Episode One-Derland: Chihayafuru

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Plot: Chihaya is the younger sister of a famous and gorgeous model, and while she has become a beautiful young woman in her own right, she is known as a wasted beauty in school since she is tomboyish, naive, blunt and obsessed with Karuta, a card game based on poetry. She has loved the game for years and tries desperately to get people to play with her like she and her friends Taichi and Ayata used to when they were kids. However, not many people play, Taichi seems uninterested and Ayata no longer goes to the same school or communicates with Chihaya often. Despite all of this, she is still determined to keep the game not just alive but thriving.

Breakdown: Wow, this was probably the best entry in Episode One-Derland so far. This anime not only does a fantastic job of establishing the main plot as well as the characters, but it also explores why Chihaya is so ecstatic about the game and why it means so much to her.

In just this one episode, we connect strongly with all three characters, even the abrasive Taichi who, while seeming like a jerk in the flashback, acts very much like a believable guy with a crush on his good friend.

But the real highlight of the episode is the game between Ayata and Chihaya. Ayata is an outcast at school due to his odd manner of speech, quiet nature and the fact that he’s fairly poor. Chihaya, being the kindhearted individual that she is, wonders why everyone seems to be making an effort to be mean to him when he’s done nothing wrong. That and the fact that he has a job and an incredible memory intrigue Chihaya to him, leading him to inviting her to his house after they both get soaked in the rain thanks to Taichi. He reveals that he loves the game of karuta, but not many people play the game in Tokyo unlike his hometown. His dream is to be the best karuta player in the world.

He mostly plays by himself with a tape player helping recite the verses necessary to play, and he has trained to be a fantastic player, swiping away cards so swiftly that they end up getting imbedded in the wall several times. Chihaya is not familiar with the game and has only memorized half of the poems that the game focuses on, making her fall far behind very quickly until she realizes that she has a chance to get at least one card that she knows fairly well, which she achieves in doing.

While the game was horribly one-sided, Chihaya and Ayata both have a great time with the game and Ayata commends her for being able to take even one card away from him. Chihaya ends up more excited than ever since she has been able to crack Ayata’s shell and catch a glimpse of his passion, allowing her to finally make a dream that is for herself.

One of the best things about this episode is that it really does capture passion for a particular activity perfectly. This showcases two sides of a coin – someone who is incredibly good at the activity and someone who is new and not that good. Ayata has a great love of the game simply because it means a lot to him and because he has such a good time playing it, even by himself. While he does compete in it and is incredibly good, it really seems like his passion flows purely from the game itself and not simply striving to be the best.

With Chihaya, she has never played the game before and has only memorized half of the poems for the game. Note that the game involves swiping away cards with parts of a poem verse when the start of the same poem is recited by the reader, or in this case a tape. In order to be really good at the game, you need to fully memorize all 100 poems. Despite this, she is amazed by Ayata’s moves and gets psyched when she is simply able to take one card from him, despite the complete loss either way. True enjoyment even in the face of utter defeat is also a root of passion.

Finally, making a strong connection with someone because of a passion makes the activity more enjoyable and creates bonds that much stronger. I can see why current day Chihaya is so bummed that her efforts to revive karuta completely fail, even when Taichi shows up at her school. She still holds onto that great passion for the game, but feels alone in her passion, much like Ayata used to when they were kids.

I really like both Chihaya and Ayata as characters. They hooked me in with one of the best character and friendship/relationship budding scenes I’ve seen in ages, and while Taichi might take a while to warm up to, he was also relatable and tugged at the heartstrings a little bit since it’s obvious that he never got over his crush of Chihaya, yet can’t bring himself to admit it to Chihaya, especially since she still seems somewhat hung up on Ayata. I don’t know how current day Ayata is personality-wise, but right now I’m really pushing for Chihaya and Ayata to get together.

The art and animation are simply beautiful with believable and memorable character designs as well as beautifully detailed environments. The music is just alright, which might be the only weak spot in this show so far.

If it wasn’t obvious enough;

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I’ve heard great things about this show and I can’t wait to continue it. It’s not your typical ‘gaming’ anime, if it even qualifies for such a thing, but it’s definitely worth a watch.

Recommended Audience: Other than some bullying, there’s nothing questionable so far. E for everyone.

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