[Post #900] Chihayafuru Season 3: Growing Up Sucks

It’s so strange to write a complete season review for a show that I looked into with episode reviews. A rare scenario for me where I look at a show in greater detail and then narrow down my focus quite a bit. Summarizing and everything. I don’t know how a lot of people do that because this is my first time. Does it mean just looking at emotional through lines, character arcs, and plot lines and then looking at how well you think they were executed? What about the incidental things and small moments here and there? Well, let’s see what happens with this one. If it’s a mess, it’s probably someone else’s fault. Maybe K’s fault? Don’t tell him I said that. Shhh, let’s see if he will read this post. No one say anything.

Spoiler Warning: Chihayafuru Season 3 is a third season. It goes without saying, but I will be spoiling a lot of things. I wouldn’t recommend reading unless you are caught up. If you want to see my thoughts on the other series, here’s where my Season 1 post is and here is where my season 2 post is. I hope you can tell that I love this series.

Lets talk about karuta!

To use a Hunger Game’s title analogy in a way that works and yet doesn’t work to describe the recent seasons, Chihayafuru Season 3 is like the Mockingjay from the current Hunger Game’s trilogy. Season 1 is of course Hunger Games where the world and base characters are established and we have fun in the karuta tournament. Season 2 is Catching Fire where we go through the same things where everyone is leveled up and the ending changes things a little bit. Season 3 is Mockingjay follows from the second season’s ending and the weight of what is going on is pushed on our characters, the love triangle drama shows up more, and other things. It’s not a perfect analogy because there could be more Chihayafuru seasons and Chihayafuru does more complicated things in Season 3 before I described. Still, this a good way to understand what this season is about.

Chihayafuru Season 3 is a season about growing pains. This isn’t a third season where our kids play in nationals again. Oh no, it’s something entirely different. It is the season where we see adult’s love for Karuta, the card game the show is about, after high school. Chihaya and the kids she started out her karuta club with are reaching their third year in high school. The year of graduation and the year where they must decide their futures. In that way, focusing on adults playing karuta makes complete sense in context of the story on a thematical level. It makes even more sense with the focus of the season being the Karuta Meijin and Queen qualifying events and tournament arcs before the new year truly begins.

Chihaya and Taichi sleeping on the train home.

While I won’t say that Chihaya takes a back seat in this season because she plays heavily into the story itself, her role isn’t as prominent for this season. She’s still the singular focused karuta loving goofball she’s always been, but she’s challenged with choosing a future and possibly who to choose as a partner romantically. This is also the season of brave boys where Arata and Taichi step out to the plate and confess their feelings to her. So yeah, she wins a couple tournaments but she doesn’t play as much as you would expect. She has to instead focus on her future career of becoming a teacher. What kind of teacher is still up in the air as we speak. Instead of joining in on the master and queen qualifying events, she goes on her school trip. That context is how the show focuses on other people instead. It feels like a pretty natural conversion, don’t you think?

With that conceit out there, Chihayafuru season 3 gives the role of protagonist to Dr. Harada and former invincible Queen Haruka Inokuma. Dr. Harada is someone we know and love because he’s always been there. He’s the one who has trained Taichi and Chihaya ever since elementary school. He taught Arata until he moved before middle school His quest and love for karuta could not be measured despite his advanced age as he seeks the Master’s crown. On the other hand, Haruka Inokuma slowly makes her presence known in the Yoshino tournament vs Chihaya and then becomes a major focus in the second half. Haruka is back after giving birth to two children to take the Queen role yet ago so she still has to find a balance with taking care of her children while competing which thankfully the dad figure helps out with. She has a healthy marriage with her husband as she seeks the Queen crown once again.

Seeing the love of karuta being put into an older context is amazing because no sports anime ever does it to this level. Hikaru no Go gets close, but it’s not the same. Dr. Harada fighting against his aged body that can’t handle the stresses of a game of quickness and speed is amazing stuff. It really shows you how much love and drive he has for this game. Chihayafuru shows this with the numerous amounts of scenes where he’s lying down napping before each round or using an extra cushion to help his knees. Same with Haruka returning to the game after giving birth to two kids. The world has moved on since she has been prominent in the game itself. Can she find the motivation and drive to become a queen again after losing to Chihaya? Yes, but no. Real adult problems balance life with passion is so hard to watch because of how relatable it is.

Their competitors, the long standing Meijin and Queen of karuta are also focused on to give the competitions some strong sense of feeling behind it. It’s so strange that the karuta world makes them so intimidating because they are goof balls like almost every other character in the show. They just have more emotional baggage. Queen Shinobu has made a lot of appearances already, but this is where see her under greater focus. She’s a lonely girl that sees the cards as friends. Learning to accept other people is where her arc takes her. I honestly loved seeing her accept Chihaya as a friend in her life because it’s really softened her and opened her up to being more friendly even if she had some struggles to get there. I really like Shinobu and I hope she has a stronger presence in the possible seasons come.

Poor Doctor Harada

On the other hand, Master Suo is someone that I’ve honestly learned to despise. Master Suo has been the tall, sunglass wearing, soft spoken guy that has been despised by the karuta officials for a long time. We never find out why until this season. I don’t mind that Master Suo is a jerk who created a karuta style centered on getting the opponent to continually make fouls. That’s fine. I also don’t mind that he thinks of karuta in robotic terms and using the passion of other players against them. What I don’t like is how he treated Chihaya when stating her dream. Who is this man, despite being the karuta Meijin, to shoot down dreams? This is the first time Chihaya has lost confidence in herself in the entire show. Just to let you know, the second time also happens in this season towards the end and it’s a doozy. You guys can figure that one out on your own.

