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.

Shinobu Wakamiya ~ a face in the rain

Shinobu Wakamiya ~ a face in the rain

In episode 10 of Chihayafuru episode 2, the story of the national tournament is split into two tracks. In the first, Mizusawa High faces a tough opponent. In the second, the judges agonize over whether Arata should be denied an opportunity to participate in the individual matches that follow the team tournament.

Although this episode had some tension from a hard-fought Karuta match, it stressed both the comedy and personal dramas at least as much as the Karuta action.

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