Before I started watching this Chihayafuru live-action movie trilogy, I'd assumed that each film would cover one anime season. I was so wrong. That would have been way too much story, of course. At least the first film covered about half a season, though. (Eps.1-11.)
This sequel does two-and-a-half episodes. Seriously. It skips over ep.12 and does eps.13-14, plus some of ep.15.
There's nothing wrong with that, mind you. It's refreshing. It gives the film a thematic unity you probably wouldn't have got from a more sprawling narrative. It's about loneliness vs. togetherness, sometimes expressed in the form of individual vs. team tournaments. Our Mizusawa players are learning to support each other and play as a team. Shinobu and Arata are both isolated, although their opinions on this differ. Chihaya wants to drag Arata back and goes so far in her obsession that Taichi kicks her out of the Mizusawa team. Taichi has his own problems too.
It's quite good, but it's got one big hole in the middle. Taichi kicking Chihaya out of the team is staggeringly stupid. It's team suicide. You're jettisoning your strongest player (and the only one who'd stand a chance against the big boys) and letting your opponents sit out their weakest player in return. Even playing a pet monkey would have been better tactics.
It works as characterisation, mind you. Taichi's not thinking clearly. (Besides, we all know Chihaya will soon be back in the team.) However it's also grounds for immediately sacking him as club captain and I'm surprised at him for not taking that responsibility more seriously.
I also don't think these films have done enough to establish Arata's skill levels. We can see that Wakaya's an unstoppable national champion, but we've never really seen Arata play and so it feels a bit weird that she's never been able to beat Chihaya and Taichi's childhood friend. It works on a character level, e.g. the rather nice original scenes about Wakaya attending Arata's grandfather's funeral. However, again, it doesn't work as karuta.
I do quite like this film. The Mizusawa players' mutual support is lovely, for instance, especially since we've seen them having to learn it. I was amused by Suzu Hirose doing the same Very Weird Chihaya Crying as Asami Seto does in Season 3 ep.7 of the anime, even though this came out first. It's also even more painfully clear here that Chihaya's response to Wakaya's "when" is the WRONG ANSWER. Ultimately, though, this is just a charming, warm movie with likeable characters. It lacks what makes Chihayafuru special. It's digging deeper than Part 1 did into the karuta, but the matches themselves don't compare. They can't. The anime's got so much more screen time to explore with. The live-action film can't lead us through its characters' inner thoughts in the same way. It feels more like just another a speed contest, whereas the anime's an enthralling mind game.
It's a good film. But watch the anime, or read the manga.