Anime Review: Chihayafuru 2

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I know I already did a review for Chihayafuru a long time ago, back when it first came out. However, since 2012, the series has done one other animation installment early on in 2013 and an OVA later that year. And as usual among the things I tend to like, Chihayafuru 2 got much praise in Japan while being overlooked everywhere else. Can’t blame them though; unlike some anime which cross over cultural barriers, the subject of this series is very specifically Japanese.

The second installment for Chihayafuru (often called the second season, even though the first installment was 2 seasons long) starts off much like the first: our girl heroine Chihaya Ayase starts a new school year, looks for new club members, and immediately goes into participating in high school tournaments. Furthermore, new characters have been added to our team of protagonists: Sumire Hanano, whose main interest is the Karuta Club president Taichi Mashima, and Akihiro Tsukuba, a Hokkaido native who has only known how to play “Second-Verse Karuta” (a variation where only the second verse of the Hyakunin Isshu poems are read).

As one can imagine, old rivals like Shinobu Wakamiya also make a return, but there is more emphasis on other players as well, such as an entire team of Japanese-raised foreign students, the top high school in Karuta, and the previous year’s western qualifier for the Queen’s match, Megumu Osaka! And like the shounen-like hero she is, Chihaya is ready to stomp them all!

Chihaya Ayase

Wait, this is a josei series, isn’t it?

Of course, Chihayafuru is never complete without its resident Hyakunin Isshu expert, Kanade Oe, reminding us that this show is less about amazing sports tactics and wild plays, much like in a shounen series. Unlike other games and sports, competitive Karuta has a lighter side to it, since it is based on 100 songs (Hyakunin Isshu) that were compiled centuries ago!

The title for the series actually comes from the first line of Song 17 in the anthology, which is synonymous with our main character’s given name. According to Oe (ergo Yuki Suetsugu, the series creator and Karuta pro), “Chihayafuru” (whose English translation is loosely “impassionate”) is a word worthy of the gods, meaning to be powerful, yet unwavering. This word is often confused with the similar word “frenzied,” which is energetic, yet reckless. Oe compares these words to a spinning top, where a frenzied top spins quickly but jerkily, while an impassionate one has the same momentum but looks like it stands still.

If Chihaya Ayase wants to become the Queen of Karuta, she must learn from the songs themselves; and more importantly, to be “chihayafuru.”

Chihaya Ayase

Not even an injury will stand in Chihaya’s way to the top!

But more importantly, Chihayafuru 2 expands from its first installment for one very specific reason: its emphasis on team competitive Karuta. The first installment was more like an introduction to the series, getting to know our cast of characters while also learning some of the basics in Karuta’s gameplay and history. This installment, however, focuses on Chihaya’s team’s way to the top of this year’s National Interhigh Karuta Tournament (oops. I meant to say SPOILERS!)

I mean, sure, we still have characters who focus entirely on individual Karuta play like Shinobu and Arata, but Suetsugu’s author-voice is heard much more strongly in this series than the previous one. The future of Karuta lies not in the skill of any single legend, but in the passion of those who draw in more players in a team effort! Arata recognizes that for himself when he tries to act as a substitute for a neighboring school that has a team.

Final Match

Values, as well as strengths, are at stake, as Shinobu Wakamiya (left) plays against Arata Wataya in the individual Class A finals.

But let’s face it: I have come to learn recently that most fans of this series are less interested in Karuta and more interested in the love polygon relationships. It is a romance series in that regard, I guess.

So if you’re not here to watch the series for the Karuta and the passion of players behind it, I’ll go ahead and spoil this much. This installment seems to put more emphasis on the development of Chihaya’s relationship with Taichi Mashima, as he manages to fight his way out of his bad luck streak to finally win a tournament; thereby becoming a Class A player himself. I found myself cheering for him in that regard.

Taichi Mashima

Don’t count Taichi (left) out just yet! He’s just getting warmed up!

However, after the tournament is over, it becomes very clear that Chihaya harbors feelings for Arata, the mysterious childhood friend from Fukui; and of course, Kanade (who represents the fan girl side of the story as well as the Hyakunin Isshu side) is not very pleased with this development at all. Needless to say, the ship wars between Team Taichi and Team Arata have yet to be resolved in the anime. If you want more, there are much more interesting developments that happen in the manga! I’m still hoping that Kodansha decides to officially print this in English in the US, but as of right now, that seems to be a pipe dream.

So if you want to watch something that’s deeply rooted in Japanese culture while also telling the story of love and competition, watch Chihayafuru. With two installments and 50 episodes counted, it is one of my favorite series thus far.

PS: you can skip the OVA. It’s nonsense.

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