Chihaya Ayase in tears -- hey, it's an emotional show.

Episode 24 of Chihayafuru does the seemingly impossible: it makes an entire episode about the main characters watching a TV broadcast compelling. We finally get to see the match to decide the new Queen, which delivers quite a surprise. This episode also introduces the Meijin. Let the Karuta begin!

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Tsutomu Komano X Kanade Ooe.

Chihayafuru episode 22 had a stunning conclusion and I really wonder where we are going for our season conclusion. I’m gonna keep it short this time.

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Kanade has prepared a special hakama for the Eastern Meijin Qualifier.

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.

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Kanade Ooe and Tsutomu Komano battle in earnest with an advancement in rank as the prize.

The series of tournaments that were introduced last week are now enjoined in full. The entire Mizusawa Karuta club shows up for the Saitama prefecture tournament, and you know what that means, it’s Hakama time! This time the episode was mostly split in half, between Chihaya’s match and the final round of the tournament, which has a double shocker. Kanade and Tsutomu are playing for the rank D title, and Taichi and Nishida are  battling over the rank B title. Winning these matches won’t just mean taking a prize, as they qualify the winner to advance in rank. Despite Chihaya’s poor performance in the A rank matches, Mizusawa is destined to go home with two prizes, which should feel pretty good, but for those on the tatami mats, the pressure to be the one who advances is intense.

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Shinobu Wakiyama ~ the Karuta Assassin.

I was already looking forward to this episode because there has been some interesting build up. Chihaya has wanted to be the Queen, the strongest female Karuta player, since she was in grade school. As exciting as some of the team mechanics were, episode 14 of Chihayafuru finally returns us to one-on-one matches, and the ultimate rival appears. I was on edge almost the entire episode, and for the first time (and in the exact right game) a match isn’t concluded before the end of the episode — cliff hanger! In many respects this episode was all about the reigning Queen, so she will be the focus of this post as well.

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Kai's level 0 vanguard.

I haven’t been posting much about Cardfight Vanguard lately. They actually had an interesting arc in which Aichi lost control of himself and became a bit of a monster. I enjoyed that because it was quite a shake-up from the earlier episodes, both in terms of Aichi’s character, and the general tone and focus of the series. With episode 50 that arc seems to have come to a close. I believe the next part will be the National championship.

Blaster Blade, Aichi Sendou's avatar, and lynchpin of the Royal Paladin deck.

What really spurred me to write this entry, however, was the release of the English version of the Cardfight decks. There is now an English language Vanguard website, and I recommend checking it out if you are confused about how the game works, as they have straightforward explanations of the mechanics, and many of the cards you see on the show are completely described. At the moment there are two starter packs available, one based on Aichi’s Royal Paladin deck, and one based on Kai’s Kagero clan deck. There is also one booster pack that has a variety of clans represented. I found looking over the battle pack very revealing. For example I discovered that Battle Sister Chocolate is in the Oracle Think Tank clan, and there are at least two other “Battle Sisters”, Mocha and Cocoa, even though Chocolate seems to be the only Battle Sister that gets used in the anime. I guess it is because Misaki is the only one who regularly plays with an Oracle Think Tank deck.

The regional championship tournament takes its toll on Chihaya and her friends.

Chihayafuru is the show that keeps delivering flawless episode after flawless episode. In Episode 11, our protagonists are up against their toughest challenge yet, a team that habitually wins the Tokyo Regionals, and has a good shot at the National title. And, just when you thought it was safe to go back in the water, we see the return of Arata Wataya!

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