Saturday, January 12, 2013

Chihayafuru 2 - 01

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You’d have to search long and hard for two words that would make me happier than these: “Chihayafuru’s back”.


OP: “STAR” by (99RadioService)
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I suppose for most of us that love this show dearly there was just the tiniest bit of anxiety going into this week: would the magic still be there?  The adaptation is still drawing from the manga, the key staff and cast is unchanged, and Madhouse is still producing – so all indications were that everything would be fine.  But until that moment came, we couldn’t be sure – Chihayafuru was so special that I always had a small, nagging worry that somehow the chemistry might be different this time around.

Well, we can put that behind us.  Chihayafuru is still Chihayafuru.  The visuals are still beautiful, the BGM stirring, the characters are still endlessly endearing, and the writing and direction is still sharp as a tack.  I’ve watched Season 1 twice, but it’s been a few months – and it really is striking just how unique and special this show is.  This is an anime made with great care and passion, and it shows in every facet of the thing – the casting, the animation, the backgrounds – combining that with a truly great manga gets you a show like this one (but it doesn’t happen very often).  The only problem is the schedule change – as “Taichi Tuesdays” was my very first (and only, I suppose) meme, I have a sentimental attachment to the phrase.  But what do we use now?  I’m leaning towards “Friendzone Fridays” but admittedly, that has a certain despairing ring to it…

There was surely some prime Kobe beef for fans of all types and of all the main characters to chew on this week, but whether merely as a result of timing with the manga or a directorial choice by Morio Asaka, Chihayafuru makes a rather bold move in presenting the premiere mostly through the eyes of a new character.  That would be Hanano Sumire (Han Megumi), a first-year who’s just been dumped by her boyfriend.  She’s part of the twenty-strong recruiting class of prospective members the Karuta Club manages to attract, but she’s not remotely interested in the Hundred Poets – it’s the Jack of all Trades, Master of None that Sumire is after, as she seeks out the handsomest guy in school as karmic payback to the guy that broke it off with her.

Sumire is a bit of a break from the usual Chihayafuru mold, which makes starting the season with her an even bolder move.  She’s pushy, brash, a bit obnoxious and not especially an example of the conventional kawaii girl that dominates anime casts these days.  It’s a remarkable introduction to the versatility of Han Megumi, whose performance as Gon in Hunter X Hunter is one of the best by any woman playing a boy in recent memory.  There could hardly be a greater distance between Gon and Sumire, but Han-san is up to the task – she nails Sumire’s impulsive braggadocio but undercuts it with enough insecurity and idealism to make her sympathetic.  After seeing Taichi she proclaims “I’ve found my man!” and declares that her “slightly above average looks” make her the perfect manga heroine – and that will lead to her victory over the gorgeous Chihaya, who she’s already branded “the enemy”.  Sumire is a character that isn’t going to ignored, that’s for sure.

More than just about any recent series, Chihayafuru is impossible to pigeonhole in a specific genre.  It combines many plot elements and intricate character development in a way that makes it hard to say just what the series is “about”.  That makes it endlessly fascinating for me, and the first episode is a reminder of just how many threads are unwinding in this story.  Of course the potential romantic triangle between Chihaya, Taichi and Arata is the elephant in the room – always on our minds though not often the literal focus of what’s on-screen.  Arata is a distant figure here, appearing only briefly in the pre-open, but his presence is felt even when he isn’t physically present.  The most telling moment on this front comes when Chihaya says her “top priority is seeing Taichi make Class A” – and not only because it feeds the beast in terms of possible romantic developments.  Much more directly it represents a sign of growth for Chihaya, who was too often inwardly focused in the first season – and it’s her gesture that makes Taichi think that it might be OK for him to be selfish for a change, and practice at the Shiranami Society instead of the club a couple days a week.  As the others – especially Nishida-kun – desperately want to see Taichi advance too, this is no problem for them.

If I did have to pick a theme that emerged as the most prevalent in season one, it would be friendship more than anything else – the bond that develops in the first section between the sixth-grade Chihaya and the boys, and the one that develops in 10th-grade between the five members of the club.  In this, the premiere reminded me – not remotely for the first time – of Hikaru no Go.  As with that show, the main character was focused like a laser on finding members to form a club at school – but soon enough reached a point where that club really shouldn’t be the top priority.  As Hikaru’s competitive skills outgrew his school club, so it is with Chihaya in many ways – she needs to be thinking about the Master/Queen matches, as Taichi reminds her.  But what we see most strikingly in this episode is that each of the Mizusawa club members have different goals.  Nishida dreams of success for the five elite members – as a team, but also seeing Taichi advance and the three of them succeed nationally.  Taichi pushes for Chihaya to focus on her individual goals, Kana dreams of an elite club where everyone respects the form and tradition of Karuta (and of becoming a professional reader), Tsutomu sees the first-years as primarily a means to keep the club going (without five new members, they’ll lose the clubroom, according to The Empress).

