For those that have been complaining about the lack thereof, Arata finally gets more screen time. This includes some history on the connection between him and Invincible Queen Shinobu as well as something which contributes to this season’s team-before-individual feel. Mainly, Arata attends the team tournament to support Chihaya and Taichi but gets sidetracked into helping a former middleschool acquaintance’s team, Fujioka West, that finds itself short members at the last moment. Arata helps out, risking forfeiture of his place in the individual tournament if discovered.
These episodes also emphasize Taichi's attention toward taking proactive steps to correct avoid instances where Chihaya would be likely to give into distractions, be they the sound of Arata’s voice, the thrill of victory in taking a card from a tough opponent, or the effect of opposing teams’ karuta tactics. Here the series does a good job of playing off a very tongue-in-cheek greedy lover aspect. Taichi’s jealousy towards Chihaya’s unbridled excitement regarding anything to do with Arata (most notably here, his potential presence) is actually misdirected. Chihaya is, after all (in my opinion), in love with Arata’s dedication to, prowess in, and love of karuta. In short, Ayase’s in love with his love of the game, something Taichi doesn’t lack but also doesn’t seem to exude. His frustration is thus misplaced and opens up the potential for great drama down the road.
Team Mizusawa faces off against a top-ranked public high school whose members are also seemingly distant from the game itself, using it as a means toward doing well on exams rather than for the sake of the game itself. Each member is so adept at memorization that their tactics initially befuddle Chihaya in the second round of the team finals. Mizusawa's previous round was against aesthetically non-Japanese players feigning to be foreigners, so this second team’s uniqueness reeks of attention-grabbing oddities. At least the emphasis is only initially on the absurd; the episodes involved with these distinct teams still focus on tactics and team-based relationships. The intent, of course, is presenting teams as unique as the individual opponents faced by the protagonists in season 1. But these opponents just seem more gimmicky for a reason which I can’t quite seem to finger. Of course, true to this season of turning people around to love the game of karuta, at least one member of the opposing team seems to get smitten after being smote, in a fashion almost annoyingly parallel to that of the previous team.
Desktomu (glasses) also takes a blow; he’s so focused on collecting data on other teams that he keeps himself out of matches by constantly running around and spying on other matches. Thus he falls into more of a support role instead of aggressively pursuing playing, for which he’s rebuked by Porky. This throws tension into the team dynamic before their match against Shoyo in round 3 of the tournament. This development seems too sudden though, which gives it a shallow air despite the wealth of opportunities it brings. Much is made of Desktomu’s value as observer, but also how that affects other members of the team.
Chihaya reaches an understanding of how tiring the gathering of such detailed intelligence can be and comes to a rational decision regarding what would be best for the team, which ultimately further softens her reputation as a well-meaning but selfish ace; whether intentionally or by chance, Chihaya thus takes the weight of choosing the order for the next match off of Mashima’s shoulders. Hanano misidentifies with what she thinks is Desktomu’s apprehension, but this bond is relevant in that she’s yet to solidly feel valuable. Ultimately, Desktomu’s not only making her feel involved via the taking of notes, no matter how seemingly trivial, but he is actually able to translate Hanano’s notes about personal aesthetics and fashion accessories into tatically valuable character traits that define Mizusawa's future opponents. This makes up for my earlier gripe about sending her off to study other teams’ performances despite knowing near nothing of karuta. The decision is still wonky, but the application is solid.
With such an emphasis on struggle and growth within the team, there was no time to showcase a quirky opponent. Instead, the series makes of the opposing team a pun and applies an air of serious threat. The focus on Desktomu's notes (the taking thereof and their use in the match) as opposed to the action of karuta identifies his efforts as essential to the team win.
For their third match in this 4-episode roundup, Mizusawa competes against Akashi Girls School, a team whose ace, Megumu, is so competent that their members are already looking ahead to finals. Later, this underestimation affords Chihaya an opportunity to further her selflessness; she volunteers (reluctantly) to play a position that would allow team Mizusawa a chance at an easier win rather than play a position that would challenge her individually. A good deal of the episode, however, is spent on Megumu’s history, and that’s an indicator of how tough of an opponent she’ll be. After all, Megumu’s teammates are solidified in trying to make her the queen without regard to their own particular standing. This is serves as a lovely foil to Mizusawa, where the ace, Chihaya, is mostly concerned for her group’s advancement.
I’m probably in the minority for loving the fact that the cameramen obsessed over Megumu get a flashback to explain their obsession (and consequently contribute to the building of Megumu’s character). For whatever reason, this, coupled with the break from goofy team-of-the-week and the building of conflict within team Mizusawa, righted the flow of the series in this season for me. Suddenly I'm completely reinvigorated for more! And because I can, and because she's awesome, here's perhaps one of my favorite (m)Oe screenshots: