Chihayafuru – 01 Review
Episode 1 – Now the Flowers Bloom
Reviews by M0rg0th and Saranaufogus
Ahhh, this series is exactly what I am looking for.
I was worried that I was expecting too much out of it due to its credentials on paper but the first episode definitely did not disappoint me.
The animation was beautiful, the story-telling style was nice and I felt like after just one episode, I have grown to love the characters in the show.
The beginning of the episode introduces Chihaya as a new student in high school who is clumsy with her image. After having trouble recruiting people for her Karuta Club, Chihaya decides to head home and she meets her childhood friend, Taichi, who is now attending the same school as her.
On their way home, we get to see Taichi interact with Chihaya and it is shown that Taichi has an interest in Chihaya. The good and friendly mood was destroyed when Chihaya mentioned Wataya and her concern for this mysterious male who seem be related her interest in Karuta.
The episode then flashes back to when all three of them were kids in elementary school in the same class. We get to see how Wataya was ostracised by his classmates and through the course of the flashback, we learn about Chihaya’s fixation with her sister and Chihaya’s dream of wanting her sister to succeed as a model as well as how she warms up to Wataya which ended up leading to them playing Karuta at his home.
The episode ends after we see how Wataya smashed Chihaya at Karuta and Chihaya having found a new dream for herself.
This was one of the most anticipated series of the season for me. I have been craving a nice shoujo series since Kimi ni Todoke ended and this is looking like a winner to me. This series is another Madhouse production for the Fall Season and I am really happy with how they had executed this show despite having not read the manga.
For those of you who don’t know, Chihayafuru is an adaptation of an award winning manga. The Chihayafuru manga won the 2nd Manga Taisho Award and is the winner of the 35th annual Kodansha Manga Award for Best Shoujo as well. The series is directed by Morio Asaka who brought us memorable shoujo series like NANA, Cardcaptor Sakura and Chobits. So I am sure you can see why I had expectations of this show.
Now enough about the series and lets move onto the actual episode.
Similar to Phi Brain, this series revolves around a certain specific element in the main characters’ lives. For Phi Brain, it is the puzzles, but as for Chihayafuru, the lives of the characters revolve around a game called Karuta. Whist Phi Brain and Chihayarufu share a common element, they are very different in every other aspect. Phi Brain takes on a more Shounen approach where as Chihayafuru is obviously going to play out to be a Shoujo series instead. There is no point in my comparing the two shows for no reason so I shall move on.
The first episode of Chihayafuru managed to introduce to us a decent amount of information regarding the main characters. Relaying information is something anyone can do if they wished to, but it is how that information comes across that matters the most. By the end of the episode, I had felt a bond with the characters and was sad to see the episode end simply because of how entertaining the characters were and how nice the execution of it was.
The first part of the episode focused on the present Chihaya in her new high school as well as her reunion with her childhood friend Taichi. The episode then hints at Chihaya’s attachment to a guy named Wataya as well as Chihaya’s fixation with Karuta which seem to relate back to Wataya. The episode transitions nicely into a flashback to the past, and it is looking like it will continue into the next episode.
I know that as the term suggests, a flashback is a “flash” and flashes are quick, but I liked what Chihayafuru had done. The show actually spent time on developing the relationship between the characters’ in their past after having shown us how the characters are like in the present and because of this, I could not help but find myself constantly wondering what had happened between then and now and this made me connect with the characters even more. By the end of the episode, I was itching to see how Wataya is like in the present as well as how much Chihaya had improved at Karuta.
Now, I have to admit that I never knew that Karuta was a real game. I had thought that it was a fictional game but it appears that I am dead wrong on that. This part of the series reminded me of Hikaru no Go; the game itself does not appeal to me at first but once I see how absorbed the characters are in the game, I can’t help but want to try and play it for myself. Go was definitely a more interesting concept to play around with as it presented more opportunities to dramatize and “hype-up” the game. Karuta on the other hand seems to be a game where “what you see is what you get” and I am not sure how entertaining it would be to watch the characters play a game about poems and memory.
The character designs and animation in this show were really beautiful. The characters are designed by Kunihiko Hamada who also did the characters for NANA. The character designs were pretty and I like some of the details in the design like the way the lips were animated, the way their eyes looked, and the hair of the characters.
The animation was also really good and it is what you would expect of a slice-of-life series since most SoL shows do have decent animation. I loved how the show played with the lighting on objects to create a certain atmospheric glow that is befitting of the anime (refer to above image).
The soundtrack of the show was also nice. I really liked the OP, also, the background music towards the end of the episode sounded nice (in a toned-down majestic way) and it invited the feeling that this was the start of something grand.
The worse part of the episode for me was the played-up aspect of Wataya’s concentration when Chihaya had said “What’s with that look?” in a shocked and awe-filled voice. I felt like that was unnecessary and it was a very typical way of making something seem special, and this felt out of place since I had no issues with the series until that point.
