Chihayafuru – 03

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As much as I like Fate/Zero, Mirai Nikki and my favorite comedies new and old, there’s no question in my mind – Chihayafuru is the Fall series I most look forward to every week.

Am I reading too much into the fact that Chihaya was wearing a “Let’s GO!” T-shirt when she and the boys visited a Go Karuta salon for the first time? Intentional tribute or not, there’s no question that this series gives me the same feeling that Hikaru no Go at its best did. While the two series are quite different and will obviously focus on very different aspects of growing up, there’s a shared sense of finding something you love, and the joy of sharing it with friends.

Hopefully we can put all the silly Taichi-bashing of last week behind us now that we’ve seen that he’s a good kid who made mistakes. In many ways Taichi is – dare I say it – my favorite character here, because there’s a lot of complexity to him. He strikes me as the most “real” of the three heroes, because he does give in to weakness and listen to his selfish impulses sometimes, as kids just entering adolescence so often do, but at heart he wants to do the right thing.

But who am I kidding – it’s a three-way tie, really, the trio at the heart of the show are all fantastic. Chihayafuru is doing a great job showing us the hurtful things at home that drive the children to be who they are without obsessing over them. I thought it was quite telling when Chihaya’s sister said that she should “Just keep gushing about how great I am.” At least her Mom seems to recognize that the sun doesn’t rise and set around Onee-san’s schedule and it’s OK for Chihaya to blossom into her own person. Arata has the most to gain from the trio, it seems to me, because he’s never really had friends before. It wasn’t surprising to learn that his Grandfather was a “Meijin” of Kurata, but I get the sense he’s never had anyone to truly share his passion for the sport with.

I thought all the scenes at the Kurata Salon and the exciting tournament were excellent, and I thought that the Harada-sensei was a wonderful addition to the cast as the first adult with a meaningful role. He started off looking like a comic figure, but showed himself as a true mentor, and the way he gently nudged Chihaya into understanding just how painful it was for the boys to separate from her – and how dwelling on her own pain was selfish – was a superb example of the right way to teach a child. Ah, the separation – this was real sadness, as we’d only just gotten the chance to see the exhilaration of the trio together. With Arata forced to go home to Fukui and model student Taichi going away to an elite middle school, we now know why the kids went their separate ways. Their goodbye scene in Arata’s apartment was one of the emotional highlights of the season so far – very direct and heartfelt without being cloying. Is there anything more painful in sixth-grade than saying goodbye to friends you love?

Whether we immediately return to the present as of next week I can’t say for certain without a preview, but it appears as if the reason for the flashback has resolved itself so I assume the answer is yes. I’ll actually be quite sad to leave the sixth-grade versions of Chihaya, Arata and Taichi behind. These were some of the best episodes of any anime featuring kids that age since Dennou Coil. But it’s also exciting to think about the potential of seeing their story unfold as high-schoolers with all the possibilities that brings with it. There really hasn’t been a misstep so far – the pacing has been perfect, the cast excellent, and the animation (that scene in the snow especially from this week) gorgeous. So I have full faith and confidence that his adaptation is going to keep making all the right moves.

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  1. K

    I am just praying the flash forward will be as excellent as this childhood flashback was.

    These first 3 episodes were awesome. Really nothing else this season even comes close for me.

  2. a

    " it appears as if the reason for the flashback has resolved itself so I assume the answer is yes."

    I agree with this. I feel like these first three episodes really gave the show some direction. Now I can feel why Chihaya wants to play, why she is sad she doesn't have teammates, and why the trio weren't together for middle school.

  3. E

    I'm pretty critical of female leads and I haven't liked a chick as much as Chihaya … well ever. Hate her sister though, I can't believe she literally said "Chihaya should do nothing but tell me how awesome I am" out loud.

    Hands down, this is the favourite of fall for me. Love the manga too (which I've gone and read after not being able to contain myself over the seven day wait … I've got it bad) My biggest thing here is that I LOVE all the characters, including both Taichi and Arata. Since this definitely feels like it's heading into the romance direction in addition to the whole karuta/coming of age thing … I'm pretty sure I will in some way be feeling disappointed for SOMEONE by the time all's said and done … *nervous*

    Also I was getting major Harry Potter vibes from Arata this episode, why I don't know lol … his character design just reminds me of HP like woah.

  4. T

    This series reminds me of Nodame Cantabile for some reason. Perhaps the "series about a niche hobby" is what's doing it.

    Anyways, while I really appreciated this extended flashback, the fact of the matter is that Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata have all drifted apart. Chihaya is the only one seriously playing karuta anymore, and it's strongly implied that Arata has quit karuta.

    I'm assuming that the series isn't going to be as happy and carefree as the previous three episodes, that's for sure. I'm slightly worried about how the series will handle the highschool part, especially when this you consider how there's still 22 or so episodes left to this series :/

  5. T

    You know what? This feels to me like it almost could've come from the Wandering Son/Anohana/Usagi Drop timeslot at niotaminA. And with both of this season's niotaminA shows of the sci-fi/action sort, that's definitely a good thing.

    Also, I was constantly impressed by how convincingly elementary-school-age those children acted, and it'll be sad to see something so rare go. Now it's time to see if they can provide a similarly authentic picture of high-schoolers.

    I'm optimistic. Any show that can make me so attached to its characters in just three episodes has my trust, at least for a while.

  6. Yeah, I said right at the beginning that this would have made a great NoitaminA show. And I don't think UN-GO and GC are the right fit for the block, personally – one of the other, not both.

    P.S. Ever go to Rufolo's, just South of Kenosha off 41? Best gnocchi I ever had.

  7. T

    Kenosha, Washington? Never been. Nope, the name's a Pynchon reference: One of my favorite books, and one of my favorite authors, but he can be maddeningly incomprehensible, and he really likes to mess with his audience just for the lulz. The closest equivalent I can think of in the anime world is Ikuhara. Make of that what you will.

    And I think the NoitaminA story's getting worse: Black Rock Shooter in the winter. What the hell? I mean, I'll give it a fair chance to surprise me, but wow. Chihayafuru's 2-cour, right? I'll need it…

  8. Yes, 2 cour.

    And Kenosha is in Wisconsin!

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