What They Say:
Chihaya Ayase was a girl who never seemed to fit in. She never had much in common with the other kids, and her family was so obsessed with her older sister’s modeling career that, sometimes, it was like Chihaya wasn’t even there. Everything changes when transfer student Arata gets Chihaya interested in the world of competitive Karuta, a unique card-based game that requires lightning fast reflexes, an exceptional memory, and a keen ear. Chihaya is a natural, and she has the skills to take her to the very top. Suddenly, Chihaya has found her goal: to become the best player in Japan! It won’t be easy, but when a girl has a dream in her heart, nothing else matters!
The audio presentation for this series brings us the original Japanese language track in stereo along with the newly created English language dub, both of which are in stereo and encoded using the DTS-HD MA lossless codec. The series is one that’s fairly straightforward as it’s heavy on the dialogue and not much in the way of action but it’s worked in a really good way. There’s a lot of intensity to the dialogue at times and the way that karuta works in how the pieces are read off has its own particular style that comes through in a rich way. The instrumental music accents the scenes nicely while the opening and closing songs are very well handed with the expanded design. It’s a solid release through and through in the audio area that will please fans.
Originally airing in 2011, the transfer for this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 in 1080p using the AVC codec. The twenty-five episodes are spread across three discs in a nine/nine/seven format giving it a standard amount of room. Animated by Madhouse, there’s a whole lot to like in how this series is designed with its attention to detail in the cards and the setting in which the games are played but also in how the games are played. The little bits definitely help and they come through clearly here without any breakup or blending into other areas. The room and settings are done up in a good way where they feel lived in and filled with variety depending on the locale while the character animation feels like it exists fully within it rather than just layered on top of it. Colors are a bit more muted but that allows the standout scenes to do just that when the color design is ramped up. Fans of the series will be very pleased by what we get here.
The packaging design for this release brings us a slightly thicker than normal Blu-ray case that holds the three discs inside with a hinge for two of them. The front cover goes for a an attempt at something that’s supposed to be a bit more elegant with the green leather like framing. I’d rather not have it and just have the artwork itself because it looks great with the three main characters and the leaves around them. You get a good sense of the characters and the design of the show here and I like how the logo is kept in a separate box rather than trying to be laid on top of the artwork directly. The back cover has a good action shot from the show itself and a small selection of images along the right to tease a bit more. The summary of the premise is clean and easy to get into and the episode and disc count is clearly listed as well. The production credits break things out there cleanly and the technical grid lists all the elements of how the release is put together accurately. No show related inserts are included nor is there a reversible cover.
The menu design for this release has some minor in-theme elements to it but mostly just works some nice visuals. With the right side changing out the illustration artwork from volume to volume to show off different characters, the left side features the navigation done as a pair of karuta cards. The top one is the one we get to see in full s it breaks down the episodes by number and title, using “poem” as the prefix for the episode number, while the leave serve as the cursor. It works nicely in giving us a touch of what feels like something from within the show but the really nice part is the artwork as each one definitely is appealing with its detail and look.
The extras for this release are kept simple with just the clean opening and closing sequences, which are always welcome.
Based on the manga series of the same name from Yuki Suetsugu, Chihayafuru is a twenty-five episode anime series that aired in the fall of 2011 and winter of 2012. The manga is ongoing at this point with thirty-five volumes as of this writing and it got a second season of the same length as well which Sentai Filmworks has picked up. I had watched both seasons during their simulcast run and was a huge fan of the show as it introduced me to karuta and made it engaging while sticking to real world elements fully as opposed to something like Hikaru no Go. I had never expected the anime to be licensed, never mind dubbed, and even the manga is getting a digital release from Kodansha Comics. Suffice to say, fans of this property may be getting the five star treatment late but they’re definitely getting it.
