by Bamboo Dong,
How would you rate episode 10 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?
After a couple of mediocre weeks, Chihayafuru is back on top, thanks to a stellar episode that refocused the series back on the characters' emotions, the importance of karuta in everyone's lives, and a wildly triumphant off-screen victory for Dr. Harada. While I was worried that the series would spend multiple episodes slowly chipping away at the qualifier semifinals, it made the decision to just focus on Arata's match. It was a good move for the sake of time, and it brought some much-needed screen time to a major character that's been relegated to the background for much of this season. At long last, we also get some major rumblings in Taichi and Arata's romantic rivalry, beyond the usual karuta-laced metaphors.
Right off the bat, things are not looking good for Arata, and it's not just Murao's wicked right swipe. It's mostly an unfortunately timed bout of food poisoning. Of all the tough opponents he's ever faced, none can hold a candle to suspect sandwiches and the inconvenience of explosive diarrhea. Worse, it hits him in the middle of the match, leading him to miss the reading of several cards, including a few dead cards that could greatly swing the match in favor of his opponent. It's bad news for Arata, but good for viewers. There's some humor (or is it uncomfortable laughter, because we've all been there?) to his toilet troubles, but it leads to a fun new mechanic that we haven't had the opportunity to explore before. Namely, how much obvious game strategy revolves around purely knowing what cards still are, and are no longer, in play.
It doesn't help that Arata is already running a card deficit, though he can't blame that one on bad meat. He's worked himself into a mess, thinking about Taichi and how much time he gets to spend with Chihaya. Add in a few good moves from Murao, and Arata has spiraled into a scattered mess. He finds himself unable to focus on anything except his unease and anxiety. He's not even calmed by his usual (and surprising!) pre-game visualization—playing karuta with Chihaya as kids. That little revelation was almost worth the six year wait. We always knew that Arata held the memory of those childhood days precious, but who could've expected it was part of his relaxation strategy? It's a charming tie-in to a couple episodes ago when he's advised to visualize his victory. He certainly does visualize, but it's more about the pure joy of playing with friends. Mostly Chihaya. Definitely not Taichi.
Fortunately, Murao isn't about to let Arata spend the entire match in a daze. Here is a prime example of why Chihayafuru is one of the sweetest and most genuinely warm-hearted sports shows out there. Rather than let his opponent destroy himself, Murao stops the game and tries to get Arata to snap out of it. He tells Arata that they shouldn't waste the experience of being with a talented reader, but there's so much more behind that gesture. As a fellow karuta player, he wants his opponent to be in his best form, even knowing that Arata has much more raw talent than he does. And as a member of the same society, there's also an aspect of support and camaraderie, reminiscent of the moment earlier in the season when Chihaya is given a win by forfeiture. Murao knows this may be his last year to make a run for the championships, but even he understands deep down that Arata has a much better chance of defeating the reigning champ than he does. In the end, Arata fights back and wins, but immediately bursts into tears: “I really like Murao-san.” Chihayafuru really is the sweetest.
During all of this, we get another jolt of good news. We learn through a quick note hand-off and a blush that Dr. Harada has claimed victory in the adjacent room. It's a joyous moment, especially knowing how badly Dr. Harada wanted to achieve his dream despite his age and his aching body. It's also yet another one of the series' reminders that, yes, karuta really can be enjoyed by anyone, any time, even at an elite level. This whole business of last chances just isn't true; if you want it badly enough, karuta will always be there for you.
In the end, it's Dr. Harada versus Arata. It promises to be a good matchup, pitting old against young, and two different playstyles. It will also test Chihaya's allegiances, though maybe not as much as it would have if it were Taichi versus Arata (not that Taichi ever could've made it that far, let's be honest). For now, she has other distractions, like Taichi sulkily slinking back onto the school trip, lying to her face via omission about going to the qualifiers. Of course he knows that she knows, and he immediately tells her the news about Dr. Harada. He's a lot sullener about Arata and goes to bed without saying good night. As far as we can tell from the last shot, he also ignores Chihaya the next day. If there's one thing we've learned about Taichi this season, it's that he's not a great friend, nor a good sport. Arata's not exactly a paragon of good manners either; he admits that he looks down on Taichi's karuta playing (rude, considering Taichi is probably the most like Murao of all the characters when it comes to sheer grit versus talent) and realizes he could be a better friend to Yuu back home. But one would hope he'd treat Chihaya with more kindness than Taichi has so far.
The show may have spent all its time on Arata's match this week, but the true winner was Dr. Harada. He's been a rock for everyone this entire time, and knowing how much he's pushed himself to get to this point has been inspiring. Karuta may be a sport that favors talent over hard work, but there's no denying that pure determination plays a part too. If there's a life lesson to be learned here, it's that you're never too busy or too old to go after what you want… but you should probably be nice to the people around you, or they're going to root for the other guy.
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