Chihayafuru II Review

This is review number two hundred and fifty. This anime is part of the Winter 2013 lineup. I actually watched this show when it was airing and re-watched it again to write this review. I’ll try to crunch as much anime as I can before this vacation of mine ends. Anyways, the anime I’ll be reviewing is Chihayafuru 2. It’s that cute karuta sports game that has three beautiful main characters. It’s a twenty five episode anime about the competitive sports of karuta. I love this anime back when it aired on the Fall 2011 lineup and I think the second season is a long time coming. Is it worth the wait? Did the second season meet the awesomeness of the first season? Let’s read on.

Story

This anime is about Chihaya and the rest of the karuta club gearing up for the group tournaments and the individual matches they trained a long time for. It’s their second year in high school and Chihaya has one goal. She wants them to be the best in Japan. She wants them to win the tournaments and dominate the individual matches. This is easier said than done though when she is up against teams that have a freakish winning streak and individuals that are primed to be the next potential Meijin and Queen. There is also that reunion Chihaya is looking forward to after Arata recently regained his love for karuta. That promise that they’ll meet in the national championships.

Taking the Pants Off

Chihayafuru was a pleasant surprise back when it aired last 2011. It was full blown Shoujo but it had strong components of Sports. It also has three beautiful main characters that aren’t drawn like the rest of the cast. Only Taichi can pull off pink hair and still look so goddamn manly whenever the camera does a close up of his face. I admit to having uncomfortable dreams involving Arata and I think Chihaya is one of the most beautiful anime characters I’ve seen in my journey to 1000. Something about her eyes and her long build and her unique color hair really makes her unforgettable. The anime does have beautiful people but I think it was the competitive sports of Karuta that made the whole show amazing. The Sports genre has always been full of overly determined characters fighting strong opponents yet still being able to win because of their undying passion for the game. I think this show was the first time the whole manly concept of a sports genre became so feminine. I mean that in a really good way. Chihayafuru is a feminine sports anime that has a cute love story on the side and a handful of passionate characters with an undying love for the game. It’s that simple idea that made the second season a must watch. I seriously watched this anime while it was airing. It was to test if I can do a weekly episodic post but I found it just too limited and restrictive. I’ve disciplined myself to control spoilers and I learned that episodic posts do exactly the opposite: it talks about the spoilers. I didn’t want that. So I watched the anime until the last episode then re-watched it again six months later just so I can do this review. A lot of people hated the second season. I think the first season built a really open ended platform that includes a lot of things. These are, unfortunately, things that the second season cannot fit in its episodic run. I think the thing that bugged people the most was that they wanted the love triangle to finally materialize and if you are hoping it would happen as well then you’ll be disappointed. This anime is about the sport of karuta WITH a love triangle on the side. One takes priority over the other and it is a bit disappointing when you realize what the show wanted to focus on the most.

There were three clear plot points in the first season that I still remember to this day. The first one was about Chihaya building a club so she can participate in the group tournaments. Karuta isn’t considered a serious thing by most people but I think the whole school took notice when this hastily built club got first place in the Tokyo regionals. In the end of the show, Chihaya was given a little more respect for her passion and she even convinced this mean old lady to be a full supporter of the club. She must find five new recruits for the next year though or else she’ll lose her clubroom. The second plot point was about Chihaya simply becoming Queen. Her dreams came to a screeching halt though when she fought the current Queen and got beaten so badly that she spent the rest of the second half wallowing in self-pity losing all her one on one matches. She regained her enthusiasm though when she saw the official Meijin and Queen match on TV and then decided to be better than them. A tough order but something Chihaya is more than willing to try. The third plot point is about her relationship with her two childhood friend, Mashima Taichi and Arata Wataya. They hit a speed bump when, after years of being apart and holding onto the promise of meeting in the Karuta nationals, Chihaya discovered that Arata has abandoned karuta after the passing of his grandfather. Arata’s grandfather taught him karuta and he felt deep regret that he wasn’t around when he died because he was in a karuta tournament trying to become a class A player. It took a little convincing but Arata eventually found his resolve and finally decided to uphold his promise. The situation though is that Chihaya has always been fond of reuniting with Arata that she doesn’t notice the tall glass of hunk with pink hair besides him always giving him emotional support when she needed it. In the end of the first season, I think Taichi was simply happy just to see Chihaya happy but there was still this unmentioned tension between him and Chihaya that I think a lot of us wanted to see explode into something worth twenty five more episodes of the show.

