I’m Happy to Have Chihayafuru Season 3

The Chihayafuru anime is back after nearly six years, and I’m just thrilled. Rarely is there a series that so deftly balances interpersonal drama, the excitement of competition, and the effective portrayal of its characters through both of those aspects.

Chihayafuru is about playing karuta, a game based on matching cards to recited poetry. It looks like the kind of thing kids would play when they’re bored, and it is. However, the series does such a convincing job of making competitive karuta look like a fierce and deep game, and it does so without necessarily needing to go for an over-the-top presentation. There’s nothing like ancient Go ghosts, basketball powers, or ultra mahjong luck. The “powers” aren’t otherworldly, but rather play styles based on individual traits and personalities, with just a slight dramatic flair. Chihaya, the heroine, doesn’t have superhuman ears, but the idea that she has better hearing, and that it pushes her toward a more aggressive style makes sense. Her old friend Arata’s memorization is uncanny, but not beyond the realm of mortals, and the fact that his grandfather was a former king of karuta gives him ample reason to have spent time on the game.

When the series introduces new characters and potential rivals, it rarely feels contrived or as if certain characters are clearly there to take the loss. Whether they’re former queens, players from other high schools, or even small children, they feel very human, both through their personal motivations and idiosyncrasies, as well as through their play. A lot of series bank on having large casts, but Chihayafuru‘s maintains an intimate feel.

Here’s to another season, and the hopes that we’ll be getting lots of emotional intensity and bad t-shirts.

(All hail Shinobu.)

 

With Age Comes Grace and Also Less Punching

Back when I was watching the Chihayafuru anime, I began to associate the show in my head with the American cartoon franchise Ben 10. Even though their respective subject matters are worlds apart, both featured fiery tomboys of elementary school age whose later appearances would involve a time skip to high school where their hair is longer and their personality a little more mature. But where the transition for Chihaya felt right for me in the sense that she seems like the same character only older (and thus different in some ways but similar in others), Gwen’s change inBen 10: Alien Forcewound up seeming like an entirely different character to me. Not only her personality but even her character design turned out to be significantly different.

Of course I know why this is the case: Chihaya was planned from the start to have this age jump, as the episodes involving her childhood are mainly flashbacks and setup for the story proper where Chihaya starts her own karuta club, while there was clearly no original intention to have a time-skip sequel to Ben 10. When Alien Force did come around, it streamlined some of the elements of the previous series and in the process wound up as something of a break from its predecessor. At the same time, however, the fact that Chihaya is in many ways a similar character to Gwen just made me more aware of how this sort of transition can be done well.

By the way, Chihayafuru season 2 was just announced today, but I swear that my posting this is merely coincidence. If I had that sort of power I’d use it for better things, like a Fujoshissu! anime.