Tag: Chihayafuru

Top 5 Anime of 2013

This was a difficult year to nail down a top five list because I’ve been watching less anime, but the anime I have watched has all been excellent. Years where I watched a ton of shows allowed the gems to really stand out, but it is much harder to pick out gems among gems.

I wonder why 2013 was a year I watched only a handful of good shows. Am I becoming a better judge or more careful of what media I consume? Was the gap between excellent show and bad show wider this year with no middle of the road shows to buffer the extremes?

Whatever the reason: We got a lot of good anime this year. Here are five you should definitely check out.

5. Attack on Titan

Attack on Titan has the potential to be one of the biggest anime in a long time, mainly because it constantly remains interesting. Every few episodes it tosses in a twist that reinvents the entire show; twists that lesser shows would run with for season long arcs.

It’s exciting, has good characters, a solid premise, and a great pace that makes me want more almost constantly. More importantly: The anime greatly improves on the art of the Manga.

We still have a long way to go before the end but Attack on Titan is a solid first part of the story and I can’t wait for the next season.

4. Watamote

Billed as a comedy, Watamote is more of an extreme character study of a person with severe social anxiety. We follow Tomoko as she attempts to live a normal high school life but constantly fails and falls deeper and deeper into her shell.

There are some moments of dark comedy in the show but, frankly, anyone who would laugh at most of the show is cruel. It turns into a depressing look at the life of a person who just doesn’t know how to relate to other humans. We’re locked inside Tomoko’s head and forced to go along with her as she deals with and sometimes justifies her isolation.

There is a deeper connection the show makes with anyone who has suffered from social anxiety. Few people in the world are as bad as Tomoko but with her problems being so numerous it serves to cast a wide net and allows for the maximum percent of the audience to relate to at least parts of her problems. I loved the show as a way to dive into these issues but be warned, the second half of the series becomes extremely uncomfortable to sit through.

3. From the New World

Taking place in a post-apoctolyptic world where a much smaller human population has learned to live with psychic powers, From the New World is a compelling narrative that keeps the audience guessing. It features weak characterization, which kept it from claiming the top two spots on the list, but the moral questions the show deals with forces the audience to constantly struggle with that they would do in the character’s situation.

As the narrative develops the characters, who we follow from childhood, they slowly learn how their society works and things that seem horrifying become an understood part of their society as they grow older. This structure makes From the New World into a twenty-five episode long course in relative morality.

It’s an accomplishment that will haunt the audience long after the credits roll on the finale.

2. The Eccentric Family

The first episode of Eccentric Family almost turned me off from the entire show. It features a very slow, expository narrative style that establishes the key characters and setting of the show. After that first episode we’re trust into the world of Eccentric Family where we get to live with the characters and watch them deal with their everyday conflicts. The show tackles issues from the necessity of keeping up appearances to the feeling of living on after a family member has passed.

The Eccentric Family is a triumph because of how much fun spending time with the characters ends up being. I could watch these characters do anything. Combine that with a simple mixture of mystery, conflict bxcetween rival families, Japanese mythology, and an exploration of personal life philosophy and Eccentric Family is an obsolete joy that also deals with some serious life issues.

1. Chihayafuru 2

So maybe I’m cheating a little bit. Maybe I just want more people to watch Chihayafuru. Well, more people should watch Chihayafuru. Season 2 picks up where the first one ended and features more detail on the characters experience going through a Karuta tournament series.

While I think this second season is less of the perfect blend of popular anime tropes that the original exceled at, it digs deep into the core themes it wishes to explore. Chiefly: the difference between individual accomplishment and ability against working in a team. Though this theme we get to see the talents of all our favorite characters explored in depth, we get into the heads of the untouchable Karuta champions, and we see our heroine strive to reach the peak of her ability in two very different competitions.

Chihayafuru 2 is half just more of what was so good about the first season and half going so much deeper into all of the characters while they are in some of the most stressful and intense moments of their lives. Everyone should watch Chihayafuru, if not for the characters or the strange thrill of a Karuta match than just to explore this odd bit of Japanese culture not often touched upon outside of Japan.

Top 5 Anime of 2012

 In some ways 2012 was a great year for anime. But that came in the form of long shows and unfortunately, two of the shows I’ve watched and enjoyed the most in 2012 didn’t end and don’t qualify for my list. While I haven’t watched a lot this year, what I did get to was some incredibly fun and innovative stuff. While I’m disappointed that my own rules don’t allow some of my favorite shows to make the list, what is included are shows that definitely should not be overlooked.

