Category Archives: Chihayafuru

Chihayafuru: Anime for Most of Us

We anime watching folks are sad creatures, you know that? I think the more I think about and more I see what happens the less I want to listen to anyone who raises a stink about creativity or how noitanimA is going down the drain or whatever. It’s really just the opposite.

I think there are some serious and valid concerns in terms of industry specific issues and challenges, but a lot of the times these issues aren’t spun in a way in which we look at what the problem is. It’s like looking at pictures of men and women in swimsuits and being unsatisfied with the type of swimsuits you can see, rather than being unsatisfied with the actual models posing them. Putting the carriage in front of the horse, I guess.

The truth is, Chihayafuru is a beautifully and poetically rendition of a long-running manga. The subject matter and characters are really beside the motif and execution of it, elevating something rather esoteric (national, competitive karuta) into the realm of “just yet another sports manga adaptation.” I think there are a lot of great manga adaptation of this type over the years, and it’s great to see something in doses of 26 episodes joining the rank of such (hopefully).

But my bones with Chihayafuru is that it brought very little of new; it’s just an excellent execution of the old for the most part. Chihaya’s voice actor is a neophyte, and she definitely demonstrated promise in her performance and in the ending song she performed. She’s also head and shoulder taller than Kayano Ai which is amusing when you see them line up for the cast photo op, but anyway–there’s not much beyond that. I think there are some very creative use of animation CG pattern overlay in the show (especially in the OP), and the soundtrack is adorable and quite enjoyable if yo’re into that sort of thing.

Maybe this is just another way to say I’m jaded about anime, but I want more out of my anime than just what Chihayafuru provides. It doesn’t take away that Chihayafuru does provide some of what I look for in all anime, but in the end there is nothing groundbreaking or really something to get excited about from the perspective of a fan of the medium, or specifically, late night TV anime. I guess this is a classic case of getting not what I wanted but just what I needed.

That is why I actually find what this crazy social-networking cultural critic had to say striking a chord with me. I have no opinion on Sayo Yamamoto’s new work besides that it is full of naked breasts and it is promising. I’ll probably enjoy it. Because I’m the miserable anime watching type. Because as much as I might like Dezaki’s work they only give me what I need.

[Y’know, what I need is to write a post about Another.]

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Year in Review: N-Listing

So, the tradition continues. 12 lists of 12 things. Some are ranked, others are not. One this year is not ranked but merely numerated.

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Chihayafuru’s Edutainment Value

Episode 6 is, in many ways, the episode I was looking for. It combined something that I understood (the protagonist and her buddy) with things I am more interested in (the new girl and how her personality clashes, the explanation of the poems, the context of karuta beyond just being a game). In fact, this episode is very compelling to me in the same way how Kanade’s explanations of the “Chihaya furu” poem was an eye-opener for Chihaya. I mean, now I get the ending visuals LOL.

Oh the joys of viewing things without context.

The coolest meta perspective is how the whole Chihayafuru-is-Japanese-heritage angle. By explaining those famous poems and their origins you get this whole-package history lesson. It transforms, in a very earnest sense, entertainment into education.

But that again is without the context of already knowing the stuff. I mean you must get into the problem where you have this artful story about high art and the only people who are interested in are history fujoshi and acafan-types. In the end everyone who watches your show already knows what you’re getting at. Does this complete the mission? I don’t know.

I mean if I learned something, maybe I can answer “yes” instead of “I don’t know.” But ultimately it’s got the impact of a gaijin hearing about some tidbit about Japanese history–about as much impact as it would on a 14 year-old Japanese kid dozing off in lit class because he just took the entrance exam 6 months ago, and doesn’t have to cram anything until the year after, and this history stuff is as useful as karuta to a non-Japanese. As in, karuta is pretty much useless if you’re not Japanese. I mean I don’t even think it’s useful for actual Japanese people.