As for Chihaya, she’s “greedy” – but in this case, her greed is the most selfless thing we’ve seen from her.  She wants everything – she wants to focus on the national team title, on the Master/Queen matches, and to personally teach all the new kids the game – and to leave the legacy of a strong and stable Karuta Club that will continue after she graduates.  She even says she’ll come back and coach after she graduates – a pipe dream surely, but a noble notion nonetheless.  The hard truth though is that just as she wasn’t the best person to represent the club at the school assembly (despite matching Taichi in the “easy on the eyes” department, she drew only one guy while he drew twenty girls) she’s the wrong person to teach them.  She bullies them without meaning to, and worse, her skill is so instinctual that it’s impossible to teach.  Great natural talents generally make mediocre coaches – it’s the hard-working journeymen who excel at that, and it seems to me that Taichi and Tsutomu (a fine tutor, as we know) are the best-suited to teach the new members.  But everyone’s priorities are pulling them in different directions, and Taichi’s resolve – thanks to Chihaya’s words – to achieve Class A status has to take the top spot for him.

What leaps out for me is how natural the transition to the second season is.  This is still very much Chihayafuru, but there’s an inescapable sense of change – and the five regular cast members seem much more mature than the first-year prospective members (who just want to play Bozu Mekuri in the corner and stare at Taichi).  They’ve grown up, certainly, and grown apart some as well – which is a sad reality of life.  This sense of change is a constant in Chihayafuru, though, and it gives the series an underlying poignancy that sometimes makes it as painful to watch as it is joyful.  There’s so much to look forward to here – some of the best shounen-style competition in anime, the most compelling romantic triangle around, a possible second triangle forming around the other second-years (if Nishida’s blush is any clue) and the introduction of the other regular cast member – that one guy who showed up amongst all the girls.  He’s going to be played by Irino Miyu, as if there weren’t already enough reasons to be enthused about this season.  Chihayafuru is back, and it’s like it never left – and any season with Chihayafuru on the schedule is much better off for it.

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ED: 「茜空」(Akane Kara) by (Seto Asami)

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43 comments:

  1. I dunno "More Moribito" might also make you unbelieably happy. xD In any case, that was a really smooth transition (better than some of the multi-cour shows this week) and it really feels like there hasn't been any gap between the two seasons, although it'll take a little while for the new OP/ED to grow on me.

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    1. I second that about the OP/ED - well, just the OP in my case. I really loved the first one, and this one seems too slow-paced for my like.

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    2. I have to agree. Great ep, but the ED in particular lacked the symbolism of the first one.

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  2. oh how I waited for this show to come back!!!
    Also, I agree that "friendzone fridays" would be too depressing for such a show haha

    DK ( I'm already dying here waiting for the next episode! )

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  3. Objectively, Sumire is a bitch. She's shallow about appearances,vindictive of other women and intentionally brash/provocative....Annnd I just can't hate her. I guess that's a magic of this show though it gets you sympathetic to the characters POV and ACTUAL feelings. Then it connects them to relatable human problems and suddenly you can't help kinda loving them. (It's taichi as a spoiled brat all over again).

    So glad this is back!

    I look forward to your coverage as usual Enzo but PLEASE lets not go with friendzone friday. Ever :)

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  4. Finally..., and Taichi's "I would rather choose the girl I devote myself to".... I was anticipating that this would be the best episode of the season, and they proved it -- my eyes were glued to the screen from start to finish. Enzo -- you had two words, and I have two as well...simply brilliant. :)

    I am glad that Asaka Morio is back as the director -- he was the reason why I picked up Chihayafuru in the first place when the world was raving about Guilty Crown. I noticed that the series composition of season 2 is done by different people from the first season, but I have full confident that they will do a good job. After all, it is based on an award-winning manga.

    I like the EP, and I like how they used the BGM to kick-start the episode. There are simply many things that I liked about this first episode...can't wait for next week.

