Posted by psgels on 28 March 2012 with categories: Anime Reviews, Chihayafuru

Most people here will be unfamiliar with the game of Karuta. Its rules are fairly simple: two people sit around a bunch of cards that each contain a half of a poem. Someone on the sidelines starts reading cards that contain the other halves of these poems, and it’s up to the player to get each corresponding card as quickly as possible. At first sight it doesn’t seem like your interesting game that you can make a full series off, unlike games as Go, Shougi or Mahjong. But after 25 episodes of Chihayafuru, I had to change my mind about this. This series really managed to show what makes Karuta a great game.

The execution of this series is simply stunning. When you take a look at the animation, for example, movement is incredibly fluid. Scenes are directed with a lot of force and energy behind them. Every single time a character claims a card, it feels like a ton of energy is devoted to just show how difficult this is. The acting also is really excellent, with just about every character and actor giving off a memorable performance.

What really sets this series apart is the way it handles its characters. Seriously, this episode has a cast of about five main characters. Every single episode manages to add something to these characters. Seriously, from the moment they’re introduced, this series very actively tries to flesh out these characters as much as possible, and every episode feels like we get to know more and more about them. The consistency with which this series does this is almost scary, and even the minor characters are colourful and surprisingly well developed.

What this show also does brilliantly is making the skills in Karuta of each of the characters grow. I mean, most training arcs in anime consist of “character trains for a while, character is stronger”. Chihayafuru goes in-depth to this much more than I at first thought it would. It examines what it takes to get good at Karuta, how the best players out there are playing, and it shows the full train of thought of the characters as they try to get better, and try to find out their weaknesses. I mean, this series closes off with an open-ended cliff-hanger (ongoing manga…), but even here the creators managed to actually make all this focus on training come together wonderfully at the end.

If I had to mention a flaw, then it’s this: the series takes place at a high school and is focused on a club whose members enter a bunch of tournaments. The detail on karuta is amazing, but beyond that this series uses a set-up that has been done so often already. This series is just karuta match after karuta match after karuta match, with very little variety along the way. It really solely relies on the karuta and the characters to spice up its story, and it does so brilliantly, however, it also is a bit of a monotone series because of this.

Storytelling: 8/10 – Amazing direction, wonderful pacing. Needs perhaps a tad more variety in its story, but really brings its story to life. The unfinished ending will leave you wanting more, though.
Characters: 9/10 – Amazing characters who keep getting developed and fleshed out. Every epsode adds something new and interesting about them.
Production-Values: 9/10 – Lots of eye candy, very fluid animation.
Setting: 9/10 – When this series started, I thought Karuta was a bit of a boring game. Right now however, I don’t think that anymore. This show really showed a ton of the different sides of the game.

Hikaru no Go
Ookiku Furikabutte
Shion no Ou

15 Responses

  1. Snowolf says:

    Oh wow, I was expecting a solid 90/100 from you. Close though! Are those 2.5 points taken off because of the ending? I for one, thought that it was actually quite un-monotonous with the way they handle each match, focusing on different players and strengths and also perspectives, with the cast taking away an important lesson from each game. Personally, I’d rank it as the best anime of what was otherwise a dull start to the 2012 year. The storytelling for what is generally a seemingly-generic story is amazing though. Exceptional direction and execution. I’m going to miss this show.

    • psgels psgels says:

      Yeah, if this had ended conclusively I probably would have rated it a 90/100. Right now though, there is just too much potential lost in comparison to the other serie that I rated this high.

  2. joojoobees says:

    I honestly have never seen a show this solid before. I often proclaim the virtues of shows that have flashes of brilliance, and I can brush off an occasional bad episode, because I recognize that unevenness often is a sign that someone is reaching out to the end of their limits. I always thought “consistency” meant tame, and unambitious, but I have never seen a show that consistently delivered great pacing, and character growth the way Chihayafuru did. I may need to rethink my ideas about what “excellence” even means.

  3. starry says:

    Beautiful show. Solid series. Will definitely keep up with the manga once scanlations surpass what the anime has already done. Good review and a 87.5 is still pretty high.

  4. Stars says:

    It’s easy to see how someone might find this show to be boring and with the repetitive karuta matches, but I never saw Chihayafuru like that. I watched it for the beauty of it’s characters and emotions, and boy Chihayafuru did not disappoint. It made me laugh, then cry, added some tension then made me cry and laugh again.
    Absolutely loved it.

  5. tk007 says:

    This series really has no weak episode. Every single ep is rock solid and captivating. I actually watched every ep at least twice every week and now that this has ended, I’m actually going to rewatch the entire series again. That’s something I’ve never done before!