A word of warning. If you came into the second season expecting something fruitful from the third plot point then prepare to be disappointed. I think a lot of people had that particular mindset when they saw the series and they got grumpy when it wasn’t the type of excitement you’d expect a second season to deliver. I actually find it a bit weird that people want more out of the show. After the third episode, I think it was pretty clear that the show will focus mostly on one plot point and just lightly sprinkle on the rest. The Sports genre is greedy that way which is why most people just do fanfics of the potential couples in an anime. To this day, I think there are people still writing about Rukawa and Sakuragi (I will not explain the reference). I’m getting distracted. Anyways, the first plot point of the anime and the second season’s highlight is the group tournaments. This is a big plot point and it ate a lot of the episodes of the show. The first plot point continued the story from the first season. The karuta club of Mizusawa high needed five more members or else more deserving clubs would occupy their room. At the start of the anime, the focus is really mostly on the potential recruits the club will have. The first season’s main hook was really about the beauty of karuta told in the eyes of a high spirited tomboy. The second season took the same approach and told the beauty of karuta in the eyes of close minded newbies. This isn’t like when Chihaya tried to befriend Arata by allowing herself to be vulnerable in a boy’s house though. The approach is more of “why the fudge would I want to play karuta?” told by close minded first years that just wanted to join the club because Taichi is hot.

Much like the way the first season told it, I think the approach was mostly the same. We have stubborn kids slowly appreciating the sport of karuta. It was a bit interesting this time because the audience is seeing characters discover the same appeal they discovered themselves back in the first season. I certainly felt that when I saw the new recruits going through the same love spell Chihaya had back when she was a child. The new characters are also interesting because they made the interaction in the group lively and their inclusion certainly gave the show a new yet familiar feel.

Finding new recruits is just a small piece of the first plot point though. The main bulk of the show is mostly on the team tournaments they club goes to. This was also a continuation of the first season as the characters meet up with some familiar characters from the same tournament. Back in the first season, they won the trophy after forming just a few months ago and so they were the defending champions this time around. There is a tournament A and B the characters participate in. I’m trying not to spoil much here but tournament A is pretty much the same thing we witnessed in the first season. The pacing of fights is pretty light in terms of a sports anime. The group dynamic still applied. During the match, the show often focuses on the different characters as they struggle through their match. There were a lot of personal conflicts being brought up in the first tournament and it was usually the needed fuel to make certain matches interesting and fun to watch. Chihaya would often use her matches to try and develop her speed and technique hoping that the encounters can help her beat the Queen in their re-match. She is very much hung up in that particular re-match that she often backs herself in a corner during the tournament matches. She is still the club’s ace though and she is ready to fight the strongest and the best to become better at karuta. She wasn’t the only one with a lot on her plate. Our beloved pink haired bishie was also having his own personal conflict. Taichi recently participated in an individual tournament hoping to get to class A but failed to do so. He has since developed this inferiority complex that he cannot win because he lacked the skill worthy of being near Chihaya and Arata. During some of the most crucial moments of the tournament, this little inferiority complex of his becomes a massive blunder for him getting the win. Taichi seems to have the worst luck when it comes to karuta and this might hinder their chances in reclaiming the trophy this time around.

Tournament B is a different story though. In tournament A, most of the matches are given little significance since the focus is often on the personal problems the characters develop. Tournament B is a different beast. The best and the awesomest karuta teams have gathered and they all want to win. I think this was also the best part of the anime for me because this was just nothing but Sports all the way. The show featured all the team Misuzawa encountered and all of them are different. There is a team that specializes on quiz bees so they have fast reflexes after their long time buzzing in answers before the other team. They are also devilishly smart and, unfortunately, much smarter that the main characters. Karuta is a game about speed and memorization which this particular team seems to have nailed down. Then there is a team with an ace that was the western representative who faced the eventual challenger for the Queen’s title. This particular group had a potential Queen among their ranks and they have a strong foundation of experienced players raging to be the best in Japan. This was one of my favorite part of the show because I love the fact that there a lot of new faces ready to challenge, not just Chihaya, but also the Queen, Wakamiya Shinobu.

