Saturday, February 23, 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - 07

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Every time Taichi gets kicked in the gut, I have to fight the urge to double over myself.

Here I was thinking this was going to be an episode that was relatively light on the dramatic side, and “Boom!” – that was one hell of a broadside the ending delivered.  To be honest it felt a bit out of nowhere, as there really wasn’t anything in the episode to suggest it was coming, though there’s no denying that surprise enhances the impact.  In point of fact, this was an episode that felt quite different than most in the series to me.  To be honest, this was really the first time Morio Asaka’s direction seemed a little too busy.  I like all the distorted faces and written-word thought bubbles and such that he uses to liven up the classically beautiful and traditional look of the series, but I’d apply the same rule to the surprise ending here in reverse – when they happen as often as they did this week, they become less effective.  Even though the episode wasn’t all that briskly-paced the hyperactive direction made it seem – in Kana’s own words – more frenzied than impassionate (ironically so).  My hope is that this is a one-week phenomenon and not a trend.

Taken as a whole, though, the first seven eps of this season do seem rather briskly-paced to me.  We’ve already had the Tokyo regionals and we’re off to the Nationals?  It’s quite astonishing how much has happened, especially as compared to the first seven episodes in season one.  I’m sure this is manga-faithful for the most part and a function of not having to do the heavy lifting of the initial scene-setting, but it’s definitely a noticeable change.  Given that I suppose the fact that the last few minutes of the episode provided such an earthquake in the non-Karuta side of the plot shouldn’t be too surprising, but there were some interesting diversions before that.  Specifically, a revisiting of some themes that haven’t really been touched on for a very long time, starting with Chihaya’s family.

There was some interesting discussion of the role Chihaya’s family played in her life in the aftermath of several S1 eps, and I came down on the side that her mother especially seemed to be coming dangerously close to emotionally neglecting her.  Elder sister Chitose never really got the chance to develop into anything more than a self-obsessed diva in the short screen time she had, and nothing we saw here would offer evidence to the contrary.  What bothered me wasn’t so much that, but the way Chihaya’s Mom focused on Chitose’s career to the virtual exclusion of Chihaya’s life altogether – thank goodness Dad kept that little scrapbook next to Chitose’s multi-volume opus of clippings.  Well, we heard Mom’s excuse today – she was so confident that Chihaya would be OK because of Karuta that she felt free to worry more about Chitose with her “unstable career choice”.  To be honest that excuse sounds like just that, to me – and her decision to finally show a glimmer of interest in her younger daughter’s life and buy her a kimono of her own plays like an attempt to assuage her own guilt – and win Chihaya’s affection – with a financial gesture.  Better late than never, but I’m still not really buying it.

To be blunt, I don’t really care too much about Chitose and her problems because I don’t think we’ve been given much reason to, and there’s so much in Chihayafuru that I do care about that I’d just as soon not see much screen time spent worrying about them.  The scenes with Chihaya’s parents were involving in a slightly tragic way, though (they always are) and brought Kana and Oe-san into the story.  That’s where things started to get more interesting, along with a subplot involving the eternal struggle with the school band for club room space.  As it has a rare ability to do, Chihayafuru made us see the stock enemy as something much more here, showing us the band’s problems through the perspective of their advisor – eternally frustrated that he lacks the influence the Empress has.  Let’s be honest – the Karuta Club didn’t live up to the deal she agreed to (five new members) and they’re keeping the clubroom anyway, while the band struggles with insufficient space.  It’s not that the Karuta kids are the bad guys here, but that the band and their advisor aren't either – and that’s the whole point.  And Chihaya again shows us real signs of growth by proposing that the band get the second floor space above the Karuta clubroom, at least for storage if not performance.  Sure she has ulterior motives – trying to steal some good karma – but it’s still awareness of the needs of others.  What’s that, actual character growth from one season to the next?  This is Chihayafuru after all – and the reward for Chihaya’s gesture is a surprisingly emotional moment when the band plays all four verses of the school song to send the Karuta Club off to Nationals.  Chihaya’s tears were fine, but it was Nishida’s “This is the first time I’ve ever been supported by anyone outside Karuta” that really hit home.

There are two other moments that really stand out in this ep, one being the aforementioned ending.  The other is Kana-chan’s explanation of the difference between “Impassioned” and “Frenzied”.  This included some overt fourth-wall breaching – “It’s already the second season and you still don’t understand the title?!!” – again with the busy direction - but the gag hits home here.  It’s one of those quirky moments this show is so great at delivering, and shows why Kana is such a great and unique presence.  I loved the imagery she used – the top spinning out-of-control vs. the one spinning so fast you can’t even tell it’s moving.  It’s a fabulous nugget of writing by Suetsugu-sensei and perfectly delivered by Morio-sensei, and it could really be taken as symbolic of so much of what happens in this series – not least of which Chihaya’s Karuta itself.

