Anime Blu-ray Review: Chihayafuru Season 1

Chihayafuru Season 1 includes three discs that contain all 25 episodes of the first season of the series. The release includes the original Japanese audio with English subtitles and an English dub.

Chihayafuru Season 1
English Publisher: Sentai Filmworks
Format: Blu-ray
Release Date: September 12, 2017

The main character of Chihayafuru is a high school student named Chihaya Ayase. When she was younger, she was more of a tomboy and spent her life supporting her older sister in her modeling career. In elementary school, she stood up for Arata Wataya, a transfer student that the other students in the class would tease and pick on. Among the tormentors is Taichi Mashima, Chihaya’s friend who excels at sports.

Through Arata, Chihaya learns to play karuta, a Japanese card game where players have to quickly determine which card out of an array of cards is required and grabbing it before another player does. After learning the game, it becomes Chihaya’s dream to become Japan’s best female karuta player (which is referred to as the “Queen”). Over the next couple of years, Chihaya is separated from both Arata and Taichi.

At the beginning of the series, Chihaya is trying to form a karuta club at her high school, but she doesn’t seem to be having a lot of luck. While Chihaya has matured into a beautiful young woman, her classmates consider her to be weird and refer to her as a “waste of beauty.” She discovers that Taichi has transferred to her high school, but he claims to have outgrown karuta. Chihaya, meanwhile, decided to keep playing karuta in the hopes of being able to see her friends again. In the first episode, both Chihaya and Taichi mention that neither one has heard from Arata in a while. Chihaya comments that Arata didn’t compete in the last major karuta championship.

Eventually, Chihaya convinces Taichi to help her form the karuta club, and they find the three additional members they need in order to become a recognized school club. Kanade Oe is quiet girl who is a fan of Japanese poetry, especially the One Hundred Poems that are used for karuta. Her mother owns a kimono store, and Kanade agrees to join the club if they start wearing hakama for tournaments. Yusei Nishida is a tubby boy who acquires the nickname “Porky-kun.” He was one a top karuta player, and had played against Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi in the past. He had quit karuta after being defeated by Arata, but Chihaya helps him find the fun in playing the game again. Tsutomu Komano is an anti-social, yet intelligent boy, who is often seen studying at his desk, and he acquires the nickname “Desktomu-kun”. Chihaya and Taichi both manage to convince him to join the club, and the five of them start practicing and competing in karuta competitions.

At the same time Chihaya is trying to get the karuta club going, she is also trying to reconnect with Arata. When she calls Arata, he tells her that he doesn’t play karuta anymore and not to call him again. Chihaya drags Taichi along to Fukui to visit Arata, and it’s a tense meeting. After throwing them out of his house, Arata’s neighbor explains that Arata quit playing karuta after his grandfather (who had been an important figure in karuta and Arata’s teacher) died from a stroke on a day that Arata was supposed to be watching over him but went to a competition to make Class A. Over the course of the season, though, Arata realizes he still wants to be friend with Chihaya and works at trying to get back into karuta again.

While the karuta card game is a major focus in Chihayafuru, there is also a major emphasis on relationships and drama. There were two instances that stood out to me for events that weren’t about the karuta matches. The first is the fact that Chihaya’s family seems to place a lot more emphasis on her older sister’s modeling career than on what Chihaya is doing. This comes to a head when Chihaya tries to tell them about her club making it to nationals, but they’re more focused on her sister appearing on a quiz show. Later, among all the large scrapbooks her father’s been keeping on Chihaya’s sister’s modeling career, she finds a small one for her that includes newspaper articles and pictures of Chihaya’s successes in karuta, along with encouraging words written by her father. This did help to redeem Chihaya’s parents for me, since before then, I felt as if Chihaya was being completely ignored and overshadowed by her sister.

The other example comes from Arata’s flashback to his grandfather’s decline to his passing on the day Arata made it to A Class. It’s revealed in the flashback that Arata’s grandfather was diagnosed with dementia. My mother passed away from complications related to dementia in September 2019, and I can say from my own experience that the series’ depiction of Arata’s grandfather’s decline due to dementia was accurately portrayed. I nearly cried during these scenes, as it made me think about my mother and her dementia.

During the karuta matches, things could get quite intense. The intensity I was feeling reminded me of some of the sports anime that I’ve watched over the years, such as Haikyu!! and Yowamushi Pedal. But one thing I have to give Chihayafuru credit for is the fact that while Chihaya’s playing is impressive, it’s made clear that there are others playing the game who are even more incredible. To me, Chihaya’s progression for her karuta skills during this season felt very natural and realistic, and that she’s shown to have faults. She’s not a “superwoman” who is suddenly making waves and winning all the time. This gives Chihaya the chance to progress and mature as a character and as a karuta player, and still leaves her room for growth in future seasons of the anime. This season also establishes rivals for Chihaya, such as Shinobu Wakamiya (the current “Queen”), Hiro Kanashi (a player from Hokuo High School that Chihaya and Taichi knew from when they were younger), and Akito Sudo (another member of Hokuo High School’s karuta club).

The animation for the series works well for the story that’s being told. I liked the character designs, as well as the way the animators captured the motion and movement of the characters playing karuta. I’m not sure how to describe it, but the overall atmosphere of the series’ look almost has what I think of as a “warm” feeling to it. I get so drawn into what’s going on that sometimes I forget I’m watching something that’s animated.

I really enjoyed the first season of Chihayafuru, and I’m looking forward to continuing to follow Chihaya and the other members of the karuta club in the next season for the series.

The Blu-ray video for this set has 1080p High Definition / 16×9, while the audio has English DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0 and Japanese DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0. I had no complaints about either the video or audio quality of this release.

Not surprisingly, the bonus features on this release are what I’ve come to expect from Sentai Filmworks. It’s the usual again: a textless opening, a textless closing, and trailers for other Sentai Filmworks releases.

Even with the relative lack of bonus features, I would recommend this Blu-ray release of the first season of Chihayafuru to readers who are fans of the anime and want to add the series to their anime home video library.

Additional post about Chihayafuru:

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