No Want of Conscience: Chihayafuru episode 2

“Love is too young to know what conscience is,
Yet who knows not conscience is born of love?

Then, gentle cheater, urge not my amiss,

Lest guilty of my faults thy sweet self prove”

If I were a high school English teacher, I would make my class play Shakespearean Karuta with his sonnets. Choosing 50 out of 154 available poems, I would read out the first quatrain of a random poem, and have my students try to identify the corresponding last couplet, written on different cards, laid out on the floor. That would be a pretty awesome English class, wouldn’t it?

Dwell then, dear reader, upon the first quartrain of Sonnet 151, quoted above. What’s the last rhyming couplet? I will reveal at the end of this post; expect this to be an ongoing theme of my weekly posts reflecting on the series, because there are a lot of things that we can learn from great writing, whether it be someone as prolific as Shakespeare, or something as simple, yet effective as this week’s episode (and hopeuflly future episodes as well) of Chihayafuru.

Once again, we’re brought back to the past, though this time the flashback takes up the entire episode. It sets up the entire basis of the love triangle between Chihaya, Wataya, and Taichi, and due to its highly effective execution, we’re set up pretty well. Let’s take a look at each of the scenes in this episode, and examine what made it stand out. For the sake of simplicity, I’ve divided the sections into before, during, and after the match, and each one has their own important moments.

Before the Game

The inciting incident sets the entire episode in motion is when Chihaya defends Wataya from Taichi, the latter making good on his promise from episode 1 to turn the entire class against the heroine. The dialogue is full of attack and counter-attack, setting off reactions from both boys:

Taichi: If you stop talking to the outsider, we’ll stop ignoring you.
Chihaya: I don’t mind. You should stop ignoring Wataya instead.
Taichi: Why do you keep siding with him?
Chihaya: Why are you so mean?
Taichi: There’s nothing to like about this puny and poor bumpkin! [lol, crunchyroll]
Chihaya: There is! There is!
*pause*
Chihaya: Wataya can beat everyone here at Karuta!

This exchange is brilliant not only because of the reactions from the boys, but also due to the subtext and motivations behind these words, words that the characters themselves cannot fully grasp because of their youth. Taichi has feelings for Chihaya, and subconsciously tries to take it out on Wataya, but Chihaya herself is unaware of her developing inner feelings for Wataya due to her outer feelings for Karuta.

Of course, this leads to Taichi challenging Wataya to a game the following day, when the class has a Karuta tournament. When the initial rounds begin, each boy is featured in his own game, so that hype is built for the eventual match-up between both of them. The stakes are set for their game as well. Games are an excellent way for one character to engage in direct conflict with another, since each character holds particular values to the game, and that a victory would mean a victory beyond the game itself. Once again, Taichi is playing this match because he wants to win Chihaya’s affection, as noted in his first match. Even though he does well and gets recognition from his peers, he remains focused on Chihaya, who is in turn focused on Wataya’s match, much to Taichi’s dismay:

Taichi: Wouldn’t it be lame if he lost in the first round?
Chihaya: You’ll understand once you’ve seen him play.

Wataya, in comparison, is completely absorbed into his own game. He has no particular difficulty winning his match, but with one quick swipe of a card, he silences the crowd and shows how much better he is at karuta than Taichi. The episode only needs to highlight him doing this one play to establish his relative skill level, which causes Taichi to resort to stealing Wataya’s glasses. This will become an important plot point in the episode, and perhaps the entire series.

During the Game

Before they begin, both Wataya and Chihaya (Chihaya) fail to find his glasses, and Chihaya leaves to continue the search as the game begins.

If you want to write an exciting game, you need it to be back and forth, especially if it’s between two characters of widely differing skill level. In this type of situation, there’s a dilemma of balancing realistic representation of skill with exciting portrayal of drama, and by shifting the advantage between both characters, the effect is magnified. Wataya and Taichi’s game is no exception. Note the sequence of turnarounds in the game.

