Chihayafuru 3
Episode 4-5

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 4 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

How would you rate episode 5 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

It's another two-episode week for Chihayafuru, but it flies by faster than a one-syllable card getting slapped away by a Queen. You wouldn't think an hour of karuta would be a nail-biter, but somehow it always is. We're in the quarterfinals, and all eyes are on the remaining four match-ups. In one corner, it's rival karuta society ace Shinichi Murao versus dear old Harada-san. Next to them is Hiroshi versus Arata, who's gotten surprisingly little screen time these first several episodes. Then there's Taichi versus Sudo, who goads him with the real question everyone's been wondering, “[Is he] in love with Chihaya?” And finally, Chihaya versus four-time reigning Queen Haruka.

You'll be forgiven if you don't entirely remember or care about some of these characters, especially people like Hiroshi who've always been relegated to the background. Still, Chihayafuru does an amazing job dipping in and out of every match-up, giving each one its fair amount of time in the spotlight. It makes every card pull a tense event, and deftly highlights everyone's mental states throughout the game. Two and a half seasons later, I still can't follow Taichi's thought process as he runs through the card deck, but let's be honest, we're just here for the high-speed card sniping.

Adding to the drama this round is the obvious generational rift. Everyone, players and spectators alike, are stunned by how fast and aggressive the high school players are, but both sides of the age gap have a different kind of tenacity. For the younger players, speed is an obvious advantage, but it comes without the knowledge granted by experience. We see this in the incredible way that both Chihaya and Taichi are able to synthesize their opponents' playing styles into their own arsenals. They're agile and quick to adapt, unafraid to try new things even in the middle of a match. But there are still things they haven't figured out—unconventional card placements, nuances in the readers' tones, or even how to deal with individuals' idiosyncrasies.

Because of that, there is a joy in watching the older players. They pull from a deeper well of life experiences. As the series has shown time and time again, karuta is a sport that can be enjoyed by players of all backgrounds and ages. It's these differences that make Chihayafuru sparkle. The action on screen marches forward through play-by-plays, but everything is framed by the characters' thoughts and emotions.

There is a great scene with Haruka at the beginning of the fifth episode when she notices her son practicing karuta swings in the corner of the room. He's coaxed out of the room by the father, but not before Haruka remembers all the time she spent as a kid watching her parents play the game. As she grew older and had kids of her own, she realized that parents could still have hobbies and lives outside of their children. It sounds obvious, but it jumps out in the show because this type of content is so rarely seen in anime. Women characters (especially women with kids) seem to get scarcer as they age—especially those with identities outside of motherhood. It's a minor triumph that Haruka exists at all, not only as a mother who has reclaimed her personal life, but one whose accomplishments are allowed to be uneclipsed in her relationship.

Speaking of moms, Chihaya's mom is already on track to probably make me cry this season. Nothing could possibly top the scrapbook episode in Season 1 with Chihaya's dad, but learning that her mom has been scrimping and working her tail off to pay for her daughters' dreams made me want to immediately call my parents. It's such a sweet scene, especially knowing how excited Chihaya was to receive a hakama from her parents.

Of course, this series loves a good compare and contrast, and in this case, it's the other parental figures in Chihaya's life. Hiroshi's decision to forfeit the match saves on the runtime, but it also has some parallels with her mom. This, too, is a sacrifice largely unnoticed by Chihaya. Not because she's ungrateful, but because selfless sacrifices often go unseen. He waves it off as something done for the good of the team, but there's an element of maturity there as well. He practices for three hours a day, but it's mentoring younger players that's really rekindled his passion for the game. Chihaya is the future of the sport, and he's willing to step aside so that she can flourish to her full potential.

All of this leads to one major cliffhanger—the finale between Taichi and Chihaya. We already know that he can't seem to win against her, but we also know that it's not so much a skill issue as it is an emotional one. So far, he hasn't really had to confront his feelings for her, but now that a real victory is on the line, maybe we'll finally get the romantic payoff we've been waiting for.


Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

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