Chihayafuru Season 1: Know thy enemy

I am not going to lie to you guys. I’m not the biggest fan of sports anime. Before watching this show, I tried watching five episodes of Haikyu and nothing was clicking for me. It’s not because the anime was bad, but there was nothing grabbing me and telling me to keep watching it. It’s probably something that would work better for me if it came in movie form. I think you guys know what comes next here, I started Chihayafuru. I was hooked from the first scene. There is something about a pretty girl hanging up posters wearing gym pants under her skirt that gives such a profound impression. Especially when that person is told to take one of those off, immediately starts to in public on a ladder, and then is told to stop for doing it in public. Ok, that sounded pervy, but you get what I mean right? We instantly know something about our main protagonist just by the opening scene. The rest of the show is filled with the same sort of personality and natural feel. The show starts good and only gets better from there.

(I would like to point out that Chihayafuru has absolutely no fanservice in the sexual sense revolving around naked people or panty shots or anything, so…)

Premise

karuta.jpg

The premise of Chihayafuru is simple, yet complicated. This anime is about a girl named Chihaya forming a karuta club, gathering four other members to make it official, and then having the newly formed and rag tag club make a bid for the nationals. A simple sports narrative. What is Kurata you may ask? Well, Karuta is a card game that revolves around speed and memorization. An official reads off the first lines of a hundred poems in a random order one after another and the first person to touch a card that has the second line of a poem gets that card. That’s Karuta in its simplest form

That’s where some of the complications come in. There is a large amount of techniques explained in order for someone to get to each card first, memorization is key, and even psychological warfare comes into play as well. Combine that with a lot of struggle, great and memorable characters from our protagonist crew to many of their opponents, and you may have a small understanding of what this show is about. Once again, it goes further then that. Simple, but complicated.

Characters

Chihayafuru does have the plot of a simple sports anime, which means that the show relies on it’s characters to carry everything world. You should be glad to know that each character is amazing, which is why I love it as much as I do. It takes a good anime to flesh out a protagonist crew of five. It takes a very special anime to not only do that, but flesh out so many other characters right down to their motivations and personality. Each one of those conveyed in such a short amount of screen time as well. Chihayafuru has a few short cuts to this from providing some of them quick and memorial nicknames, giving them a distinctive clothing style, or give each of them a memorable moment/personality that you can’t help but think of when a certain character shows up. Once a memorable trait is established, their backstory and how they feel about who they are facing are giving a glimpse as the battle rages on against our protagonists. They do this so well that when one side character faces against another, you don’t need one of our protagonists in the mix to feel the tension and the emotions. Chihayafuru is that masterful, guys.

arata

Ok, enough about the side characters. Let’s talk our protagonist crew well we? The main characters are Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata. Arata was the spark that caused this anime to happen. He was that elementary school kid that almost everyone made fun, because he was a new person that wore the same clothes to school every day, which made him a stranger to the rest of the class. Well, that was until Chihaya got to know him more. Through Chihaya, we got to know that Arata wanted to a Karuta master. To make this short, Taichi, Arata, and Chihaya become best of friends until they split up at the end of their elementary school run. Well, they meet up in high school. Arata is no longer a big fan of Karuta due to what happened after they all separated, but his arc revolves around finding his love for Karuta again. He doesn’t get a segment focused on him until the later part of the season, but his existence affects both Taichi and Chihayafuru quite a bit. A phone call or text from someone you love but haven’t seen for a while has a large impact on one’s life, right?

chihayafuru.png

Chihayafuru’s turn now. I mean, she is the main character after all. One has to talk about a show’s main protagonist eventually. As you can tell about the opening scene, she is kind of bull and air headed. What you may call, a tragic beauty, as everyone calls her. Why? Because she is drop dead gorgeous until she opens her mouth. Her personality is every bit of a standard air headed protagonist that you would expect to see in a sports anime, except the anime won’t let her forget about it. Ever since she was introduced to Karuta, she wanted the title “queen”. If this was any other series, she would have an easier time, right? Not in Chihayafuru. Her personality flaws regarding not being able to memorize cards as well as others, not moving her hands in a straight line like everyone else, and her constantly pushing herself forward to the point where it wrecks her body on an exhaustion level before a game comes to pay here. I love seeing how Chihayafuru deals with her personality flaws and her drive to keep herself going despite it all. I can’t see how Chihayafuru is called a tragic beauty, because she is beautiful inside and out.

