by Bamboo Dong,
How would you rate episode 19 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?
How would you rate episode 20 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?
Watching Suo's flashback, you almost want to like him. Or at the very least, you understand why the precious people in his life might like him. He's lived a hard life, even though it had moments of love and support. I can't even begin to imagine what it's like to suddenly be thrust into a life so different from the one you grew up knowing, surrounded by a strange, raucous family you didn't really ask for. But at least he had his aunt, who was not only his friend, but also his parent, and the only one who cared enough to chide him about the things he needed to be careful of in life. Small things like not reading with his eyes too close to the book, or protecting his hearing against loud noises. The small things that a parent should tell their children, if they're any good at all. And with that, another parental reminder, to at least try to make something of yourself.
We learn, too, that his aunt suffers from a degenerative eye disease that will progressively worsen from her peripheral edges until her vision is gone. This, too, is something that I struggle to even begin to imagine, though it does give us a framework for Suo's behaviors. We understand now who he was calling in the previous episodes, and why their support was all that seemed to matter to him. We understand why he wears sunglasses, and why he's already set a retirement age for himself. But as sympathetic as we may try to be towards him, we still can't (or at least I can't) fully comprehend why he's kind of the ass that he is. His utter boredom of karuta, despite it being the thing he lands on to make something of himself with, flies in the face of everyone we've met in this series up until now. It infuriates Chihaya, even though she feels guilty at using his poor eyesight as a tactic against him.
His attitude is the complete antithesis to everything that Dr. Harada stands for, which is a love for karuta so strong that he's spent a better part of a lifetime devoting his life to chasing a dream in whatever minuscule spare time he has. He's used his passion to teach younger players, and even when people groan about him, it's in a way that's still framed by respect. Suo… he's just different. Sure, it's not quite his fault that other people don't want to play against him (Shinobu could relate to this, though hers is more of a social isolation than anything else), but maybe that's too easy of an out. We've seen plenty of incredibly strong players throughout Chihayafuru, and most of them are happy to share their time and energy to encourage the younger set, rather than put them off the sport. That Suo has resorted to playing mind games to amuse himself is more a reflection on himself than those around him.
Nasty tricks and shenanigans aside, Suo is actually as good of a player and everyone says he is. Even without the mind games, and the forced faults. He has incredible game sense, one that combines his superhuman hearing and his ability to sense the cards, despite his degraded eyesight. After flailing through half the match, he catches up to Dr. Harada, pinning the game once again down to a luck of the draw. It's a brutal cliffhanger to end episode 19 on… but maybe not as brutal as the tactics Suo uses against Dr. Harada to eventually clinch the game.
Both that match, and Shinobu's winning match, come down to faults. In Haruka's case, it's immediately heartbreaking. She's tried so hard to come back, carving out whatever time she can in between being the primary caregiver for her children. When she thinks about the third child on the way, I almost feel a twinge of sadness mixed in with her joy. Or maybe that's just me reading into the situation; I'm frustrated enough with her husband's inability to watch her kids for all of twenty minutes while she tries to relax. So when she loses in that final match, it feels like a triple hit: a loss, of her own doing, that perhaps closes the door on her karuta career forever.
It's different with Dr. Harada. You feel betrayed and angry almost immediately, his dismay cresting almost simultaneously with Suo's vulpine smirk. It's a slide back to his cunning ways, the win-at-whatever-cost tactics that make you understand why no one truly wants to play with him. It infuriates Chihaya, who bemoans not being born a man, so that she could teach him a lesson.
But there's a silver lining, and that's that Dr. Harada's passion has finally awakened Suo's original love and respect for the game. He comes back from the break, cleaned up and shaven, ready to play one final honest match. Whatever game of trickery he was playing earlier to amuse himself has been shelved for a more honest and purer attempt. Maybe it's a little too late to endear himself to the audience, but at least he's come out of his disagreeable shell. The last match is quick, but clean.
In the end, it's the love of the game that flushes the best out of Suo and even Shinobu, both so incredibly talented that they can almost phone in their wins. It's their opponents—and friendly “rivals” like Chihaya—that remind them of why they even started playing in the first place. It's a nice feel-good ribbon that ties up the tournament, but more importantly, it reminds us that our protagonists still have a long way to go. We're so accustomed to seeing heroes who are the Chosen Ones that it's always a surprise to see Chihaya and her friends still fighting for recognition and mastery of the game.
This tournament has been largely terrific to watch, especially as it gave the series the opportunity to explore these characters' backstories more. Ultimately, I felt like episode 20 dragged a little, especially after the nail-biter that preceded it. And the conclusion... well, it always kind of stinks to see the dynasty team win. Where's the fun in that? Even with Suo shaking off his boredom cloak and promising to play for another year, it's just not a particularly satisfying conclusion. He's not exactly compelling, even with Arata begging to face off against him. And even if he did, that's still a ways away.
In the meantime… there's Taichi. Always Taichi, darting off to play more karuta behind his friends' backs. I'm not really holding my breath for more karuta matches after the whopper of a tournament we've just had, but maybe the series will surprise me.
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