Chihaya Ayase listens to Kanade Oe's lecture.

Chihaya Ayase listens to Kanade Oe’s lecture.

And thus season 2 of Chihayafuru comes to a close. This episode went very differently than I had anticipated. There little time was spent on reflections upon Mizusawa’s victories. Instead a lot of time was devoted to Chihaya’s injury, which turns out to be a serious condition requiring an operation and hospitalization. There was also some unexpected romantic development. In perhaps the most surprising development, however, Chihaya and Taichi get invited to the Fujisaki training camp by Coach Sakarazawa.

There is no doubt in my mind that the producers want to deliver a third season. They left things just as Taichi and Chihaya were about to enter the Fujisaki training camp. It is like saying, “the story doesn’t end here!” I was desperate, at the end of the first season, for a second season announcement, and couldn’t believe my good fortune when it came. Am I pushing my luck to ask for a third season now?

Bonus Service: Chihaya Ayase

Chihaya in hospital gown and hand cast.

Chihaya in hospital gown and hand cast.

Shinobu Wakamiya, the reigning Queen.

Shinobu Wakamiya, the reigning Queen.

With episode 24 of Chihayafuru season 2, the national high school tournament is almost over. I think I understand now why they wanted to pace this season as they did. The one thing we have left to find out is how Tsutomu “Desk-kun” Komano did in his match. It wasn’t quite a sweep, but Mizusawa High did quite well in the individul matches, taking first place in at least two, and possibly three ranks outs of four. If there are 25 episodes planned the final episode can be dedicated to the reveal of Tsutomu’s outcome and an emotional closing ceremony.

The first season ended with Chihaya’s regret that they would spend the next year as losers. This time we end the season with them having taken the national championship as a team, as well as several of the individual titles. In addition, we have some nice rank advancement, as was discussed briefly at the beginning of this episode.

We also have some cool things to look forward to if any more Chihayafuru seasons (or movies) get a green light. There is the upcoming Meijin tournament (probably best tackled as a season unto itself) as well as the promise of Arata moving to Tokyo.

Chihaya Ayase in tears at the end of the B-kyu Individual tournament.

Chihaya Ayase in tears at the end of the B-kyu Individual tournament.

Episode 23 of Chihayafuru season 2 splits the attention between two very important games. In the A-kyu tournament, two of the most important people in the world of Karuta are facing off for the title. In the B-kyu tournament, Taichi is ready to face down his final opponent … until Chihaya appears ring-side. Taichi instantly loses his cool, and struggles to end the match early, because he wants to release Chihaya.

Taichi’s desire is to support Chihaya, and let her watch the game transpring between Arata Wataya and the the Queen, Shinobu Wakamiya. His good intentions cause him to play recklessly, however, and then he loses confidence in his own ability to win against an opponent that Chihaya barely beat a few episodes back.

The episode had interesting perspectives on Karuta strategy (in both Shinobu and Taichi’s case, a decision was made to focus on winning certain cards, instead of over-committing in the face of a powerful opponent). There was also a surprising insight into the world behind the scenes, as Kanade Oe realizes that the reader for the B-kyu tournament is being graded for a position as a certified reader. Nevertheless, in true Chihayafuru style, the story comes back to the human and emotional elements in the end.

Chihaya and Taichi’s relationship in this episode is a little like the story of the Gift of the Magi by O. Henry. Chihaya wants to be there to support Taichi in his bid for A class ranking, and Taichi wants to support Chihaya by getting her out of there and back to the battle between Shinobu and Arata. Each of their gifts diminish the meaning behind the gift the other person gives.

We only have a couple of episodes left. I’m going to be so sorry when this show is over!

Yuusei Nishida faces off against his arch-rival.

Yuusei Nishida faces off against his arch-rival.

Chihayafuru season 2 episode 21 was excellent. It really stood out, even against the typical quality of this excellent series. There were a couple of important stories told. The first was how Chihaya managed to make it to the best eight, despite her injury; this was a great story, full of insights into Karuta play as the best episodes of this series tend to be.

The second was Arata Wataya’s march towards taking the individual championship. Unfortunately for Yuusei, Arata’s path marches right over him.¬†Yuusei might not appreciate it, but he did pretty well against Arata, who won his first match in a more than perfect game. It has been a long time since we have seen Arata play, and here we had him facing off against one of Mizusawa’s top players.

In an episode full of great storytelling, we ended with an AWESOME moment. Chihaya had been saying she needed to save her right hand for when she played Arata, but something happened to change all of that.

Bonus Service (Shinobu Wakamiya)

Shinobu Wakamiya is ready to rumble.

Shinobu Wakamiya is ready to rumble.

Taichi Mashima reflects on the possible futility of his life.

Taichi Mashima reflects on the possible futility of his life.

Chihayafuru season 2, episode 19 brings us the end of the National high school Karuta team championship. I know there are some who were upset that this was a three episode long game, but it is obviously the climax of the series, so it had to be one of the longest games offered.

