Let’s get back to Chihayafuru! The first episode of the show’s second season introduced a girl who’ll presumably be the team’s newest member, the altogether charming Hanano. Hanano is petty and scheming and exactly the kind of sharp-edged character this largely wholesome crew really needed. I’d actually expected us to get a crew member who fulfills this caustic tonal role a long time ago, but I’m still very happy to see her now, and looking forward to seeing how she settles into the overall group dynamic. We’ve also got plenty of traditional Chihayafuru drama to look forward to, and given the first episode was basically all “Hanano is a horny gremlin who doesn’t give a crap about karuta,” I’m eager to see how this episode actually hooks her into the sport, or at least the team. I mean, maybe she’ll actually remain at “karuta is boring, but Taichi is hotter than the seven hells,” but I have to assume she’ll get a bit more texture than that. Either way, she’s an endearingly cynical on-screen presence, and I’m eager to see what this episode brings. Let’s get right to it!
And we open with Hanano sneaking after Taichi while menacing strings waver in the background. I love my creepy stalker daughter
Incidentally, obviously stalking people in real life isn’t a good thing, but this is one of those places were fiction pretty much always handwaves real-life impropriety in favor of narrative convenience. Fiction doesn’t tend to provide particularly useful role models when it comes to appropriate romantic behavior
And of course he’s just on his way to the karuta society. Sorry Hanano, but in this show, pretty much every journey is going to be from one karuta-related building to another karuta-related building. Also, all the melodramatic shoujo romance is reserved for the main love triangle. You should probably just get off at the next stop
This opening song is fine, but it sure can’t measure up to the first season’s. Feels like the kind of pleasant, mild rock song they’d use for a Natsume season
Taichi battles against Tsuboguchi, who’s introduced on the altogether regrettable “I became a high school teacher to leer at high school girls” note
As the show’s reach expands and more characters become focus characters, I suppose it makes sense to start explicating the individual practice routines of characters like Taichi and Arata. This focused solo practice is generally something sports shows just sort of handwave as happening offscreen, though, so I’m interested in seeing how they use it here. It’s likely enough this whole scene just exists to give Hanano a reason to actually be interested in karuta
“Are they really memorizing all the positions? There aren’t any pictures! Plus the cards on the other side are upside down!” The addition of Hanano essentially lets the show pull a soft reset and reintroduce us to the principle variables of karuta with a new and very different heroine. The previous season’s stopping point feels even more appropriate now
I’m kinda interested in how these karuta recordings work. It wouldn’t be very useful to have a recording that always lists off the same poems in the same order, so do they just vary between a million different recordings, or what?
Taichi seems to be pushing himself by challenging opponents he knows are better than him
Unique effect for portraying card motion; Taichi knocks the cards away, and then the cards are enlarged on-screen relative to all the background variables, creating the illusion of them moving directly towards the viewer. This sort of cheap “blow up an object to create the illusion of relative movement” trick draws a lot of attention to itself, since it’s clear through the lack of actual animated movement that you’re manipulating perspective in a false way, so you can’t use it all that often
Harada sneaks up on Hanano
“I don’t know what makes karuta fun. That’s why I keep playing.” Hanano is not impressed by this wishy-washy answer. Her personality is a very necessary antidote for Chihayafuru’s sometimes stiflingly operatic storytelling. The show needs someone willing to say “that’s not profound, that’s just cryptic nonsense”
Chihaya’s shirt game as strong as ever
Oh god, did Chihaya think up some awful team mascot or something
The ranks of Chihaya’s first years have dropped from a full classroom to about four girls. It makes sense: Taichi is hot, but not necessarily learning-this-incredibly-hard-and-tedious-sport hot
“We’ve only been friends a few days and we’ve already run out of things to talk about. Is this what high school life outside a club is like? I need to find a boyfriend fast.” Hanano’s perspective is so charmingly warped. She offers a cynical, tactical approach to interpersonal relations that’s utterly unlike anyone else in this universe
The field of contenders has been reduced to exactly one first year, a dude named Tsukuba
“I feel so bad for the cards. They don’t get to make any more friends.” Chihaya, lines like this are exactly why we need Hanano here to cut the crap
Kana immediately asks Hanano to clip her nails. This team really does ask a lot of its new members very quickly
Tsukuba seems to be modeled after a snake, what with his barely-open eyes and creepy tongue shit. Cut that tongue shit out, dude
“It’s vulgar and foolish to spend all your time thinking about love!” So says Kana. An interesting line in the context of this show, where love is always secondary to karuta, and always treated as some mystical force that will eventually come to fruition when it’s fated to do so. Kana is right in the context of this particular show, but her words are silly and presumptuous in any general sense
Good, I’m glad Hanano is pushing back. The show’s framing seems to reflect its understanding that Kana’s being a bit narrow-minded and hypocritical here
“I’m not too into karuta, but I’m willing to work hard for love. Just so you know, I’m into Mashima-senpai!” Hanano strong!
