The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Chihayafuru

Title: Chihayafuru
Genre: Drama/Romance
Company: Madhouse Studios
Format: 25 episodes
Dates: 5 Oct 2011 – 28 Mar 2012

Synopsis: Ayase Chihaya is a girl who spent much of her childhood vicariously living through her sister’s dreams instead of her own. Her life changes when a boy named Wataya Arata teaches her that she should have a dream of her own.  It is at this time that Chihaya discovers a passion for the card game karuta. Alongside Arata and another friend, Mashima Taichi, she chases her newfound dream of becoming the world’s best karuta player. In high school, Chihaya continues chasing her dream while hoping to one day reunite with her now separated friends.

The Highlights
Passion: The passion of the characters is personally effectual, admirable, and inspirational.
Complete package: Excels in all areas whether it is visuals, audio, or writing.
Drama: Sometimes can be a little melodramatic, but is usually competent.

Combining the best aspects of josei and sports shonen, Chihayafuru weaves an emotionally complex and endearing story about a group of people who play karuta. Surely a card game would not seem like the most riveting topic for a compelling character driven story, but just like the activities in other sports-themed anime, karuta in Chihayafuru molds and defines each character’s hopes and desires in a spectacular fashion. Furthermore, owed to its crisp and down to earth style, it is an easy, approachable watch. Suffice to say, this is exactly the type of anime that does get made enough.

Central to the overall story at hand is the idea of discovering one’s own passion. This is seen in several different ways through the characters and the way they play karuta. Some characters just love the art and history behind the game, others enjoy the mental challenge of it, some find inspiration and love for it from others, and some just have a natural passion for it. Whatever the reason, the show presents a different array of manners in which people devote themselves entirely to something they love. Each character’s dilemmas and special relation with karuta serve as an inspirational example of the beauty of following one’s passions and desires to its fullest potential.

One thing immediately appreciable about Chihayafuru is how it delivers the full package, never feeling lacking in any one particular area. The visuals are colorful and vibrant, really bringing to life the panels of the manga. The music is a nice blend of orchestral pieces, which are always well placed with proper build up for maximum impact. The writing is simply exquisite, with every moment always feeling important to the greater picture at hand. Studio Madhouse and director Asaka Morio, the same team that brought us Nana, showcase a superb production and have affirmed in my mind that they are the go to combination for josei and shoujo manga adaptions.

If there is one criticism I do have of Chihayafuru it is that it sometimes feels too melodramatic. Characters sometimes cry over the littlest things, making the experience at times feel hammy. I can understand when people break down after losing a game they poured in all they had mentally and emotionally, but it was a stretch for me to see people crying over just watching others play. Still, this is no major determent to enjoyment of the show, and for the most part the drama is  solid.

Chihayafuru is a defining example of a quality anime that does not need to rely on grandiose plots or convoluted philosophical contentions to communicate anything meaningful. The characters are easy to understand and grow fond of, but are also layered and interesting. Moreover, the message is simple, and the story straightforward, but everything that goes into it is communicated with so much real, raw emotion that I could not help but find it touching.  All I can say is if Madhouse never comes back with a season two, it would be a crying shame as the ending just leaves the viewer pining for more.

The Rating: 8
8/10

Reviewed by: Reckoner

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