Wow, when people said that a show about a game about memorizing poems (karuta) is a contender for best anime series of Fall 2011, i was very skeptical. Sports animes are not my thing at all, but seeing the great reception and praise Chihayafuru has gotten i decided “Why, not?” and began watching the first 5 episodes.
Stunning. I’m trying to compose a better word (heck, a better sentence) to start off my thoughts on this show but i’m just so blown away at how amazing this show is. Chihayafuru centers on a girl named Chihaya as she realizes her own dream to rise in the ranks of competitive karuta play, with the help of her two friends Arata and Taichi. Needless to say, that description alone may have drove me away from seeing such a beautiful and thoughtful anime series. While Chihayafuru does center on competitive karuta, the show’s real strength is the characters. Chihaya is the kind of character you’re going to root for from the very beginning. She’s a bit of an airhead, but her willingness to go far and beyond to help others is remarkable. This is how she met Arata, the quiet social outcast. Even repeated warnings from Taichi that he and the entire school would completely ignore her if she talked to Arata, that did not phase Chihaya one bit. It’s refreshing to see a character like Chihaya easily go out of her way to help others without a care as to what repercussions may be.
On the flipside, Taichi comes across as the arrogant and jealous third wheel in the circle of friends. Part of this stems from his competitive nature, especially when he has to bear constricting pressure from his demanding parents. Again, it’s refreshing that Taichi has already matured enough to where he is truly conflicted about his feelings for Chihaya. Finally, we have Arata. Shy and somewhat poor, he is already ostracized from the entire school for this. Yet Chihaya does not want him to be lonely and strikes a formal friendship with him. It soon becomes evident, after seeing Arata play Karuta, that Chihaya realizes her own dream is to be the best Karuta player and not be her older sister’s cheerleader. Their friendship is bound together by the game and when the sudden news of Taichi’s transfer to a more prestigious middle school and Arata moving back home to Fukui to see his grandfather (a legend in Karuta circles himself), Chihaya does not take the news well and by that she holds on to the belief that everyone will still play Karuta and one day their passion will lead them back to each other.
It’s refreshing to see an anime like Chihayafuru grace us with their presence. The visuals, courtesy of Madhouse, are sweet and delicate and reflect the overall feel of the show. But the real strength lies in the music. A soft, delicate and precise soundtrack is a bit out of reach for most animes nowadays but Chihayafuru knows exactly when to reach for the viewer’s heartstrings and the viewer’s attention. This show is sweet, a tad realistic and occasionally funny but as of now it knows how to balance itself out. Let’s hope that with 25 episodes, Chihayafuru doesn’t turn into another Angel Beats!.
Current Score: 4/5