Romance takes a back seat this week, as it’s all about the club and the sport itself.
Nishida Yuusei (Nara Tooru) on the scene. As I’ve said a hundred times there are no coincidences in anime, and it’s certainly timely when, desperate for the fifth club member they need to survive, Chihaya runs into Nishida in the lunch line at school. Yes, it’s the boy from the Prefectural Tournament who lost to Arata, now sporting a blonde buzz-cut – so not only do we have a Karuta player, but the second-ranked junior in Japan as a grade-schooler. Chihaya must have a magnetic personality, because she’s certainly drawing former Karuta players to her school at an alarming rate. Can Arata be far behind?
Only problem is, Nishida – who Chihaya insists on calling “Nikuman” (Pork Bun) - was apparently so traumatized by the experience of being unexpectedly humiliated by Arata that’s he’s quit the game, convinced he can never be #1 no matter how hard he tries. He’s taken up tennis instead, though he reads the hundred poems to himself to time his strokes. I’m struck again by just how determinedly inconsiderate Chihaya’s behavior is, as she literally tackles Nishida to the ground and virtually demands he join the club, even stalking him as he goes to tennis practice after school. She almost always seems to get what she’s after in the end, but the things is, I’m not at all sure she should. Let’s start with the “Pork Bun” thing. OK, seriously – that’s inconsiderate at best, mean at worst (she’s still calling Tsutomu Desktomu as well). Frankly, it’s borderline bullying, and I’m glad Nishida finally popped off on her at the end about it, because I was for pretty much the entire episode. She doesn’t really mean to be mean – she’s just incredibly inept at social niceties – but even Chihaya should know enough to know that the constant repeating of a humiliating nickname is crossing the line.
Fortunately for Chihaya and the Karuta Club, Nishida secretly misses Karuta and he’s only been using tennis as a substitute. A rousing match with Chihaya fires up his competitive spirit in him, and after that the soft drugs like tennis just won’t do anymore – he needs the good stuff, hard-core poetry to get his fix. And with two players of the caliber of he and Chihaya (with Taichi a very strong third board) I can easily see this team being among the elite high school teams (and I’m just assuming for now that high schools compete in Karuta in Japan – I’m not sure we have a show otherwise). I’m not sure how Nishida will take it when he finds out Arata has quit the game, but I suspect that’s going to be a moot point soon enough.
The other interesting development of the episode was the emergence of a new skill that may well define Taichi’s role in the club – teacher. With his analytical understanding of the game and strong verbal skills, Taichi is the natural person to teach Kana-chan and Tsutomu the game from the ground up, in a way Chihaya – who plays almost entirely on instinct and athleticism – never could. In the process of course, Taichi is also teaching us about the game – about stuff like “camping” (focusing on a specific card, thinking it’s going to be called next) and “like cards” – two cards that begin with the same syllables. As this episode was mostly anime-original material I suspect Madhouse threw some of that in as an intentional audience tutoring lesson, a wise idea that I wish Hikaru no Go had done a little more of in the early episodes of its run.
What remains to be seen is where Nishida will fit into the dynamic of the club. Everyone brings their own style to the game – Chihaya is the natural, all speed and instinct. Taichi is the thinker, relying on his memory and the ability to see patterns in the way the game is played. Kanade is the heart, who sees Karuta as art for art’s sake, and Tsutomu reminds me a bit of Eiichirou from the manga Baby Steps - known as “Notebook-kun” for his maniacal devotion to precise note-taking, which he uses to try and master the sport of tennis. So what niche does that leave Nishida, I wonder? At first glance he seems fairly cocky, or at the least confident in spite of his Arata fixation. Perhaps he’s the type of player who triumphs by force of will, psyching himself up and plowing through matches on determination and martial spirit.