If you’re a big Arata fan, you could pretty much watch the pre-open and the last two minutes of every ep and so far this season you’d be golden.  This time at least Arata’s appearance doesn’t feel like an omake, but is interwoven with the rest of the plot.  More than ever I’m convinced Sumire’s main function is to act as the catalyst to drive the romantic storyline forward, the naïf who can blurt out what everyone else wants to say but doesn’t dare.  When she does just that in the girls’ room at their hotel near Ome Jingu, asking Chihaya who she likes, the first thought it we’re getting another Chihayafuru troll when Chihaya talks about Shinobu.  But then she immediately thinks, “I wonder what he’s doing right now – I want to see him.”  I don’t see any way not to interpret that as significant – nor the fact that she immediately sneaks down to the lobby and calls Arata. 

Bluntly, that’s the closest thing to an overt declaration of romantic interest by Chihaya in 32 episodes, and it’s about time – but for Taichi, as usual, the timing couldn’t be worse.  He overhears her conversation and as always, is overcome with what surely must be feelings of utter hopelessness.   The sad part for him (well, it’s all sad but…) is that he really can blame only himself if indeed Chihaya and Arata end up together – despite his efforts to be “a person who doesn’t run away” (which have succeeded in many respects) he’s still in full flight when it comes to Chihaya.  He refuses to make his feelings known to her and risk rejection, despite knowing that in Arata he has a potential rival who brings it in every respect – looks, personal history, talent, and a shared passion for Karuta that Chihaya doesn’t feel on the same level with him.  Arata hasn’t said anything openly either, of course, but he has a valid excuse – he’s hundreds of miles away.  Without doubt there’s an element of mutual respect between the two guys here in not making their move – Taichi because Arata isn’t there to fight back and Arata because he wants to give Taichi his chance to take his shot.  It’s mostly unspoken but has been overtly acknowledged at least a little on occasion, but this is an uneasy truce that grows more and more unfavorable for Taichi over time – and the guy code may be as much of an excuse for him not to confront his fears than an honest reason for his tentativeness.  This surely won’t be resolved when the three are reunited at Nationals, but what happened here thanks to Sumire is just as surely a sudden lurch forward – what will be interesting is to see where things settle afterwards.

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18 comments:

  1. Thanks! As always your reviews are spot on! As much as I want to blame Taichi, I mostly want to blame the author here for making him suffer! Or making him such a character you'll really feel for! ;A; He's always at the right timing to witness Arata and Chihaya's conversation on the phone. Or can I say wrong timing? And here I wonder if Chihaya is really not yet aware of her feelings towards Arata.

    All in all it's still a nice ep. A nice change before we go back again to more karuta matches.

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  2. I have to agree with you that season 2 feels a bit out-of-pace -- and good pacing was one of the many strengths that season 1 had. To be honest, I find this episode loses a bit of the lust that the past 6 episodes delivered, but I am happy to continue seeing growth in Chihaya.

    I can't say enough how adorable Kana-chan is, but I am starting to like Sumire's bluntness.

    As for the ending of this episode, well, I am a TaichiXChihaya fan, but I am fine if Chihaya's ending up with Arata. However, the drama that Taichi walked into Chihaya's conversation seems a bit forced to me. Well, I am hoping to see a shift of focus on some Karuta action in the next episode.

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  3. You didn't mention what I thought was a very brief but potentially highly significant revelation: Arata saying that he wasn't interested in team competition. Chihaya quickly assured him that she liked individual competition too. But truth be told, she was stunned at his comment. Team play is such an essential part of her world at the moment. She couldn't conceive that her karuta idol would not share that passion. Will she be able to bring Arata to team play like she was able to reignite his love of karuta after grandfather's death? Or will Arata's luster dim in her eyes just a touch because he doesn't share one of Chihaya's great passions?

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    1. That moment stood out to be as well, although I can't say how I interpret it.

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    2. I thought it was especially important since the first and greatest emotional developments of the trio Chihaya,Taichi & Arata was their team tournament.

      I mean, it could be that Arata never got back that feeling of team play again with other team members (of lesser importance to him), but it still felt sad.

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  4. I have mixed feelings about the scenes with Chihaya's mom. On one hand I like that in this series there are no true bad guys. Chihaya's mom was not ignoring her because she didn't love her but because she thought Chihaya would be fine unlike her sister, who needed more attention. But as you say neglect is neglect. Not to mention last time I checked karuta is not a career path. Also while I love the scene of them visiting Kana's mom's shop, I think the scene with seeing the dad's scrap book in the first season was way more effective.

    As for the whole Taichi/Chihaya/Arata triangle well I think we saw signs of Chihaya's feelings for Arata back in season 1 (or I should say Taichi saw them & we saw them through his eyes). But you know what the more I watch the less I am convinced of the end game either way. I can never recall the episode but I still remember a scene where Kana said something sounded like it was about love, but it was really about friendship. I am not denying that Chihaya has strong feelings for Arata, but those feelings might not be what we think they are. And not to compare love to a game butI just feel in the end the romance aspect might not be easy to tell just like we can't always know who will win that Karuta match.

