So long, Marvel.
Good riddance, too.
So we finally get to a series I was actually really excited to see this season. And, happily, it starts off on the right foot, signaling a return for Madhouse from the realms of the banal and the disappointing. While I’m sure those Marvel works made financial sense (Sony owns Marvel and Sony also owns Madhouse, certainly making financial arrangements easier than it would’ve for out-of-house properties), they were hardly worthwhile. And if I have to contend with search engine results for Supernatural the Animation when trying to find stuff about the not-Animation again, then I’m going to punch someone.
I digress, though. Chihayafuru starts off in pleasant fashion, with much of the episode dedicated to a flashback… well, or so it seems. In the original they just started off the story when Chihaya was in elementary school, and the proceeded to her high school incarnation, but here they opt to show us the pretty young lady she grew into before her tomboy child self makes an appearance. It honestly doesn’t make a huge difference, although that begs why they did it at all. My guess is that they figured they’d pull more people in if it was clear that the story would focus on teenaged Chihaya as opposed to prepubescent Chihaya.
As for the titular female lead herself, she’s a pleasant change from the usual in such shows simply by dint of her possession of self-confidence. It was great to see a female character not break down into total neuroticism because a boy teased her about her appearance. I found her to be very likeable. Her younger self has a tendency to stick her foot in her mouth, displaying the sort of social cluelessness that manifests in wondering why people are mean to a classmate rather than in having her be a walking plot exposition device for the viewer (see: Strawberry Panic’s Nagisa Aoi, any simple-minded transfer student character in any generic anime).
Of course, you could be forgiven for wondering why it is that she couldn’t’ve just stayed a short-haired tomboy into adolescence. And it is here that some troublesome signs pop up, as classmates remark that Chihaya’s beauty is wasted since she’s odd, while childhood friend Taichi suggests that she probably isn’t very popular with boys. Why do either of these things matter? Sure, we know this is going to be a love triangle soon enough, but is it necessary to point out that a lot of guys think she’s kind of weird? Its impossible to tell if there is an impending object lesson of how beauty isn’t the most important thing a girl can have, or if this was just thrown in because of genre conventions. Hoping that if its the second, we hear less of it going forward.
Off in another direction, I really liked the card-playing aspect so far. In fact, it really made me wish I could play karuta myself, or that there was an English-language equivalent. The nearest equivalent I can think of is Spoons, but only in terms of reflexes needed to be a master at it. Karuta looks a lot harder, but it also looks like a lot of fun. I’m looking forward to learning more about the rules, as this one has certainly made my season’s rotation.