    ~Ronbb


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  5. Chihayafuru is off to a great start! :D My favorite from all the winter anime so far. I also don't think Chihaya is greedy. She just genuinely wants to share her love for kurata. Although I have to disagree with you on the coach as a pipe dream. True, she's not the best teacher but her earnestness in attempting to teach the freshmen is a tiny step into making her dream come through. Not everyone is good at what they get into in the beginning. Over the course of time, she will become a teacher worth recognizing. I was worried actually what Chihaya might do after graduation. Pursuing kurata as a career is the best for her. It's the thing she thinks about most. It would bring good passion vs practicality issues in the future :)

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    1. The pipe dream isn't necessarily her being a coach (though I have my doubts, maybe she could pull it off). It's her going to college and pursuing the Queen title while at the same time trying to be a coach of a HS team. No way that's happening.

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    2. Please allow me to tease you, Enzo... You are living your dream and have moved to Japan, going to school learning Japanese, restarting your life and rebuilding your career...AND managing this site. You are one hell of a multi-tasker. :)

      ~Ronbb

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    3. That's a good one Ronbb! LOL

      @Enzo: I understand your point better now. It does seem difficult at this point but who knows Chihaya's growth in this season might prove us wrong. :) I think the Queen title is the ultimate goal but it's nice to have other goals along the way.

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  6. Chihayafuru Fridays has a nice ring, if a bit of a mouthful.

    -Aluvine

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    1. Maybe Karuta Kinyobi?

      Friday translates to Kinyobi, according to Google Translate. Of course, it doesn't flow nearly as well as Taichi Tuesdays did.

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  7. That is indeed on my list, Kenta - it was one of the first I thought of. It's a lot of syllables, tho...

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  8. Wouldn't “Chihayafuru’s back” count as three words, even if the 'is' has been abridged?

    ...J*ck*ss mode off, I liked the second season's debut. I'm digging the new parody style they use to express shocks and appalled looks ; hopefully it's not expensive to do and we'll keep seeing them after the first few episodes.

    First season didn't blow me away or made me feel as much love as some people here feel for the show, but it was still pretty fun sometimes. I hope it gets better!

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  9. how about furu fridays? hehehe

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    1. I did think about "Chihayafridays". It's not alliterative but the syllables match up.

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    2. I was going to suggest Furu Fridays as well.
      Or continue calling it Taichi Tuesdays and pretend like nothing's wrong

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    3. I vote Furu Fridays too! It's a really good name! Awesome! Good going, you guys!

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  10. My only problem with this episode it that Irino Miyu's character has perpetual eyes closed syndrome. It is going to be so hard to get over the immediate and strong distrust of someone inflicted with PEC syndrome.

    On a more serious note that episode was perfection. Although the first season aired so long ago I feel right into the world immediately and was still able to pick up on the maturing and character dynamics so quickly. Love this show and is easily the best premiere (as expected) of the season.

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  11. This show is really Brilliant!!!

    And the long wait, just by watching the first ep, had more than quenched my hunger and thirst for Chihayafuru.

    Surprisingly, I kinda love more the new op and end song this season. The way they showed the trio in the train scene is so dramatic and seems to convey more emotions and story to tell. And the ending!... where Taichi's sad expression while sitting handsomely just made me say... awww >///< I wanna hug him! Especially the scene where he told Sumire that " It doesn't seem right to let a girl choose me. I would rather choose the girl I devote myself to" ... eeek! this just melt my heart away!! >///<.

    I actually cried while watching my old friends back! Yep! Watching Chihayafuru seems like I'm once again together with my good ol' buddies.

    Thanks for blogging this wonderful show! ^^

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  12. Last week I came back to college off of an 8 month work term. My face had a bit more hair, I keep a buzz cut now, wear better clothes and had a few personal problems. As I don't keep a facebook I couldn't really keep contact with most of my friends.

    When I woke up on Monday morning, I was super worried that everyone else might have changed in that time; that they have new friends, didn't care about the stuff we used to and effectively leave me behind.

    Until I walked into class, I wasn't sure. But then everyone says hi, how's been, how much did you make, etc.

    I can't describe the feeling of getting back together and laughing with them but it's the same feeling I got when this episode aired. Everything's the same as it used to be but just a little different, but it's where I want to be.

    Laughing, crying, cheering, booing and acting like the idiots full of passion that we are. In my experience no anime moves me like Chihayafuru does. It's as if the writer doesn't work in an office but walks into a mildly populated park and writes how people, or friends/lovers, just act around each other.

    If I was asked to watch only one anime/manga series till I die, I'd watch Chihayafuru. It's irrational, just like how any love is.

