Hello there. *waves* This is review number fifty four. It’s still part of the Fall 2011 line up. Our country was devastated by flood by the way and almost ruined my laptop. Some of the flooded area has chest high rain water invading their homes. I escaped to the countryside where the canals are cleaner compared to the city. It’s the second time the Philippines got a town or two disappear in the flood. Please pray for the lives of the people who are devastated by the flood. I was lucky cause the province has high mountains. No floods here, just landslides. XD
Anywas, I’m reviewing Chihayafuru. It’s a twenty five episode anime about the traditional japanese game called karuta. It’s one of the best in the Fall lineup. It looks like a lot of heavy hitters aired last Fall. I’m not including Guilty Crown since people hate it. I don’t know why but meh. Let’s just read on already.
Chihaya Ayase discovers the wonderful sport of karuta through a classmate of hers. While growing up, she always tries to be better than him. She decided to create a karuta club to meet more people interested in the game all while trying to keep the promise of becoming the greatest karuta player in the world.
Taking the Pants Off
It’s always the anime you feel hesitant about that gets you to sit in front of your laptop for six hours. I was skeptic about this anime because the premise doesn’t sound that exciting. A premise about a traditional Japanese game? It’s not really something you’ll pick up right away. I personally feel that it’s just another anime set to brainwash people into checking out the Japanese culture. As if there haven’t been enough of that throughout the years. All skepticism aside, I did enjoy the anime. An anime’s strength is to keep you glued to your screen for hours and this anime did just that.
Chihayafuru is about a Japanese game called karuta. It’s a matching game where a reader reads a poem entry and you have to search the card that continues that poem before the opponent gets it. There are one hundred poems all in all and both players splits the cards in 50/50 with both players aligning them in three rows. When you get a passage right then you can send one of your cards to your opponent’s side. The first to clear their side wins the game. It’s a game about concentration, memorization and fast reflexes. It’s really hard too. Imagine memorizing 100 phone numbers and then matching them with the name of the person who owns it. It’s pretty daunting. I personally don’t want to try that. Geez.
The anime is deceptively of the Sports genre. I didn’t believe it too because judging by the art, I thought it’ll be Slice of Life kinda how Sakamachi Apollon has jazz as a theme but it’s actually romance. The first few episodes doesn’t also show it but there are certain elements of the Sports genre present in this anime. The sports genre always has characters who are obsessed with the sports as it completely consumes their lives. The anime mostly revolves around that sport and the audience is introduced into the wonderful world of that sports. One good example is Captain Tsubasa that has soccer as a theme and viewers are admittedly inspired by the anime because of its nice showcasing of soccer. Chihayafuru is basically the same as we are introduced to competitive karuta and the players who are passionate to be the best karuta player ever. It’s so convincing that might want to try it too.
There are three main plot points in the anime. One is the beautiful friendship formed during elementary by Chihara Ayase, Taichi Mashima and Arata Wataya through karuta. It was also why the anime didn’t seem like a Sports anime. Before the story ever got off the ground, the character dynamic of the three is infatuating. There was real chemistry between the three. Arata is a loner who is being teased by his classmates. Chihara tries to befriend him and Mashima would always frown whenever she tries to be sweet to the loner. I was hoping for some romantic tension because the anime is actually about the three friends in high school all grown up. The story about the three and how they became friends was touching. It was the set up for the rest of the anime. All three of them promised to get better at karuta and become the greatest karuta player in Japan.
The second plot point is about Chihara starting a karuta club in her school. Other people think the game is not worth putting effort in so it was a fun thing to see Chihara and her forceful natures try to recruit people. She eventually got enough to start a club. The anime is about the karuta club becoming better karuta players as they challenge better karuta players and each other. Along the way, all five members began to support and outplay each other both as friends and rivals.
The third plot point is about Chihara trying to attain the highest rank in karuta, the Queen. There were a lot of episodes dedicated to her perfecting her technique and trying to become a better player with faster reflexes. Throughout her journey to get stronger, she faces some pretty outstanding karuta players each with their own unique style of playing. Her dedication is also challenged when she was chewed by the current Queen. She realized their gap and tried to overcome it.
