The gloves (well, bandages) are off in this week's Chihayafuru, as Chihaya finds herself matched up against reigning Queen Shinobu, offering her the chance of a rematch that she's desired ever since her defeat the previous year.
Having relentlessly watched video footage of her previous match against Shinobu, our protagonist knows everything there is to know about the Queen's style of play, but of course actually combating and playing against it is another matter entirely, and after refusing Shinobu's offer to play with her weaker hand to compensate for Chihaya's injury, we quickly see the terrifying speed and precision of this particular karuta star put to devastating use.
Although Chihaya isn't far behind in terms of speed, she's still just "slow" enough to be second best to every card, leading to her removing the final protection for her hand injury in the hope of getting that extra split second that she needs. Even this isn't enough to take on the Queen however, and Shinobu (despite some inner turmoil on the subject) refuses to show any mercy to her opponent as she delivers a crushing victory. Chihaya is, of course, deflated, but also elated that Shinobu allowed her to play against her without easing off, ramping up their rivalry and the unusual relationship which underpins it a little further. With our heroine out of the tournament however, we still have some other big matches featuring member's of Mizusawa's finest to focus on however....
If you were expecting Chihaya and Shinobu's big match to be a major focus across multiple episode packed with twists and turns, then think again - one of the delights of Chihayafuru is that it still prizes a certain sense of realism, and thus pitching the Queen against a good but injured player ends as it should, with a landslide victory. The real genius is how this match still proves to be compelling thanks to the two characters involved, and in particular Chihaya's determination and hunger to improve which carries you along with her own emotions throughout. It looks like we'll be getting to focus on Taichi as he looks to finally move out of Class B next week, which will hopefully bring us another different set of circumstances to luxuriate in.