Chihayafuru 3
Episode 11-12

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 11 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

How would you rate episode 12 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

Is there a more quietly impactful scene than seeing Haruka standing in a cramped train bathroom, tears in her eyes, unable to do anything about her son's fever, flushing breast milk down a toilet? There's a powerlessness, but also resignation. There's nothing she can do to get home any earlier, and there's nothing she can do about her aging body, only 34 and yet unable to keep up with karuta players in the prime of their young lives. Above all, she feels guilty for daring to pursue a goal outside of her family's immediate needs, something that parts of society still judge women harshly for. In some regards, there's almost defiance in the way that she literally throws the milk away, though in the moment she can't process it in any way besides loss and personal failure. It's truly one of the best scenes that this season has had thus far, though I imagine it's even more poignant for mothers and those with children. It sets the stage for two episodes of incredible introspection about what it means to pursue dreams outside of what's expected of you. Whether it's daring to aspire to something outside of motherhood, or refusing to cede all relevance to younger generations.

Now that Chihaya and her classmates are back from their school trip, she and Taichi have no choice but to interact with one another again. Things are tense. Taichi is listless and unfocused, while Chihaya is intense and unrelenting in her drive for karuta. Her teammates pin it on her momentum from her last tournament, but no doubt much of it is fueled by hurt feelings towards Taichi. That he could spring a surprise play style on her is one thing; that he could hide his karuta ambitions from her for so many years seems nearly unforgivable. Luckily, they don't have too long to stew—they're soon summoned to the Shiranami Karuta Society where Dr. Harada asks Taichi for the unthinkable—to become Arata.

Dr. Harada is of course referring only to Arata's karuta card placement and play style, but we of course know better. Maybe if Taichi was as emotionally intelligent as he is academically gifted, he'd just reach out and talk to Chihaya about all his lovesickness and insecurities. Until then, there will always be a karuta metaphor for every phase of awkward teenage love. Luckily, he won't be alone in his masquerade; Chihaya volunteers to copy Suo's play style in the unlikely case that Dr. Harada ends up in the Master finals. What transpires is a truly bizarre and hilarious episode where both Taichi and Chihaya start method acting as the players they're meant to emulate (though I'm not sure about Chihaya's cousin trying to flirt with her… gross?)

Taichi is initially reticent to play the part of Arata, but he doesn't have much of a choice. As he starts playing, though, he quickly starts synthesizing some of Arata's techniques into his own style, showing again his true talent for playing adaptively. It's taken three seasons, but it's clear that Taichi has talent of his own. Whether or not he'll ever recognize it is another question entirely. What kind of show would it be if we couldn't watch him spin his wheels over Arata's karuta skills all day?

We finally get to the Master and Queen challenger tournament, and join up again with Haruka. She's immediately thrown off when her kids start to fuss, the older one quivering because he doesn't understand his mom has other things she needs to do. Why they can't just get a babysitter for one day is beyond me, instead of her husband always stressing her out over the kids. Haruka goes above and beyond her duties as a mom trying to chase her dreams; maybe it'd be nice if her husband could just keep things together for one whole day.

Here again Chihayafuru paints us a portrait of the dichotomy between modern and traditional, not unlike the internal struggle that Haruka is fighting just trying to reconcile her motherhood with her desire to keep playing competitive karuta. As she frets over spilled water, feeling overwhelmed by the crying baby in her arms, Kanade's mother appears to offer her advice about breastfeeding through the armholes of her kimono. (Here I will confess that I Googled whether or not this was a real thing, and can inform readers that not only is my search history now very odd, but I stumbled across many old woodblock prints of women breastfeeding their infants not through armholes, but by simply loosening their garments and exposing their breasts. To be fair, Mrs. Oe did mention that the armholes weren't specifically for breastfeeding, but she's Always Be Closing, so good on her.) With the resiliency of thousands of years of women who had to get shit done, it gives Haruka the resolve to stand up and resoundingly say, “I'm going to go become a Queen.” Atta girl.

The very next scene sees Chihaya sprawled on the ground, drowning in regrets. She reminds herself that her first dream was never to become a high school teacher, that it was something else. But before she can finish her thought, she's tapped on the head by Arata. And lord, is he a sight to behold. In the slow pan up his jet black hakama and kimono, it is like the scene in every romcom where the main girl comes downstairs wearing a dress for the first time, and the love interest goes, “…Wow.” Only this time, it's Chihaya who's agog at Arata's transformation. His dream is obvious—he's here to become a karuta master.

The episode that follows isn't the most thrilling, as there's a lot of play-by-play strategy for the match between Arata and Dr. Harada, but there are some definite highlights. One is a great glimpse into Dr. Harada during his karuta prime, that shows the root of his rivalry with Suihoku society chairman Akio Kitano (sure, he was a huge ass, but is it any surprise that he can still win over long-time enemies with his gruff charm?). The other is the continued see-sawing of Haruka's insecurities about her age and her decision to take a break from the sport. Ultimately, we see both her and Dr. Harada have their moments of victory, and it's one that resonates with much of the older audience members.

These may have been some of the strongest episodes of Chihayafuru this season, thanks in large part to all of Haruka's scenes. The show may be about Chihaya and her friends, but Haruka and Dr. Harada are the epitome of what karuta represents. I wouldn't mind one bit if they made it all the way.


Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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