I got really excited when the episode opened with Arata, completely forgetting that we’re in the midst of the high school tournament so basically just another big tease. That said, Taichi carried the episode brilliantly and this may be my favorite yet.
If it wasn’t abundantly clear previously, the fifteen minutes of the semi finals match here prove that karuta is as much a sport as any other. The sport involves scouting of opponents and developing strategies. Players have to be both physically and mentally strong. I am surprised the writers haven’t taken advantage of Porky’s tennis background as a plot device in this fashion.
All of which leads me to declare karuta as my favorite sport to play and spectate. I used to play team chess competitively so every nuance depicted via Taichi here brought back many memories. I wasn’t captain of the team so I can’t speak much from said angle but I did notice my captain observe each team member’s game during matches. The pressure Taichi faces demonstrates why my captain was very vocal about stepping down whenever any member expresses an interest in running the team. It’s a lot of work!
The most intense and palpable point of the episode revolves around psychology. For all intents and purposes, I was a dilettante because I only bought a handful of books and read only half of them at best. I also never owned a clock. Yet I knew even if I spent hours or years studying, I would never remotely reach the 2200+ USCF of my friend who won enough trophies by age eighteen to cover the entire living room wall of his parent’s house from floor to ceiling.
It was very despairing.
My friend had an innate talent playing chess that no amount of practice could match in the same way that I will never win a single point against Federer even if I work at it my entire life and then some. (Maybe if he’s only allowed chopstick against my racket. Maybe.)
Taichi experiences the same anguishes as the match slowly slips away from him. Fortunately, he had one thing that I lacked. Harada sensei offered him an invaluable tip before the match which blossomed beautifully when he asked for a towel.
I like to take a moment to put it on record that that scene is Chihayafuru‘s version of having panties thrown by women at a male rock star (read: MLM in twenty years). Also, the cinematography of Chihaya offering a towel with those wide, splendid eyes and outstretched hand… where was I?
It’s cliche but the power of teamwork makes it so. And a huge component of that is trust in your team mates. The shouting and encouragements make another reason why karuta lends itself better for spectators.
I am running out of space so I won’t touch upon underhanded tactics but while luck is certainly a factor in sports or anything else in life, for some of us, as Macross Plus explains, it’s a skill.