Muse: After waiting for so long, it was kind of hard to believe that I was watching Chihayafuru again. I loved the first season so much that even if the premiere episode was a recap, I still would’ve enjoyed every second of it. But this episode just kept rolling along like the season had never stopped, and somehow that was more effective than a recap would’ve been. To be fair, there were still recap elements, but they’re at the very beginning and kept to a minimum, just brief flashes of the beginning of Chihaya’s obsession with karuta. It was the other elements, like the moment the music started to swell at the beginning, that took me straight back to that state of mind that this series put me in, the excitement and love for the characters. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but I think other fans of the series will know what I’m getting at.
Also, the content of the episode reminded me of how far the characters have gone, as well as how far they have to go. The contrast between the new players and where Chihaya and Taichi were when they started playing the game is striking. And smaller details, like Kana still doing the reading for their practices, work as good little memory boosters for the character’s goals and the road ahead, especially as they start to talk about that path in this episode. I haven’t tried it yet, but I’m pretty sure that you could watch this episode right after the last episode of the first season and not miss a single beat in tone, and that’s something really rare for a second season opening.
Justin: With the very first few minutes of Chihayafuru 2, I felt myself reminded of the story of a high school Karuta Club that started out with nary a budget or a hope of ever getting established at all. With one swipe of a card flying away, I instantly knew that as a fan of season 1, Season 2 wouldn’t change a single thing that made it an excellent series for me, and most likely the fans of the anime already.
That meant the only thing to look out for would be how everyone is a year older now, so what would change between the five that would threaten their progress? As it turns out, the change happens in expectations. Karuta is a difficult game that requires precise timing, memorization of ancient Japanese history, and correct positioning in order to understand the game. Just like in season 1 where it was difficult to attract members to the club, none of the first years take the game of karuta seriously, either only joining to admire Taichi or for reasons not including learning karuta. What adds to that disappointment is everyone except Chihaya actually had expectations for the first years, but no one else did. Taichi’s major focus is on getting to Class A and also hoping Chihaya is able to defeat the current Queen of Karuta; Kana is focused on making sure she can weed out the slackers out of the first years that joined, and have them play karuta properly; Tsutomu is concerned about upholding order and maintaining a suitable environment to play karuta; Nishida’s focused on winning the High School Championship. But they don’t seem to be in the business of caring whether or not the First Years are any good, and it doesn’t help they wouldn’t mind if they played Bozu Mekuri while the main team is practicing. While they didn’t exactly get in depth of what’s affecting the team during a team meeting because of Chihaya’s…they called it greed, but I’d rather say she’s just not thinking, they will undoubtedly run into problems of character, and that will most likely affect their relationship with the first year students.
Muse: I’d take it another step further than just “she’s not thinking,” although I agree that she’s not. Chihaya absolutely wants it all: the Queen match, the club, the top ranking in the tournament and in the schools, and a teaching career inspiring other students the way that she was inspired. That’s quite the list! I don’t know if I’d call it “greed” exactly, but she might be biting off more than she can chew, and I wonder of her decision to take it all on won’t come back to haunt her at the worst possible time. I’d kinda forgotten how much Chihaya was obsessed with karuta; I’d assumed what the other characters had assumed, that she was only going to be focusing on training for the Queen match against Shinobu. But even though I agreed with the other members of the club that she needed to prioritize, that’s the kind of character Chihaya is. She has an all-or-nothing personality, which is what I think makes her so endearing. Baffling at times, but endearing.
As for the others, I could see where they were coming from, but their opinion of the first years felt a little cold. Yes, they’re basically a bunch of fangirls who don’t really care about the game. Yes, the senior team members have other things to worry about, especially with the tournament matches coming up. But Chihaya seemed to be the only one to really hit on that idea that the new members needed that “wow” moment that made them pick up karuta in the first place. In that regard, I was completely on her side. As we saw in the first season, karuta requires a lot of work, and I can’t imagine someone going through with it if they didn’t like it or have some admiration for it. It’ll be interesting to see if the new members connect with it or not.
