Chihayafuru Ep. 1: Safe beginnings

“Right, everyone was saying how she’s pretty, but it’s wasted as soon as she talks or does something. Beauty in vain,” tut-tuts a group of nearby boys. They grimace as they watch a teacher reprimand Chihaya for having the audacity to wear track pants and a utility belt with her skirt. The opening scene is merely a sign of things to come. I come to gradually realize over the course of the first episode that the extras in Chihayafuru are so gossipy, mean-spirited and judgmental that I almost find it hard to believe. In another example, when young Chihaya praises Arata, a classmate, for working at such a young age, a chorus of murmurs rises up: “He must be poor!” Well, if Chihayafuru‘s first episode does misstep, it’s that the anime is a little too transparent in its efforts to get the audience to sympathize with its main characters.

Growing up, I watched a lot of syndicated television full of family sitcoms. If these shows ever taught me anything, it was that growing up would be nothing but a horrendous miasma full of bullies, jeering girls, vindictive teachers and awkward boners. Well, color me surprised when I got to high school and found out that none of the above were true. In fact, life was boring and TV had lied to me. You could even say I was a little disappointed to discover how uneventful high school came to be. So nowadays, whenever I watch a show and see mean classmates and uncaring teachers, I can’t help but think to myself, “What a cheap illusion this is.”

For the most part, however, Chihayafuru is anything but cheap. Chihaya just recently got to high school and is excited to start a new club. She wants to find people who might share her interest in a certain sophisticated card game involving Japanese poetry — Magic: the Gathering, this is not. Unfortunately, her recruitment attempts draw no interest, and feeling despondent, she thinks back to her younger days. Chihaya, like most shoujo leads, is an absolutely gorgeous girl with a good heart, but nevertheless dense about the matters of the heart. It’s so eye-rollingly obvious that Taichi, one of her childhood friends, has a thing for her, but the girl, like most heroines, is unbearably innocent.

For the moment, the anime doesn’t take any risks with its two male leads either. One guy is out-going and charming, and the other is introverted, contemplative, and deep. I feel we as an audience are destined for a formulaic love triangle, and had it not been for the karuta gimmick, Chihayafuru might have been too forgettably shoujo. But you’ll have to excuse me if the card game doesn’t set my loins afire. It’s a twist on the proceedings, but is it necessarily an interesting one? In other words, can a card game really carry an entire series? No. After all, that’s why there’s a looming love triangle in the background.

Let me just say right off the bat that Chihayafuru‘s first episode isn’t a bad viewing experience or anything — in fact, there’s really nothing wrong with any of it. The show kept my interest from start to finish and I suspect it did the same for the friends watching the anime with me. The animation is fairly flawless — a little too bloomy at certain points, but otherwise beautiful. The art direction is solid and pleasant, if not particularly risk-taking. I’m not a seiyuu buff, but my untrained ear couldn’t notice anything egregious in this department either. To sum it all up, most of the elements in the anime are above par. So what more do I want? Well, I don’t know, I guess it depends on how you interpret “pretty good.”

We know Madhouse can do better. Sure, the studio has mostly twiddled its thumbs over Marvel IPs lately so maybe this is why Chihayafuru feels so safe and restrained. And there’s nothing really wrong with tried-and-tested shoujo conventions in and of themselves. Still, the spark of creativity is rather lacking. I’m not disappointed with what the first episode had to offer, as I didn’t really expect much after reading the synopsis. As always, however, I want to be wowed and Chihayafuru doesn’t wow me. You can take that however you will. Some will just relish the chance to watch a well-executed shoujo series. I’ll likely follow Chihayafuru to the very end too, but the fact that the anime is just “pretty good” doesn’t leave me feeling too inspired.

27 thoughts on “Chihayafuru Ep. 1: Safe beginnings

  1. Gainax Ending

    I totally agree, this one looks like a fairly safe (if unspectacular) series, but it could have been worse; the synopsis read like it could be a Karuta version of Saki, imagine the horror of that. And it’s nice to see something acceptable finally come along in this season when I rejected all the other new series after about 5-10 minutes (including the OP). Normally I wouldn’t bother, but everything else I’ve watched this season was a horror show, and nothing yet to air stands out that much.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t usually like to trump up certain studios as everyone’s prone to lay a stinker every now and then, but I just can’t imagine Madhouse producing something like Saki. Don’t get me wrong ’cause Madhouse’s far from perfect but Saki could have only come from that deep circle of hell known as Gonzo.

      Reply
  2. Meh

    I like the character designs. They seem fairly believable and likable, especially for a shoujo series. Well, aside from mister Broody No Eyes. Then again I’m judging entirely from your screencaps, which is pretty stupid of me.

    Reply
      1. Nyoro~n :3

        That would be a pretty cool thing to have though. Feeling nervous or sad or broody? YOUR EYES DISAPPEAR (you can still see out of them).

        nightmare fuel?

        Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      For the moment, Chihaya seems a helluva lot more interesting than Sawako ever was. Then again, I’m biased against timid characters, boy or girl.

      Reply
  3. Mere

    She’s beautiful, but…she wore a skirt with sweatpants! What a burden! That makes her a balanced character!

    Eh, I’ll skip this one. It doesn’t look like a bad series, but shoujos are just too formulaic for me and the unrealistic romance in them always makes me feel icky.

    Didn’t the author of Chihayafuru get called out for plagiarism?

    Reply
      1. Mere

        Yeah, apparently she was accountable for plagiarism in one of her earlier titles and her career was put on hiatus because of it.

        Reply
    1. Mira

      Didn’t the author of Chihayafuru get called out for plagiarism?

      Err, yeah. Copying Takehito Inoue’s artwork who in turn traced pictures of NBA players. It was not pretty.

      Reply
  4. Ando

    I think perhaps you were lucky. The schools I went to were easily as gossipy (and had some bullying) as the ones in Chihayafuru – especially at elementary level when kids can be really insensitive. A “funny accent” seems like a pretty common target.

    I really liked this episode and plan to follow it for the season. I’m intrigued to see how competitive karuta works, I like the characters so far, and I was kinda touched by the “don’t take someone else’s dream” line.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I think perhaps you were lucky.

      Shrug. All I know is that some people go through their awkward phases around then, and I wonder if our interpretation and memories of those days might be slightly askew due to hormones and whatnot.

      Reply
      1. Ando

        Oh I’m sure hormones and such were a major cause, but all I was trying to say was that I didn’t find the mean-spirited gossiping particularly over-dramatic since I’ve seen worse. I still come across it occasionally in adulthood.

        Reply
        1. E Minor Post author

          I’m not quibbling over a few instantiations of gossiping. I’m talking more about how everyone we meet in the anime — everyone who isn’t either Chihaya or Arata — is a jerk. I think that is a little over-the-top.

          Reply
  5. Bla Bla posting on a blog

    I like how the teacher asks her if she has no shame. I’d say she does cause she’s covering up her naughty bits with track pants. How dare she use a utility belt while wearing trak pants and a skirt. Who will marry her now! Some times I really can’t connect with the plight of some characters in anime. Like that teacher from god dolls who slept with an unmarried father of one of her students who ran in the middle of the street and died cause he saw them. Really Japan, get the fuck over it.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I took more offense at the idea that the girl wastes her beauty just because she’s not some girlie girl. I mean, in what world would teenage guys really reject a girl like that? Like big deal, she wears a utility belt.

      Reply
  6. Bla Bla posting on a blog

    That was really dumb thing for them to say but also note that the boy’s who said that were ugly. In the anime world they have no shot with her at all. So I would wonder whether the anime was specifically deriding her for not being girly enough or making a statement about the boys who said that in general. Same for the teacher. It takes a bit more effert to draw ugly people then it does prestine beauty’s like Chihaya so when they are there it’s for a purpose. Same can be said for the naggy teacher.

    Some times looking past a specific action and more at how characters are presented and drawn while doing that action can paint a whole new picture of the creators intent.

    Like B Gata H kei. It’s a comedy about a girl who does a lot of perverted shit. Maybe the anime is blowing off her perverted shit cause she’s a girl. There’s also the fact that it’s a comedy about a girl who wants to have sex. This very premis portrays that the author views womens sexuality as a joke or something to be laghed at. Considering how anime portrays women in general as pure this could be a problem that a lot of people seem to have as well.

    I’m just typing shit now. Girls like to fuck get over it japan.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      So I would wonder whether the anime was specifically deriding her for not being girly enough or making a statement about the boys who said that in general. Same for the teacher

      Well, she’s the heroine so I doubt the anime disapproves of her. Again, I just think it was a cheap tactic to get the audience on Chihaya’s side and identify with her. And I agree that anime can force its female characters into certain gender roles, but hey, there are plenty of anime fans out there preaching against any convergence of the sexes. So maybe anime’s just giving people what they want.

      Reply
  7. Ryhart

    the karuta game doesn’t seem to excite me, even though they tried to make it like the guy threw ninja darts I cannot imagine what else they could do for the anime apart from the romantic shit.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      they tried to make it like the guy threw ninja darts

      I was actually thinking, “Man, you’re poor enough; don’t go destroying your house over a card game.”

      Reply
  8. inushinde

    I would absolutely love this show if the timid guy accidentally slit somebody’s throat with his mad card throwing, and that’s why he refuses to play anymore.
    But as it stands, I just really liked the first episode. I usually like how shoujo series start out, but the inability of the lead to notice the attraction of guys around her does get wearisome right quick.

    As long as it doesn’t make the love triangle the focal point, and does indeed keep the focus on karuta and forming the club, I can see Chihayafuru going places.

    Reply
    1. E Minor Post author

      I don’t know how the karuta can be exciting. It’d be about as exciting as watching a Magic: the Gathering tournament, a.k.a. enthusiasts need only apply.

      Reply

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