Chihayafuru 23 ~ and the rest of us will spend the next year as losers
March 14, 2012
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.
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.