The best thing about the anime is that the story is really nicely paced. It manages to juggle all three plot points pretty nicely and still get people to enjoy the karuta matches. The main bread and butter of the anime are the actual karuta games. There was some pretty intense story telling during each match and there was some great psychology in it. Like any other match, we get commentary from the spectators and we also treated to the things the players are thinking as the game is being played. That adds some hype to the matches and it’s actually pretty exciting when a player turns the game around then wins it. The complicated stuff about the cards being poems didn’t get in the way and I just honestly blocked out all of them but I still enjoyed the matches.
The matches are great but the overall story is pretty impressive too. The three plot points had some great developments between them and there was balance throughout the anime. Each of the plots was interesting to watch. The eventual reunion of the three friends was one of the best moments in the anime. The members of the karuta club overcoming their weaknesses and strive for their individual goals was something worth tuning to and Chihara slowly inching her way to the Queen rank was great as well. I was seriously rooting for all the characters in the anime.
That is also something really great about the anime. The characters were great and they were all given time to develop. The members of the karuta club were really special and they all possess some unique personality. The anime had this simple idea of letting background characters introduce the main ones. Absolutely no named characters would gossip among each other and they viewers would then get an idea of the individual. The anime even opened with three nameless guys talking about Chihara before the anime introduces her. It was a smart move and something unique to the anime. Chihara herself is likeable with an airhead personality but with passion for karuta that seems infectious. It’s not easy to like the characters in this anime and it doesn’t take long before you start rooting for them.
It’s not a Sports genre without some bad ass opponents as well. These characters are great in their own right. The standout is the current Queen who, according to the Sports handbook, crushes the main character in their first meeting. She has this awesome arrogance with her that you love to hate. There aren’t a lot of rival characters though and they were pretty easy to track because they eventually become supporting characters as the anime progresses.
The anime has one huge downside though. The anime kind of petered out in the second half and it still introduced some characters even though the anime is close to the final episode. The three main plot points were not carried through until the end. Instead, they focused on the newly introduced characters and they downplayed the rest. Chihara did nothing worth spoiling towards the end of the anime. Instead of a rematch for the Queen, we are treated to a karuta game to determine the current King and Queen of karuta. It ends as if setting the stage for another season. It’s kind of like Kimi ni Todoke (obscure reference for people who have never the anime) where you were expecting the two main character to kiss but it suddenly shifted to the side characters and ended rather pathetically because it has a second season. God that was an awful example but I’m saying that this anime has another season already in the works.
So the climatic reunion of the three friends in the championship, the goals of the karuta club members to be fulfilled and Chihara’s rise to Queen will have to wait for another season. It’s OK though because the first half is really fulfilling with some incredible karuta matches and steady character development. Besides, you’re already hooked by the time you reach the second half.
Sight and Sound
The anime has a light color palette that is relaxing to look at. It’s one of the reasons why I thought the anime was Slice of Life. There are some pretty awesome backgrounds in the anime that are subtlety slipped in without distracting the story. The anime also has some amazing camera angles. When a karuta card flies, the view is there to catch it. There was one awesome scene where one of the members peeked through the glass door and a karuta card hits the glass. It even went slow mo. It was pretty awesome. There was also a floor view. How do you call it? It was as if the floor was transparent and we see the cards laid out and the characters as they think.
The character design is impressive as well. Chihara is an obvious standout with her red eyes (is it rose red?) and orange hair. Most of the time, the anime really loves to focus on her face and you really see how beautiful she is. There was a large range of characters here from super bishies to simple ones and even fat ones. There was even a bishoujo who turned fat. It was awesome.
The OP, “YOUTHFUL” by 99RadioService, really fits the anime nicely. It has a nice beat to it with the singer’s voice really pleasant to the ears. The rhythm of the song is also pretty addictive. The opening sequence is nicely done as well. There were no spoilers but it still captured the idea of the anime. The ED song was slower. The ending sequence was nice too. Asami Seto’s voice really stands out as a slow ballad slowly accompanies her. The scene of the autumn leaves and the sunset was a nice touch.
8/10“A nice anime about the competitive sport in karuta.”
I hope the second season lives up to the hype but this anime was outstanding. The animation was a definite standout, the characters are all likeable and the story is really absorbing. It’s not hard to like the anime. I highly recommend it.