to end the series on a positive note. Now that hope has been crushed. Honestly the story has provided a much more believable and extremely compelling, picture of the sport of Karuta. Geniuses like Shinobu Wakamiya are very rare. Rookies just don’t appear out of nowhere and win the top titles, at least not regularly, so seeing the suffering of those that gave their all, only to find out it wasn’t good enough, is sad but realistic.

Hiroshi Tsuboguchi, weeps openly in front of his sensei.

As if all that wasn’t bad enough, Hiroshi, the only member of the Shiranami Society to advance, lost in the East/West match. This means the only character we know that is eligible to challenge the Meijin or the Queen is the “previous Queen” whose name is anathema on this blog. The only thing that I can reasonably look forward to at this point is seeing Shinobu crush the “previous Queen”.

But speaking of Hiroshi, I like the way Hanners describes this scene:

Seeing the defeated wannabe Master contender under Haruda’s tutelage break down in tears once his cheerful facade had subsided was genuinely heart-rending and a fantastic depiction of what it’s like to lose in the final of a major event.

This was the opportunity, not just for Hiroshi, but for the Shiranami Society to participate in the Meijin match, and possibly take the title for themselves. Hiroshi’s stumble against the representative from the East isn’t just a personal loss, it is a failure for all the people who pinned their hopes on him. He let down his friends, and he let down his sensei.

Hiroshi’s situation was also paired with a scene of Chihaya’s. After she has her cry, she comes out of the closet and watches Harada-sensei’s match. She is struck by how everyone is standing around, bearing with the weather, just to cheer on the participants, and she apologizes to her friends for her failure. She realizes that she got caught up in her personal disappointment. Really this is a major revelation in a sense, because Chihaya realizes, at least for a moment, that not thinking about the people around her can cause problems. Even if she views it through the perspective of Karuta (she was manipulated by the “previous Queen” into playing too fast, to defend against that type of strategy in the future, she needs to get into the head of her opponent at least a little), it will be a lesson worth learning.

Chiahaya Ayase and Taichi Mashima.

The episode wasn’t all tears and frustration. There were some fun moments as the various characters go to separate Christmas parties. There were also some clear indications that Taichi, despite his strong feelings for Chihaya, has been friend-zoned. When she is locked in the closet, Taichi realizes that he can’t do anything for her, but Arata could. Later a boy asks Chihaya to go out with him, and Taichi deftly takes control of the situation. Kanade knows exactly what is going on, but Chihaya doesn’t have a clue.

It was yet another excellent episode of Chihayafuru. Not the happy one I might have asked for, but brilliantly handled as always. Just two more episodes until the awesome ends.

Bonus Service (Chihaya):

12 Responses to “Chihayafuru 23 ~ and the rest of us will spend the next year as losers”

  1. David A. Young Says:

    Ending the season with these setbacks for our Team wouldn’t be so bad if we had any reasonable hope to see another. As it is…this just sucks. I wonder if the source material is available in English? I just have to know how things work out for these people.

    (I’m still not convinced things are as hopeless for Taichi as they seem. Arata definitely holds a unique place in Chihaya’s heart…but I’m not sure it’s a romantic one.)

    • Joojoobees Says:

      Dude, if you think this is bad, you should watch Hakuouki Season 2; week after week one of the main cast dies.

      I have to admit that I admire the guts it takes to do shows like this (and Hakuouki), because people get attached to the characters, and they don’t want to see them suffer.

      On the other hand, I really do hope that we are all going to be surprised one day to find that SOMEBODY came to their senses and decided to make a second season of Chihayafuru. It isn’t just about the story being incomplete; the whole show is so well made.

  2. blindability Says:

    I know everyone’s lost and it’s kind of an anticlimactic to end in this state, but I think it’s being handled very well – which makes all the difference in the world. Maybe they will come up with a second season once the manga’s progressed a bit more? I would be on board for that.

    Harada-sensei really did shine as “best supporting actor” in this episode, haha. I think it was a nice juxtaposition between the youth who are not yet as skilled and Harada who has the technical skill to be a Master, but not the youthful energy needed. It’s also clear that he’s a tactical player beyond just himself, tiring out Hiroshi’s opponent (though ultimately losing that match) so he could advance. It was really hard to see Hiroshi break down like that, but it was so REAL; he had the entire society’s expectations resting on his shoulders!

    Plus the more we see of Sudo, the more I think it was a miracle that Chihaya won against him!

    • Joojoobees Says:

      I really hope we get a second season. Maybe it will take a little while, several series in the past have had a break before getting a second season, and they were able to pull the team back together and do a good job.

      And I agree, it is being handled very well, so a sad ending isn’t as bad as having the show fall apart. Chihayafuru has been solid from the beginning, and it looks like it is going to end with its class intact.

      • blindability Says:

        you’ve got a good point about some series taking a long break before coming back to continue; I’m pretty sure Natsume Yuujinchou was like that with their first season – and the subsequent seasons have been awesome! I hope the same thing happens for Chihayafuru!

      • Joojoobees Says:

        I want to believe.

  3. Ginnodangan Says:

    Finally managed to push through the weight of assignments to catch up on this, again, I must say Madhouse continues to out do themselves. It might not be bright, explosive, and loud but it’s certainly solid, and that alone is enough to make it a good show.

    Onto the episode itself, great to see Harada come through and save Chihaya’s beautiful locks. I also like how he’s more than just their wise mentor as well, I don’t think we’ve properly seen him in action that much but it’s great that he’s still competing. He may be old but it doesn’t look as if he’s going to retire anytime soon, let alone it’s not as if age would be a key factor in Karuta. Secondly, I liked how Arata isn’t capable of steamrolling everyone and anyone anymore, it’s a sign that we could see some growth on his part that just wouldn’t have been possible otherwise as he attempts to regain the skills that he lost.

    Other than that it was also kind of nice to see things advance forward a bit on the romance side of the show. I don’t really expect it to go anywhere soon, but it was still good to see Taichi admit to himself that he loves Chihaya even if he’s too indecisive to do anything about it.

    With things approaching their end I can only hope that Nihon TV backs Madhouse for another season or that the guys working on the manga can catch up.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      Kyokai over at Metanorn said she looked at the Manga, and they have twice as much material as the anime has gone through, so it doesn’t seem to be that the manga is the limiting factor.

      Man, if I were the one with the authority to green light a second season, I just can’t imagine what would cause me to say no. This first season has been so well handled: excellent material, fine performances, beautiful art, GREAT music, impeccable sense of pacing … I just can’t see how someone would look at this and have doubts in their mind.

  4. Trolling in the deep ~ Says:

    I’m surprised you haven’t included any details about the ArataxChihaya moment. Even though I’m a hardcore TaichiChihaya shipper, I admit that the scene was very cute. Unfortunately for Taichi, I think that Chihaya is finally coming to terms about her “subconscious” feelings for Arata.

    • Joojoobees Says:

      This episode was packed with interesting details, so some things were left on my blog’s “cutting room floor”. As to Arata X Chihaya, they say “absence makes the heart grow fonder”.

      • David A. Young Says:

        They also say “out of sight, out of mind.” (Yes, I know…but I’m not goin’ down without a fight! You go, Taichi!!!!!)

      • Joojoobees Says:

        Well, I’m not actually taking a side. At first I would have sided with Arata, but Taichi has grown so much that I say, “Let the best man win”.

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