by Bamboo Dong,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?
With one card, it's all over. Chihaya has defeated her decade long karuta partner and won her first official title. It's a big milestone for her, in more ways than one. Now, for the first time ever, she is the one that other players look up to and the one that they compare themselves to. As a Chihayafuru fan, I couldn't be prouder.
I am a little gutted that Chihaya's mom couldn't make it to her match in time to watch her win, but it fills me with joy that she even tried. In bumbling cartoon mom fashion, she even made an unnecessary pitstop to buy a disposable camera, which is dorky and precious in the best way. At least she was able to be there to support her daughter when she burst into tears. For the first time, Chihaya finally knows what she wants to be when she grows up—a high school teacher, so she can mentor the next generation of karuta hopefuls. I have to wonder what's running through Coach Sakurazawa's head in that moment, when she looks up in a mixture of surprise and… gratitude? Previous episodes gave me the sense that she was partially envious that Haruka had returned to the sport, but maybe this moment provided validation for her life choices.
Because of this new-found career path, Chihaya decides that the Queen qualifiers can wait, and decides to go instead on her class trip to Kyoto. It's necessary from a narrative standpoint, because it puts into play the rest of the events in the episode, but I'm surprised. It feels uncharacteristic for Chihaya to blow off a karuta tournament she already registered for, even if it's for a trip she normally wouldn't be able to afford, or for an event that seems to define her high school life in the same way every WB teen show centers around prom. She was so adamant earlier in the season about ditching the trip that the sudden change is startling. It's not like she couldn't be a high school teacher otherwise, minus a serious case of FOMO. Sports-wise, it seems better to maintain momentum heading into a major tournament. Not to mention, missing the qualifiers means taking yourself out of running for the Queen match altogether. Again, it makes sense narratively, but this is the first time this season I've been baffled by a character's decision.
Almost immediately, Chihaya learns that Taichi has played hooky with claims of a fever. She frantically starts calling him, but any comfort she feels when she gets a hold of him dissipates when she finds out that he's registered for the karuta qualifiers. She feels betrayed, but it's hard to tell exactly in what capacity. Her first thought is, “He's trying to get ahead of me!” but it's followed later by something more telling: “I never heard Taichi say he wanted to be the Master!” That's the true betrayal—that in all the years they've been playing and practicing together, he's never given her any indication that he shares the same dream as her.
Tsutomu claims it's because it's Taichi's last chance to make a solid run at the Master title (he'll be too busy next year trying to get into med school), but it doesn't seem to tell the whole story. He's of course not entirely wrong—Taichi is under a lot of pressure at home to succeed academically and be a doctor. When Taichi's mom makes an appearance on-screen again, she's exactly as we remembered. She's cold and stern, and definitely not going to be showing up at any of Taichi's karuta tournaments any time soon. But there's something else that seems to be driving him. Maybe it's in response to what Arata said to him, about Chihaya not belonging to either of them (good for you, Arata). Maybe he just needs to find out for himself why he's spent so many years of his life devoted to karuta—surely it wasn't just to hang out with Chihaya?
Despite threatening to leave the class trip immediately, Chihaya stays put at least for the night, but it seems like she's headed out first thing in the morning. Maybe it's just me not understanding the cultural significance of your high school class trip, but the world of competitive anything seems much too volatile to let things slide for an entire year. Arata's already off his game—Chihaya needs to strike while she's on top.
The episode ends with two strange little displays of love: Arata's friend dropping off a pre-tournament meal, and Master Suo dropping off some Snowmaru dorayaki at Shinobu's door. I'm beginning to think karuta nerds are just really bad at love.
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