It’s down to this Mizusawa vs. Hokuo, Chihaya vs. Sudo. Arata checks his e-mail. Two incidents of incidental contact, but only one was the result of magnetism and neither involved Taichi. Pork-bun finally gets off the couch to barrel roll through the competition and bringing tears to PSP-kun. Sudo was in front of Chihaya but all she had on her mind was Arata.
It was high time that Arata started getting more screen time and damn bloody time he started keeping up with his e-mail at work. It is just a testament to his poverty that Arata is taking the Kurt Warner path to glory and working at a bookstore for low pay, much like how Warner was bagging groceries before he got to be an NFL Quarterback. It is most unfortunate that Arata has no reliable internet access, but he is also a guy whose family is still using a rotary phone. Unlike those Taichi apologists who consider poverty to be a crime against humanity, I am not going to kill Arata for not being able to afford things we take for granted. What I am going to kill him for is not utilizing his work terminal during breaks. He’s earned that much at least and unlike his manager he’s trying get some work done instead of browsing lewd magazines for the better part of the workday. Still at least now he can keep up with Chihaya and stop using Taichi as a messenger. I am glad though that there will be a reunion and I cannot wait to see how Pork-bun and Taichi react to Arata’s return. I expect Pork-bun to issue a challenge and for Taichi to bitch and moan about this and that and everything in between when Arata gets Chihaya’s undivided attention.
It was sad to see Hokuo go down because this is all happening too fast and feels more than a little rushed since there wasn’t that much of a grind. Still all the credit in the world to Chihaya and Pork-bun for winning their matches, in Pork-bun’s case for finally getting off the couch to stick it to PSP-kun and for Chihaya putting the team on her back and carrying them to the promise land. Taichi did alright beating out an average and over confident foe in Retro-kun, but he’s got role player written all over him. Taichi can win against the middling players but he’s got no chance against the Aces and his fatal weakness is that he lacks speed and while he can memorize better it takes way too long for him to compile data and strike. For Taichi speed is where he will get killed day in and day out, it’s a correctable problem but there is no way he will be able to win against the top talent in the country when they got to the Nationals.
Hokuo was doomed the minute they started looking ahead to the Nationals before taking care of their business in the regionals. Basic coaching dictates that you play the game in front of you and not the next one down the line. Hokuo put the cart before the horse and got burned for it once they started disrespecting the competition and blew an early lead and snatched defeat from the jaws of victory. Retro-kun started playing the karuta equivalent of hero-ball (for those of you non-sports people, playing selfishly), PSP-kun started talking trash and gave Pork-bun a damn good reason to shut him up, and finally Sudo who realized way too late that Chihaya was in his class. It was a common enough mistake on Hokuo’s part a young team that went to great heights only to rest on their laurels and fail to get out of the first round. I hope Chihaya avoids that fate since I smell that defeat at the Nationals is a distinct possibility since we might finally meet the reigning Queen. Certainly it would seem silly for Chihaya to just blitz through with the roster she’s leading considering the level of the competition is going to only get higher. Taichi will find himself over matched, Kana-chan and Desk-kun will likely get crushed, and Pork-bun and Chihaya will face largely equal competition.
Speaking of disappointment I had a good laugh when Desk-kun had the nerve to bitch about the result of one play and tried to weasel his way out with hither to unknown “pinky rule.” It is poor sportsmanship to not only complain but even more so to rail against the ruling after it was delivered. Just all round pathetic and Desk-kun deserved to lose, and I am glad he got blown out by 16 cards making that play completely pointless and made him look all the more foolish. I can see that even after that outburst last week Desk-kun will forever be the anchor and will continually get embarrass against the competition. At this point Taichi should just break out the pom poms and start doing splits, a coach is way more than just a cheerleader. A coach, hell even a team captain, should be able to lead the team but also make every one under him and around him better. A coach should be the one coming up with line ups and be able to form a strategy. Instead Taichi wasn’t really paying attention to anything but himself.
