***This is a spoiler free review***
Chihayafuru completely blindsided me when I first watched it last year. No matter how I looked at it, it looked like a Josei anime which is usually a turn off for me. After much consideration though I ended up watching it and I never regretted doing so. Now that the second season has completed, I find myself pretty much with the same feelings; pure awesomeness.
Let’s get the formalities out of the way; this is a sports anime. If you do not like sports anime then I am 98% sure you will not like this anime at all. Chihayafuru follows the main character Chihaya as she tries to become better at the Japanese poetry card game Karuta. In the second season, the show focuses more on the Karuta club at Chihaya’s school as they prepare to compete in the district and regional tournament. Now for the second formality; like I posted in my opening statement this looks like and pretty much is a Josei anime. Josei shows usually shoots for the young to older teen girl audience and a unique characteristic that the Josei genre usually brings is its art style (read more about this in the animation section). So since this show is directed to young Japanese girls, you have to deal with the typical female lead that usually has two or three boys after her affection. This is somewhat true in Chihayafuru but the romance thankfully takes a back seat compared to the other things such as character development and the card game scenes. It also helps that Chihaya is a very strong willed and overall great lead character (more of this in the character section).
The most important thing about grading the story section is how the plot flows. While the two main arcs flow nicely into each other, I feel as if some of the match scenes dragged on a little too much (I call it the Bleach syndrome). That being said, some of the matches actually had me on the edge of my seat. I will not spoil the results but there is a team match where it literally comes down to the last card and I could not believe the result. My overall feelings are if you want a flowing story with tons of character development then stay away from this anime. While it does have the stuff you want in between the tournaments, once they start it is all about the matches. This is a sports anime.
If you look at any number of Josei anime you will see that they all pretty much have very light and bright colors and this is no exception for Chihayafuru 2. In the scenes where there is sunlight peering through the windows, there is beautiful and well down lighting. Also the character models (AND THE EYES) are so well done that even the talking scenes are beautiful (OMG THE EYES). Since this a sports anime, you would hope that the action oriented scenes flow well with great quality. I am happy to say that even the most intense matches have great quality and look extremely smooth. I honestly love the animation of this anime; all the characters (even the side ones) look unique and beautiful/handsome. Like or hate the Josei art style, this is one beautiful anime.
Another great asset this anime has is the overall sound design. The music that plays in the background for both the dialogue and match scenes is so spot on. In an intense match you will find that the music caters perfectly to what is going on and I also love how they included so many orchestral arrangements. The voice actors also did an awesome job reprising their roles. The new characters also sounded great as each one meshed quite well with their virtual counterpart. It has been quite some time since I have experienced an anime with such a great acoustic qualities.
I feel that this season did a much better job with the character interactions (since they added new people to the club) but at the same time it detracted from the characters I really like. The screen time for Chihaya and Taichi was more limited since we had to learn about the new members but this is not really a valid complaint since they still had screen time. Chihaya is a very strong female lead with an unfathomable amount of resolve to become better and better at Karuta. She wants to one day play a match against Arata like she did as a child. She is to my limited memory the strongest female anime character I can think of which is great because I am so tired of the weak willed and whiny females we usually get. Taichi in the first season made it quite clear he was crushin’ on Chihaya; I won’t spoil if he was man enough to make a confession this season but the time they had together in the second season was pretty nice. He also grew very much as a player in this season. There is a particular team match where he pretty much was the sole reason the team won. The other characters (boob girl, porky, glasses, and the two new members) really did help bring in some great moments for the team especially in the first tournament. It added a new element since the team now had people they could cycle in instead of always relying on the same people.
This show is really, really good. The continuing story of Chihaya and the Karuta club is so enjoyable to watch unfold. If you somehow missed or just decided to skip the first season of Chihayafuru then please do yourself a favor and at least give it a try. While the show covers a sport you have most likely never heard of, the anime does a superb job pulling you in which other great sport anime have done in the past (Capeta, Prince of Tennis, Major, ext).
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Chihayafuru was not original except the premise. Chihayafuru 2 is decidedly unorignal to the extreme with its super narrow focus on one tournament and that's it. Where the first season had a light hearted feel, the second season forgoes that in order to become completely derivative. There are only so many times that you can see an early drawback become a victory before it stops doing anything more than annoy you. The premise has officially outworn its welcome.
Like the first season, the artwork is top notch and gives the writing a depth it shouldn't have. But the difference is that now it isn't enough to pull Chihayafuru 2 out of mediocrity. This is a fault of the far narrower focus which removes the chance for the diversity to bring out the best of it. The push towards thicker hints of romance in a cheap attempt to cover up this flaw.
Still, I can't say that Chihayafuru 2 is particularly bad. It just isn't too good. A second season is supposed to develop the first, instead, it takes a couple of steps back. There is no light hearted fun to break the monotony. And boy does monotony describe everything once the opening is done.
Oh, people gush about Chihayafuru 2 being better than the first season. It isn't. It really, really, really isn't. It is rated higher in most rankings because most of the peope who watched it are the ones that liked the first season, so of course they'd be inclined to rate it better. Don't let that fool you, the charm of the first season is gone, and what we have here is now completely generic.
Writing (Story and Characters):
It was the weak point in the first season, and the writing of Chihayafuru 2 is once again what makes it weak. It is officially in completely unoriginal tournament territory. In general, I just can't say I particularly liked anything about the writing of the series. This season doesn't have the fig leaf of an original premise isn't there anymore.
