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Anime Reviews: Chihayafuru 2
This logical and seamless continuation of Chihayafuru gives us more of what kept us enthralled in the first season, though its touch has weakened somewhat.
Title: Chihayafuru 2
Production: Studio Madhouse
Series Length: 25 episodes
Air Dates: 1/11/2013 to 6/28/2013
Age Rating: 7+ (mild language)
Summary: With their first year of high school behind them, Chihaya and the rest of the Karuta Club have been given an ultimatum--in order to continue using their ideal clubroom without having to share it with the symphony orchestra, they must recruit at least 5 new members. While they get a flood of new members (mostly comprised of freshman girls falling for Taichi's good looks) and get to keep the clubroom, only two remain when the smoke clears: Sumire Hanano, a vain girl who sticks around because she yearns to be Taichi's girlfriend no matter the cost, and Akihiro Tsukuba, an eccentric young man from Hokkaido who played "Second Verse" karuta with his younger brothers all his life. As the club begins to train their new members--as well as hone their own skills--the karuta tournament season fast approaches, and Chihaya is especially motivated since Arata promised to make an appearance in the individual tournaments...
The Good: More of the same...
The Bad: More of the same...
The Ugly: More of the same...?
Okay, seriously, this shouldn't take too long. It's Chihayafuru. Again. And that is always a good thing. It's the same studio with the same cast and the same crew, so if you were (for some reason) expecting something different from this season...sorry? I guess? And now, let's take a look at the second season of Chihayafuru and how it measures up to the first, shall we?
Well, for one thing, the art and animation certainly didn't get worse over time. In that regard, this season is just as strong (if not stronger) than its predecessor, as the animators have come up with inventive ways to keep the visuals vibrant and interesting even when we've been in the same location for a long stretch of episodes. And as usual, major props to the 3D animators for keeping those karuta cards blended in with their backgrounds. Those effects really could have been jarring and off-putting, and when you get something like that right, you are a champion.
As far as the soundtrack goes, it's comprised mostly of the same tunes, give or take a few great new additions like "Karuta to Tomo ni." The new opener, "STAR," is pretty awesome at setting an exciting mood with its upbeat tempo and memorable hooks, though I cannot say in all honesty that it's as good as season one's "YOUTHFUL" was. As for the new ending theme, "Akane Sora," I can easily say it pales in comparison to its season one predecessor. That doesn't make it a bad song, though (it is quite pleasant), but it's just not as powerful as "Soshite Ima" was. Oh, well. It could be worse, though; we could've gotten songs that actually weren't good!
And before you ask, the voice acting was just as great as before, if not better due to the new characters added to the mix. All I can say is that I can't wait for this series to finally get an English release so that I can fanboy over the A-tier team they inevitably assign to it.
When it comes to the story and characters, it's a bit of a two-way street--in some ways, this season has greatly improved, but in others, it's taken a step backwards. One of the better ideas was to expand the cast a little bit, to have more personalities to clash or coordinate with. The addition of Akihiro and Sumire to the team creates for a plethora of new comedy bits as well as new conflicts and greater character drama, so that's clearly a check in the Positives column. The story also dives headlong into the competitive karuta tournaments, keeping the heart-racing card-reading action (...did I seriously just string those words together?) constant, intense, and always entertaining. In fact, there are even times where some manly tears were required to be shed, and you know you're sucked into a narrative when manly tears are shed.
However, it must be said that if you're more into Chihayafuru's non-karuta-match scenes, this season will leave you out to dry, because after the characters get to the Omi Jingu cultural center for the high school tournaments (around episode 7 or 8), you will remain there until the final episode. There is a lot of karuta happening in this season, and if that didn't tickle your fancy in season one, you might want to rethink your decision to soldier onward. Now, with that said, I will also say that I was one of those people bothered by the heavy focus on the matches, but then the manly tears were conjured up and it no longer was a problem. It may seem like they neglect the characters, but you'll realize they were just developing them in more subtle ways than you probably could perceive.
Now, with that said that I've said that that was said, I do have to complain a bit about the weakened focus on the main trio of Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata. I mean, it's awesome that my favorite characters (Kana and Tsukue/Desktomu, but especially Kana), as well as the many wonderful side characters, got some great development, but I couldn't help but feel like our main characters got placed on the back burner. Not a major gripe, but it was vexing.
And finally, just like season one, there are just too many times where the series just takes itself too seriously. I mean, I get that karuta is tough mentally and physically and there's a lot of strategy involved, but some matches are flat-out ridiculous in how melodramatic they become. The inner monologues become so existential and life-altering that I was taken right out of the action on several occasions, and I was begging and pleading for the series to have some comic relief (gogo Sudo!) to bring the scene back down to earth. Dear God.
But hey, I still had fun, and I still really want to see where this story goes, and I still love the characters dearly, and that's the most important thing. A nitpick here and there might be warranted, but Chihayafuru 2 mostly lives up to the standards set by its first season, and if that's not a deal-settling compliment, I don't know what is. All I can say at this point is: Where's my season three, Studio Madhouse?!
Final Score: 8.5 out of 10. While the writing is noticeably weaker than in its previous season, Chihayafuru 2 provides more of the gripping character drama and light-hearted comedy that kept us coming back for more.