After the first Chihayafuru anime series ended I held off a bit on reading the manga since I had a feeling, no real reason but a feeling, that if we were going to get a second anime series that it would happen soon and I didn't want to spoil it if that was the case. And I turned out to be right and went in totally blind for this new season, although the fact that the manga still isn't fully translated means that there are less spoilers to try and avoid to start with.
Summary: Chihaya and the rest of the Misuzawa karuta team are back and another school year has begun which means it's time to recruit new members and to train up everyone for the upcoming high school championships. And this year Chihaya is greedy, she wants the team to win both the team tournament and each of the class tournaments as well, is that even possible with such strong players challenging them at every turn?!
The Good: I was a bit hesitant about the two new characters (actually they're the reason why I thought we might get a second season, they were pictured on the box set of the first season's DVDs) but they actually worked rather well. Tsukuba already liked karuta so it was easy to integrate him and the story went out of their way to build up Sumire and make her into a more likable character (and oddly enough into a bit of an audience surrogate at times), although then the story didn't end up using them as much as I expected for their character development. This is also one of the few sports shows where even the viewers can see how much better the characters have gotten at the game. I feel like it’s sometimes hard to convey that easily through story-telling, in real life the actors obviously just act and special effects may help (like the Doctor from Doctor Who playing soccer a few seasons back and they simply added in the ball later with CGI) and for sports shows, well, it’s hard to animate anything to look perfectly the way it does in real life especially with less than awesome players. But here we can see how the characters remain calmer, how Chihaya is taking more multi-syalbell cards, how the characters begin to move faster, and for once I can really believe that they’ve all improved.
The Bad: In the first season the show had a really fantastic pace, nicely balancing the matches and the character development outside of them but here that pace slowed to a crawl. From what I can tell this is the result of the manga slowing it's pacing, not from the new series composition staff, and having seen where the manga ended and knowing how little there is left beyond it I'm not sure what the staff should have done instead. It would have been great if the individual matches themselves had been sped up so the story could focus on more people. Chihaya and Taichi obviously got a lot of screen time and Arata got much more this season, Nishida and Tsutomu got some time devoted to their feelings but not much, those two, Kana, and the newbies seemed to vanish at times during the Omi Jingui matches and that did make me a bit sad.
The Production Values: I don't know if they started doing this this season or just did it more frequently than in the first season but I loved how they would often have a small line of words, a character's aside or inner thoughts, alongside them, unvoiced in a lot of scenes. It reminded me a bit of Fullmetal Alchemist Brotherhood actually and the trouble that series had in adapting the humor and snarking that often came in the middle of serious scenes that worked perfectly well in print but not so well in anime. Here it worked well, breaking the tension or providing a tiny insight but without completely breaking the flow or the mood of the scene. Aside from that, I liked the new additions to the soundtrack (need to track that down soon actually) and again I adore that soundtrack, it knows how to use it's uplifting, dramatic, and inspirational tracks so well that I find it impossible to not get excited whenever it plays. I did feel like the art looked a little cheaper this time around though, I know it's common practice on the internet to take screenshots of far off background characters, blow them up, and laugh at how silly and crappily drawn then look but some of the foreground characters here looked a bit off as well which was more than a bit frustrating.
I'm still frustrated by that slow pacing but in the end this season covered just as much as the previous one did, another 45-ish chapters which means the story ended at chapter 92 or 93 out of about 119 chapters. Clearly this means it'll be a long time before we get more anime, if ever, so once those manga scanlations get up to date (yup, still not there even with two teams working from different places!) I'll probably start following it. In the meantime however I give this season a 3 out of 5 and even with these problems I'm still crossing my fingers for an American home release (if not, well, there's always Australia to import from!).