Chihayafuru 2 has a far narrower focus on the story, and that narrower focus is plain tournament stuff in the most generic way. If the first season had an entire year in which the characters develop and grow together, no such thing happens here and the character driven side flounders. The forced love triangle thing is just plain ridiculous and unconvincing, making the characters seem stupid more than anything else... but I suppose it helps break the repetitive cycle that is one tournament for a trillion (sorry, twenty) episodes.
Two new characters are tacked on, plenty of throwaway rivals are defeated, but what really changed is that Chihayafuru 2 is about forced drama from the perspective of the cast. It feels so superficial from the perspective of each character that it borders on shounen-bad, only that shounen is at times self-aware enough to do this with a wink towards the viewer that is sorely lacking here. The cast is super-positive and has a certain grace to it, but does not really make it suitable for anyone who likes depth.
OK, this may have been particularly harsh, but I just can't forgive a series losing what makes it better than average. Chihayafuru 2 does that, and it is not something to take kindly to. While from a technical standpoint, the writing does what it sets out to do and nothing more. I suppose that there are plenty of viewers that can forgive this because they like what it does, but unless you are a fanatic of the tournament types of series it will rub you the wrong way.
Art (Animation and Sound):
While from an animation perspective Chihayafuru 2 is a direct continuation of the first season, there is more of a reliance on effects in both audio and visual aspects. It does make what little plot there is and make it more dramatic than it deserves... but it just grows tired. Other than that, there is nothing different than the first season.
Oh god. What an exercise in boredom. Chihayafuru 2 at the very least doesn't require close attention to anything. But for something that is so based on a tournament being dramatic, that isn't a good thing. I suppose that I should define this as shounen-plus, in the bad sense. Recommended if you thought the first season was too deep and should have focused on tournaments rather than what made it unique. Still, the art being top notch saves it, so I suppose it is on the good side of average.
I keep waiting for a confession, but Chihayafuru 2 is a big huge tease. The focus, as in the first season, was on the competitive karuta aspect--making it more or less a sports show--with just enough hints of developing relationships between characters to string you along and leave you wanting more. Gah!
Story: Chihayafuru's story is typical of any other sports show, highlighting aspects of training and spending a lot of time battling weird opponents. The only distinguishing feature (and the feature that puts it solidly in the shoujo category) is the romance, but it's so light it's barely there.
Animation & Sound: I really like the voice actors in this show, as well as the music. Animation is boring, but decent.
Characters: This season sees some of the characters developing more, but also has a few leaning-toward stereotypical characters, like Hanano. The character development is slow & gentle, but rewarding, and the characters are what bring you back for more.
Overall: I can't wait for more!!! If you liked what you got in season 1, keep watching. Also recommended for shoujo fans, and people who don't mind waiting for confessions to happen. :)
(spoiler free review) this season was a great expansion of wat makes a great karuta player. It showed the different strengths & weaknesses that each player has & how to best utilize & overcome them. I wish this season focused more on the romance ngl, but it was still entertaining to watch mizusawa play in the karuta matches. This season was sprinkled with cute/funny/satisfying moments which was fun to watch. I think if u enjoyed S1 definitely continue with this.
Ps. the recap episodes were unnecessary
(spoilers) it was so satisfying to see taichi finally get to class A. Seeing the data desktomu collected & being used in matches was interesting. Also, seeing mizusawa win & become the best team in japan was great too. I am rly rooting for taichi & hope he ends up with chihaya in the end. Hopefully S3 focuses more on the romance/josei elements.
So, here we are again, in the post Chihayafuru wasteland... Thankfully, this time I must qualify that there is at least a little stirring of the long (looooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooooong) neglected sub-plots, developments, character relation and forward momentum.
It's still a pretty simple formula of a high school student's journey through trials and tribulations with a passion/skill and determined goals, centred wholly around the card game, Karuta. If you find Karuta boring, then stay the sweet flying shit away from this anime; Karuta is not only the central focus (again) it's also used (again) as a vehicle to weave personality, conflict, character development and tension into the story more widely.
Chihaya is still a beautiful high school student, who is perceived to 'ruin' her beauty when she opens her mouth to speak and reveals herself to be a little less dazzlingly intelligent than her beauty might complement. Luckily, this time, this weird fixation upon Chihaya's 'dumbness' is toned down considerably, and her idiosyncracies and habits are regarded with more affection than the old brand of misplaced disdain.
The show began to drag on a bit (again), and it actually took me two months to pick it back up again after episode 8 was released, and ended up marathoning the rest of the series because I was so darned determined to get the hell through it.
There is still a sense of emotional stagnation within the Arata / Taichi / Chihaya triangle. However, there are the tiniest, most delicate signs that this potential 'story-maker' in waiting is beginning to germinate. There is a little more clarity around Taichi's and Chihaya's feelings toward the other two in the triangle. But... again... We're treated to 'the one that got away' with the series finishing just before this painfully-awaited momentum could gain anything beyond a light breeze. I realise that there is supposed to be a second series, but I felt more frustrated by the lack of forward momentum, just as I was after watching the first series.
Otherwise, it's a relatively tight story, but as mentioned: people who don't like karuta should steer clear, as all of the storyline's subtleties and developments stem almost wholly from karuta being played, watched, analysed and used in metaphor.
That's the one thing about this anime, is that it's darned well pretty. Sharp animation, good backdrops, character designs etc.
VA's were good, and did particularly well in creating tension through inner dialogue throughout in all the characters, which was a large portion of the series' 'action'. I couldn't imagine that this would be an easy feat!
Not bad, but not great. Will look with tepid interest at series 3, should it go ahead, but this elderly sloth of a storyline had better grow some wings, or I don't think I can sit through another Chihayafuru Groundhog Day.
7.5/10 - Score is slightly higher than I would really have settled on due to technical elements over the story itself.