Chihayafuru Ep. 2: We’re gonna need a (card) montage

I actually like this show. I just think Chihayafuru‘s drama is trying too hard at times. Our flashback from last week continues. Chihaya comes to class the next day only to find that — true to Taichi’s threat from the day before — everyone is now ignoring her for associating with the country bumpkin. Wow, it takes a lot to be this mean and petty. I mean, I can understand why a jealous Taichi might resort to such bullying tactics, but the entire class? I’m not necessarily complaining about the plot’s realism. Rather, the drama just feels a little too cheap and a little too forced for my liking. Every drama is contrived to a certain extent, but when the story becomes too transparent in its designs, the narrative immersion is ruined for me. I should be finding myself lost in the story, but instead, I’m removed from it and picking at the structure.

And like every other tale featuring some sort of competition, the anime gives us the cliché “us against them” scenario. At first, everyone will root happily against the underdogs. Things get even worse for our duo when Taichi steals Arata’s glasses — oh no, how the odds are stacked against them! Luckily, Arata has memorized the position of the cards so he starts the championship match off well. Argh, if only he had known Taichi has no qualms about cheating; the latter begins switching up the order of the cards to gain yet another advantage.

I don’t get it, though. The teacher is right there, overseeing everything and yet she allows such underhanded tactics. Sure, Taichi might not be breaking any official rules, but doesn’t sportsmanship count for anything anymore? Even more absurd, the entire room full of onlookers — including parents — doesn’t seem too nonplussed by what they (presumably) see. What happened to the all-important honor in our society?!

But it’s okay. Chihaya takes over for Arata and now we can begin playing a cheesy montage of the competitors sweating and panting over karuta. Despite Chihaya’s limitations, she just has that natural talent for the game, quickly winning over the minds and hearts of the people… or something like that. So here comes cheap drama moment number two: Chihaya’s victory rings somewhat hollow when she calls home and her family’s just a bit too obsessed with her older sister’s modeling potential to care about a karuta championship. Cheap drama moment number three: Taichi’s mother reprimands the kid for not only losing, but losing to a girl.

All by their lonesome, these moments wouldn’t really bother me. When they come together in a single episode, however, Chihayafuru begins to test my patience. There has to be a better way to develop the drama more organically than this. There has to be a way to get us to identify with the characters without pitting the entire world against them. I get an older sister being self-absorbed. I get a mother’s disappointment. I get a jealous childhood companion developing bitterness toward a girl’s new friend. But Chihayafuru doesn’t execute these issues with any finesse. Rather than a sigh, a mother literally tells her son not to bother competing in anything he isn’t good at. Rather than a single person bullying Arata, the entire class is in on the cruelty. All I’m saying is that the drama feels a little too heavy-handed at times. There’s just something to be said about subtlety.

17 thoughts on “Chihayafuru Ep. 2: We’re gonna need a (card) montage

  1. Kim

    I certainly remember as a kid having the whole class pick on another kid. It’s not so much that every kid feels the same but if you want to fit in you go along with the crowd and that is what I see happening here. And I know from firsthand experience it can and often does happen like that.

    As for the parents I found them misguided but not evil to be that unrealistic either. It’s not that Chihaya’s parents said they didn’t care about her Karuta match they just were not listening to what she was trying to say. And I have seen a lot of parents like Tachi’s mom.

    Was it too much drama in one episode? Maybe! But I didn’t feel anything that happened was outside the bound of reality. And really this episode did a great job of setting up the characters.

    The teacher is right there, overseeing everything and yet she allows such underhanded tactics.

    I was under the impression that no one saw what Tachi did.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I think I only briefly touched on this in the post, but it’s not about realism. It’s about what makes a compelling story, and when drama doesn’t feel earned, it’s just not as engaging. To constantly pit the protagonists against the entire world has the opposite of the desired effect: I don’t sympathize with the characters because their predicaments feel forced.

  2. Ryan R

    Yeah, I agree with you. This was almost a great episode, that just went a bit too over-the-line overall. It’s laying on the pathos like it was a Disney sports movie aimed at young kids. Nothing necessarily wrong with that, but as an adult, I’d prefer something a bit more subtle myself.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I can’t recall a recent Disney sports film. Then again, why watch anything Disney churns out anymore that doesn’t have Pixar attached to it?

  3. Ando

    The drama doesn’t seem to bother me so much with this show. I think it must be the general shoujo atmosphere of the anime stopping it from feeling out of place for me. I liked the scene where Taichi admitted to his crimes but stopped short of apologising. I’m still on the fence about whether competitive karuta can make an interesting sport anime though. Judging from this week’s episode it seems like it’s mainly about speed (maybe some tactics?) which would be a bit dull to watch.
    I had a look at some actual karuta bouts on youtube, but was sad to see no cards sticking into walls and such like…

    1. E Minor Post author

      Yeah, I’m not sure how much strategy there seems to be in karuta. Competitions are engaging when there’s both attacking and defending. As it is, karuta seems to be a memorization game. Oh well, it’s just a vehicle to carry the shoujo anyway.

  4. thearbee

    To be honest, the premise is good, characterization… needs a bit of work and handling with the three characters (Even though she wears track pants and a utility belt and acts like a dude, she is still ATTRACTIVE and SUPER TALENTED at something.), but its still good, it’s just that how almost everyone except the lovely notable protags are automatically bullies. I know it’s to add “realism” about prejudice, stereotypes or whatever, but at least give them a break. They didn’t kill families or wreck lives or something.

    In other words, the drama enters “American Tween novel” territory. Making almost everyone mean-spirited in order for the protags to “shine”.

    1. E Minor Post author

      I’m not as hot on the premise. I think it’s obligatory at best and doesn’t really add much to the story except so faux sophistication since it’s all Japanese poetry or something. The show is clearly shoujo and I think the karuta scenes really just get in the way.

      1. thearbee

        Maybe it will be like Moyashimon where these characters will teach us how to…

        … they won’t teach us how to Karuta, will they?

  5. decadyn

    The directing style and background music is still top notch though; it’s really help masking the generic shoujo story. I like the idea of participating in an activity most people don’t care about; there is something romantic about it.

    1. E Minor Post author

      Well, I did say I liked the show so it’s not like anime is bad or anything. I’m just let down a bit by the drama.

  6. Pingback: Anime Review: Chihayafuru Episode 2 | This Euphoria!

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