TaichiMashimaChihayafuru

Then there is Taichi. I wasn’t sold on Taichi’s character for a while, because he is that attractive male character that is instantaneously good at everything forever. You know the type, right? The kind that has the natural ability to do everything right. Well, the difference here is that Karuta is the one thing that he isn’t natural good at. In fact, it’s the one thing that he constantly struggling to improvie at. At first, he ran away from the game, but him reuniting with Chihaya restarted his spark to play Karuta again. His willingness to struggle with Karuta in spite of never going up a rank through this season and keeping his team focused during pivotable team matches won me over. Especially with his best lines “I don’t want to be a kind of person that runs away”. Having him break away from his lousy mom’s teachings was the best thing that he could do because he’s grown so much as a person. Can’t wait to see how he is when I move on to season 2 in a little bit.

karuta club

Now onto the three club side characters. My favorite character in the whole show is Kanna, because she is the heart of the show. That is not only displayed by her endlessly carrying personality, but the fact that she feels for every single poem that is quoted in Karuta. She is too good for this show, but please keep her around. Next up is Desk-kun. He is the glasses wearing statistical type of the group. His arc is becoming more then some one who studies all the time and becoming a much worldlier person. It’s great. The third person that I am not too much of a fan of is Nidshida or Porky. Other than being the group rival to Taichi, I don’t see what his arc is at the moment, but maybe we will see how that changes in season 2.

Art/Animation

I love the art direction of the show. We are given so many solid character designs which instantly gives each of them a personality. I don’t know how this show does it, but each one of them is given a distinctive color design and a defining feature that automatically separates them from everyone else. Some are even given a special clothing style, like the queen who obviously doesn’t know a single thing about fashion sense. Jeez, now I am thinking about how something as simple as the clothes Chihaya and the Queen wear connect the two of them together. Jeez, so many small meaningful elements are like that throughout the show.

A lot of Chihayafuru takes places in a lot of windowed rooms with tatami mat floors, off to the side locker rooms, and other basic areas that you would see in everyday life (schools, bedrooms, etc), but the anime does a good job of selling how these locations as being different. This is done by some quick lines telling the audience where that event is, having our characters watch other characters at different angles or locations on the player floor, or having the events go by so quickly that nobody cares about them. All that works for me. Also, the other areas Chihaya and crew go outside of karuta match stuff are so well detailed and sell the locations quite a bit too. Almost like you can live in them.

I honestly don’t think that Chihayafuru is animated all that well. The facial animation is great, but there are a lot of repeated cuts of animation. I am not sure how many times I can count the same scene of one of our characters standing in a similar way to pick up a card that was across the floor. I am pretty sure that it was the same cut the whole time. There were some great moments like the Karuta club running track that is worth talking about, but that’s the one scene that speaks to me on an animation front. Chihayafuru has amazing direction and sound design behind it though. Almost every single card hit is a still frame, but there is a certain sound that adds to the excitement each time it happens. Animation is only one thing that makes a series worth watching, Chihayafuru hits all the other fundamentals to a t and beyond!

Pace

Chihayafuru is a very fast paced anime, but that is not a detriment to anything. The only thing that gets skipped over are the majority of the Karuta battles. This makes sense to me because do you think there is enough time in an episode to have a full match? 100 hundred cards being read in real time? What anime do you think this is, Rakugo Shinju? Still, the feeling of how each match is going through the small cuts here and there or even a quick scene afterward with the character in question’s expressions and looks on their face that shows how their match went. All of it somehow feels completely natural somehow. How do you do that?

Back on topic, the pacing doesn’t hurt this show at all. Especially when each person is given their rightful character moments. We see their struggles, their achievements, how they think, and their own play style for the main cast and a lot of the side cast. Chihayafuru is such a great character piece and despite the “go,go,go” nature of the anime, everything is expressed as well as it could with the time given. It’s just so good, guys.

Conclusion

I originally an anime that I watched to take the spot of March Comes in like a Lion, because I needed something to fill that gap in my heart after the show ended. As you would expect, Chihayafuru is a different beast then March. That show is more slice of life in nature with Shogi being focused on maybe half the time. There are great shogi battles, but it’s only a vehicle to get the characters to interact. Chihayafuru is a character piece centered around Karuta. How does Karuta affect their lives? How much does Karuta mean to them? How can they improve on their Karuta skills? Who are the current leaders in the Karuta world and how can they become like them? Karuta is a vehicle for character development that puts different characters in a grinding machine that makes them develop in interesting ways you wouldn’t expect.

