Chihayafuru 3
Episode 13-14

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 13 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

How would you rate episode 14 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

One of the great things about Chihayafuru is the way it's always used the poetry of the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu to illustrate the events happening onscreen. Not just the obvious mentions, like Chihaya's connection to the chihayafuru card, but every time one of the cards is highlighted during a match. It helps that the poems span an diverse set of emotions, though most seem to focus on love and longing. At the end of Dr. Harada's grueling match with Arata—one in which I readily admit that I almost cried twice out of frustration and happiness—the last card read is:

(Nothing can be worse than living a moment longer)
When I cannot bear growing any weaker than I already have.

It's a dead card. Both lunge for it, but at the last moment, Dr. Harada avoids it to win the match. After an entire episode that shares his past triumphs, his eternal patience and dedication to karuta, and the physical limitations of his aging body, it all comes down to this card. And he swerves at the last second. For all his issues, weakness is not one of them. (For what it's worth, the McMillan translation of that line is, “If I live longer, I cannot bear to hide this secret love.” How fitting, then, for Arata to finally reveal his feelings shortly thereafter. The power of language and its subtleties, right here.)

Even though Chihayafuru has hinted at Dr. Harada's knee issues in past episodes, nothing fully prepares viewers for the heartbreaking moment the pain overwhelms him. It's one of the most gut-wrenching moments of this season, especially for a character who has been so bombastic and endlessly boisterous for as long as we've known him. To see him vulnerable and physically struggling is difficult, especially contrasted with his unwavering desire to keep playing. It was validating to hear Master Suo say that he wanted to compete against Dr. Harada in the finals. In the eternal battle for domination between talent and hard work alone, sometimes the latter really does win.

Of course it would've been a little disappointing had Arata won, especially while channeling his grandfather and emulating his play style. It made for a neat gimmick at the beginning of the match, but to have him win that way wouldn't be in line with the series' ethos. That's what was so incredible about Dr. Harada's flashback through his own journey. We see him go from an immensely naturally talented young player, to someone who has no choice but to wait while life's circumstances deny him a chance to practice and continually hone his craft. And along the way, his finely tuned super-hearing slips as well, though he's able to adapt by creating a new style of karuta. Designed to make up for a lack of "game sense," it also end up making competition more accessible, allowing him to spread the joy of karuta to a wider audience. I'm beyond happy that these past two episodes give Dr. Harada a rich storyline worthy of his rapid and sudden ascension to the series forefront. His presence has always been more of a bullish father figure, but this fleshes out his character in a way that I wouldn't have imagined at the start of the show.

In fitting Chihayafuru fashion, where everything is a drawn-out karuta metaphor, we get a glimpse at Arata's final two cards. Naturally, one of them is the chihayafuru card. As Taichi learned earlier in the season, sometimes… your cards just don't get called. But this time, Arata finally breaks the seal of silence, and confesses his feelings for Chihaya. Furthermore, he's decided to go to college in Tokyo so that he can continue playing karuta with her. Finally. Finally. After three seasons of metaphors and veiled comments, it's out in the open. Truly, I don't even care who gets the girl, or if anyone does at all. I just wanted one of the characters to use their words and actually communicate, and it was a relief to finally see it.

This episode was truly stunning, and so far, I think it's my favorite. It's so satisfying to see the series take recurring themes like talent vs. hard work, youth vs. experience, career vs. passion and expand on them so deftly with this one match. There have been a few times this season where the matches have been dry and rote—not so with this one. If the second half of the season can keep this going, we'll be in for a wonderful experience.

Rating:

Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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