Tsukuba explains his own “second verse karuta,” a different style that he and his brothers competed in back in Hokkaido. The dialogue builds up Tsukuba’s identity a bit while the camera bolsters this growing rivalry between Hanano and Kana
The situation right now is a mess, with everyone focusing on different conflicts. From the dramatic clarity of the first episode’s Hanano focus, the show is now basically embracing all of its different character conflicts at once, with Taichi, Kana, Tsutomu, Chihaya, and the first years all prioritizing different things. The show is intentionally leaning into that messiness and framing the messiness itself as the central conflict, but that can only do so much to grant dramatic clarity to this extremely busy situation
Fans often frame “more complex narratives” as a generally positive thing, but unless your additional threads fit gracefully into the whole, you tend to end up with stories that feel more like busy series of disparate events than building crescendos of drama. Making your story hard to follow isn’t the same thing as making it intellectual or mature; clarity is a tremendous virtue in storytelling
Chihaya offers reflections on Tsukuba’s already reasonably developed play style while reading cards. Tsukuba’s position makes sense; while Hanano is coming into this team from an entirely personal, emotional perspective, Tsukuba is coming into it from a competitor perspective. Hanano will need to partially resolve her personal narrative to really start on her playstyle narrative, and having two characters enter at once who both need to be taught how to play would feel redundant, so Tsukuba instead enters as a preestablished competitor, who can immediately contribute to sports drama narratives as opposed to character drama narratives
Hanano takes her first and signature card, “As my beauty has faded”
And then finally reaches her breaking point
A cute trick here – they have Chihaya make the dramatic speech about not wanting to lose any members, but then she bonks her knee and Kana volunteers to chase Hanano. Chihaya’s the one who actually cares about keeping Hanano, but Kana’s the one who can reach her emotionally
Nishida takes on the job of training Tsukuba, which seems appropriate. This guy needs tough love, and Nishida won’t baby him
“The feelings expressed are dependent on the rules.” An odd little speech by Kana. She’s being supportive, but her argument is kinda eh
“Can you teach me to put on mascara?” THERE we go. This is much stronger – a genuine personal connection, not a character turn based in some lofty, vague interpretation of the meaning of the hundred poems
Well, that episode accomplished an extremely difficult task with about as much grace as it could muster. The main problem this episode had to resolve is “there is no fucking way Hanano would actually join this team in real life, considering she doesn’t really care about karuta at all. How can we still make her admission into the team feel relatively natural?” This is a problem the show has tackled before with characters like Kana, whose presence on the team feels natural once she’s there, but relies on serious dramatic contrivance to be brought about in the first place. Framing Hanano’s pursuit of Taichi as something that “must be expressed within the rules” feels like a turn designed specifically to tether her romantic pursuits to getting better at karuta, and while that feels like a somewhat arbitrary resolution, it also might be the best of a variety of bad options. And if the end result is Hanano now being a committed member of the team, I am happy to embrace a little contrivance to get there!
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