  5: The K-On! Movie

K-On! deserves to make the list for one spectacular reason: It’s the best K-On! that has yet been released. The K-On! Movie tosses the characters into more conflict than in both seasons of the TV show combined. Watching the characters get lost in London and attempting to speak english sis both adorable and extremely satisfying. Those aspects combined with the stellar animation quality that Kyoto Animation puts into a theatrical production and K-On! The Movie is the ultimate experience of the franchise. For that reason alone it deserves to make the list.

 4: Mouretsu Pirates

Mouretsu Pirates is one of those shows that attempts to serve a dual audience, fans looking for serious science fiction and fans looking for moe. It suffers from the problems that all those shows suffer from, while it has some interesting science fiction and good action the tone is constantly spun from serious to a light school comedy and the effect is jarring.

While Mouretsu Pirates is hard to take seriously as a work of science fiction when it is deep in its action sci-fi mode it’s a lot of fun and it plays with some new concepts for space pirates. On the other hand the moe elements are also fun, and I’d love to spend more time with all the characters. So while it is harmed by it’s duality it doesn’t disappoint on either front.

3:  Natsuyuki Rendezvous

The strength of Natsuyuki Rendezvous comes from the strong, realistic relationship built around the main characters. The telling scene is early on when Hazuki confesses his love to Rokka and it isn’t treated like the massive bomb that you’d normally expect in a romance anime. Rokka simply nods, says she’ll think about it, and they go and have lunch then go back to work. They react like adults, and that alone puts Natsuyuki Rendezous in a special category.

On top of the romance there is the hilarious relationship between Hazuki and the ghost of Rokka’s husband Atsushi. He hangs around, unable to let his wife go and the only one who can see him is Hazuki. So he tries at all opportunity to get between the budding romance.

While the middle sagged a bit, the characters and relationship does more than enough to qualify Natsuyuki Rendezvous for this list.

 

 2: Kids on the Slope

Jazz, the 1960s, a male friendship at the core of the story. A theme of my lists have been shows that have elements that make it stick out among most of the anime that we get from Japan. Kids on the Slope ignores most anime tropes, choosing instead to deliver a realistic narrative grounded in a set time and place. The show we get doesn’t even have to be animated, but I’m glad it gets placed in the skilled hands of director Shinichiro Watanabe and the music of Yoko Kanno.

The animation is absolutely beautiful and the characters and narrative are superb. The show is also extremely dense with time flying by as these eleven episodes attempts to cover two years of the characters high school career. Often single episodes feel like two episodes shortened and jammed together. I’d assume that the show might have been planned for a longer run but they worked with what that had, condensing where they could. That might be the only complaint, the show tries to do so much over a small span of time and pieces of it just get lost or left hanging.

There was a note in the penultimate episode during the preview that hinted that this show barely got made. It was one of the most genuine notes I’ve seen come from a production team and it showcases just how difficult it is to get compelling animation made in the current anime marketplace.

 1: Chihayafuru

No one who has heard me rave over Chihayafuru this past year will be surprised that it is my pick for the best of 2012. The show does everything near perfectly. There is a type of show that forces me to become so involved with the characters and narrative that I can’t help breaking down emotionally. There is a stretch in Chihayafuru that I was brought to tears at the end of nearly every episode. Either that shows how good this show is or how easily manipulated I am.

The success of the show is mainly because it hits so many of the most popular tropes of anime over the last few years. There is a club where the characters can interact, there is a shonen sports aspect, and there is a romance piece that features a love triangle with a childhood friendship! The key is that Chihayafuru is able to make all of them work independent and then interweave them to make the whole so much stronger than the sum of its parts. It’s a homerun, and a must watch for anyone who loves anime.

Review: Chihayafuru

There are so many barriers to entry in Chihayafuru that if it wasn’t freely available streaming I doubt that I, and many others who have been singing its praises, would have even attempted to touch it. It’s a sports anime that is about a card game rooted in ancient Japanese poetry, and that doesn’t sound like it would have much appeal outside a small number of specialized hobbyists. However, Chihayafuru is an anime that transcends it’s subject matter, and even it’s genre, to become something truly spectacular.

The way Chihayafuru is constructed feels like the perfect combination of all popular anime genres. Chihayafuru is based around a card game, which is treated like any other sport. So, it is essentially a Sports anime where character interaction is based around and connected too the single sport. It’s also a romance, with a flavor of the “separated childhood friend” trope that pops up so commonly in Shojo romances. The tournament sections of the show remind me of Shonen tournament stuff especially when the “Master” and “Queen” characters, the best Kurata players in the world, are fleshed out. Their super human ability and the constant stress at how large the skill gap between them and the heroes barrows heavily from Shonen tournament and fighting shows. Finally, Chihayafuru features a group of friends focused around a school club which has become a popular trope in Moe anime after the rabid popularity of The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. 