  6. Oroboros says:

    Clearly clinches a spot in my upcoming Top Anime of 2012 list. Any show that encourages me to read the original manga is awesome in my book.

    Anyone know where the anime finishes in the manga?

  7. ronbb says:

    I have decided – Chihayafuru is my favourite of winter 2012. When it was announced that Asaka Morio was the director, I had no doubt that I would follow this series – I was not disappointed for a single moment. There was not a single minute in this two-cour series that I would take my eyes off the screen. The topnotch directing, the superb writing, the beautiful score, the flawless art, the great acting by the seiyus, and the powerful character development – all make this series a rock-solid one from start to finish…for all 25 episodes… I was so drawn to the characters – listening to their thoughts, witnessing their growth, feeling their pain when losing a game, and cheering for them when they’re in one.

    This is, and Natsume Yuuchin-Chou, the series I had anticipated so much every week, and now I feel a bit sad to say good-bye… While I hopelessly wish and pray for a second season to come, I am sure I will revisit the series many times…

    Lastly, thank-you psgels for blogging this series for the past 6 months…enjoy reading every post of Chihayafuru that you wrote.

  8. johnnski says:

    Chihaya is the prettiest heroine ever.

  9. Hogart says:

    FINALLY got a chance to watch some anime again, and this was the first thing on my list to finish. For me, Chihayafuru really only suffered from a little too much unresolved shoujo melodrama with Taichi. It did it’s job otherwise – it inspired me to read the manga some day, and ended on a decent enough note to not leave a sour taste in my mouth. Not many series try this hard, especially in terms of portraying it’s many quirky characters without them feeling like anime characters. I’m actually glad they kept it “monotone”, because it makes for a fantastic contrast to the more childish card battle anime.

  10. Vanichu says:

    I knew the ending wouldn’t give us some sort of closure, but at least it gives a feeling like “and the club who loves karuta still goes on…”
    I would have loved to see more screen time between the trio childhood friends. I wonder why didn’t they include any of that? For me, a phone call from either trio saying they should meet up to play karuta would be satisfying for me.

    It was a good anime in my book. I don’t think I’ll be able to forget Chihayafuru… just like how I still remember Shion no Ou, despite the fact that I do not like to watch sports-related anime in general.
    There’s just something about Chihayafuru that draws me so into it and leaving me a deep impression of the anime.

    I’m glad they decided to make a manga adaptation. Now… off to read the manga ^^b

  11. Random says:

    Now that we got a second season can I consider this a 90/100?

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  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Wednesday, Nov 25. 2015 03:45 AM)
    But I’m no fan of gung-ho soldier games/most fps games so I am glad clannad, a visual novel outsold call of duty.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Wednesday, Nov 25. 2015 03:44 AM)
    I said it once I’ll say it again. I preferred the clannad movie over the tv series, had more style, a more mature feel to it and cut out all the superfluous arcs/comedy for the better. It also concludes better than the series. The emotional involvement in the kyoani version doesn’t work for me anymore, doesn’t hold up. However the film remains emotionally engaging after revisiting it.
  • AidanAK47
    (Wednesday, Nov 25. 2015 03:19 AM)
    Holy hell Clannad is selling like hotcakes on Steam. Even beat Call of Duty in sales at one point.
    Kinda happy to see a VN get recognised and it would help open up the market for more titles to come over. But..well..Clannad really isn’t all that great.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Wednesday, Nov 25. 2015 02:29 AM)
    I can remember when I first got into anime when I was a whole lot younger I always said I would watch lodoss war, El Hazard and slayers, yet I never ended up doing so…
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Tuesday, Nov 24. 2015 05:34 AM)
    Ha, the child in me would love to see a film like that I’d imagine, when I was young I was pretty crazy about Egyptian supernatural stuff.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Nov 24. 2015 05:23 AM)
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Nov 24. 2015 05:22 AM)
    @Kaiser: yeah, even tho it was his highest grossing movie it managed to brought his career to a stand-still. His next film Gods of Egypt looks like it could be fun, albeit it’s just as much as a CGIfest as I, Robot. Egyptian stuff is admittedly rather intriguing, I remember a 2004 French film Immortel ad vitam that blended that with modern themes that became popular for a while.
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Tuesday, Nov 24. 2015 04:50 AM)
    *remove second and
  • Kaiser Eoghan
    (Tuesday, Nov 24. 2015 04:50 AM)
    @Bam: Regarding dark city, such a shame the director of that followed up dark city and the crow and with Irobot.
  • Bam
    (Tuesday, Nov 24. 2015 04:41 AM)
    @Kaiser: oh The Celebration- I actually seen that as well, great movie. Didn’t know it was the same director, but thinking back now I can see the similar touches despite the difference in tone.

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