To bring this one back home, this season was also a massive season of growth and changing for our main trio of Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi. Chihaya, despite her Chihaya-ness, has really shown some real growth and maturity. Chihaya’s nature of choosing who she wants to win a battle has become more complex and her push for a dream of becoming a teacher, even if she doesn’t know what kind yet. At the same time, this arc was a real struggle for Taichi despite his success. He was stuck in his mindset of loving karuta because of Chihaya and really going down a dark hole. Poor guy who works to hard. To return to positivity, Arata really grew for me this season considering he gets more focus this season. He broke out of his introvert shell and even started his own karuta club. How wild is that? He’s grown on me as well.

Shinobu Changes

Of course, alongside those main characters are an infinite amount of side characters that got moments to shine or were pushed aside. Chihayafuru has so many side characters that it’s literally impossible to give them all the attention they need. It’s a massive strength and yet a massive weakness too. Still, I love that you can see an entire tournament room and know what all of these characters are going for and feel sad for the characters you like losing because you know about them. I do need to give some points to Hanano Sumire for really becoming one of the best girls in this anime. At the same time, I don’t want to bore you with all the side characters and their own small arcs in the series because I would be writing this post fordays. I’m not lying. I feel like it’s possible to have your favorite side character and know everything about them.

I do have to admit some other faults though. For all its strengths, Chihayafuru Season 3 has some major weaknesses too. The focus on adults was amazingly ambitious for a high school sports like series and I really thing it paid off in dividends with some costs. Ift left a lot of high schoolers besides obvious ones out in the cold focus wise. Mizusawa’s karuta team was left behind in the dust. We don’t get a lot of moments from Desktomu-kun, Nishida, Tsukube, or even Kana here. Kana needs more screen time because she’s Kana, best girl. That’s all I need to say on that. Then we can get into queen matches between Haruka and Shinobu that were just passed over, sped through, or used more for emotional points in the Meijin battles then their own. I do realize that the drama in the queen matches aren’t between the characters because they have all the respect for each other, but couldn’t we have gotten an episode or too with them just having a karuta match? How can you treat them with respect outside a match, but not inside a match? It feels insulting.

Suo and Taichi form an interesting relationship in this season.

The way Chihayafuru episodes are constructed always astound me. Always. The editing and quick cuts is something that Chihayafuru owns as a character style. Well, great directing too. Pointless quick cuts don’t add anything to the experience at all. Each cut has a purpose. Whether it’s a card slap or a quick cut to someone commenting on something that happened, every second of space in Chiahyafuru characterizes someone. There is no dead air until the dead air is needed to create a necessary mood. This is like watching a master surgeon at work and it’s incredible. Chihayafuru is so masterfully controlled in achieving tons of things all at once. It really pushes the boundaries of what is possible in anime. I do think that Chihayafuru has the luck of doing this in a simple context of karuta slapping and commenting. I don’t think you can do this with a space opera or a mecha series because more things are going on.

The visuals are alright in Chihayafuru because this isn’t a spectacle show. It involves card slapping which you can do through quick cuts and noises to get the impact down. I honestly feel that this works so much better in the way the show is doing compared to if every swing was animated with excruciating detail. That sense of action would really slow the show down pointlessly. There are some well animated swings, but they are always flash backs and provide context in what the characters. That works because you see that in moments when a character stands up to pick a card. A natural stopping point for those to happen. The directional and art are incredible though. It’s honestly astonishing what a series about card slapping to poems can do and look like. From the shoujo aesthetic that appears during romantic mometns to black cards to show the death of characters relationship to Karuta, there is a lot of thought put into this series that it’s just mind blowing.

I’m late putting a picture of Arata here, so have a critical hit.

Chihayafuru Season 3 was incredible. It is honestly astonishing how great this series was in its third season after all these years because it feels like it hasn’t aged a day. It feels the same, moves the same, thinks the same, and is cut the same. This season once again told me why Chihayafuru is one of my top favorite anime series ever. There is a subtle art to this series that makes it special and interesting. It’s not just about the Japanese card game, it’s about these characters playing something that they love to the highest degree possible and pursuing no matter what their circumstances are and/or how old they are. It’s a very inspirational series that can send positive messages to everyone no matter what their circumstances are. It’s an easy solid for me. No question about it. As a whole series, an easy recommend to everyone curious about Chihayafuru. For season 3, perfect follow up to season 2. That’s all that needs to be said.

When I scheduled this, I didn’t realize that this Chihayafuru post was post #900 on my blog? That’s perfect, but how did that happen? It’s very serendipitous and I’m so glad that it did hit this fabled spot. I realize that 900 posts isn’t a lot for some people who post daily, but I’m not a daily blogger. Not about that life style at all.

That daily life is too crazy for me. I mainly write my 2/3 post that appear during the week on the weekend and then only write a small amount over the week. Each post takes about 3-4 hours to write (sometimes shorter, sometimes longer. You know how it goes). I try to put as much thought and effort into each post as I can. Hopefully you can feel in each post that I write.

This blog is one of a small number of things that I have a large amount of pride for and I’m glad that you guys followed me on this long blog journey that will hopefully get longer. I should have written a bigger post celebrating this achievement, but writing about a thing where growing up and having a strong passion for something as you grow up are some of the main elements of the thing is enough don’t you think? That’s how I feel about watching anime and blogging right now.

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