They made hard work of it, but Mizusawa's karuta team have made it to the regional final while also gaining a lot in terms of understanding the teamwork and togetherness required of them to progress... and not a moment too soon, as the final is about to get underway.
After a period of fretting about how they should line-up given the strengths of their opponent, Chihaya has a rare moment of inspiration as she comes up with a suggestion of her own - why line up your players in fear of your opponent when you could instead line them up to the make the most of their own strengths as a team? Thus, Chihaya's choice of line-up becomes that chosen by Mizusawa for the final - and as it happens it sees the stronger players on each team face off against one another.
So the final begins, and each player has their own battle to fight - for Chihaya, she has to make her way past an opponent with a flair for putting off his "enemy" with his actions, while Nishida's biggest enemy is his own demons surrounding seeing the boy opposite him who was once his junior threaten to surpass him, and Taichi simply has to grow into his role as club president and lynchpin. This makes for some tough match-ups, but at the end of the day there are tearful celebrations from Chihaya and company as they win the day with literally the last morsel of Chihaya's strength - a victory which even offers up some vicarious excitement for the errant Arata at his book store workplace.
As episodes go, this was simple stuff - a winner takes all final match - yet it was presented so wonderfully that it managed to build and maintain its tension and delve into certain aspects of some of the main character's psyches as it went about its business quite wonderfully. In fact, the course of this episode seemed to fly by at a rate of knots as it drew me into its whirlwind before spitting me out twenty minutes later feeling almost as emotionally charged as the Mizusawa team themselves. How does this series manage to make a game which seems so dull on the surface this charged with tension, importance, emotion and charm? Who knows, but it's a dark art which Chihayafuru seems to have perfected absolutely.