After last week’s fiasco with Taichi stealing Arata’s glasses in order to win the school-wide karuta tournament, I wasn’t sure if they would really become friends. Surprisingly, it seems like they did, though there’s still the underlying hint of a competitiveness between them. The episode starts off with the three of them heading to a recreational center that has weekly karuta groups. At first they’re a bit nervous, but Taichi – being the little snot-face that he is – declares that he’ll never let anyone defeat him and that seems to create a sense of determination amongst the others. The three enter the building and head straight for the room being used for karuta and as one of the cards is being read, Chihaya can’t contain her excitement and throws open the door and loudly greets everyone. The three kids (okay, maybe not Arata) are surprised to see adults giving it their all to grab the correct card. As the three of them stand there in awe, Chihaya realizes that karuta isn’t just a card game; it’s a sport! The adults quickly restart the tape and get back to their game while Arata nudges Chihaya and Taichi towards a small area to watch, explaining that it’s against the rules to move when a card is being read. Chihaya apologizes, saying that she was just excited and Arata says that he knows how she feels. The three kids watch as the game progresses and Chihaya seems to become more and more excited to play by the minute. Once the match is over, the Doctor (we don’t really get another name for him), who is in charge of the karuta group, approaches them and asks if they want to join. When they all say yes, he pulls them all into a tight hug and starts sobbing about how wonderful it is to get so many new members at once.
Despite the doctor’s enthusiasm, several of the adults approach them and scoff at the kids, saying that it’s a group for adults. Chihaya is angered by the man’s attitude and hastily informs him that Arata is way better than he’ll ever be and that he should watch what he says. To her surprise, Arata agrees to the man’s haughty offer to play karuta and says that he wants to play a 3-on-3 match. Arata and the others then set about arranging all of the cards and Arata tells them that he gave Chihaya all of the one-syllable starting words while he gave Taichi the ones that start with three words. He then tells them to come out into the hall with him, since they’re allowed 15 minutes of memorization. Of course, Chihaya is freaking out about the memorization portion of it and reluctantly goes out into the hall. Once there, Arata explains to them how they’re going to be playing and that as long as two of them manage to stay ahead of the other team, they’ll win overall. Confident in how they’ll go about this, they head back inside and prepare to start the match. Of course, Arata completely blows everyone away and even takes the cards that Taichi and Chihaya are supposed to be grabbing. This irritates Chihaya (especially the fact that Arata said she’s too slow) and she begins to really take the game seriously. As the game progresses, the cards on either end start to stack up and Chihaya starts concentrating as much as she can. We then see her close her eyes, waiting for the next poem and as soon as she hears “chihaya furu” she snatches the card. Arata is surprised at her speed since he never even heard the beginning of the poem, but Chihaya was able to grab it. Once the game is over, the adults are wallowing in self-pity at being beaten by a bunch of sixth graders and the trio are officially added to the member list. The doctor then suggests that they play in the bi-annual tournament, since you need teams of three to compete. They all agree and even though each person has to win their own match (at least two of the three members have to win), they’re determined to compete. The doctor even gives Chihaya his own personal deck of cards to help her prepare for the tournament.
Upon her return to her home, Chihaya walks into the living room and sees her sister wearing all sorts of really fancy clothes. Almost as if it’s an instinct, she whips out her camera and starts snapping pictures, gushing over how pretty her sister is. But once her mom starts gushing and asks Chihaya if her dream is still to see her older sister a popular beauty queen, Chihaya hands the camera over and says that she has her own dream now. Confused, her mother and sister stare at her and Chihaya announces that her dream is to become Queen of karuta. She then runs off to her room to study the cards and practice her technique for playing. Later that evening, Chihaya’s sister is lounging around in the kitchen and asks her mother if she really thinks it’s okay for Chihaya to be pursuing such a useless dream. When her mother doesn’t say anything, she sulks and says that Chihaya should spend her time gushing over her achievements like she used to. As the weeks pass, Chihaya, Taichi and Arata continue to practice for the upcoming tournament and Chihaya seems to be having the most fun she’s had in a long, long time. Unfortunately, her happiness doesn’t seem to be long-lasting. Chihaya learns that Taichi won’t be able to continue playing karuta with them because he’s accepted an invitation to attend a prestigious school that’s over and hour away. At first she thinks he’s joking, but is shocked to find out that it’s true. Taichi then tries to wave off her concern about karuta, saying that it’s just a hobby and that he should be focusing more on his soccer than anything else. As if that weren’t enough, moments later, Chihaya finds out that after graduation, Arata is moving back to his hometown because his grandfather is ill. Heartbroken, Chihaya tries to keep a brave face on, but doesn’t seem able to once they arrive at the recreational center after school. She starts crying and runs off, saying that she doesn’t want to play karuta with them anymore since they’re just going to leave anyway.
After Chihaya runs off, Arata and Taichi feel horrible and each blame themselves for how hurt Chihaya is. They decide that they’ll still enter the competition and hope that Chihaya will change her mind. Meanwhile, Chihaya heads to the hospital that the doctor works at to return his karuta cards. He ends up walking her home and explaining that Arata’s grandfather is one of the best karuta players in the world and that Arata likely learned the game from him. He goes on to say that Arata is probably really close with his grandfather and is worried about his health, so Chihaya shouldn’t feel betrayed by the fact that Arata is moving back to his home town. This seems to put Chihaya at ease, but she’s still angry with Taichi and refuses to talk to either boy at school for the next few weeks. However, the day of the competition, Chihaya’s mother gives her a small package that was dropped off at her house by Arata and Taichi. Chihaya opens it and finds a t-shirt that says “Team Chihaya” on it and she soon races towards the recreational hall. She manages to get there just in time for the matches to begin, which put Taichi and Arata at ease. Though they all do really well in the tournament, they didn’t win the grand prize which upsets Arata. Taichi asks him why he’s so upset about it and Arata confesses that he really wanted to win the trophy for Chihaya to make up for the fact that they won’t get to play karuta ever again. A few more weeks pass and it’s graduation time! Chihaya and Taichi are busy chatting with friends while Arata sneaks off towards his home to finish packing, but the other two don’t miss his absence. They follow him home and ask to play one last game of karuta with him, which causes Arata to start crying because he really doesn’t want to leave. He then apologizes to Chihaya, saying that they’ll never get t play karuta together again, but Chihaya tells him that as long as they have karuta, they’ll find their way to one another again.
Opinions: This was another incredibly cute episode, though it definitely had a bittersweet ending. I don’t blame Chihaya for being so upset about Arata and Taichi moving away since it kind of came out of left-field. The way that Arata and Taichi handled it was sweet and the doctor was incredibly sweet to Chihaya when she said that she wanted to give up karuta because her friends were moving away. The way that he encouraged her to keep playing, especially since she obviously has the talent for it, was a real selfless thing for him to do. Seeing Arata cry when he had to say goodbye to his friends was really emotional since I hate seeing kids as cute as Arata cry. Not to mention he seems like he’s more of the stoic, stern kind of person, so seeing him cry like that was touching. I am curious about whether or not Chihaya just has really good hearing or if she’s begun training herself to act on instinct while playing. Though I have to admit, her sister complaining about how Chihaya isn’t gushing over how pretty she is was really self-centered and I hope that she never becomes famous. Just because I know it’ll piss her off. Now that it appears we’re done with the flashbacks since Taichi is going to a different school and Arata is moving back to his home town, I hope that we’ll get back into the current time-line and see if Chihaya will ever be reunited with Arata.
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