Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Chihayafuru - Episode 1

When you're the sister of a well-known model, people tend to have certain expectations about you - expectations which are only somewhat fulfilled in the case of Chihayafuru's protagonist.  Sure, she's a beautiful girl, but her personality doesn't really match her looks at all.

It's in this manner that we're introduced to Chihaya Ayase, whose good-looking exterior hides a karuta-obsessed tomboy within.  As we join Chihaya, she's eagerly beginning her high school life in the hope of meeting people... and by people she ostensibly means people she can play karuta with.  Given the far from popular nature of the game this looks like a vain hope, brightened only by the appearance of an old friend of Chihaya's named Taichi.  As the two catch up and goof around somewhat, the dynamic between the two is clear - Taichi is in love with Chihaya, while Chihaya herself loves only karuta.  Or does she?  There's a clear tension when the name of another boy, Arata, is mentioned.

This throws us into full-on flashback mode for the remainder of the episode, as we see an elementary school-aged (and even more tomboyish) Chihaya as she spends her time at school with Taichi, but finds herself slightly fascinated by the quiet, picked on transfer student that is Arata.  Eventually, circumstances contrive to bring the brash, thoughtless Chihaya and this poor boy from a poor family together, which ultimately proves to be a life-changing meeting as our protagonist sees an incredible change in Arata as soon as karuta is mentioned while his skills and memory are breath-taking in their own right.

The only word I can find for this opening episode of Chihayafuru is wonderful as it nary puts a foot wrong throughout.  This is almost a lesson in character introductions as it succinctly sums up its major characters and their relationship to one another without hitting us over the head with it or via pointless dialogue - everything is expressed simply, efficiently and effectively.  What's more, we find ourselves instantly fascinated and even enamoured by these characters - their relationships, the questions left hanging about Arata's current life, Chihaya's awkwardly obsessive and lovable demeanour and so on.  These are individuals I want to know much, much more about, and these are people I want to follow as they explore their own lives - this is, of course, a very good thing to be feeling at the start of a new series.

Ultimately, perhaps what really grabs me is that Chihayafuru is a story that each and every one of us probably has some experience of at its core - we might be quiet and happy to stay out of the spotlight normally, but engage us in conversation about something we love and we become animated and passionate.  On the surface, Chihaya and Arata's story is our story as anime fans given a life of its own - as a result, of course it's a tale that we'll want to follow.  That I wasn't even planning on covering this series for the autumn but now have it firmly ensconced in my plans speaks volumes about how much this first instalment of Chihayafuru impressed me.

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