Do all these elements coming together in a single title imply that Yuki Suetsugu sat down and crafted Chihayafuru to be the ultimate manga? No, I think she simply told the story she wanted to tell and the combination of all the elements listed above are each individually solid tropes that capture an audience and keep them coming back for more. Which is why each of them have traditionally been enough to serve as the basis of a show. Chihayafuru does each of them with such skill and precision that the result is a show that doesn’t allow you to become bored for a second, even if it is about a card game that no one outside Japan can even play. Karuta is based on 100 chosen poems that were written throughout Japanese history. A reader reads the first verse of the poem and the players must take the card on the field that has the second verse written upon it. The first player to capture the majority of the fifty cards in play is the winner.

Part of the fun of Chihayafuru is how unfamiliar I was with the game and the culture surrounding it. The audience watches Chihaya as she makes her way through the world of Kurata; making her way up the ladder to class A, playing in tournaments trying to each national levels, and finally attempting to challenge the Queen and become the best player in all of Japan. Even though the story follows Chihaya quickly working her way up the Kurata ranks her advancement never seems rushed or unrealistic. Chihaya is a skilled player, but she doesn’t win all of her matches, in fact many of the matches towards the end of the season she ends up losing handedly. It’s in these moments that the strategy and complexity of the game comes out. The different ways to position your hards, the way the players sit, and even the point the player begins to move towards a given card are all calculated and must be perfected in order to play with top level players. Chihaya spends a large portion of the second half of the season learning about her shortcomings as a Kurata player the hard way, by suffering a series of crushing defeats. However, each one she walks away with a taste of how difficult becoming the best Kurata player in the world actually is, and each time she walks away with a small tip that she is determined to work into her game and slowly overcome her shortfalls. 

The romance in Chihayafuru starts off as standard Shojo fair with Chihaya being torn between two boys, both of which were her childhood friends. While she has known Taichi for longer and they have been closer, she shares a connection with Arata because he is the one who inspired her to pursue Karuta. The dynamic becomes more interesting considering that Arata and Taichi know they are rivals yet are still friendly with each other, yet Chihaya doesn’t seem to have any interest in romance. The love triangle formed plays off of mutual respect and is hindered by the complete obliviousness of Chihaya. The audience is toyed with as it seems like Chihaya is slowly getting closer to Taichi, that the two of them might start to develop a serious relationship, and then the mention of Arata puts a glow in Chihaya’s eye that totally crushes any confidence that Taichi had gained. It is a difficult and exciting romance to watch, yet it doesn’t hit the audience over the head with what it’s trying to do. It remains subtle and in doing so has a larger affect than any pure romance anime has had on me. The most impressive part is I don’t know which guy will end up with Chihaya in the end, and I don’t have a preference. Both of them are good for her, for different reasons. I can’t imagine having to choose.

The secondary characters are all strong and serve to aid Chihaya’s story while being fully developed characters in their own right. Each one of them approaches Karuta in a different way and in doing so helps Chihaya see the flaw in her game. Kanade loves ancient poetry and teaches Chihaya the meaning of the poems, which is the first time she thought of them as anything but a matching game. Tsutomu shows Chihaya that the game can be analyzed and that keeping a record of your matches can help pinpoint strengths and weaknesses. Yusei brings a sense of physical competition to the group, showing that by building up ones body in other areas that physical endurance will help Karuta players hold up during the long tournaments. While they bring these aspects to Chihaya so she can evolve her own game they each have their own character arches and goals within the Karuta world that drives them forward. They serve to support Chihaya through their diverse skills but also to highlight the difficulty that Chihaya has to go through, how much better Chihaya is than the average player, and also to show exactly how far Chihaya has to go in order to capture the title of the best player in all of Japan. 

Chihayafuru is a difficult show to approach but I can’t see anyone who enjoys Japanese Animation not enjoying this show once they get a few episodes in. Yes, the subject matter is difficult to digest at first, and yes the poetry is completely unfamiliar to a western audience but the narrative does go through a lot of trouble to catch people up on the game and the poetry, and from that a western audience learns section of Japanese literature that they never would have encountered before. Above even that the show contains elements of a solid character drama, a compelling romance, and a gripping Shonen tournament show. There is something for every type of fan to latch onto in this dense, amazingly constructed masterpiece. Chihayafuru is a must watch for everyone.