Certainly there are still some things that need to be wrapped up before the end of the season, but if one thinks back to the very first episode of the first season, the show has been motivated by Chihaya’s desire to play Karuta with her friends. The game of Karuta is really played one-on-one, so the only real chance to experience the camaraderie of team play is while they are in high school. Everything from the very first time we saw Chihaya in the very first episode (hanging up a sign to advertise the Karuta club), the flashback to her experience playing with Arata and Taichi as a team, her insistence on getting new members this season (when everyone else thought she should be practicing for the Queen tournament), even her willingness in this match to play with a damaged finger, knowing full well that continuing to play in the team match would make it unlikely that she could play the following day in the individual tournament.

I’m not going to deconstruct the match. It was interesting, but I have been wrapped up in this match for so long (they actually started the Naniwa poem 4 weeks ago), that I am ready to set all the tension aside. Instead my mind is lingering over a 10th century poem that Kanade explains during the match.

I am like a boatman without a rudder
Drifting from the mouth of the Yura River into the sea.
Where this love will take me, I do not know.

— Sone no Yoshitada

The poem is associated in the episode with Taichi, who is a pretty remarkable character. He has gone from spoiled brat, that I would have enjoyed punching in the face, to a pretty decent person, who has an unrequited love for Chihaya. But even more than his possibly doomed romance, this poem seems to be about another aspect of his character.

Usually Taichi struggles to achieve his dream. In Karuta he is willing to go to other cities to compete so he can gain a class-A ranking. Fate, however, hasn’t been kind. Earlier the series took some time to point out that despite all of his hard work, the one thing he is lacking in a pinch is luck. Since he doesn’t believe in luck, he takes his losses as personal failings. In this match, however, we see Taichi try to change. For once, he relinquishes responsibility. He realizes that there is nothing else he can do, and thus, he becomes like a boat without a rudder: taken by the current.

I still think it is possible for Taichi to play well in the individual tournament and earn his class-A ranking, but I don’t fully understand the rules on class advancement. We have about 5 episodes left, so there is still time for one more substantial arc before this series is over. How are the producers going to wrap things up?

Shinobu Wakamiya - alone in a crowded room.

Shinobu Wakamiya – alone in a crowded room.

Chihayafuru season 2 episode 18 is a continuation of the final match of the high school team Karuta championship. There was enough give and take and enough tension to keep me thoroughly engaged (and anxious to see the conclusion), but as intense as that story was, there was another, fascinating story taking place out on the sidelines. Shinobu Wakamiya, the reigning Queen of Karuta watches the match between Chihaya and Rion, and a series of emotions washes over her.

Outside the room, Arata Wataya provides some explanation: people who are deeply involved in Karuta might view the individual matches as the real game, but without the team matches and all of the other ancillary activities, Karuta would die out.

Meanwhile Shinobu, a consummate loner, inwardly finds the source of her awkwardness. Instead of helping her fit in, instead of merely being a consolation for a lonely girl, her Karuta has isolated her from other people. She doesn’t like team matches, but not just because they are a waste of time … not just because she doesn’t get along well with others … she was molded into a loner by adults who wanted to prevent her natural desire to have friends from diminishing her killer instinct.

I have mentioned before that “shinobu” is another word for ninja. Shinobu’s playing style is described by Chihaya as “silent”, and several times in the past few episodes they used Shinobu’s ability to suddenly appear beside people to comic effect. Now there is another way that Shinobu is a character that references popular notions of ninjas: she was socially isolated as a child as part of her training to become the Karuta assassin she is today.

I’m not going to speculate on what will happen in the individual tournament. There is a very real chance that Chihaya won’t be able to play against Shinobu, which is the one thing I was DYING to see this season. … I just can’t think about that right now.

Chihaya Ayase refuses to back down.

Chihaya Ayase refuses to back down.

Episode 17 of season 2 of Chihayafuru officially begins the final match of the¬†National High School Karuta tournament. Mizusawa is playing a team of all A-class players, except for Rion Yamashiro, Chihaya’s opponent. This episode covered quite a number of interesting things: there was backstory on Rion, information about team Fujisaki’s training under coach Sakurazawa, a lot about how the reader of the poems affects the play by those on the tatami, Chihaya’s injury (!), Mizusawa’s resolve, and queen Shinobu’s curiosity is finally piqued.

I won’t bother going into all the little details, even though many of the little details are quite interesting. This was another episode of Chihayafuru in which I really felt the strength of this show is the way it develops multiple simultaneous stories. There are some who believe that the show is better when it focusses on just a couple of characters, but I disagree. I like the way the main characters are a part of a larger world. Many other shows have main characters that nhabit a world of generic background characters, but I think the trials and triumphs of side characters like Yuusei “Niku-man” Nishida give this show depth. If it were merely about Chihaya trying to become number 1, it would be a simple variation on the shounen narrative. Instead the continued presence of side-character Kanade Oe as gradually developed a lore about the poems, and the readers, which was utilized to great effect in this episode.

In terms of events, the two most significant were Chihaya’s injury and the ninja queen finally growing interested by the gameplay in the team tournament. I hope Chihaya’s injury doesn’t prevent her from playing in the individual tournament. I think a team victory for Mizusawa would be sweet, but more than anything I want to see Chihaya play against Shinobu. Speaking of Shinobu, we have confirmation that she remembers Chihaya as a good player, so we can say that the build-up to their match is under way. I really want to see them go at it head to head.

Bonus Service: Coach Sakurazawa

Coach Sakurazawa surveys the battlefield.

Coach Sakurazawa surveys the battlefield.