October 2011 Anime Season – Chihayafuru Episode 4

With Episode 4, Chihayafuru now moves back to present time. Taichi virtually dares Chihaya to reach Class A to make her years of hard work worthwhile. Chihaya is spurred on by the sight of Taichi’s simple, typical girlfriend and vows she will reach Class A by winning the upcoming karuta tournament, making Taichi promise he has to help Chihaya form a high school karuta club if she wins. Taichi comes to the tournament in disguise but his old teacher recognises him instantly. They watch Chihaya steamroll her way to the final match with newly forged resilience and her trademark tomboy flair. In the final, Chihaya gradually overcomes the mind games her older opponent employs and uses her determination and passion to will herself to win the tournament. Taichi is impressed with how much Chihaya has grown and improved in the three years they were apart. Chihaya finally makes the call to Arata she’s been wanting to make for three years now that she’s finally reached Class A. However, Arata cuts her off, declaring he is done with karuta and never wants to hear from Chihaya again.

It’s rather intriguing to see when Episode 3 ended, Chihaya being far behind Arata and Taichi in skill and also in general life experience, yet one episode later she’s now ahead of them both. All three of them had a spark of some sort but only Chihaya has managed to kindle hers. Taichi seems somewhat content to settle for good enough and is with a girlfriend he even admits not caring much about. Arata has succumbed to darkness and lost his drive. While Chihaya has improved dramatically and still retained her spunky, pristine nature. At some points watching that episode, Chihaya lit up that screen more than her self-obssessed modelling sister ever could.

The changes in Chihaya are evident. When Chihaya would fall behind in the past in a match, her self-doubt would overwhelm her. Now, she simply wills herself to get over the line. She doesn’t hate her opponents, has a genuine love of the game and keeps her manners more in line. But thankfully some things don’t change – Taichi can still irk her and she easily drives him up the wall. Chihaya is still an adorable ball of positive energy and has a mix of a glamour look and tomboy behaviour. It’s always a delight to see her in action. Time away from the trio has served her well.

The atmosphere of Chihaya calling Arata was very poignant. You’ve got Chihaya revelling in victory, standing in the light and finally getting where she wants to be while clutching her girlie pink phone. Whereas you have Arata in a house full of darkness and answering an older style phone. The distance between them is just amplified by these subtle qualities and makes for one very moving scene. Other great moments were when the teacher called Taichi ‘Eyelashes’ – priceless. Chihaya’s button-eyed expression while wolfing down chocolate then snoozing with her eyes open – adorable. Chihaya in a white T-shirt and tying her now long hair back while playing – there was just something undeniably cool about that.

It was once that Chihaya needed Arata and Taichi to help her get her spark and feel alive. Now it is the reverse and time for Chihaya to repay the favour. She seems up to the task but certainly the reality of the dream team not being infallible to the darker side of life has left Chihaya somewhat stunned. But you need adversity to make this story work. She’s a strong girl and will get over it. What follows will prove to be evermore intriguing and heartwarming.

October 2011 Anime Season – Chihayafuru Episode 3

For an episode that was loaded with a fair amount of heartbreak, it was still more sweet than anything. Which really goes to show how well Madhouse are doing at setting the mood and making the viewer cherish the characters.

The trio of Chihaya, Taichi and Arata go for more competitive play within the karuta world. It’s interesting to note how they react differently to the pressure. Arata thrives on it. The revelation of his grandfather being a master player explains a lot and makes for a key moment later. Taichi is initially driven by jealousy of Arata and he sure wants to be the one Chihaya likes. Yet within their struggles, Taichi is the one that changes the most. His experiences within the trio quell his jealousy and cause him to appreciate Arata as a friend and that the time the three of them are having together is special. Chihaya is definitely the one struggling. She desperately wants to get better, but it’s just not coming to her. Plus she’s certainly not getting much support from home. Still, Chihaya’s mother bothering to say it was good Chihaya finally had a dream of her own.

There were some amusing moments early on. Chihaya’s usual ‘speak before thinking’ vice disrupting adult players. Everyone calling Hiro ‘Retro’. The doctor getting teary over young people wanting to play karuta. The playful scuffle between the three in the snow. There is an undeniable feel-good element to this show if it’s been one you’re following this season.

The revelation the trio will be going to different middle schools hits them hard but to different degrees. Taichi and Arata both feel responsible for splitting up the trio – not that they actually have anything to shoulder blame for. If anything, the experience shows how far ahead Arata and Taichi are ahead of Chihaya not just in karuta skills, but in terms of life experience and overall skills. Chihaya has spent so much time up until now adoring her shallow-minded sister with devotion, that it is rather like Chihaya is starting from scratch in terms of finding who she is and what she wants to do in life. If anything, the split may end up being the best thing to happen to her. Sure, Chihaya’s spirit and passion was key in uniting the trio, but Chihaya was the most reliant on the trio’s existence to feel fulfilled in life, because Chihaya felt like she wasn’t much without it. And there is where I hope we see Chihaya go next – to rough life out on her own, find herself and mature. I doubt Chihaya’s spunk, passion or tomboy nature will change much since they are defining factors about her that are refreshing and key to her role in this show. But there needs to be a resilience developing within Chihaya to go it alone when needed and that her friends aren’t her primary support. The girl needs to grow up.

Well, the trio had to split up sometime. Nothing lasts forever. Yet it didn’t feel quite so painful, did it? There’s an honesty and spirit to the bond these three have, you figure they will meet some day again. We know that Chihaya and Taichi meet up in high school thanks to Episode 1. The question is when and where Arata returns, as well as what happens between Chihaya and Taichi before then. And it will be interesting to see how Chihaya handled being by herself and developed her karuta skills before the high school reunion.

Ultimately this is a show that is relying on three factors – 1. The cultural appeal of karuta. 2. The strong bond of friendship between the trio. 3. The development – particularly of Chihaya – as people. If Chihayafuru continues to utilise those three factors as it has been thus far, it will be one of the stand-outs of the year. Not in sales, but certainly in quality.