Like I said, tournament B had a unique approach to the story. The focus is mostly on the teams the characters face and a few tidbits reflecting their drive to become best in Japan or the things they experienced to get to the tournament. This was a great way to hype the intensity of the opponents and to make each match more interesting. When you realize that this particular opponent undergo such an amazing experience, you realize how much they want to win and you are now intrigued how the main characters can beat such a passionate player. Of course, the show does a 360 and reinforces the main character’s own drives and ambitions that help them match up their opponents’ intensity. This was smart because it doesn’t go too balls deep on the confusing karuta matches alone but just the steady pacing a character gets that tips the favor in their direction. It was just focusing the various highlights of each match where one character dominates and buries the opponent deep then you see if the other player can bounce back. It can get pretty intense because most matches build to one particular crazily exciting moment that really makes a lot of the matches memorable. This is a great thing because the matches can stand out even if the pacing was a bit fast and it lacks certain karuta sports technicality. This was a weak style of storytelling though because it is a bit predictable. It can make a certain moment in the match super exciting but I think the end result is pretty easy to predict which sucks the fun out of most moment. Most group matches are easy to predict. Maybe it’s just me but I was able to point out which of the characters will lose their match and which one will win simply because the story dictated the progression to go in that particular direction. This might just be me though but I find the matches predictable.

Under the big umbrella of the first plot point covers the beauty of karuta. This was the thing that the new recruits experience but this time around, the audience is getting a lesson on how to appreciate the sport some more. In the first season, you don’t really need to learn the rules to follow the matches. I mean, the player just grabs the cards and that’s it. In the second season, we are treated to a more complex presentation of the sport. We are treated to various plays and techniques that characters employ. Most characters would only focus on certain cards and then guarantees to get it when it’s read. Most players cover on the first syllable of card first then attack after they realize the actual card is on the opponent’s side. It’s called a cross attack and I never would’ve imagined such a thing exists in karuta. There are people that specialize on speed and gambles on a card despite not knowing if they got the right one. There are people that commit faults and there are people that intimidate their opponents to commit a fault. It gets pretty insane how technical the show got but also never intimidating the audience with so much information. These things are utilized in a match’s pacing and the audience picks up some tidbits along the way. It was a great way to truly present the competitiveness of karuta. It was a wonderful display of the anime’s sports element without ruining the balance it has.

I am always a bit intrigued though how the show can be sports and Shoujo at the same time. It often baffles me that two opposite genre can play so nice. Let’s face it. As far as over generalizing is concerned, Sports is always a man centered genre and Shoujo will forever be female centered. Then I realize that karuta itself is a feminine sport. It is, right? Well, I think it is and I think the show wanted to deliver that point across as well. Throughout the show, we are treated to various characters appreciating the various poems of the sport. The subtle meaning of some poems and the underlying emotion each poem possesses. I often forget that these are collections of love poems compiled throughout the century. These monologues are really a strong component of the anime because there are a lot of people chiming in their thoughts. From the main characters (often the big boobs girl because she’s the poem freak) to the spectators being engulfed in the intensity and the magic of the competitive sport and the various characters who explains how much the beauty of the sport has changed them as a person, you get a wonderful at the gentleness of the sport. If you weren’t driven to play karuta back in the first season then you certainly will be enticed now after you’ve seen the second season. You might not be tempted to play karuta but I bet you’ll want to read up on some more about the 100 poems used in the sport. I did and I was overwhelmed then I remembered how much the anime “Chouyaku Hyakunin Isshu” intimidated me because of its Japanese-ness. The story still painted a romantic setting concerning karuta and I really like that aspect of the anime.

The second plot point is about the individual tournament. In the first season, Chihaya got sick or something and was forced to drop out of the competition. She regretted it deeply and now, she wants to bounce back to prove all her training up to this point wasn’t bust. This was a pretty decent plot point because the characters they faced in the tournaments are back to face them one on one. Chihaya will definitely get a chance to fight a lot of strong players and that’s something this girl has always strived to do because she loves playing against strong opponents. Well, nothing is more stronger than the Queen and I think that was the ultimate highlight of the second plot point. Chihaya might get a chance to battle the Queen in a re-match we waited a long time to happen. Not only that but the promise she had with Arata is also about to be realized because the grandson of an Eternal grandmaster will join the tournament as well and Chihaya might also get a chance to fight her beloved friend in a match built on rivalry and respect and also love but that’s just me over-romanticizing the idea. There is a saying that lightning strikes twice though and Chihaya will understand just how real that saying is.