It was great of him to admit that he fucked up last time when he put unnecessary pressure on Chihaya, but sad that he can do little more than be a cheerleader. At least Pork-bun can be the one to come up with the game plan, and Chihaya can catch on to what other teams are doing well and implement it. Say what you will about Taichi, but as a sports fan to me he is no coach even if his ignorant fans would crown him as such. Taichi might be able to cheer on Kana-chan and Desk-kun but only Chihaya made the effort to make the better and pushed them passed what they thought were their limits. I expect Taichi to not only get crushed at the nationals he’s going to look lost when the top teams start rolling. Maybe Arata will bail him out, maybe not since Arata probably won’t be able to do more than give advice. Given the history I doubt Taichi can take his lumps and be receptive to Arata’s advice. For his sake he better hope his mother doesn’t show up and start making a scene when her son gets exposed by the Aces of the opposing teams. If she does somehow show up I will have a good laugh if Taichi just takes it and his mom makes an ass of herself when the Regional Champions of Japan demonstrate how they are so much more talented than her son.
I am really proud of Pork-bun for not only realizing how he was mailing it in and admitting that he was a quitter, but he did something about it. I like to see a reaction to an epiphany and Pork-bun took it to the house when PSP-kun started talking trash. Pork-bun was resting on his laurels but when he got punched in the mouth and mocked he got angry and won. The barrel roll was a bit much but it showed that he wanted to win more than PSP-kun and Pork-bun came from behind and won with class. This is in stark contrast to Taichi who three years ago got punched in the mouth and responded by cheating; Pork-bun ripped out PSP-kun’s heart and told his ass that Nishida Yusei was the winner and that Noe rejected PSP-kun’s FAKE TEARS. This is true character building and improvement, it is not enough to realize you fucked up you have to pick yourself up and correct it. Chihaya did well against Sudo, and hopefully she won’t let mind games get in her way. Sudo was by far her craftiest competition as he tried to psyche out Chihaya and was able to stall and keep her off balance for most of the game. It was a close one but in the end Sudo slipped up when he played prevent defense and Chihaya made him pay for it.
I really hope that we see Hokuo at a later point I want to see a heated rivalry because steel does sharpen steal and a true rival would really help Chihaya improve her game in a way Taichi never will. I just wonder how Arata is going to play a bigger role, so far his shadow has haunted Pork-bun (who seems to be on his way to recovery) and Taichi (who is really going now where fast). Chihaya still has her mind on Arata and while Sudo wasn’t the object of her affections, it certainly started giving Chihaya dreams of playing Arata and having incidental contact with him. I really look forward to seeing more of Arata even if his shadow and mere mention was inciting misery in Taichi.
Hana’s thoughts: on frenemies
This was a great episode! Not only did we see the Scooby Gang win their final matches in the regional stage of the tourney that they began last week, but we also got to meet some old Karuta-loving, er, friends, and a cute cat, and… finally… ARATA! Unfortunately, like the kitty, Arata’s appearances were rather brief. However, aside from the fact that real a life, real time Arata was finally in this episode, I like the fact that his absence was sort-of explained via his apparently perennial poverty and internetlessness. The brevity of Arata-screentime makes us even more eager to witness the progress of Chihaya and co. in the next round of the tourney, not least of all to see this through Arata’s eyes, assuming that he’ll go to watch and support them having received Chihaya’s latest messages. And speaking of reappearances from old friends, Retro-kun, Sudo-senpai, PSP-tard and co. were thoroughly entertaining to watch, not least of all Sudo’s sadistically suave attempts to frazzle our lovely heroine. Clearly, it takes more than tall, silver-haired bishies to get under Chihaya’s skin for long. Either way, whether or not there are any Chihaya x Sudo shippers among you now, it was easy for all of us to enjoy the tension provided by these old friends, now her rivals for the Karuta Crown. In contrast, Taichi continues to grow more interesting for different reasons, and I enjoyed seeing yet another side to his leader-mode. While not as flamboyant as Chihaya’s speed and super-hearing, Taichi’s memorization skills are nonetheless impressive and it was satisfying seeing him dig deep and focus on drawing on his own strengths to win his match. And win they all did! And a lovely group photo at the end to show for it, to draw things together and to bring Arata back into the story. If he chooses to be ‘brought’. I also loved his head-tilt while viewing the snap-shot that Chihaya sent to him, symbolising the further and greater ‘effort’ he’ll have to make in order to re-enter her life in a more active way than he’s done so far…