To Play With Shadows: Chihayafuru Episode 3

Chihayafuru, Episode 3

“From you have I been absent in the spring,
When proud pied April, dressed in all his trim,
Hath put a spirit of youth in every thing,
That heavy Saturn laughed and leapt with him.”
– William Shakespeare, Sonnet 98

Shakespeare’s 98th sonnet depicts the poet’s lament over the loss of his loved one. While those around him experience the joys of spring, the poet is stuck in the forlorn of winter. In Chihayafuru episode 3, a sense of lament occurs throughout the latter half of the episode due to the prospect of separation of our three main characters after elementary school graduation.

Read onwards for the final rhyming couplet, as well as further examination of the writing of this wonderful little story.

Last week’s flashback continues to this week, which covers the trio’s eventual separation. The story is split into three sections: their visit to the Karuta society, preparation for their final tournament, and the events that happened afterwards. Let’s take a look at a few scenes that really piqued my interest.

Magna Karuta

Chihaya is introduced to the world of Karuta outside of her school, and she is completely enamoured. Her appreciation is growing beyond that of the previous episode, and she’s even showing her enthusiasm when she’s challenged to a team match with Wataya and Taichi against other local youth:

Wataya: Then let’s have a three-on-three Genpei match!
Taichi: Wataya! We’re just gonna lose!
Chihaya: What are you talking about Taichi!? We won’t lose!
Wataya: Of course! We’re playing to win!
Tachi: What!?

The voice acting here is incredible. Chihaya is remarkably enthusiastic, and Taichi’s shock towards Chihaya’s sudden enthusiasm is spot-on. It’s a nice exchange because the three of them have their individual reasons to be playing Karuta, but one that they all have in common is the desire to play together.

They share this growing passion, and they grow in different ways. Taichi is the most out of touch with the group, but comes around rather quickly when he manages to grab a card and is praised by Wataya.

Chihaya shows flashes of potential, despite only grabbing one card. In zen fashion, the moment she grabs the card is lush with fitting music, exaggerated expression, and an extreme outcome (the card, when swiped, hits the head teacher/doctor in the face).

It reminds me so much of one scene in Hikaru no Go, where Hikaru faces off against one of the grandmasters, Touya Meijin, and even though he is merely acting as a go-between for Sai, he places a stone in such a zen matter that he is overwhelmed by the rush of the game.

It’s that one moment of realization that a game, once trivial, has limitless potential. Hikaru was portrayed in this fashion really well, and in a similar way, Chihaya managed the same thing. There’s so much more to Karuta than meets the eye initially, and the potential is intruiging.

The three of them dominate the opposing team, thanks to Wataya’s skill, and much to the dismay of the other kids, who are regulars to the Karuta club. The doctor encourages them to participate in an upcoming tournament the next spring.

We Don’t Need a Stinkin’ Montage

The montage section starts off with a scene of Chihaya coming home from the Karuta club. She runs into her sister, someone who she idolized at the beginning of the show, but Chihaya apologizes to her sister, saying that she no longer aspires to be her prime supporter.

The sister’s reaction is pretty neat. There’s a nice amount of subtext here that one can interpret her words in different ways:

Sister: What is she thinking?
Mother: I don’t see a problem. At least she’s found something she’s interested in.
Sister: She has nothing to gain from it.
Mother: What?
Sister: Chihaya should just keep gushing about how great I am.

While I want to gloat about how the sister got what she deserves after dismissing Chihaya’s newfound interest in the previous episode, her reaction here is far different than before; her words are motivated by loss. Contrasted with a shot of Chihaya studying poems in her room, the extent of Chihaya’s developed resolve is heavily understated, and well-executed.

The montage that follows was interesting by itself, simply because it’s a Karuta-based training montage, but it’s nothing to really write about, other than the obligatory link to the Team America montage video on youtube.

Nothing Gold Can Stay

The major source of drama from this episode comes from the conflict between Chihaya and the boys, who can no longer play Karuta with her when they graduate elementary school. The timing is neatly executed, since the entire episode so far (and the one before it) built up the comeradery between the trio through Karuta. The development of the resolution is gradual, but it starts with further conflict between the boys, who, as expected of prepubescent boys, break out into a fight over who was responsible for upsetting Chihaya. It’s not difficult to read a bit deeper and notice that they’re really fighting over who deserves her favor.

Regardless, the gesture that the boys make for Chihaya is very sweet and well-thought out. A team shirt, labelled “team Chihayafuru” given to her as a present alongside a note (probably of apology). Her response to the gesture is true to her character, appearing at the tournament at the last second in timely fashion yet again. Her acceptance of the boys’ apologies is genuine and indicative of her true feelings:

Chihaya: I’m still mad at you guys! You’re both leaving me behind! But I’m not the only one who feels lonely, right?

The ensuing match, while not depicted in full detail, has a lot at stake. It’s the last match they’ll ever play together, and it’s a culmination of their Karuta experiences together. In meaningful fashion, they all grab the Chihaya card at the same, each with their own high levels of intensity. Close to the end of the game, Chihaya mentions how there aren’t that many cards left, but she doesn’t want the game to end. It’s like she’s commenting on her friendship with Arata and Taichi, and it draws a wonderful comparison between the game and interpersonal relationships that I’ve come to appreciate so much from this show.

The scenes after graduation, as drama-filled as it is, really straddled the line between meaningful and cheesy, and it has something to do with Chihaya’s insistence that they’ll eventually meet again as long as they keep playing Karuta. In my eyes, that statement isn’t so much for the boys as it is for Chihaya herself; she justified her passion even more by associating it with her close friendships. I look forward to seeing how this value gets thrown into question when those feelings of friendship develop into something more.

Playing With Shadows

Now that the kids are separated from here on out, there are a myriad of possibilities for Chihaya’s story to play out, but I can feel that her interest in Karuta will only continue, even in the absence of Taichi and Arata. She’ll always be thinking of them, and she’ll always draw on those memories when she plays Karuta, even if she plays by herself. Chihayafuru is sure to pass many 3-episode tests from people who give it a try; let’s hope that it continues with the same level of intensity and quality of story-telling.

“Yet seemed it winter still, and you away,
As with your shadow I with these did play.”
-Shakespeare, Sonnet 98

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4 thoughts on “To Play With Shadows: Chihayafuru Episode 3”

  1. Love the placing and selection of the Sonnets ^ ^

    It’s like she’s commenting on her friendship with Arata and Taichi

    Yes, I believe she is, but it’s so fluid in her emotion she might not even realize it. The association between karuta and this friendship is very strong, no doubt, but I wonder how it will evolve when we return to present-time.

    1. The best part about games in fiction is that each game is always different; there’s always something new at stake, and a victory would mean something different each time for each of the characters participating. I’m on the exact same boat as you, and I wonder what her life will be like without her best friends, and how that is reflected in her play.

      I’m glad you enjoy the Sonnet selection. It’s been so long since I read them in high school, and it was only a few select ones. Trying to find the right sonnet for the episode has been just as exciting as watching the episode itself! Such a challenge!

      1. Well the fact that it’s been a few years without these friend really makes it difficult to think about Chihaya. It must have been really… lonely, just her, her enthusiasm, and the cards. ):

        It’s nice energy though.

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