The individual tournament is divided in classes so Chihaya isn’t the only one in the spotlight. The rest of the Mizusawa players are also having their moment to shine in the second plot point. There are players in the Class B, C, and D tournaments as well where the winner is given a chance to rank up. This is a great chance for Taichi. He always participated in a lot of individual tournaments hoping to rank up but he always fumble before reaching the brass ring. All of those failures and regrets now culminate in one more shot at becoming a Class A player. Can Taichi finally pull it off after failing countless times? The idea of the second plot point is certainly exciting but this particular plot point was a bit rushed. It didn’t have the same smart progression as the first plot point. I think it’s because the first plot point ate way too much episodes and the second plot point got the short end of the stick. A lot of exciting and ridiculously hyped matches are cut short. Some of them aren’t even shown. The show skipped some of them to focus more on the important matches like the one Chihaya is on or the ones that Taichi is on. It’s a bit unfair considering how well paced and nicely hyped the first plot point was. It felt to me that the second plot point was merely building the foundation for the rest of the story. It finally introduced Arata’s insertion into the story, it finally gave us the Taichi/Arata confrontation we’ve been waiting to see and it laid the groundwork for the Fall tournament happening after the events of the second plot point. These are all upcoming events that may not happen in the anime because of its limited run. Yes, fifty episodes cannot fully tell the story of this anime and much like any sports anime, it’ll keep progressing on well after the anime ends. It kind of sucks since there is no announcement for a third season yet. It’s all up in the air at this point. I remember the second season was announced fairly early but, as of this writing, there is still no announcement for the third and that worries me. Considering how exciting the setup of the second plot point was, it’s only fair that we see more of it, right? One can only hope.

The third plot point is simply the love triangle between the three beautiful characters of the show. As of the first season, there was no clear love triangle. There are just three childhood friends bonded by one thing: karuta and a promise to reunite one day. The second season hyped up that reunion and focused more on what the various characters actually feel about the other. Chihaya is still a wild card though because I think the show is actually building up to the moment where she realizes that she has two handsome dudes falling for her. Her clueless personality is a bit grating when it comes to this plot point but the male characters make up for it. Taichi is actually more on focus in this plot point. He is always by Chihaya’s side yet she doesn’t seem to notice him as a potential boyfriend. Her mind is consumed of nothing but karuta. Taichi is often painted as this poor f*ck that can’t catch a break. If he is not getting zero points trying to get Chihaya to notice him then he’ll be treated to moments where Chihaya would talk about Arata. As if the poor guy isn’t hurting enough, the girl he likes is talking more about another guy. To be fair, if Arata was the one next to Chihaya then she would be smiling at Taichi’s texts and wishing to be reunited with him. That’s just how Chihaya is. Her obliviousness makes for a damning case to root for Taichi a lot. Throughout the anime, it wasn’t really established but only hinted at, you can often see Taichi felling a bit jealous and using karuta to make Chihaya not think of Arata. Poor handsome dude.

chihaya2-38

“It doesn’t seem right to let a girl choose me. I would rather choose the girl I devote myself to.”

–Taichi Mashima, Chihayafuru episode 1

That quote up there stuck to me deep and it was another excuse to really cheer for Taichi.  Arata got very little screen time in the anime but his opinion about Chihaya was explored as well. Much like Chihaya, he was also very much set on the planned reunion but he was also a bit hesitant about it. I don’t really know why. He wasn’t shown as much too properly explain his actions. When asked why he is able to smile during some of the most intense matches though, he would think about the most fun he had playing karuta and that was surprisingly a moment involving Chihaya. I think Arata is also drawn towards Chihaya because of their friendship and he takes some extreme measures to be reunited with her and Taichi. I think the series is also building up to the point where he realizes he considers Chihaya more than a friend and you can bet he’ll realize that faster than our heroine. The biggest question now is when that sweet moment will happen. I can assure you though that it’s not in the anime. I don’t care about spoiling this part of the anime. I waited for this damn plot point to intensify as well but the anime short handed us with this one. Goddamn slow progressing love triangle. My fujoshi friend reads the manga though and there is significant progression there. She reads the raw for some reason. I don’t know why but I can assure you that there is unbelievable pay off for this plot point. It’s just not in the second season. Trololol.