No, it didn’t fill the March Comes in a Lion spot, but it created another empty hole that can only be filled by me watching the second season. It is a sports anime in that way, but I would say it goes beyond that. Maybe because I am not a big sports anime fan? If everything I said appeals to you, what are you doing? Watch it. If you couldn’t tell by now, I really like it. Even if everything I wrote doesn’t appeal to you, watch it anyway. Everyone should watch Chihayafuru. It’s amazing. I”m taking a break from it now, but I plan on jumping into the second season as soon as I finish another anime for a post for early June.

(All photos are from google searches)


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15 Comments Add yours

  1. ospreyshire says:

    Good job on the review. This is one anime I wanted to see after hearing about it. I think this could be something sort of like Hikaru no Go in that it’s a sports/game anime that revolves around a lesser-known game. One thing I heard was that the creator was caught plagiarizing from Slam Dunk when she made the Flower of Eden manga which caused it to be banned and she was on a hiatus for years. This manga/anime was her return and one could say her moment of redemption by making something original.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. negativeprimes says:

      That’s a fascinating tidbit about Flower of Eden!

      Liked by 2 people

      1. ospreyshire says:

        Thanks. I haven’t read the manga, but I did research some things about that controversy. Don’t get me wrong, no one should be ripping off stuff, but at least she admitted it and clearly learned her lesson. That’s more than I can say about some other stories that straight up plagiarize other works where the “creators” never own up to their faults.

        Liked by 1 person

    2. Scott says:

      I keep hearing you and Irina talk about hikari no go. I really should put that on my really long “to watch” list.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. ospreyshire says:

        Hahahaha! Yup. We’re both fans of that series. More so of the manga for me, but the anime is still worth watching. Definitely check it out if you like atypical sports or games in anime while still having a good story. It’s still weird to think that Takeshi Obata (illustrator/co-creator Of Hikaru no Go) would eventually work on Death Note and Bakuman, but barely anyone talks about this series about the game of Go.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. kimchisama says:

    This is an amazing show and I put off watching it for a long time. I believe a season 3 is coming soon and I’m looking forward to it. I almost wish there was no romantic angle to the anime since it can distract me from the main point, but this is still a wonderful showing of character and growth.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Yes, it is pretty great and I’ve heard that a season three is appearing as well. I need to get into season two, but I have a feeling that season won’t be disappointing at all.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. negativeprimes says:

    Like you, I’m not a sports anime fan: I got bored of Yuri on Ice in episode 1. But this has been recommended to me before, and after reading your take I think I’ll have to look into it.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Yeah, go for it. The show might surprise you!

      And I’m glad someone has the same problems for this genre as I do. I would have dropped even Megalo Box if it didn’t have an interesting visual aesthetic and ideas around it.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. negativeprimes says:

    Yeah, same here! Actually, the main thing I like about Megalobox is the music. 😸

    Liked by 1 person

  5. LitaKino says:

    Great job on this review Scott of Chihayafuru. I was having rekindled feelings over this beautiful series. Such a character driven series the five group are the heart of the series. I love it that every defeat or win all of them take it head on, it’s inspiring to watch. I’m just waiting for Chihaya to be queen season three can’t come soon enough ahhhh !!! I need to do another piece on this series my first one on it wasn’t good I felt. Glad you enjoyed it Scott 😁

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      Thank you Lita! It’s hard not to gush about something I loved so much. The five are great, but I’ve started watching season two and the two other characters add even more dimension to the show.

      I am not even done with season two and I can’t wait for season three!

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Ty-chama says:

    Chihayafuru is low key one of the best shows out there. I didn’t know what karuta was going into the show, but by its end I actually cared about it. And what could have easily have been the least interesting aspect of Chihayafuru, the karuta matches, were actually really exciting. But the best part of the show was definitely its characters. Like you said, the show did such a good job of fleshing them out, you couldn’t help but love each and every one of them.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Scott says:

      It really is. I’m sad that I didn’t watch Chihayafuru earlier. It’s only weakness is animation, but oh well everything else is nearly perfect. Season 2 has been great.

      Like

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