by Bamboo Dong,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?
After getting spoiled with two episodes at a time for the past couple of weeks, it feels sad going back to just one. I watched the episode three times, and somehow each time, I was shocked when the ending theme started playing.
Taichi and Chihaya are finally playing each other in an official match. The groundwork was laid a few episodes back when we learned that Taichi has a hard time winning against Chihaya. But he's been working hard, synthesizing everything he's learned from everyone he's ever played against. More importantly, all of his practice against Chihaya has given him a solid read on her play style. He immediately throws her off her game by switching up his card configuration. There's something else different about him too—he's hardened and intense. At times, he's almost even sinister. Chihaya barely recognizes him, slipping into a zone where she's so focused on playing him that she momentarily forgets she's sitting across from her longtime teammate and friend.
The episode is so tense, it wasn't until halfway through that I realized it barely has any animation—even less so than usual. Yes, there are a lot of shimmering eyes, quivering lips, and gently fluttering hair. But mostly, it's a lot of slow pans, scenes of people talking with their backs turned, and various shapes floating across the screen. Chihayafuru has always been very efficient with its movements, something that's as much of a stylistic choice as it is probably a budgetary consideration—freezing the characters in place allows for a starker contrast to their fast, deliberate movements during karuta matches. But even so, this episode was more static than usual.
The episode does make up for it in different ways. The music is absolutely stunning, swelling in time with the emotions on-screen. There's a beautiful, prolonged piece that plays at the beginning of the match. It's eerie and dramatic, punctuated by warbling flute notes and ominous snare beats. Over the course of the game, the music evolves into something more dissonant as Taichi becomes a faceless rival.
Suddenly, the music changes. A gentle piano solo flutters through the scene, joined by orchestration dipping in and out of the series' five-note motif. We see love in all its hesitant, stilted forms, as characters wax poetic about how much they love playing karuta with their friends. It doesn't take too much digging to get to what they really mean—they love spending time together, love pushing each other, and maybe even love each other. Playing together brings out their best, maximizing their potential not only as players, but also as pure fans of the game.
As charming as all these shy karuta nerds are, though, I do sometimes wish the character would just talk candidly about their emotions. Sure, there are very strong signs of devotion. Players fervently support each other's dreams (how sweet was it when Arata said he'd just wait until the next morning's train?), while people like Chihaya's mom work tirelessly to support her daughters' ambitions. These small gestures are monumental, but at times you just want the characters to be frank. At one point, Arata berates himself for losing, asking why he's not the one sitting across from Chihaya in the finals. My heart shattered into pieces. It's a question loaded with meaning, but I just wish he and Taichi would both realize that karuta is only part of the equation.
I got my hopes up when Sumire started talking about how Chihaya was looking at Taichi the way he's always wanted her to, but my hopes were dashed when she added that there was probably no love or romance behind it. If there is any attraction between them at all, then this is the most excruciating bout of foreplay ever animated.
As usual, the episode ends on a cliffhanger. I realized that I don't really care who wins. I'm much more interested in how Taichi and Chihaya will continue as friends afterward. Will Chihaya look at him differently now that she knows he's capable of crafting cunning competition strategies against her? That he's been holding out during practice? How will they even practice from this point on? Mostly, I hope there's enough time left in the match for Chihaya's mom to show up. If Taichi's not going to tell Chihaya that he loves her, maybe her mom will.
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