Wataya has difficulty reading the cards without his glasses (adv. Taichi).
Wataya manages to memorize the position of the cards after carefully reading all of the cards close-up (adv. Wataya).
Taichi switches cards around to confuse Wataya (adv. Taichi).
Chihaya swoops in and takes Wataya’s place in the match! (adv. Chihaya)
Chihaya doesn’t know all of the poems yet! (adv. Taichi)
Chihaya uses sneaky (yet supposedly legal) tactics to grab the cards that Taichi would otherwise get (adv. Chihaya).
Chihaya is one point away from victory, but doesn’t remember any of the remaining cards! (adv. ?)

By this point, the tension of the game is built up dramatically enough that there’s enough willing suspension of disbelief from the audience to handwave the fact that Chihaya replaced another player in a tournament (and for that matter, gets an achievement even though she played only half a game the entire tournament). But that doesn’t really matter. We’re excited that she came in at the last second to save Wataya, and we now care about the moment between Chihaya and Taichi, now competing with a different dynamic than that of Wataya:

Taichi: *thinking* Why is she so serious? Is she…Is she doing it for him? For that loser?

Bringing up an important point from episode 1, the importance of Chihaya’s name in relation to one of the karuta poems, she wins by the luck of the draw, recognizing the poem. Added effects such as gripping music, camera blur, slow motion, background graphic flashes, and exaggerated gestures creates an epic moment from an otherwise mundane educational game. What do you mean, it’s not awesome?

After the Game

After the moment of Deus Ex Machihaya, the victory is celebrated by all, and the tension of the match is resolved, with noteworthy reaction from all three characters:

Taichi: Who cares if I’m not good at karuta!
Chihaya: That was a really fun match! Karuta is so much fun! But it would be a different story if you were playing against Wataya! He’s going to become a master.
Wataya: That makes you the Queen, Ayase-san.

There’s a moment that follows that centres around Chihaya and Wataya, but I can’t help but feel a bit sorry for Taichi. His intentions are felt, even though it motivated him to do something as underhanded as stealing his glasses. He’s not a complete Jerk Ass because he still harbors interest in karuta, even though his mom is completely against it, telling him to “focus on contests that you can win.”

Chihaya doesn’t get off freely with her victory as well. Despite finding a new passion, her accomplishments and hopes are dashed by her mother and sister, who are too focused on the sister’s accomplishments at a previous beauty contest. This is vital to her character development, because we know that she ends up obsessing over the game as she grows up.

My favourite scene in the entire episode happens afterwards, between Taichi and Wataya. Wataya gives back Taichi’s glasses in a redeeming gesture of utter guilt:

Taichi: I…found them in the hallway. N-no. I stole them. Don’t tell Chihaya. I don’t want her to hate me.
Wataya: Mashima, you’re…a coward.
Taichi: A-A coward?
Wataya: But…I understand how you feel.

Taichi asks for forgiveness, but comes at a cost of a really timely jab from an otherwise timid Wataya. They won’t admit it, but they recognize each other’s importance in Chihaya’s life. Taichi is the childhood friend who turned against Chihaya when she met someone else. Wataya is the new guy who has hopes and dreams that resonate with Chihaya’s own.

Gentle Cheaters

Overall, this episode was a perfect follow-up to the first. We’re exposed even further into the dynamic of Chihaya’s relationship with Taichi and Wataya, as it relates to Chihaya’s budding fascination with Karuta. Taichi and Wataya’s personalities are also developed as foils to each other. They have their own strengths and weaknesses, but they form a nice romantic dichotomy as love interests for the main character, shown both in and out of the game.

When it comes to Karuta, they’re on completely different levels, but when it comes to Chihaya’s affection, it’s anybody’s game, and that’s what I love about this show. The parallels between love and games are starkly contrasted, yet are interwoven perfectly. I can’t wait for next week:

“No want of conscience hold it that I call
Her ‘love’ for whose dear love I rise and fall.”

(Note: if you actually understand Shakespeare, please dismiss the notion that this couplet is actually talking about boners.)
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