First Impressions – Chihayafuru

[HorribleSubs] Chihayafuru - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.16_[2011.10.04_20.35.17] [HorribleSubs] Chihayafuru - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.23_[2011.10.04_20.35.25] [HorribleSubs] Chihayafuru - 01 [720p].mkv_snapshot_00.53_[2011.10.04_20.35.55]
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It’s always a little scary waiting for that first premiere of the season that you love – what if it never comes?  But it’s also pretty exciting when it does – and for me, Chihayafuru is that series this season.  It’s love at first sight.

OP: “YOUTHFUL” by 99RadioService

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What – excited about a series centered on an old Japanese game?  After needlessly missing out on the greatness that was Hikaru no Go for years, I’m never falling victim to that prejudice again.  This time the game is Karuta, a card game built around connecting lines from the Hyakunin Isshu or 100 poems – a collection of classic Japanese poems compiled by Fujiwara no Teika in the 12th Century (yes, this one has a 12th Century Fujiwara connection too).  This is obviously going to be a hard concept to capture in the translation, but I find it to be a fascinating concept.  Fortunately, there’s a lot more to the series than that.

In fact, I’d say the series is largely a coming-of-age story – my favorite genre, probably – and built around three characters that are lively, likeable and complicated even after just one episode. There’s Chihaya (Seto Asami, only 18 and wonderful as Yoshino in Hourou Musuko).  She’s a kind spirit and a lovely girl whose dream is to see her older sister become Japan’s top model.  Her best friend in elementary school is Taichi (Miyano Mamoru, Takagaka Ayahi as a child) a high-spirited boy and excellent student who has a serious crush on her.  The third wheel is Arata (Hosoya Yoshimasa, Terasaki Yuka as a child) who’s a transfer student from Fukui (several hundred miles SW of Tokyo – also a character name in Hikaru no Go).  Mocked for his dialect and for the fact that he’s obviously poor, he almost never speaks – but sweet Chihaya takes a protective interest in him, and is fascinated when she discovers that he’s a whiz at Karuta and has memorized the entire 100 poems.  This sets off trouble with Taichi, who’s the only other student to accomplish the feat, and grows jealous of the blooming connection between Chihaya and Arata.

We see all this as a sort of flashback from the teenaged Chihaya, now a first-year high-schooler and frustrated at finding no one willing to join her Karuta club (struggling for club members, just like in…never mind, I’ll stop now). She’s drifted apart from all her friends, but meets Taichi by chance and discovers that he’s attending the same high school.  He has a girlfriend but is still seriously hung up on her.  It seems as if the series is going to skip between time periods, at least for a while, as we learn more about how Chihaya and Taichi came to share Arata’s passion for the game, and how they lost it – but she didn’t – and then drifted away from her.

What makes this all work for me is…  Well – everything.  I thought the pacing of the episode was excellent. I thought all three leads were brilliantly conceived, each of them immediately alive and distinctive and sympathetic.  The art is quite stunningly beautiful, some of the best work I’ve seen from Madhouse in years.  This series shares a director – Asaka Morio – and character designer with NANA, so it’s certainly going to remind you of that series.  Asaka also did Cardcaptor Sakura and Rozen Maiden among other shows, so he’s both a veteran and seriously talented, and it really shows in the extremely polished final product here.  Make no mistake, these character designs are extremely shoujo, right down to the freakishly long eyelashes, but they’re easy on the eyes. 

I can’t find a single major element in the premiere that I thought was a weakness – it was just a solid, thoroughly enjoyable piece of work.  Chihayafuru ranks with Fate/Zero as my two favorite first efforts so far this season, and this is the one that has me most eagerly anticipating the next episode.

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ED: “Soshite Ima (そしていま)” by Asami Seto

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  1. m

    Looks like we share favorites so far this season with Chihayafuru and Fate/Zero :) I was simply stunned with the visuals for both anime, and I just love, LOVE the premise of this one. Plus…Chihaya's EYES. :p

    I really look forward to seeing you blog this, hopefully.

  2. U

    By far the best premiere in this season so far.

    It was such a comfortable show to watch. There was so much content, and yet, it was so easy to follow. Loved every minute of it.

    After finishing the first episode, i went immediately to Fansub Wiki, and gladly saw that Chihayafuru will be 2 cour.

    It brings a much needed balance between the many euphoric shows this season.

  3. marinara, you bet I'll be blogging it.

    Ulisses, well put – content-packed yet easy to watch. Again, just very competently and expertly directed.

  4. M

    Woah, fantastic episode. It's funny how it's often those shows hardly anyone talks about that end up being among the best of the season.

    You really struck gold, didn't you? Getting to blog this one at RandomC. On a side note, I saw you answer that comment in Spanish over there, and you even put the effort to use accents. My respect for you has gone up. 😉

  5. M

    Actually, I just realized you didn't plan on covering this series at first. Although judging from the comment above looks like I don't have to worry. Will you be in charge of this one for RandomC too?

  6. Well, as it's simulcast that does make it easier. At this point, probably a yes.

  7. d

    Wonder whether Onee-Chan would play a bigger role

  8. I suspect she's mostly going to be a plot point more than an actual on-screen presence.

  9. S

    Thanks for recommending this show, Enzo. Hikaru no Go with a shoujo twist? You can count me in! The premiere's pretty good and like you said, this might just be the sleeper of the season. I've always had a soft spot for tomboys and Chihaya's a tomboy who looks like a supermodel. I'm game ;P

  10. P

    Thanks for your passionate post. It made me curious enough to check this show, and I was not dissapointed. Count me as the next fan for this show. :)

  11. Awesome, Proto – that's what I like to hear!

  12. a

    I am definitely interested in Chihayafuru. As you said, this first episode was without missteps. One of my favorite parts was Chihaya's incoherent appreciation of the return of her friend ("Taichi Taichi Taichi"); the relationships and characters are very easy to understand and relate to, without coming across as stereotypes.

    I'm looking forward to episode 2 even more than I am to the premieres of Un-go and Guilty Crown.

  13. a

    This was the first new anime I've watched this season, due to your recommendation, I have to say, I enjoyed the beginning and end of the episode, but for most of it, I just couldn't get over their eyes. They really freaked me out – kind of like how doll's eyes do.

  14. Like I said – very, very shoujo character designs. But they are pretty, and that story…

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