The characters are pretty much like they were in the first season. They are mostly controlled by the progression of the story though and they only develop when the story calls for it. There is a significant rise in their talents though and their attitude towards one another is certainly more gentle after being united by the competitive sport of karuta. There’s not much to tell about the character though and I think half the fun is actually getting to know them during their matches. Both new and old character often pour their heart out during their matches and you can see their vulnerable and their aggressive sides coming out in a wonderful way that your perception of them does change as the show progresses. I love how the anime was able to include a lot of the old and new characters in the series. I think it was great seeing some familiar faces fight the main characters and then mingle with some of the new characters. There are some standout side characters that certainly help make the anime special because their personality affect the matches without them participating. There are the coaches that all have a different form of discipline towards the players and some players not involved in any matches like the sadist Sudo from the first season who graduated in the second season. The show was a bit overwhelmed by the large cast though so I’m just glad everyone had a moment in the spotlight despite the overcrowded show and the straight forward story.

This was a wonderful show. I certainly delivered after a really amazing first season. I know some people didn’t like the show that much but I think the second season was pretty great. It had a lot of high points even though the third plot point wasn’t developed as much. I’m sure just staring at Taichi’s or Arata’s face can help you enjoy the anime. Damn, they’re beautiful. This is the first time I realized that Madhouse animated this show. They’re a pretty silent studio nowadays but it’s pretty interesting that such a feminine anime came from a studio with a distinct dark style. Madhouse was the last studio I thought of when I saw this anime. Well, that was a wonderful fifty episode run. I hope they make one more season. Just one more to fully flesh out that one nagging plot point we all want to see come to a high point so badly. I don’t read manga so I really hope another season is coming.

Sight and Sound

Character design is outstanding. I think a lot of people are drawn into the wonderful faces of the characters. Yuki Suetsugu (the author) did a wonderful job at emphasizing a character’s appeal. The biggest highlight for her design is the eyes. There are a lot of details on the way the eyes are designed that it really completes a character. Most of the characters in the show aren’t as beautiful as our three main characters and I think that sucks a bit. The detail work isn’t evenly spread out towards all the characters but one thing they have in common is the beautiful eyes Yuki creates for them. Of course, some of the characters don’t possess that as well to, I guess, highlight how unique a character is. There are characters like Komano and Nishida that doesn’t have the detailed eyes but they are unique in their own right and I think that’s a good thing because they aren’t being overshadowed by Taichi or Chihaya. I got to tell you though that I am captivated by Chihaya’s design. The detailed eyes is certainly its drawing point but then you’ll notice that her slender body, long orange hair and her distinct long neck that has one goddamn amazing nape creates for one mesmerizing character. She often doesn’t have to try. She’s beautiful in almost every scene she is in. The same goes for Taichi and Arata. They have amazing eyes. You’ll notice Arata has detailed eyes while Komano is hidden by his glasses and I think that’s a little unfair until you realize that Komano’s appeal is his genius vibe that exudes from his nerdy look. Anyways, the detail work on the two handsome characters is pretty insane. Taichi has this unique hair with him. It’s messy a bit but you notice how kempt it is when you see his entire face. The pink hair is definitely a tough sell but the shape of his face and the intensity of his eyes really made a lot of difference. Goddamn how sexy is his smile, huh? Arata’s dark hair is certainly a standout but I think it’s his small body frame with his broad shoulders that makes his character unique. You’ll notice that right away and then get pulled in by his eyes then realize how handsome his face looks. It’s pretty awesome. Yuki certainly knows how to make her characters look gentle with how she adds shades to emphasize the face but I think the anime step that up a notch when Madhouse added their distinct color scheme to her design. It took me awhile to realize but this sort of faded look with a more lean on calmer colors is a Madhouse’s touch. This worked wonderful on the characters and it completed their beautiful features.

