Impressions: Chihayafuru 2 Episodes 1-4
Love is in the cards.
Chihayafuru 2 is the second season of the karuta card-slapping powerhouse josei anime, wait for it, Chihayafuru. If you haven’t watched the first season, go watch it. You’ll want need more, and luckily there’s more to be had. Chihayafuru 2 retains the studio (Madhouse) and director (Morio Asaka) of the original, and even 99RadioService makes it back for the OP. I actually bring up the OP because the difference between the first season's OPs with “Youthful” and the second season’s OP with “Star” foreshadows the difference in feel between seasons.
Whereas the first season focuses on the youthful individual characters’ back stories, drives, and development in working towards becoming an integral part of a team, the second season so far focuses on the rookie championship team, roughly one year after their victory, dealing with group and club dynamics. This includes knowing the team’s stars (aces) and how their time would be best spent in preparation for the next high school tournament; who to use to recruit, keep, and teach new members; as well as encouraging growth amongst all members to form a stronger team. To this effect Chihayafuru 2 opens strongly.
The introductory scene is a practice match in which the karuta club members are shown assuming positions with regard to their passions and working hard at them. The most obvious is Oe Kanade, who is determined to become a reader, reciting the poems for the match. Class A-ranked Ayase Chihaya slaps a card with stunning speed from Mashima Taichi, who is striving for a Class A rank and subsequently starts repeating phrases of poems to himself and practicing his swipe. Beyond the actual game of karuta, Oe assumes some of the absentee club advisor’s duties, Mashima’s is shown much more proactively coaching and leading his team, and Porky (Nishida Yusei) grows to be the tough love teacher.
Those that come to be taught, Hanano Sumire and Tsukuba Akihiro, are initially grating as new characters. Practiced in second verse karuta, Tsukuba is a fish out of water in the club if only for his bullheaded demeanor and outright goofy/creepy game face. This makes him as annoying as Kuchiki from Genshiken 2, although I do love the depiction of Tsukuba's visualization technique when facing the cards. Love-obsessed and vengeful Hanano, on the other hand, has an explicit reason for being in this club, and it’s not just to fall in love with Mashima...it’s to fall in love with karuta (even if she doesn’t know it yet). From the beginning of this series, how poetry affects the characters as players and people has been tantamount to any love triangle or card game. Chihayafuru 2 uses Hanano to retain and embody this.
Along with the flawless depiction of casual moments as subtle and loaded as a forehead flick between club members, other notable elements from these first few episodes include an increased focus on game rules. Card spacing, reading pace, player posture, and especially memorization are finely detailed. In the OP, like during most illustrated periods of memorization, there’s some stunning animation which feature floating characters emphasized almost in the same manner as Chōyaku Hyakunin Isshu: Uta Koi, which cuts me to the core. There are rough patches, but overall, based on these first four episodes, I believe there’s a lot to look forward to with this new season. Are you recruited?
Chihayafuru 2 is now streaming on Crunchyroll.