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  13. Seriously Enzo. When have you lost your cool to this degree to fanboyism over a show?? I don't think I've ever seen you behave to this extreme as a fanboy before. Have you ever excited by a show this much? I really can't recall; correct me if I'm wrong. Even your Seirei no Moribito, Kenshin, HxH, and Cross Game didn't bring out this much fanboyness in you, like making up silly words like "Chihayafridays" with liked-minded fanboys.

    And unlike any other shows, the comment section on this particular show is like a cesspool of extreme fanboyism. I find this trend very fascinating (not at all disturbing). I wonder why this show particular brings out this and make grown-up men behave this way, act as if it's like the most natural thing in the world. I fully expect all of you to have collected and lined up all Chihayafuru action figures on your bookshelf, wearing Chihayafuru t-shirt+ Chihayafuru slippers, and sleeping on Chihayafuru printed pillows. Extreme fanboyism over Gundams or Star wars/star trek 20-30 years ago and continuing, I kinda understand, since men's fascination with gigantic robots/space spaghetti western is endless, but yep, this is quite new trend. Rather fascinating one.

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    1. I find it amusing anon that you assume everyone commenting here is a guy.

      But really is it wrong to fanboy or fangirl over excellent storytelling?

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    2. It's really not worth responding to every troll that baits you, is it?

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    3. On another note I wish there was all that Chihayafuru merchandise you spoke of. It's not a merchandise heavy show. There is a lovely Chihayafuru Karuta set out there though.

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    4. Yeah, I've actually never seen any Chihayafuru merch. I'd certainly buy a Mizusawa Caruta T-shirt if there was one available.

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    5. Right... it's a troll if he/she disagrees and/or makes a fun of your extreme behavior.

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  14. FURU FRIDAYS FTW!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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  15. Enzo, have you seen the Ohmi Jingu trains which are decorated with Chihayafuru posters all over it? Please Enzo make a post about it! Oh god! If only I am in Japan, like you, right now... I'll ride them more than three times duhehehe

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    1. Um... I've done two posts with those pictures in the last week.

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    2. Oh! I missed it. urayamashii

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  16. Nice to see Chihayafuru's back!
    The start definitely brings me back to Fall 2011.

    Long post is long as expected for an Enzo favourite.
    Sumire aside, I was expecting more mature first years, but maybe not, not on this episode. Wonder when Arata will show up...

    Team Taichi GO!!

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  17. Re: Chihayafuru merchandise

    There isn't a lot but there is some stuff. Like I mentioned above there is actually a really nice Karuta set I posted pics here http://kimalysong.tumblr.com/post/39090178873/chihayafuru-karuta-set-purchased-at-kinokuniya-in.

    There is also a 2013 calendar and I was told there is a Hyakunin Isshu museum in Arashiyama that also sells some stuff dedicated to the series. I would have went if I knew about this museum before my trip.

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    1. Ah, this place: http://www.shigureden.or.jp/info/001451.html

      Apparently they had a "World of Chihayafuru" exhibit that ended on 12/24. There's no mention on the website that I can find as far as what's in the gift shop.

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  18. Hey Romance anime fans. Probably because anime is mainly geared towards teenagers, almost all romance anime seems to be about teenage romance; on that note, while y'all may think this show is the best romance ever, it still is about teenage romance.

    One of the main reasons I've liked romance shows like Honey & Clover, Nodame Cantabile, Nana, and (somewhat to a lesser degree) Natsuyuki Rendezvous as they are all about adult romance. As good as teenage romance is, they all are comparatively immature since by definition that's what they are: teenager love is immature compare to adult love. Not always, but by definition, they are. Don't pretend that somehow on the whole, teenagers are more mature. They are not; they are still kids with both brains and bodies still growing up.

    So are they any good adult romance anime shows other than the four I just mentioned?

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    1. too old. Prefer something after 1995. Anything before that, it's terrible on eyes. Unlike films, animation doesn't age too well in most cases. But thanks for the suggestion regardless.

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    2. Seirei no Moribito. Though it's a secondary plot, like everything else in the series the way it's handled is off the charts.

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  19. maybe furu fridays? X(
    i heard from my friend (who also heard from other reviewers), that this episode was disappointing, and i have no idea what they were talking about! like you said, they matured even while we weren't looking. kana-chan particularly, in her brave determination for the club. and everyone grew, had clear priorities.
    and how can we call chihaya greedy? we all know she would make it work no matter what :D
    such a perfect episode. i could feel this season is going to be better! i hope so, even though it's too perfect to be more than perfect :D :D :D

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