Animation is inconsistent. This was the most puzzling aspect of the anime. There are moments where the animation does shine like during karuta matches with the camera angle being so static. It’ll come from a low angle that transition into a normal side view that transition into a view of the camera following the card as it spins over the side of the room after a player swipes it. The close up shots of the characters are also pretty amazing because you just can’t help but admire how Madhouse emphasizes on a character’s beauty. The animation gave the karuta matches justice and it certainly added a lot to the pacing of each match. It’s a bit inconsistent though because normal scenes just aren’t as special. You’ll notice the lack of details on most scenes. I often notice that the heavy outline on each character is also a bit off putting considering that you can add a lot of details in these scenes. It doesn’t really need some outstanding details but enough to make the scene refined a bit. I’m not a fan of characters looking cheap when they are in a distance. It doesn’t look good. The thing that I hate the most though is the fact that the animation is limited. I commend the characters for having engaging personalities because most scenes involve no animation except the mouth moving. The eyes don’t blink and the hair doesn’t sway along with the head movement. It’s off putting considering Madhouse can easily make high quality animation and not be so inconsistent.

The anime’s OP is “STAR” by 99RadioService. I love this band. I recently got their album and it is pretty great. I listen to it when I write reviews now. The singer has this really cool voice and it’s the reason why I was so captivated by the band. They also sang the first season’s OP and there is still calming pace they establish in their songs that I really like. The song is a love story about a person reminiscing about his loved one and the star they once look up to. It’s a perfect song for the anime, to be honest. The nice balance of the singer’s cool voice and the instrumentals was a nice touch especially towards the end of the chorus. The OP sequence features all the characters and a few events from the first season. It felt like a homecoming montage to me and I like that aspect of the OP. It featured some of the karuta matches and the notable opponents Mizusawa fought. There is also this cute scene where Arata and Taichi are on one side of the train tracks with Chihaya on the other side and she smiles going into the song’s chorus.

The anime’s ED is “Akanezora” by Asami Seto. This is an outstanding song. It’s a romantic song of a person walking through a romantic Fall season and they are reminded of the loved one they have separated by distance. Asami’s voice is the wonderful part of the song. It gives it a nice pacing with a bit of a romantic appeal when she goes through the verse then bursts out a high chorus that sounds really lovely. The ED sequence features the three main characters as the camera pans up to where all three are together when they were a child. It’s a nice way of featuring the romance in the show.

Overall Score

8/10 “It was able to meet the hype the first season made albeit a few disappointing aspects over which parts of the story it prioritizes.”

I love this anime and it was the only anime I watched on an on-going basis. I don’t ever plan on doing that again. Chihayafuru is a really engaging show with a lovely side story on the side. It’s the perfect marriage of the manly and adrenaline packed energy of the Sports genre with the feminine and subtle sophistication of the Shoujo genre. It had engaging characters, intense karuta matches and a story that is certainly easy to get into. If you enjoyed the first season then there’s no reason not to watch this show. If you like beautiful characters in your show then you’ll love this show. If you like intense sport matches then you’ll enjoy the ones in this show. If you love the gentleness of most romantic anime then I think you can appreciate the one in this show. I recommend it.

5 thoughts on “Chihayafuru II Review

  1. Its hard to follow up a classic. With such high expectations, so many attempts fall short. One of the best things in life are those rare moments when the final result reaches those expectations. This is a must watch!

  2. I wish there were many sports anime which are womanly and adrenalin packed because sports genres need more females and even males concentrating on a sport. After reading your review I want to see the anime. I like Shoujo that are different most shounen and shoujo nowadays are just harem types so its nice to see something different 🙂

  3. I like your review but there is a part I think you might have gotten carried away. You might be rooting for Taichi but you mentioned that Ayase is smiling and looking at Taichi’s text when she’s with Arata. Well, I don’t remember that scene in the anime. It was almost always Taichi getting caught off guard because he always sees Ayase and Arata talking to each other on the phone. It was mentioned many times in Ayase’s monologue that she loves Arata though, I give you that, it is never clear on her part what type of love (or it might just be very strong admiration) she really feels.

    • ah, that would be in season one where Arata first texted Chihaya. She was very much caught up in it that she doesn’t see Taichii or whatever. It was to paint the situation the three are in. 😄

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