Full of Chihaya
I love card games. I especially love trading card games. Well, I guess I’d say I just like games in general. So when it comes to manga and anime about games, I’m almost always on board to have a pretty good time. Yugioh, Saki, Hikaru no Go — it’s always interesting to see game-related things unfold in a medium where I can readily suspend my disbelief without any hiccups. Chihayafuru doesn’t really need much as far as suspension of disbelief goes; it’s pretty firmly rooted in what could be considered ‘reality.’ While a series like Yugioh thrives on drawing Deus ex Machina for the nth time and Saki has some weird stuff going on like stealth-mode players that can set mahjong tiles without anyone knowing, Chihayafuru just says no and goes with a more realistic approach. Well, sort of.
Ayase Chihaya is friendly and gorgeous. But she’s also a tomboy and very peculiar. She’s been like this since grade school and has always been overshadowed by her older sister, who works as a model. While many boys are eager to get to know her, she inevitably pushes them away with her bizarre behavior. Chihaya is also completely obsessed with the card game hyakunin isshu karuta. When Chihaya was in elementary school, she spent a summer learning and playing karuta with her childhood friend, Taichi, and a new friend, Arata. Arata proves to be an extremely gifted player, even at a young age, and Chihaya is irrevocably influenced by the young prodigy. Arata’s ultimate goal is to become the King, the best male player in Japan. After an unforgettable summer, Arata moves to another town and, as if fated, Chihaya decides that she wants to become the Queen, the best female player in Japan, and to eventually meet Arata again in competitive karuta. Now, as a highschooler, Chihaya seeks to start a new karuta club, setting her sights on anyone that would share her enthusiasm for the game.
When I say that Chihayafuru goes with a more ‘realistic’ approach, I use the term loosely. You won’t see Signers or mystical powers in the series, but you will see a few things that border on the utmost limits of human capacity. Players will swat cards from the mats like Bruce Lee in a speed contest, and Chihaya’s ‘extremely sensitive’ hearing will let her choose cards before the first syllable of a poem is even spoken. So … it’s somewhat believable, in that you aren’t gonna see a dazzling lights and magical girls using voodoo magic to clutch out the win. Which is good — the series seems to put less emphasis on the games and more on developing the characters as a whole, especially Chihaya’s attitude and approach to winning her matches.
What must be said about this series is that the animation is beautiful. I’m not sure I really like the art style very much, but I think at the very least Chihaya is agreeably bishoujo and stands out among the cast as far as pretty harem-potential characters are concerned. But the animation is crisp, clean and colorful. Rarely were there scenes that didn’t ‘wow’ me when I really looked at them, especially the backdrops.
The series might be a bit jarring to those with an obvious distaste for Japanese culture (though I’d venture a guess that would apply to anime in general), but even for those that really like anime, the game karuta itself isn’t really something that I’d expect would draw much of an audience. It already seems archaic enough within Japanese culture (at least that’s how it’s portrayed in the series), so to expect most foreign audiences to really embrace Chihayafuru just by reading a synopsis alone seems pretty farfetched. Really, though, there isn’t a series like it from what I’ve seen so far.
My only issue is that the series ends a bit questionably. It leaves itself open to a second season (though considering current viewership and sales, seems unlikely), and does it a bit too much. Very little gets resolved, especially a pivotal event near the end of the series (you’ll know what I’m talking about when you get to it). Barring that, it’s a great ride for while it lasts, though other than Chihaya and Taichi, I was not very fond of the supporting cast. To be honest, though, I found myself disliking the character Kana mostly because I disagreed with her seiyuu, Kayano Ai (Inori from Guilty Crown, Memna from AnoHana). Kayano does a good job voicing the character, but something just feels ‘off’ for me about the seiyuu choice.
This one’s definitely worth the time to watch if you can get past the concept, but ultimately it’s going to be whether you can enjoy (or bear) watching the karuta matches, since it seems niche even among the niche. There’s no Saki-like flash to keep it jazzed up if you need some CPR on your attention span, so your mileage may vary.
Character Ranking – Chihayafuru
- Ayase Chihaya
- Mashima Taichi
- Harada Hidehiro
- Wakamiya Shinobu
- Oe Kanade
- Nishida Yuseu
- Komano Tsutomu
- Wataya Arata