I took forever to get a screencap of this, and there is no real reason behind why I had picked this image. =P
Overall, it was a really nice episode and I enjoyed watching it a lot. Although the main character Chihaya falls into one of the many “typical” shoujo character mold, I still like this show because I am a sucker for Shoujo stories. =P I can’t wait to watch the rest of the anime and although I want to read the manga, I feel like watching the anime might be a better choice since the first episode had left such a good impression on me.
Episode Rating: 8/10 – I’m loving it!
Chihayafuru definitely had the best first episode so far but personally it’s not my favourite because it’s shoujo, 100% shoujo. You just know that it will be “girly” when you see how the game at the heart of the story is a boring memorizing-exercise and the character-relations are a complicated mixture of sentimentality and romance.
Chihaya is a tomboyish girl with all the straightforward good-heartedness a shoujo-main-character needs and the shoujo-attributes get even more as she has a big sister who’s insanely beautiful and famous (which doesn’t make Chiha envious in any way) and beauty is also something connected to Chiha as she’s called a ‘beauty in vain’ (just a hint that her ‘true beauty’ is “locked inside” or something like that). Her character is a very straightforward character and it does a nice job of keeping the plot going without having her enter a state of pondering too often. Of course she does seem sentimental in nature but the storytelling is good enough to make use of it instead of getting on our nerves with it.
I hope this doesn’t become a running gag for her to say the wrong things all the time. This just gets ridiculous if it’s done too often…
The story is in great parts just an exposition by having Chiha remember what happened in the past and what caused her passion for Karuta. It’s nicely told as it isn’t just one big junk of a flashback and shown in various scenes throughout Chiha’s present life where she meets Taichi again who very obviously still likes her (love is of course everlasting in a shoujo-story) but already tried to move on by having a girlfriend and I guess I would’ve liked it more when he would’ve shown it more strongly how he treated the whole childhood-experience as water under the bridge and all instead of putting up this act of his.
The present-day-plot doesn’t go very far story-wise like that and it’s the past that dominates the story of this episode by showing how Chiha met Wataya, the genius. He’s the best character of the ones who we get to see in the first episode. Sure, being a silent shy character with glasses who’s also a genius but also has a tragic side by being poor isn’t really the way to go as far as imaginative concepts are concerned. But what this series does a good job is how this background determines Wataya’s characterization. When shyness is done wrong then it’s like the character just doesn’t want to talk and just needs a trigger to start yapping like there’s no tomorrow but this episode handled it pretty well by showing that shy people normally don’t say very much but get more lively in their conversation when it comes to a topic they like.
In this way Wataya is a great fan of Karuta (every time he threw his cards around in a dramatic fashion I was like ‘Calm down, kid, it’s a game about poetry for old geezers, no need to rush…’), the seemingly very boring card game (I’d really like to hear in the future what the hell convinced that boy to start playing that game) and I’m still unsure whether the game-session’s can be really exciting. The game in this episode was exciting but it wasn’t really about the game itself, it had more of a symbolic value than a game-related one. It showed that Chiha got also passionate about the game and build a connection to Wataya that way.
Exactly! Be selfish, arrogant and mean, that’s the way to achieve your dreams!
The story had a good pacing of keeping the story progressing and it surely convinced me to keep watching this series. In that regard it did a good job as a first episode but I think Chihahyafuru would’ve been a good candidate for getting a double-episode as a start. Sure, the episode explained how Chiha had her “fated meeting” and how her passion for Karuta started but the present-day-plot seems kinda disconnected in the way it doesn’t go anywhere particular, it’s more about what Chiha has lost in the present-day in contrast to what she gained in the past. But while the past-part had some fundamental plot-points to sell the present-day sort of never got beyond making a static observation. That begs the question whether that part of the episode was really necessary or whether an episode being completely in that past would’ve been better.
But it was a really good episode overall and I think, the only weak point of the series is Chiha as her character is the least imaginative of the few we got to see and her characterization seems to much like a stereotypical shoujo-one to make her interesting conceptual. The execution of her character is quite good, though and the dialogue doesn’t get too silly but the air of typical shoujo-ness is definitely there by giving her a very straightforward passion – but without reason. Her character is all passion and virtue but there’s seemingly no reason behind it that tries to put things in order. She simply doesn’t think things through and even if the story wants to make us believe that it’s part of her character, it’s certainly not a very believable part. But making her character deeper is the only thing this series needs to improve upon, the rest of the episode was really good and I look forward to seeing the next episode next week.
Really, it’s perfectly normal to do this, all the guys in the CIA did this when they were kids…
Chihayafuru starts with a strong episode that shows good storytelling and a nice pacing. The story, though, is definitely shoujo and it’s hard to like this series if one doesn’t like shoujo since it’s a very strong aspect of this series. While Chiha may not be the most original character of the series the first episode does a good job of making the story an interesting tale about dreams and friendship.