Chihayafuru 3
Episode 8-9

by Bamboo Dong,

How would you rate episode 8 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

How would you rate episode 9 of
Chihayafuru 3 ?

As a long-time fan of the Chihayafuru anime, it's difficult for me to admit that these past couple of episodes have just not been doing it for me. I haven't read any of the manga, so I really did think that Chihaya was going to ditch her class trip, head to the train station, and book it to the karuta qualifiers. That's what I wanted for her, and that's what all the momentum from her last karuta tournament seemed to push for.

Instead, she decided to mope around Kyoto, staring at her phone glumly while fretting about Taichi. Not even about Taichi, really, but about her not realizing that he had ambitions to be a Master. She sort of snaps out of it when her friend wails that Chihaya hasn't been present this entire trip, even when their group went out of their way to go to a Hyakunin Isshu museum. The two of them have a semi-touching moment, but since we barely know this ancillary character, it doesn't really land. I want Chihaya to be in Kyoto even less than she does.

This decision to remove her from the tournament completely fractures this season, and almost grinds it to a halt. Up until now, the series has devoted several episodes to karuta tournaments, keeping viewers in bated suspense for hours on end over the slightest breath and arm swing. Now that our main character is in Kyoto—something that the series mentions in jest—it has no reason to really dwell on the matches taking place at the qualifiers. Even Taichi's matches are breezed through, because the stakes are just too low.

There are a couple of good highlights—Sumire defending the tournament hall against Taichi's vicious mother, Dr. Harada killing it for all the older karuta players out there still plowing towards their dreams, Coach Midori making a comeback and squaring off against her longtime rival. And of course, the moment Taichi realizes that in karuta—and in life—sometimes there are cards that are just never picked. It's a clunky metaphor for whatever heartache he's feeling right now, especially if you stop to think about Harada's nonsensical and statistically improbable declaration, but what matters most is the pang of sadness in his eyes. I would've liked for him and his mother to have a confrontation about his life, but maybe that's in the cards for later episodes.

Other moments didn't really work as well. Suo showing up at Shinobu's doorstep ended up being a big bag of nothing, and their presence didn't really add much to the tournament, either. Sure, he stoked up some resentment by declaring that he was going to win again for the fifth year in a row, but it's hard to get worked up about something as innocuous as a little gloating. We don't even know most of the players in the tournament, so his peacocking just chews up screen time that could better be used in other ways.

Maybe I'm just bitter about the class trip, but this season has been a little shakier than the previous two. It's possible I am just dreading waiting another eternity for a fourth season to see Chihaya finally reach for her dreams, but it also feels fairly uneven. Character development lurches forward with starts and stops, while numerous strands are picked up but never quite followed to completion. There are so many moments that feel like they may turn into something—Chihaya's mom working so hard for her daughters, Taichi and Arata ruffling their feathers at each other, and literally every instance of love. But nothing really comes to fruition. There could have even been a really great scene devoted to Midori making her tournament comeback, and her feelings at facing Haruka again. But instead of getting that, we've gotten a half dozen introductions for bit players that are mostly just background noise.

I hope that the resolution of the tournament comes and goes quickly, because besides Arata and Dr. Harada, none of it seems to really matter in the grand scheme of our characters and advancing their lives. It will be a great disservice if the series chooses to spend its time fretting over individual karuta matches for the next couple of episodes instead of giving viewers the Taichi and Chihaya conversation that the series desperately needs.

Rating:

Chihayafuru 3 is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.


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