Because of how the original work is ongoing and for as long as it has since it’s ten years old at this point, the anime captures only so much of it and doesn’t have a “true end” here. That’s not a problem because this is definitely a journey series where you enjoy watching these characters go through their lives and come to understand themselves at a critical time in their life. But what really made me appreciate it is that it takes a couple of episodes early on, not just some scattered flashbacks but entire episodes, where it dials it back to when they were kids and discovering the game of karuta itself. Honestly, I’m still not entirely sure how karuta works because even though they explain it I feel like it’s something that I need to be hands on with. But what the series does through the younger period and when we reconnect with them in high school is to make it clear just what kind of passion it is for them. And that’s a crucial element in making this show work.
The show focuses on three principal characters, though it fleshes it out well as time goes on and does provide tidbits about the supporting characters lives. The core trio involves Chihaya and the two men in her life with Taichi and Arata. Chihaya gained a real love for karuta as a child with the dream of becoming what’s known as a queen of the game, those women that just dominate in a big way. She ended up becoming friends with Taichi, who struggled with the game, and Arata, a gifted transfer student that had few friends and ended up being the initial inspiration for Chihaya to get into the game. Arata has had the goal longer than the rest but due to family issues that forced him to move away in elementary school he gave up on it. While that provided a separation, Chihaya used it as a way of trying to reconnect with him someday by saying that they’d meet in a tournament somehow. For Taichi, this was the impetus to get better since he has a crush on Chihaya but isn’t great at the game. And with the rough family life he has with a strict mother, it proves to be quite the wedge issue between them that lasts for years.
The show initially kicks off with Chihaya trying to get a karuta club going as a first-year in high school and the challenge she faces then, which has her reconnecting with Taichi and then shifting to the flashback side to explore the relationship dynamic and get Arata into the picture. The high school side is the dominant aspect of the series but I really enjoyed the flashback, something I often find to be too cloying in other series. The main story of Chihaya and Taichi reconnecting is engaging as is seeing Arata coming back into their lives and trying to understand how he could have given up on something so important to him. Arata’s life is one that’s definitely filled with challenges because of how he’s given up on things while still wanting to but having the weight of expectations upon him because of the family. Chihaya’s a good bit of trouble in this regard but it’s something that helps him to rediscover his love of the game and what really makes him feel alive. While Chihaya is largely encouraged, Arata and Taichi both have to deal with the fact that they have little in the way of real support for most of this in pursuit of what makes them happy and it’s a good theme that the show follows.
With Taichi and Chihaya working the new club in their school, where amusing she can’t be club president because the advisor knows her too well, Arata is rediscovering things on his own track and we do eventually get them in the same place. The separate tracks allow the characters to grow and reveal themselves in a very good way because they’re not constantly trying to interact in awkward ways, and it allows us to see how oblivious Chihaya is to how both Taichi and Arata are interested in her for the most part. A lot of the show focuses on the game itself with the intense practices, the really detailed and high tension matches where progress is most definitely not guaranteed – which is a welcome piece, and Chihaya working the growth of the club so that they have enough members. The trio that’s added are fun enough but they get more attention in the second season than this one, though they’re definitely integral to Chihaya’s growth and allowing the show to be more than just her and Taichi.
Chihayafuru is one of those “sports” shows that I love that we get because you can pretty much make an interesting anime about everything with the right people. The original manga has captivated a good sized audience overall over the years and has helped to grow interest in karuta itself. This anime incarnation delivers with some really great characters that are fun to watch as they grow and change across it and are just at the beginning of this with this season. The relationship dynamics are given time to be explored rather than being rushed and the time spent on the game works toward dealing with the inner thoughts, fears, and worries as they struggle to win and remain competitive. Sentai’s release definitely delivers with a lot of content presented wonderfully and in ways that I never expected it to be, notably with the dub. I have a real affection for this show and it’s one where the character journey is just highly worthwhile.
Japanese DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English DTS-HD MA 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing
Content Grade: A-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: A-
Packaging Grade: B
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B-
Released By: Sentai Filmworks
Release Date: September 12th, 2017
Running Time: 625 Minutes
Video Encoding: 1080p AVC
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Widescreen
Sony KDL70R550A 70″ LED 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.