Justin: The main new member that took the spotlight was Sumire Hanano, which was an interesting start to say the least. It may have been one thing if she was a character introduced later in the episode along with the rest of the first years who joined, but she appears just after the opening theme song, and we know she’s been dumped by her boyfriend and she definitely is looking for a new one. My first reaction was a bit of surprise, since while S1 of Chihayafuru had some implications of romance, this entire episode may have driven the romance truck more than a number of episodes in S1. It wasn’t exactly jarring, and for the most part, I found it a change of pace. Will this get in the way of the karuta? I don’t believe so. As we both touched upon, S2 definitely will make sure karuta will be the most important aspect of the series, and we can expect some intense matches as the anime goes on. One other reason is the conversation Taichi and Sumire had on the train. Prior to that, it seemed Sumire might have understood that the poems had more meaning than she had suspected when she stumbled onto Poem #9 on the list:
“So the flower has wilted during the long spring rains,
just as my beauty has faded
during my forlorn years in this world”
She invalidated that once she saw Taichi leave the school and decided to give chase. However, Taichi immediately put somewhat of an end to it when, as Sumire believed she was doing well in talking to Taichi, he reveals his state of mind:
“It doesn’t seem right to let a girl choose me. I would rather choose the girl I devote myself to.”
This didn’t actually make Sumire stop chasing Taichi, but it at least gave her, and at least gave me, a sense that this romance aspect wouldn’t go so far.
Muse: I think Sumire–at least in this episode–can be summarized by that short moment when she claimed to be just like a shoujo manga heroine. I immediately thought, “That’s too bad. You’re in a josei, it won’t be that easy.” That said, it was interesting to see the first episode in the new season really tackle romance in a way this show hasn’t before. The romance in the first season was either treated as subplot or blown up through the viewfinders of shipping goggles if you were inclined that way. (I know I was.) I also couldn’t help but think about all the Taichi fans that claimed that he wasn’t appreciated enough by Chihaya or the show itself, so I wonder if this was meant to be a bone thrown their way. I don’t know if this is exactly what they had in mind though, since Sumire’s motivations at this point are pretty shallow; she likes Taichi because he’s hot, joined the club because of that, and mainly just wanted to make her ex jealous. Also, the viewers already know that she’s going to fail because of Taichi’s unrequited crush on Chihaya, so it’s fairly obvious how this is going to play out even before Sumire gets snubbed. The text she got from her friend about him being out of her league was right on the mark.
But even with all this, I didn’t find Sumire unlikable, just a different kind of character than the show has dealt with so far. She’s reminds me a little of Chihaya’s sister in how she’s obsessed with looks. While her intention to grab Taichi just to have some arm candy wasn’t the best way to start off, it didn’t feel malicious. She seems like one of those girls that has a very specific idea in mind of what they want high school to be like, and that vision includes a hot boyfriend. I’d say that she doesn’t have much depth otherwise, but we do get a hint that maybe she’s in the right place after all when the karuta poem moves her to tears and then later when she chases after Taichi on the train. Maybe she’ll have a different opinion on karuta itself when she sees Taichi blow it up at the karuta society, but it looks like that’s a scene for another day. Their conversation on the train was also an interesting moment for Taichi, since we already know who he’s “chosen,” but he’s set it aside for now.
Muse: I wonder what kind of introductory episode we’ll get for the other student that we know will become a big part of the club (thanks OP!). He had a really small role this time, and if it weren’t for Sumire pointing him out and recognizing him from the OP, I would’ve had no idea who he was. …Actually, I still have no idea who he is. They didn’t even mention a name. Maybe he’ll be a foil for Sumire and be really into karuta?
Justin: There definitely is a role for the only guy in the first year group to join the club — what that role is, I can only guess he has some experience with karuta before, so it might have been natural for him. I am probably wrong though. However, it seems these two will be the new standouts in Chihayafuru 2, but for now, their importance revolves around our main trio, and so far, I wonder just what the goal for the Misuzawa team is, and how will the first years factor into the team?
Whatever the case, I think it’s clear from the start that we will be in for another fun, intense anime series, and I would have to think its fans would be pleased with how this series has started. I hope as we blog this series together, it’ll be a pretty fun journey for us as well.
Consider this part of our Winter 2013 Impressions series. I will be covering Chihayafuru 2 with Muse on Subdued Fangirling weekly over there. Shall have two reminder posts of that each week, then leave a link to the Chihayafuru posts on the sidebar after that. Hope you join us there!
This series is streaming on Crunchyroll.