OP Sequence

OP: 「YOUTHFUL」 by 99RadioService
Watch the OP!: Streaming ▼

「さくやこのはな」 (Saku ya Kono Hana)
“The Flower Blooms”

It’s always a little scary waiting for that first premiere of the season that you love – what if it never comes? But it’s also pretty exciting when it does – and for me, Chihayafuru is that series this season. It’s love at first sight.

What – excited about a series centered on an old Japanese game? After needlessly missing out on the greatness that was Hikaru no Go for years, I’m never falling victim to that prejudice again. This time the game is Karuta, a card game built around connecting lines from the Hyakunin Isshu or 100 poems – a collection of classic Japanese poems compiled by Fujiwara no Teika in the 12th Century (yes, this one has a 12th Century Fujiwara connection too). This is obviously going to be a hard concept to capture in the translation, but I find it to be a fascinating concept. Fortunately, there’s a lot more to the series than that.

In fact, I’d say the series is largely a coming-of-age story – my favorite genre, probably – and built around three characters that are lively, likeable and complicated even after just one episode. There’s Chihaya (Seto Asami, only 18 and wonderful as Yoshino in Hourou Musuko). She’s a kind spirit and a lovely girl whose dream is to see her older sister become Japan’s top model. Her best friend in elementary school is Taichi (Miyano Mamoru, Takagaki Ayahi as a child) a high-spirited boy and excellent student who has a serious crush on her. The third wheel is Arata (Hosoya Yoshimasa, Terasaki Yuka as a child) who’s a transfer student from Fukui (several hundred miles southwest of Tokyo – also a character name in Hikaru no Go). Mocked for his dialect and for the fact that he’s obviously poor, he almost never speaks – but sweet Chihaya takes a protective interest in him, and is fascinated when she discovers that he’s a whiz at Karuta and has memorized the entire 100 poems. This sets off trouble with Taichi, who’s the only other student to accomplish the feat, and grows jealous of the blooming connection between Chihaya and Arata.

We see all this as a sort of flashback from the teenaged Chihaya, now a first-year high-schooler and frustrated at finding no one willing to join her Karuta club (struggling for club members, just like in…never mind, I’ll stop now). She’s drifted apart from all her friends, but meets Taichi by chance and discovers that he’s attending the same high school. He has a girlfriend but is still seriously hung up on her. It seems as if the series is going to skip between time periods, at least for a while, as we learn more about how Chihaya and Taichi came to share Arata’s passion for the game, and how they lost it – but she didn’t – and then drifted away from her.

What makes this all work for me is… Well – everything. I thought the pacing of the episode was excellent. I thought all three leads were brilliantly conceived, each of them immediately alive and distinctive and sympathetic. The art is quite stunningly beautiful, some of the best work I’ve seen from Madhouse in years. This series shares a director – Asaka Morio – and character designer with NANA, so it’s certainly going to remind you of that series. Asaka also did Cardcaptor Sakura and Rozen Maiden among other shows, so he’s both a veteran and seriously talented, and it really shows in the extremely polished final product here. Make no mistake, these character designs are extremely shoujo, right down to the freakishly long eyelashes, but they’re easy on the eyes.

I can’t find a single major element in the premiere that I thought was a weakness – it was just a solid, thoroughly enjoyable piece of work. Chihayafuru ranks with Fate/Zero as my two favorite first efforts so far this season, and this is the one that has me most eagerly anticipating the next episode.


ED Sequence

ED: 「そしていま」 (Soshite Ima) by 瀬戸麻沙美 (Seto Asami)
Watch the ED!: Streaming ▼


    1. Not to nitpick, but…

      Asaka also did Carcaptor Sakura and Rozen Maiden among other shows, so he’s both a veteran and seriously talented, and it really shows in the extremely polished final product here.

      Should be Cardcaptor 😛

  1. I LOVED the first episode of Chihayafuru! The execution was amazing, from the art to the pacing, and I cannot wait for more. Will you be covering the series here on RandomC? Please tell me that you will be, because it certainly deserves coverage! 🙂

  2. All I can really complain about is the annoying, almost-white shine that exists on the ends of the characters’ face, a stylistic touch I will never enjoy.

    Outside of that though, very satisfying first episode. Good pacing, genuine-feeling interactions, characters I can get used to watching for 25 episodes. Self-discovery/coming-of-age is pretty much my favorite genre now. Hanasaku Iroha last season had a nice run and helped to expose me to the concept. Chihayafuru, if it continues to be this good, will keep that notion permanent.

