Chihayafuru 3
Episode 17-18

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 17 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

How would you rate episode 18 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

If there's one thing about Chihayafuru that I deeply appreciate, it's that I've learned more about the structure of competitive karuta than I ever thought possible. I'm not just talking about game strategy—there's enough of that packed into every episode to fill a textbook. But little things here and there, like elements specific to the Queen and Master matches, such as the card boys and card girls hand-selected by the competitors to help audiences follow along with the matches. (No thanks to the subtitle font selection that explained this, though—white lettering with gray outlines is a rough choice, especially on a light background.) You can see this in action in this video of one of the most recent Meijin matches, with the card boys in the background. It's a neat thing to learn, as I'd always wondered how anyone can follow along as a spectator.

The first match goes by fairly quickly, but it's during the rest break that we get a closer look at the individual competitors. Haruka is kept busy by her two kids, though I'm freshly annoyed that her husband doesn't appear to pull more weight in their parenting. When he blankly intones, “Mommy sure is tough,” I marvel that Haruka is there at all, since she seems to do most of the child-rearing in the household. That alone makes her appearance in Chihayafuru extra revolutionary, though we learn that this may be her last chance at the Queen title. She's pregnant again, and with three young children, there's no possible way she could have enough time to devote to playing at an elite level. It's a little sad—having children shouldn't preclude you from doing the things that you love, but in the end, I suppose it's a game of trade-offs and balances. It goes without saying that, at least in the vast majority of media, fatherhood has never stopped men from chasing their ambitions.

On the other side of the mat, we have Shinobu whose mental game is completely derailed when she learns that her grandmother had ulterior motives for giving her the kimono for the tournament. Whatever we (and Shinobu) previously thought about her grandma's generosity and kindness in marking up her tatami are tainted by the knowledge that ultimately, her dedication to her political constituents is more important than any interest she may have in her granddaughter's karuta aspirations. Things only get messier when Chihaya pays her a visit and let's slip that she skipped the East Japan Queen qualifiers to go on her class trip. It's a rare moment of visible anger for Shinobu, who realizes that her years of social isolation may have been for nothing. It's slight vindication that her grandmother can't even watch the tournament because she doesn't know that it's only being streamed online.

Unfortunately, the encounter with Chihaya completely throws Shinobu off her game, and she barely muddles through the next match. By the time it ends, she hardly registers anything that happened. She's rightfully upset at the life of loneliness she's led, especially with what we know about her home and school life. Even with karuta, she doesn't have anyone to play with. It reminds me of the Christmas episode, when the characters are talking about their chosen families. For Chihaya, it's her karuta club; for Shinobu, all she's ever had were her illustrated cards.

Meanwhile on the Master side, we keep seeing Suo slip out to ask his family whether they're able to tune into the stream. Maybe… just maybe, he's not as bad as we think. During one of his phone calls, we learn a piece of information that doesn't quite make sense until later. He inquires about one of his family members, who we learn is at home watching TV. “We bought a 60-inch, but it's only about the 30 square centimeters in the middle that [she] can see.” The significance of this becomes obvious near the end of the episode, as Suo and Dr. Harada head into their fourth match. It turns out that Suo has an eye condition that blocks his peripheral vision, and it appears to be genetic. Knowing this, we now understand why he's decided that this will be his last Championship title. Given the severity of his family member's vision degeneration, it's possible that he's on a timer as well.

For now, though, Dr. Harada is able to take advantage of this by constantly moving his cards, and aiming for the cards outside of Suo's field of vision. It's the secret knowledge that Chihaya gave him after her practice match with Suo, and it seems to be paying off. (As an aside, it's testament to Chihaya's own karuta talent that she was even able to pick this up after one match. It's as impressive as Midori being able to determine that Shinobu places her cards in accordance to the artwork.) It makes it a little tough to root for Dr. Harada full-heartedly, now that we know the depressing inevitability waiting for Suo, but it wouldn't be fair if he didn't leave it all on the mat.

The past two episodes have given us some truly great character moments, especially with Haruka and Shinobu, but they have suffered slightly with jerky pacing. The series' insistence on pushing in comedic moments every chance it gets doesn't always work, and this tournament is an example of that. It halts the momentum of the action, and pulls viewers out of the moment. Luckily, most of the best moments in the past two episodes have been in the scenes between the karuta action. All that remains now is to finally get Suo's backstory, which will surely come. I was surprised earlier in the season at how much time was being spent on ancillary characters, but now that the series is focused on these four, I'm happy with the decision to do so. They are proving to be an incredibly diverse group, and I couldn't be more excited to see what we'll learn next.


Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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