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I saw Chihayafuru Musubi recently and it was fabulous. I really wish someone would license the whole trilogy for local release because I want another look at Chihaya’s character arc from start to finish.

Major spoilers ahead.

I really can’t review this without going into details so if all you want to know is: should I see this film then the answer is absolutely[1], especially if you enjoyed Chihayafuru: Kami no Ku and Chihayafuru: Shimo no Ku.

Chihaya’s Arc

In all versions of Chihayafuru Chihaya moves from the vicarious dream of wanting her sister to be the top model to her own dream of becoming the Queen of Karuta. Kami no Ku and particularly the framing footage of Shimo no Ku, establish Chihaya’s path to being the Queen of Karuta.

But what do you do after your dream?

No, really, what do you do next?

So many anime etc are written from the perspective of being the best, winning Nationals for whatever sport or competition is involved, etc, but very, very, few ask the question of what’s next?

Chihayafuru Musubi not only asks the question but comes up with a great answer. I hasten to add that it wouldn’t be the only answer, but it’s the right answer for Chihaya’s character.

This is partly why I want to rewatch the earlier parts of the trilogy: I suspect that this was being set up right from the beginning and want to make sure.

A core part of Chihayafuru as a franchise has always been Chihaya’s essential loneliness. This leads to Chihaya emphasising team karuta as much, and sometimes more, than her own individual ambitions.

In Chihayafuru Musubi Chihaya is also faced with the hammer of her 3rd year at high school. This is the year in which students are facing cram schools, college entrance exams[2], and those ubiquitous career preference slips[3]. To make it worse there’s pressure on Taichi to quit karuta if his grades slip, and only two new members of the club[4].

There’s a constant building pressure on Chihaya over this film as she realises that “her” karuta at Mizusawa High School is ending, possibly without achieving her goals, reinforced by scenes of tearful 3rd years from other schools hoping that their kouhais[5] will succeed where they failed.

The Final Inspiration

In the middle of this Miyauchi-Sensei, possibly unwittingly, provides the inspiration for Chihaya to find her path. In the first movies, Miyauchi-Sensei provided the team with plain white straps to tie up the sleeves of their formal hakamas whilst playing[6]. In Chihayafuru Musubi she provides them with much more impressive blue straps that are personalised with their names.

Miyauchi-Sensei also gets a couple of other scenes as a teacher that don’t seem like much at the time but collectively provide Chihaya with her answer: to pay forward to karuta, to Mizusawa High School, all that karuta and the Mizusawa Karuta Club have given her.

I think the two new members – Tsukuba and Hanano – also contribute to this final inspiration. Speaking of the new members, the compressed character arcs of the movie work well for them in the context of inspiring Chihaya to hand in that career preference slip with something written on it that shocks and delights Miyauchi-sensei.

Taichi and Arata

There’s some interesting timings at play in this film. The Master/Queen matches are held in January and Chihaya almost qualified to challenge Shinobu. A new character, Io, defeated her for the title of Junior Queen, and Chihaya is in attendance as a card collector during this match. So Chihayafuru Musubi basically runs from January to July of Chihaya’s third year of high school.

Arata is also on hand and comes right out and confesses to Chihaya afterwards, leaving her somewhat shocked.

On this topic Chihaya is as clueless as usual. She doesn’t answer Arata until right near the end of the film, and even then mostly because Taichi is pushing her to do so. So, of course, Chihaya eventually answers in favour of pursuing karuta.

Mostly I think the confession is there to drive Taichi’s arc of isolation from the club seeking to become strong enough under Master Suo to challenge Arata.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Taichi’s arc here strongly parallels Chihaya’s arc in Kami no Ku.

Taichi’s arc is resolved with a fascinating shout out to Chihayafuru Season 2. Chihaya’s finger injury is transferred to Kana-chan and as she’s going to put the roster in for the final match, Taichi intervenes to take her place… and winds up facing Arata. Chihaya is facing Io again in a rematch.

The moment here that really sings is when it turns out that Chihaya was wearing Taichi’s strap to secure her hakama, and passes it back to Taichi before pulling out her own. For Chihaya, Taichi was still part of the team.

At that point the conclusion of the national team competition is mostly there to serve as the conclusion to Chihaya and Taichi’s initial ambitions: for Mizusawa to be the best in Japan, and for Taichi to finally beat Arata in the doing.

In the process Taichi becomes confident enough to push Chihaya to respond to Arata… only for her to avoid the issue as noted above.

The Queen Match and What Comes After

We’ve previously seen Chihaya entering the Queen match against Shinobu in the framing footage for Shimo no Ku, but Chihayafuru Musubi mostly skips it as part of the credits in an animated style reminiscent of rotoscoping[7].

There’s almost a sense of “you knew this was coming, here’s a nod to it whilst we use it to get to the point”.

That point comes as an Easter egg after the credits that introduces Chihaya both as the 66th Queen of Karuta and as the coach of Mizusawa’s much larger Karuta team at a later National Teams event.

On the one hand I find the idea of Chihaya as a teacher to be utterly terrifying[8].

On the other hand: it fits. It provides the growth, the extension to Chihaya’s character, the answer to what do you do after your dream that provides the perfect capstone to this set of live action movies.

There are a lot of emotional moments in this film, looking back on them most if not all were connected to this resolution.

As I said at the beginning of this post Chihayafuru Musubi is thoroughly recommended to all fans of the series. Roll on series 3 of the anime in 2019!

[1] Also: nearly everything in this post is wrong. Much as I expected.

[2] Cf Hibike! Euphonium, the first Kimagure Orange Road movie I Want To Return To That Day, and also the fact that the entire Maison Ikkoku series was built on failing those exams.

[3] Seen most recently in Hisone and Masotan but they come up frequently in anime.

[4] As far as I can tell the movies skip Chihaya’s second year of high school entirely with a comment to the effect that they didn’t get any new members last year, and that the club will die when they graduate if they fail this year.

[5] Juniors

[6] I’m sure there’s a proper name for these straps but I don’t know what it is.

[7] It may well have been but I don’t know enough to be sure.

[8] Admit it: so do you.