Saturday, 2 February 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - Episode 4

Team Mizusawa are rolling through the regional qualifiers for the national championship like a knife through butter, making the most of their team spirit and aggregated experience.  But, to continue the strained analogy, are they about to come to a lumpy bit in the butter?

It certainly seems that way, as a visit from Doctor Harada proves to be paid with more than just cheering on Chihaya and Taichi in mind - he's also come to watch over another of his protégés, would-be karuta master Tsuboguchi, who has tasked himself with taking a bunch of relatively inexperienced players from Homei High School to the nationals.

Given that Tsuboguchi attends the same karuta club as both Chihaya and Taichi, he knows exactly how to get under their skins and has clearly wasted no time in teaching his charges how to use this kind of psychological warfare to their advantage in the name of victory.  While Chihaya is difficult to throw off her game thanks to her one-track mind, Taichi is our focus here as his story is very different - first he spends too much time worrying about his team-mates rather than his own game, then his own lack of self-belief comes to attack him in the face of a rather aggressive opponent.  Meanwhile, those waiting from the sidelines bemoan Taichi's seemingly never-ended bad luck, from a nervous reader through to busted air conditioning.  Can Taichi rise above all of these elements to win the day?

Although I've enjoyed this second season of Chihayafuru thus far, this feels like the first episode that really nailed down everything that makes it so utterly wonderful to watch at its best.  Aside from the drama of a winner-takes-all karuta match itself, there are so many small moments that lift the instalment from good to fantastic - whether its touches of humour or great little moments of character and relationship development, each one gives you the warm sense of satisfaction that you're watching something that's been impeccably crafted and works perfectly on level that it's intended to.  It might not be for everyone, but if you're on-board this crazy karuta-centric train then this is undoubtedly an example of Chihayafuru at the peak of its powers.

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