  3. Really enjoyable opening, its nice to see madhouse get away from dark setting animation, not very familiar with Karuta but I enjoyed Hikaru no Go if the comparison are similar I’ll keep an eye on this series.

  4. Karuto must be one of the most localised games I have ever heard of. It’s not like a game based on Japanese poetry is likely to be a world wide hit. It sounds extremely boring in the long run as well. I can understand it’s use to trick kids into learning classical poetry, but how fun is it after you have already memorised them and played the game many times? Even sillier is his solo play with the tapes as it will obviously be fairly easy to remember the order of the poems on the tapes even by accident after you have used the same tape more then once.

    Chihaya seems like a female version of the nice, but stupid and clueless male leads of harem stories. I guess it’s possible that Taichi got the short stick from the Westermark effect.

    1. (I’ve never heard of this game before this anime so what I’m saying is just based on this episode)

      Well if you’ve played the game many times and know every poem there’s still the fact that every card is randomly placed,so that changes at every game.So to win,you need to not only know 100 poems but also be able to memorise the way the 100 cards are placed so that you can quickly get to the right one.

      Doesn’t sound like there’s much stategy involved though,but I don’t think that’ll be a problem since I don’t think the game will be the real focus of the anime.It’s like an Adachi baseball manga,sure there’s baseball but Adachi stories are about much more than that.

    2. Just personal experience, I’ve played Karuta with other 15-17 year olds. Despite the fact it’s a bit of a kiddy game, it’s still pretty fun trying to swipe the cards as fast as possible. Outside of just learning classical poetry, it also encourages good reflexes, concentration, and even some memorization if the cards don’t get mixed up after every card taken. However, it’s like the Japanese equivalent of the card game BS to me; it’s fun the first few times but it gets fairly repetitive if you continue playing.

      1. Pretty much my impression as well and why I made my post. On the other hand the reason at least one of them wants to get good at it is just because of the low popularity and thus easier to reach the top. But there are so many games that would be a lot more fun to play that it feels the kids are just wasting their time. Even just looking at classical boardgames like Go, (Japanese) Chess, (Japanese) 5 in a row, Mah-Jong etc so do they offer quite a lot more long term fun.

  5. the pacing’s fine (it’s 2 chapters from the manga if anyone asks)…

    and lets just say the transition was done VERY well, as I laughed and cringed at the same places in the story…

    btw Enzo: was it CLANNAD that you want to refer “the club starting” to? Or was it some other anime?

  6. I find it interesting that MADHOUSE decided to start the story in high school and feature the first six chapters about Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi’s childhood as flashbacks. I wonder if it’s because they wanted to “sell” Chihaya’s beautiful teenage self first, because they should have ample time to go chronologically with 25 episodes to work with.

    1. well, considering where the manga had started from (in the middle of Chihaya’s karuta match – that’s even further off), MADHOUSE might have changed it for the ease of introductions

  7. My favourite 1st episode of the season, followed by Fate/Zero’s

    I know it’s just me, but this anime is somewhat giving me the Hanasaku Iroha vibe, which suggests that it’s also going to have the same number of weak episodes

    1. Except that unlike Hanasaku Iroha,this isn’t an anime where a studio lets writer Mari Okada run wild and “experiment” so that she can randomly put in all her fetishes (crossdressing being an exemple).

    2. Yeah, I was wondering why I felt a little uncomfortable while watching this. I think you nailed what I was feeling. It does remind me of Hanasaku Iroha. Though I would say it isn’t as bad… yet…

      As totoum suggests, this is an adaptation, it shouldn’t be as bad. However, I’m also not sure I like this anime. Reminds me also of Saki…

      Will probably watch more episodes to see if I find it enjoyable…

  8. lot of people on other blogs are saying already that the main character is a “typical shojuo heroine” which in my opinion I don’t mind besides we need a break from the tsundere feast we’ve been having lately. I’d rather have a nagisa type character anyday than a louise type character.

  9. Man. The first time I heard Karuta, I really thought it was equal to karate.
    After I found out that the spelling was Karuta in english, i really thought it was equal to Koi Koi. I guess I was all along wrong.
    I’m expecting to see more how things will develop from this game.

