Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Anime Review: Chihayafuru

Again, apologies that my updates got a bit thrown off here, exam week is always a rather strange week (funny enough due to the way mine ended up being scheduled I actually have slightly more time than normal to watch anime). I feel especially bad for slighting what was one of the best anime to come out of last year, Chihayafuru, although it feels ironically appropriate since I wasn't even interested in it at first. It was only when some people mentioned it was a josei title, and by this point I had figured out that neither of the noitaminA titles were josei (which is normally what dominates the timeslot), so I figured that if this was the one title that season aimed directly at me, an 18-40 year old female, I had better well check it out. And boy am I glad, I've seen some people complain that this show has been over-hyped and all I can say there that this review is entirely my own views on the show and, even if I hadn't found a number of other people who also eagerly awaited Chihayafuru Tuesday/Taichi Tuesday, I still would have fallen in love with this show.

Summary: As a kid Chihaya was introduced to the card game karuta (a game where players memorize one hundred poems and then try to match phrases read out loud by a reader with playing cards on the field) by her classmate Arata and even after he moved she spent years playing and slowly moving up the ranks to achieve her goal of becoming the Queen (the highest ranked female karuta player in Japan). So when she gets to high school it's natural that she wants to start her own karuta club and tries to recruit her other childhood friend Taichi to be her first member. But it takes more than two people to become a club and despite it's lack of popularity the other competitors are fierce, will Chihaya ever get closer to her dream?

The Good: The story starts in the current day before engaging in a multi-episode flashback to Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi as kids and I was honestly worried that the story wouldn't be nearly as interesting once the story go back to the current day. Thankfully this wasn't the case and, while I was correct that some of Chihaya's traits weren't quite as adorable once she got older, all of the cast developed over the course of the story so much that this wasn't a real problem. I was also impressed that the other club members, who while important characters weren't The Main Characters, also got some development as the story went on. At first this sounds like a no-brainer, like all over sports anime Chihayafuru is heavily character-driven but this story is so much Chihaya/Taichi/to some extent Arata's story that I was surprised the story devoted as much time as it did to the other character's dreams and struggles with karuta. I was also surprised that the story found a good place to end and where exactly it ended. I wasn't completely thrilled with the minor cliffhanger it had but the events right before it were an interesting choice to end the series on yet in a sense summed it up perfectly, that our characters are forever chasing after a hard to achieve dream with gigantic obstacles in it's path yet they aren't going to let that stop them or even get them down along the way.  

The Bad: While Taichi receives some character development early on it takes an annoyingly long time for Chihaya to realize that some of her traits are grating on others and to figure out what her weakness in karuta is and how to improve on it. I suspect the manga will be a long-running title and therefore paced like a long-running story (ie, you're not going to have your characters develop in the first five chapters if the story is going to be around for 100+,  you hit a point where you can't develop them anymore and everything stagnates) but I think that Chihaya could have started developing a bit earlier and then just gone more slowly than it played out here. I also wonder how much longer the "love-triangle" will be dragged out, since, well, to keep spoilers to a minimum one character believes there is a love triangle, something the other two aren't aware of, and that's the only reason they haven't done anything which has just dragged on a bit too well. This too is a carry over from the original manga (and probably has a similar reason to Chihaya's character development) and, while it was nice to see a love-triangle play out a bit differently than normal I'd much rather have it done with and let the characters move on. 

The Audio: Sporting lovely opening and closing songs (the closing song is one of my favorite closing songs from last year) I've heard some people remark that the background themes sounded a bit Disney-ish (I asked some friends unfamiliar with the show to listen and they agreed with that statement as well) which might sound like it would be out of place for an anime but they actually worked very well. The show overall is a very upbeat, hopeful one and all of the club members triumphs wouldn't have felt nearly as satisfying without the music backing them up.

The Visuals: Produced by Studio Madhouse Chihayarfuru looks very nice overall. I have seen some people complain over the CGI used in some of the card tournaments but, even though I myself could see that CGI was being used for some of the shots, never found it distracting and thought that those shots did add to the tension in those scenes and therefore served their purpose well. Nothing else about the art in Chihayafuru was different enough from the norm for me to comment on and all in all it was a lovely show to look at.

As mentioned earlier, the anime is based off of a currently running manga, neither of which have been licensed in the US (pst, NIS America, this is TOTALLY your kind of show!). However, there are a couple of bilingual editions of the manga avaliable in Japan which I plan to order sometime (the shipping prices and time has been what has kept me from doing it so far, geeze people, it's only coming from another continent, not the moon!). In the meantime the show can be streaming on Crunchyroll and I highly recommend everyone give it a shot sometime.