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    1. Neglect is neglect, I agree. But wasn't the whole point of the scene to portray Chihayas mom's guilty conscience? She had got guilt written all over her face, and while this isn't enough, it's a first step of trying to make amends.

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  5. I have a weird theory when it comes to who Chihaya, if she ever does (Karuta Baka), end up with and that is that she'll end up with Arata. The reason I think that is because one its seems so obvious to root for Taichi that this would come as a massive shock and two because Taichi seems more likely to surpass all others and become the Meijin to complete his story (no longer being the jack of all trades or inferior to Arata). Also right from the start of the series the red thread that connects Chihaya with Arata is always highlighted that it would make sense that right now Chihaya thinks more about him than Taichi.

    And if Arata ever does return to Tokyo and trio are reunite then I expect Taichi to depair and turn that into motivation to surpass Arata, whether in love or Karuta.

    Isn't it impossible to choose and even harder to predict this love triangle. In most rom-coms where the whole point is love shapes its so obvious but not so with Chihayafuru.

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    1. I never bought the idea that Taichi would become Meijin, nor the idea that it would be shocking if he doesn't end up with Chihaya. Nothing critical ever goes his way - why should this be any different? In my opinion all the flags point to Arata, and the surprise would be if he doesn't end up with her.

      I also feel like in the end, Karuta isn't Taichi's true passion. He plays it because he loves Chihaya, because it forces him to become a better person and because he's come to love it. But he doesn't live it in the same way Arata and Chihaya do, and I don't think he ever will.

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    2. " Nothing critical ever goes his way"

      I am actually surprised you feel this way. Okay I am not necessarily saying Taichi will end up with Chihaya or end up as Meijin either (although I think getting one is not so out there). And you are right Taichi's life is not going to be all focused on karuta, but no one's can be. I expect Taichi is going to have a career & family, etc.

      But yet I can't think all his struggles, development, and the large focus on him in the story is for naught.

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    3. I didn't say nothing critical will ever go Taichi's way. And I certainly said anything remotely like the rest of the stuff in your comment about a career, family, and his focus being for naught. Not even close.

      But the fact is, so far, Taichi is the character for whom happiness is forever elusive. It's the source of his character arc dwarfing the others, yes, but it's still a reality. He never wins the big battles, never catches the big breaks. It's his role in the story so far, whatever you think of it. I think we just have to have faith that Suetsugu will reward him (and us) with an ending that does justice to the struggles of the character.

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    4. "And I certainly said anything remotely like the rest of the stuff in your comment about a career, family, and his focus being for naught. Not even close."

      I realize you didn't I added that when you compared his passion to Chihaya & Arata's. That is the only way I can see it as different as I can see Taichi as someone who does think of things beyond karuta.

      And yes I realize he never said outright he wants to become Meijin like Arata, but I don't think it is because he is less passionate than them. I think it's just never crossed his mind that he can even accomplish this.

      "He never wins the big battles, never catches the big breaks. It's his role in the story so far, whatever you think of it."

      I don't think it's Taichi's role in the story to never catch the big break. Taichi's losses are hard on him and us because we care about him but each time he doesn't give up he is already the winner.

      I know it seems Suetsugu is being cruel to Taichi but I personally think she must really love his character because she puts him through so much (maybe that is my own bias speaking) so when he does succeed (and I think he will succeed even farther than even he believes possible) it will be all the more rewarding.


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  6. I literally laughed out loud when Chihaya's mom gave the excuse that Chihaya's sister needed more attention because of her unstable career path. Karuta = SUPER stable career, amirite?

    I especially like Chihaya's sociopathic tendencies, often only bothering to notice the plight of those around her when it affects her personally. She wanted to help the music club to farm good karma. She was worried that her mom spent too much at the clothes store because they also have to pay for the trip to nationals. A more charitable person than I might say this is just because she's intently focused, but the pattern seems clear, especially when adding in the emotional neglect from her parents.

    (The above paragraph is mostly hyperbole)

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  7. Argh looks like the site ate my post, and I'm not typing it all again, so the TL;DR version:

    -Karuta = SUPER stable career path
    -Chihaya's attempts to farm good karma are funny

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    1. Well, I'm not sure how old Chitose is, but a brief wiki points to 17. That puts her in her final year of high school, and with the talk on entrance exams it makes sense. I think most parents are worried about career paths at time. Meanwhile, in the start of your second year you still have time to think. So Chihaya gets a break for now. If the series ever gets to a third year in HS, I'm sure career path would become a arc of its own.

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    2. In this respect, Chihaya seems to have been getting a break from her Mom for her entire life.

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    3. We really don't know if Chitose gets the same breaks as the lines that refer to Chihaya are about her nature (bear everything, hasn't thought about future). Karuta isn't her job, but is a major part of her life.

      Her mom even says that she feels a little sorry for ignoring to buy Chihaya her own hakama.

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    4. Note: I had to rewatch that part just to make sure.

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