In the current anime landscape, sports anime are a dime a dozen. The genre is undoubtedly tried and true, but after a while many of them tend to blur together. In a landscape so cluttered with the same old sports anime, how does one stand out? Well it’s simple really; do something new and defy expectations.
Chihayafuru, although hard to pigeonhole, is technically a sports anime. But what makes Chihayafuru so good is that it is so much more than that. It focuses on the game of karuta and the passionate people who play it. Chihayafuru is a series about romantics and their impassionate love. Love comes in many shapes and sizes. For these romantics, it is in the shape of karuta cards.
Chihayafuru Part 1 serves as an excellent introduction to the world of Chihaya and friends, beginning with the Childhood arc it showcases the origins of Chihaya’s passion for karuta and the bonds she created over the game. It is through this arc that we come to understand the workings of karuta and the appeal of the game.
Karuta is a game focused heavily of memorization and reflexes. Remembering the cards location isn’t enough to win, you must also be fast enough to take the card. The series gives the game a sense of beauty both through its representation of the poetry behind the game and the way it portrays the complexities of the sport. It is easy to understand why these characters love karuta so much, with the game almost being portrayed as a character in and of itself with it’s own distinct personality.
Over the course of this collection, we see Chihaya and Taichi form their school karuta club, compete in tournaments and grow as both people and players. This is undoubtedly a coming of age story, but there is also a deeper underpinning theme that lies at the series core. Chihayafuru is a love story, not in the sense one would expect, but a love story none the less. Love is something almost anyone can relate to, regardless of whether it is for something or for someone. Most have felt a kind of love at some point in their life and that is where the emotional resonance comes from in Chihayafuru.
Passion and conviction are the driving forces in Chihayafuru and each and every character has a bit of both to their credit. The cast is well rounded with a multitude of unique well-developed characters who are rich with personality and story. Each of the main cast has a complex personality with multiple layers, each telling a story in their own right. How they all connect though is what is really special about Chihayafuru. All of these characters bond over their passion, they love karuta and for these people who otherwise would likely have never met, karuta brings them together.
The only problem with this otherwise excellent collection is that it concludes on one hell of a cliffhanger. It ends with Chihaya and friends as they prepare to enter the Omi Jingu tournament, also known as ‘the one they spent the whole series so far trying to get into’. It is a tasty cliffhanger that will leave you hungry for more.
With all of its heart and all of its soul, Chihayafuru Part 1 is an excellent release from Siren Visual and a great starting point for the series. If you have yet to experience the magic of Chihayafuru, don’t wait any longer, go pick up this release now. This is one of the most important anime releases of the year and one that should be on all anime fans radars. Chihayafuru is pure brilliance.
Visuals and Audio
One of the most amazing parts of Chihayafuru is the way Madhouse animates the game of karuta. There is so much beauty in that animation, with the characters movements having a sense of fluidity akin to poetry in motion, you couldn’t ask for more from Madhouse. On top of that the characters themselves are incredibly well designed and quite distinctive. Each character tends to have their own colour palette that is ascribed to them, a concept that works a real charm in adding to the personality of each. The design work overall is commendable and proves yet again that Madhouse may very well be the highest quality animation studio going today.
In terms of audio, Chihayafuru implements an incredible soundtrack that mixes pop-based rhymthms with traditional string compositions. The opening and ending themes are likewise stunning, in particular the infectious opening theme by 99RadioService. An all round impressive composition from top to bottom for Chihayafuru. Unfortunately however this release does not feature an English dub, instead only featuring the original Japanese audio track with English subtitles. This may not be an issue for die hard fans but it may alienate casual viewers looking for a dub release.
Siren Visual have done a decent enough job on this particular collection of Chihayafuru, managing to bundle in the standard clean music videos to top off an already great product without going all out. Here is to hoping however that Part 2 comes bundled with a bit more bang in terms of bonus content, especially considering this is a subtitled only release as it is. More content surely wouldn’t hurt and for an anime like Chihayafuru, it deserves it.
Chihayafuru has enough heart and soul to fill the Tatsuta river. It is all about passionate people chasing their passions and finding happiness in that love of theirs. There is a message that underpins this series and it is that if you love something enough, there isn’t anything that can pull you away from it. If any of this speaks to you on any level, then Chihayafuru is a series worth your time. It plays all the right cards and wears its heart on its sleeve and we wouldn’t have Chihayafuru any other way.
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