  10. I think im in love with this show as well. The pacing, characters, animation, BGMs, Op and Ed songs and the story, its all so perfect. If this was a girl (or if your a female reader then a guy) she/he would be a perfect 10. I expected this to be the dark house of the season like tiger and bunny for the last six months but i didnt expect Madhouse to do this good a job. Banzai Madhouse

  11. I KNEW IT! I had this feeling the second I saw the poster that this series had potential. Plus when Divine said this show could be a surprise hit, I was like “aww yeah” and now I’m super stoked at how well this turned out! I loved this episode so much!!
    Did anyone else notice how good the music is? It was like a film’s. The pacing and voice work was amazing, and the visuals speak for themselves. I can’t wait to see where this goes!

  12. I haven’t read the manga, but I suspect the game is not going to evolve much in the anime, and my predictions for what gets spun for a yarn over the season:

    1) Taichi’s unrequited crush on Chihaya.
    2) Taichi’s possible projection of why Chihaya doesn’t respond to his crush on to Arata. In fact, I’m predicting plenty of passive aggressive behavior on Taichi’s part towards Arata once the season shifts back to the present and they all presumably get back together again. It seems fairly obvious he’d like nothing more than to get it on with Chihaya, and likely views Arata as the reason why Chihaya is fixated on a kid’s card game instead of cuddling in dark corners, rational or not (it’s adolescence after all).
    3) Chihaya eventually noticing boys as something that might serve a purpose other than to play Karuta against.
    4) Arata possibly coming out of his shell (assuming he’s still in one in the present) and winning the girl underneath Taichi’s nose.

    The card game itself is incredibly simple, and hasn’t a single ounce of strategic depth (even the western card game BS has more strategic depth). You memorize a deck. Then it boils down to who is faster than who at grabbing cards. It’s like playing Speed. Obviously memorizing a typical western card deck is far easier than some poetic lines, but it’s the same basic principle. So, I wouldn’t be expecting anything terribly deep on the card game side of the show. Karatu is like on the opposite end of the spectrum of say…Go. It’ll likely just serve as the vehicle for the interpersonal drama we’re going to be treated to between these three “friends”.

    It’s on my list, but only because I have a closet softness for josei and josei-light shows.

    1. I’ve skimmed through most of the manga, and trust me, it’s all about the karuta.

      Show Spoiler ▼

  13. REALLY good first episode. I wasn’t expecting much at all…but this is really good! Don’t have much time to watch anime but looks like my 3 shows this fall will be:
    -One Piece

  14. If this series gets subtitles by somebody (and i know it will), the best subtitle will be the one who introduces in a smart way the mechanics behind that old game. I watched Saki in one version, but i got frustrated that i didn’t understand one damn thing about that because nobody actually explained anything on the sub. It is not mandatory of course, but it would be great that somebody explains that. (I don’t wanna drop a good series, if u know what i mean)

    Anyway, have fun =)

  15. Finding it hard to believe that no one’s joining the club. Given that these peeps are teenagers, lots of guys would be scrambling to join a club where there’s no one in it but a pretty girl. Of course playing karuta would not be their motivation.

    Other than that, it seems that karuta will be a means for them to explore their relationships like Arata’s reason for playing and reason for giving up

    Zaku Fan
  16. Guardian Enzo, thank you for covering this show! For me it’s love at first sight as well! In fact, with this animation quality and character design I would love any show.

    What I don’t understand: When high-school Chihaya and Taichi meet she seems to be disappointed when she finds out about his girlfriend. Taichi then instantly explains that they are not that close and that she asked him out. Poor Taichi’s girlfriend! Imo Chihaya should draw her own conclusions from this.

  17. Watching the first episode, I wanted to cry. I was beginning to lose hope in anime these days, what with all the lame ecchi, loli and harem crazies that keep being churned out. I am now able to say that I still have faith in the anime world *sniff*

  18. I don’t understand the game, but I think this is the same game as the one played in Higurashi? Anyways, I’ve never gotten into Hikaru no Go (just a few episodes in local TV broadcast) but I did finished watching Shion no Ou. Just like how I have never understand the games they are playing in those 2 series, I think I’ll never also for Chihayafuru, still I’ll be watching this anime because:

    1. a bishoujo main character Check!
    2. a hint of romance Check!
    3. Wonderful animation Check!
    4. Interesting first episode that I’m immediately hooked! Check!

    I hope this series turns out into something very special, I don’t know the game or have any idea what this whole series is all about, but at least everything else is very interesting as per first episode 🙂

  19. I’m cheering for Arata and Chihaya. Screw the semi-popular mr perfect bishoujo. Give me the pairing where we see the brilliant, passionate, yet struggling poor boy. That has a lot more charm to it.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *