Opening scene: The High School Karuta Regional Championship, Tokyo Region.
The audience is astounded.
How can this be?
The matches have become....
4 individual matches of "sudden death"! (TN: Each player for each of the 4 remaining matches has one card left, and depending on chance, whoever has the next card that is read, wins.)
Nishida is sweating bullets for his teammates. A duel of fates where whoever has the next card that is read closest to his hand will be victorious. But...
Damn! Damn! Damn! think Tsutomu and Taichi together. At this rate...we might actually end up with 0 wins!
(In small captions, the mangaka has indicated that Kana can't even read the card that is closer to her opponent, and Chihaya is only staring at her own card.)
"As expected of Hokuo," comments Hiroshi. "A solid competitive team. They've already divided their cards evenly." But beside him, Hokuo's teacher is having a sudden reaction.
"Dividing cards" (TN: literally "分牌" in Chinese) is only an option of last resort for a dueling team. Even though out of 5 matches, a team need only take 3 wins to be victorious, then the team that has the first win... in order to secure 2 more wins they evenly divide amongst themselves the 2 remaining cards "A" and "B" in a staggered fashion.... As long as they each guard their own cards they can guarantee their fighting advantage.
"They'll then tell their neighboring team mate which card they have in their possession...so the last time they send over "penalty" cards they will distribute them evenly... " (TN: I'm not sure what Hiroshi means by "很明顯是违規規的戦略" in the next panel. It has something to do with a "violation of the rules," but he can't mean the Hokuo team. He's probably referring to Hokuo's teacher when he says it. Hokuo's teacher says something ridiculous about having a referee adjudicate over the match)
"No matter if 'asano' or 'asaborake' is read next," surmises Harada, "Hokuo will take another 2 wins. In terms of this team competition, Mizusawa should have gambled on 3 of the same cards in order to take 3 victories at once. At that point, they still would have had a 50% chance of winning."
Since it's come to this, they must overtake their opponents in order to win....
Taichi is speechless and sweating bullets at this point. It's my fault I didn't prepare enough...I never thought it would come to this situation...we don't have enough practice as a team.
The accumulated experience of (a team from) an elevator school...
The gap between us and Hokuo Academy eventually shows up here!
Chihaya (finally) comes to the reality of their situation. Ah...Ah? Could it be we are at a disadvantage in taking 3 wins?
....How could that be? What do we do? What to do? she asks herself in consternation. She looks over in Meat bun's direction and notices he is shaking in fury (beating himself up).
What the hell am I doing? And I even said "I'm going to make you strong" to the others... I certainly talked big in front of the freshmen but pathetically I was the first to lose my match. What a hypocrite! Everyone's really giving it their all... They're certainly doing their best... but this is all my fault that it's come to this!
Chihaya sees him and immediate practices her swing before the next card is read. (TN: Wow, sure has been a while since the last card was read....) Everyone is surprised by her actions, but she's doing it to break up the mood. Taichi soon follows suit.
Even if Chihaya's opponent's card, 'asaborake' is read she is still going to attack. If 'asano' is read, then I will go on the offensive. Taichi then goes over in his head which cards should be left and prepares himself to time his strike correctly.
Mizusawa's 3 wins...our victory....
How can we just give up before the end? Taichi and Chihaya are of similar minds and won't give up. Their audacity shocks the audience members.
Ah-- they really look as though they really will go on the offensive--
If Mizusawa goes on the offensive then this is no ordinary "sudden death" match!
Sudo takes up the next card and reads the opening verse while the players anxiously guard the cards on their side.
We're not in the same predicament as Mizusawa, thinks Amakusa. We don't have to go on the offensive. We just have to protect the card we have and it's OK to ignore everything else--
He understands, right? thinks Hiro nervously.
I'm going to attack! thinks Taichi.
He really should understand! sweats Hiro.
I need to attack! stares Taichi, intensely focusing on his opponent's card.
At the next verse, Hiro suddenly makes a mistake and touches his card when the verse belonged to a "blank" card. Mizusawa's players and Hokuo's players are in shock.
"MIZUSAWA, 1 WIN!" shouts Taichi proudly.
That was not Hyoro-kun's fault, thinks Harada-sensei. That was Taichi's battle stance (TN: aura?), the intention to never give up...that became Hyoro's undoing.
Duel of fate... thinks Taichi, wiping his face with a handkerchief. It's not a duel of fate...it's not!
Now both sides have 1 victory each, concludes Harada. What comes next is hard to predict. Mizusawa has come from under the unbearable pressure of being at a disadvantage... to a formiddable opponent.
What kind of joke is this, Hiro! thinks Amakusa. Not only is it because of his (divination) cards that we've come to this, but because of that sort of mistake he's given up a hard-to-come-by opportunity for us! What if we lose? Will you take responsibility?
I'm gonna pummel you! Amakusa thinks back at what he said at the end of their prior match, and how he wanted to just take it easy for this game since they were already qualified to go to the nationals.
I'm gonna pummel you!!
Victory! After our victory... I'm gonna beat the **** out of you!
In the background, Hiro is tearing up and also bitter about his loss.
Amakusa then starts to practice his arm strikes as well.
He's going to attack! thinks an audience member.
His teacher and Sudo silently watch him. Amakusa-kun....
When the "a" syllable is read, I'm going to guard my card... and if the next syllable is "bo" then I'm going to attack. If it's "asashi" then I'm going to refrain, and if it's "asano" then I'm going to hold the card down.
What's the use of not taking the win in a tournament we should be victorious in? We are Hokuo! HOKUO!
Sudo picks up the next card. Amakusa... Amakusa, you have to be carful!
Even in your situation... there are still people who can come up short.
The next card is read.
Chihaya is the first to attack, while Kana holds her ground and Tsutomu goes on the offensive as well.
"I was faster!" announces Amakusa furiously.
"Not true," says Chihaya calmly.
"I was faster!!"he insists. (TN: What a baby...)
Amakusa appeals to the referee, but even he is clueless.
"Just then..." begins Chihaya. "We touched the card at the same time." Chihaya quietly bows and gives thanks, admitting her defeat.
Amakusa is silent.
(TN: Chihaya managed to slip one finger under her opponent's hand, but since they both touched the card at the same time, the win belongs to the holder of the card, Amakusa.)
Announcer: "Hokuo 3 wins, Mizusawa 2 wins. Hokuo is victorious."
The players all bow and exchange thanks.
Cut scene: the aftermath
As Miyauchi is clapping with the audience, Oe-san cries into a handkerchief. The audience is commenting on what a brutal match that was. Others are commenting that they are relieved of the tension now while others still, are commenting that such a sight can only be seen every 10 years or so.
When Sudo asks Amakusa if Hokuo is the strongest team in Tokyo, Amakusa still looks visibly shaken.
He finally answers, "No. At the very last moment, I was only reacting to Ayase and guarded my card. If it was 'asashi' I would have made a mistake. I can't hear the difference. In this sort of match, I can't say that Hokuo is truly the stronger team...."
Sudo just smirks at him and says if they can't be Tokyo's strongest, then they should aim to be the nation's strongest team. Everyone looks at him in shock. When he tells them he's going to use the club budget to go watch them at the nationals they all stand frozen solid.
Cut scene: in the Mizusawa corner
Chihaya has passed out on the tatami and Tsutomu suggests it's about time to pick her up and leave. Meat bun is profusely apologizing for being the first to lose but then Chihaya suddenly sits up and startles him.
"I'm... I'm really happy!" she announces. "This is the happiest I've ever been!" Her team members start tearing up.
Cut scene: Back at Mizusawa High
As the club members start to shuffle out of the school entrance, Taichi turns to Sumire.
"Hanano-kouhai, aren't you going my way?"
"Ah, I'm sorry!" she responds. "There's something...." She turns and heads in the opposite direction as everyone else.
Harada is excited as he's been propositioned by Tsubuka and his little brothers to let them join the Shiranami Society. He'll have 4 new recruits at once. He turns as he notices someone behind him.
"Ah, here comes another. Will you be the fifth?"
Sumire stares at him, a little embarrassed.
Cut scene: on the commuter train
"We're leaving first!" shouts Chihaya to the others from behind the subway doors. "I'll see you the day after tomorrow! We still have to face the nationals head on and practice, so see you later!"
Kana stands with Tsutomu and Meat bun and gently waves goodbye as the train pulls away. Chihaya watches them from the window when her phone suddenly indicates she's received a text.
"Ah! It's Arata!" she exclaims excitedly, clutching her phone. "Arata sent a text! (How rare!)"
"Eh?" inquires Taichi.
The text reads: How was the Tokyo Regional championship? Was it fun?
Chihaya stares at the text screen with a smile that slowly melts into tears as she holds the phone against her forehead and starts to cry. She thinks back on when she bowed in defeat against Amakusa. Her mind wanders back to a time when all three of them were small, and they asked her why she's crying. Back then, she said it was because she was so happy.
Taichi watches her silently.
Cut scene: Arata stands alone as a breeze picks up around him
Back in Fukui, Arata is reading her response text on his phone.
This time was the happiest I'd ever felt...
...and the most dissatisfied.