|Excellent character development; Good plot; Awesome animation||Not nearly enough face time with certain characters; we still have a lot of questions to be answered|
We were instantly intrigued with Chihayafuru once we found out what it was about. We had no idea what the game ‘Karuta’ was about, but after some minor research we were really interested in seeing how the show would be able to pull it off. With Madhouse at the helm, we had high hopes for both the animation and story-telling and we’re happy to say that we weren’t disappointed.
Chihayafuru follows three teenagers – Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata – throughout their friendship, trials and their progression in the game of karuta. Though there are other main characters (whom we’ll get to in a moment), the story focuses mainly on the relationship of these three characters and how they influenced each other over the course of their childhood. Arata joins Chihaya and Taichi in elementary school as a transfer student who is deemed “weird” because of his love for karuta. Chihaya quickly befriends Arata and through this friendship, she finds a new love for karuta and it soon becomes her life’s goal to become Queen of karuta. Taichi and Arata eventually become friends, but not without some trials before hand. At the end of their stint in elementary school, Arata moves back home to Fukui to care for his elderly grandfather and Chihaya finds herself alone when Taichi announces that he’ll be traveling to a high-end middle school several hours away. Once in high school, Chihaya and Taichi find themselves reunited and thus is where the story begins.
The first thing to note in this show is the animation. Madhouse really went all out on the animation and it really helped to improve the storytelling. The backgrounds were stunning to look at and the animation of the characters – as well as their surroundings – were incredibly fluid. We were wary of how the animation would turn out when it came to showing the characters playing karuta (which is surprisingly a rather fast-paced, intensely physical game) but we’re happy to say that even during those fast-paced moments the animation was incredible. Though they did slow-motion at times, it wasn’t over done and only helped to reinstate how intense a game of karuta can become. The characters themselves were animated so flawlessly that their emotions were accurately portrayed through their movements and facial expressions. Overall, the level of detail that went into this show was incredible and it made for a very pretty show.
Thankfully, the fact that it was pretty to look at didn’t mean that it took away from the characters themselves or the plot! The cast they chose for the show did a superb job and I couldn’t imagine anyone else playing the role of Chihaya, Taichi or any of the other characters. Even the minor characters, such as Dr. Harada, were incredibly well cast and performed. However, it was the plot that really accentuated the characters. Madhouse took the time to do a in-depth backstory on who Chihaya, Taichi and Arata were and how they all came to love karuta and become friends. It was really nice getting to see how someone’s friendship started and how they grew up into the person they are in high school. Though there were some incredibly painful moments, it was always done in a way that it tugged on our heartstrings instead of making us want to stop watching. There was also a fair amount of drama between characters and a minor love triangle (though we never actually got that resolved by the end of the show) but it never became the main focus of the show or detracted from the game of karuta. The fact that they were able to make karuta the main focus of the plot despite everything else going on around them is a feat that must be applauded.
After seeing how well the plot and animation were put together, it was pleasantly surprising to find that all of the characters were very likable! Chihaya, though very single-minded when it came to karuta and a bit of an airhead, quickly became a favorite character for us. Her determination was admirable as well as her sense of duty to her friends. Taichi, started out dislikable in the beginning of the series, grew on us after we met him again in high school and saw how much he had matured over the years. His unrequited love for Chihaya only made us feel more for him, especially when it was just so obvious. Arata wasn’t featured as much, but because he was essentially the catalyst for Chihaya’s love affair with karuta and his incredibly emotional story was as much of a favorite of ours as Chihaya and Taichi. The other club members – Nishida, Komano and Kanade – all had their own personalities and goals, but they contributed to the story equally as much as the three main characters. Their actions and personalities only seemed to complement the others’ and we’re glad to say that they’re all excellent characters.
The music was well done, though they did tend to re-use several tracks for different scenarios. Then again, since the show focused around a card game instead of the love-triangle that was forming, I can understand why. Despite this, the tracks were all incredibly well done and we loved the tune and melodies of all of them. This is definitely an OST that we would consider buying in the future.
Our only complaints regarding Chihayafuru was the fact that we never got to see whether Chihaya was able to challenge the Queen! We also didn’t get nearly enough of Arata in the story, though we also understand that the main focus of the story was on Chihaya and not him. We still have a lot of questions, such as whether Chihaya will ever realize Taichi’s feelings for her and if she’ll ever make it to the finals to challenge the Queen, so we’re secretly hoping for a second season. If we don’t get one, we’ll still be happy with where this season left off but that just means we’ll have to pick up the manga to answer the rest of our questions.
Overall, Chihayafuru was an excellent mix between shoujo elements and a competitive sport series. The game itself was something different and we actually got a lot of education on the rules and things like that throughout the show, which really helped us understand what was going on. The characters were all excellent and complemented each other (even the rivals!) and the animation was near flawless. If you’re looking for a good, solid plot with some minor romantic elements but a whole lot of competitive aspects, you should definitely check out Chihayafuru! Because of this, we’re giving this show a nice, big A-grade.
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