Anyway, Chihayafuru is a solid show. I didn’t really like the back story bit; partly because it’s a bit contrived, and partly because Chihaya is too one dimensional for someone getting most of the spotlight. The solid production carried me through, and partly with the promise of this muda-bijin returning to her post-puberty prettiness. I’m only hoping the “crew gathering” part of this will be more interesting, since the focus shifts away from selling me something (ie., developing the protagonist, trying to convince us that karuta is not a joke) to stuff actually happening.


On Guilt, On Glorifying Needs in Popular Media

And by Popular Media I mean super niche late-night TV anime. Right.

But I do feel kind of guilty of doing:

  • Eating a bento while watching Ben-to.
  • Walking in circles while talking…and in general.
  • During an engaging discussion, suddenly think of OTPs (and the discussion has nothing to do with that topic).
  • Thinking the anime I watch is better than the anime you watch but I don’t watch.
  • Being confused about Horizon.
  • Thinking Haganai is actually funny.
    • Trying to get people to stop using “bokutomo” as a shorthand. This honestly made me feel kind of bad about myself, but please don’t.
  • Thinking Chihayafuru is more titillating than any anime this season. Maybe tied with Guilty Crown, maybe.
    • For that matter, thinking about the poor passengers on the train having to deal with two loud teenagers. Even during those touching-sobbing scenes.
  • Looking at a fanservice-y character’s boobs as the protagonist do the same, at the same time.
  • Being confused about the characterization of Fam.
    • Confusing Fam with Inga.
  • Seeing shows like Persona and Last Exile getting their dues, but not feeling really warmed up to them.
  • Making fun of Fractale.

Unfortunately, the list probably doesn’t stop there. What is actually unfortunate about that is I don’t even get a silly crown to go with!

Do I get it now? Was that bad enough?

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I was going to talk about the nature of Ben-to and the underlying notion of glorifying those half-priced leftover dinner boxes that can be found in some Japanese supermarkets and convenient stores. But it isn’t something words can fully describe. Rather, I think during the coming-of-age of all healthy middle-class individuals, at some point you will experience something similar in person. And that is the tie that binds us to Ben-to as an intense, personal experience.

I mentioned it before, but Ben-to is an intense anime. It plays the jokes off intensely, and it is very much reminiscent of Air Master, which too had intense animation with intense jokes that don’t always make sense. (Only if Kanetomo-sensei will make an appearance!)

I think ultimately that intensity is magnified when the story can establish some kind of visceral connection with the viewer. For example, Initial D was able to do this with aplomb and those who can connect to its autocross and high school romance roots often find the experience rewarding and well-justified the silly animation production (at least in season 1). Ben-to does more or less the same, although it plays the competitive fighting aspect in a way that is probably most similarly described as some kind of pro wrestling thing. But unlike live acting, you can easily suspend your beliefs in an anime!

Perhaps also unlike pro wrestling, I think Ben-to carries a fundamentally sound and healthy message. Because it is with sincere gratitude that I thank and bless the hands that made my meals every morning and every evening (except mine I guess). This is the origin of giving thanks, regardless if you are Shinto or Catholic. I mean, yeah, food, water and oxygen, right? And I can talk about this because it is the central “joke” to Ben-to. It is almost like a self-suggestive way to hypnotize the way you taste food. And if that means my meals are more delicious and those who feed me are more blessed, why not?

So, to go back to the title of the post: I think there is something to be said when we create fun and enjoyable popular entertainment that help glorify the way we meet our needs. It’s like learning to cherish your janitor or dishwasher or some other forgotten, lower-class cog in the machine of modern, first-world society. They are a much harder sell than starving African children. They are burdened with political baggage. But they are no different than anyone, if we subscribe to the notion that all man are created equal. It’s easy to fish out all these semi-social/political messages from a show like Ben-to, and I believe that is where a particular sort dialog occurs under the current of popular culture. And sometimes it’s interesting to look into that.