The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Chihayafuru 2

Title: Chihayafuru 2
Genre: Drama
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 12 Jan 2013 – 29 Jun 2013

Synopsis: It’s a new year for Mizusawa’s Karuta Club, and the members have disparate desires for how they want to spend the new year — everyone but Ayase Chihaya, who wants to recruit new members, teach them karuta, and clean up in team and singles karuta tournaments. To her cause, Chihaya recruits first-years Tsukuba Akihiro and Hanano Sumire, but will they be able to come together to win the national team tournament? And can Chihaya overcome the challenge of the reigning Queen Wakamiya Shinobu?

The Highlights
Togetherness: The bonds of friendship the Mizusawa team shares are deepened ever more this season.
Competition: Tournaments make up the bulk of the season; Mizusawa shines with their backs against the wall.
Pacing: Occasionally drags during the early portion of the main team tournament.

Chihayafuru‘s first season is one of the great sports anime of the past few years. Its game of focus, karuta, doesn’t seem as if it would make for an exciting series, but the game has a grace, tension and power that Madhouse exploited in full to create exciting matches. Add to that an excellent, sympathetic cast of fighters, and Chihayafuru had great appeal. The show’s second season pushes that spirit even further — it consists almost entirely of tournament episodes, with Mizusawa battling and clawing to earn its keep in the karuta world. Does this new set of episodes recapture the magic of the first season? For the most part, yes, though not without a couple of bumps in the road.

One of the qualities that makes Chihayafuru so enjoyable is passion. Each member of Mizusawa discovers a grand love for karuta that fuels their competitive desires. In turn, their shared love of karuta makes their friendship all the stronger. One of the interesting things this new season does is integrate two new characters into Mizusawa’s already tight knit quintet. Much like the other members of Mizusawa other than Chihaya, Tsukuba and Sumire join the club for reasons that don’t totally line up with Chihaya’s ideal. However, as they both get their feet wet in the world of competitive karuta, a desire to get better blossoms in them both, and they become valuable members of the team. Sumire in particular is a delightful addition to the cast; she has a frankness about her that’s a great contrast with Chihaya’s obliviousness and Kana’s soft-spoken patience. Seeing her grow to enjoy a game she was at first resistant to is one of the most rewarding parts of this new season.

The best place to stoke the fires of passion for a game is of course in competition, which is where Chihayafuru‘s second season spends much of its time. There’s a particular emphasis on team play and deepening bonds of friendship in these new episodes; a far greater bulk of the season is spent working through team tournaments rather than singles. The slow evolution of Mizusawa thinking of their team matches as not five separate singles battles but rather five matches as a single unit is the most compelling storyline of the season. Chihayafuru is always at its best when Mizusawa’s backs are against the wall and they must rally from behind to achieve victory. The best drama of this season is undoubtedly when Mizusawa faces the strongest teams in the nationals.

There’s a caveat to this team business, however. To actually get to these more compelling match ups, Mizusawa must work through other teams that aren’t quite as compelling. It is here where Chihayafuru‘s often swift pace drags a bit. The show tries to make these early teams interesting and provide new lessons for Mizusawa to learn, but it doesn’t quite work. Mizusawa’s victories are never in doubt, so the new teams come off as more gimmicky than anything else, and it’s difficult to care about them. Luckily, this lull lasts for only three episodes before Mizusawa comes up against a team that is undoubtedly as strong as they are, and they reclaim their customary underdog position. The viewer’s patience is greatly rewarded at this point; this match is arguably the high point of the season and kicks off a fantastic stretch of karuta that lasts through the remainder of the show’s run.

Production-wise, Chihayafuru remains strong. The limber movements of each karuta player makes the games tremendously exciting, and the swooping camera frames each shot to provide maximum impact. The flowery touches that enhanced the first season’s charm remain. The music emphasizes the uplifting moments in just the right way without crossing over into saccharine territory. There’s real craft to the way everything in Chihayafuru works in harmony to push the viewer’s emotional buttons.

Chihayafuru remains a delightful sports anime that captures the thrill of competition and the bonds of friendship among those who fight with and for each other. The second season ends in an acceptable place that provides enough closure while providing a wide open window for more should the opportunity arise. I sincerely hope Madhouse continues to provide that opportunity.

The Rating: 7

Reviewed by: Shinmaru

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