Season aired: Fall 2019
Number of episodes: 24
Genres: Slice-of-life, Drama, Romance, Sports
Thoughts: I was still in high school when the second season of Chihayafuru came out. At the time, I was incredibly stressed with exams and school and from thinking about my college future. Chihayafuru’s characters and story spoke to me about students who desired to pursue their passion past the logistics of life, and I fell deeply in love with the cast. Now, years later and after I’ve already finished college, the third season has returned, and my view on the characters and their relationships has shifted quite drastically.
Chihayafuru focuses on three childhood friends: Chihaya, Arata, and Taichi. After befriending each other at a young age through competitive karuta, a card game where you scramble to claim poetry cards based on the first lines read by a reader, the three separated for some years in their lives. They reunite in high school with changed relations through the bonds of karuta.
It’s really strange how much your life’s experiences can change your opinions and perceptions of people and the world as a whole. I remembered watching Chihayafuru with so much admiration and longing for Chihaya’s intensive behavior towards karuta, especially her fearlessness in pursuing her dreams without looking anywhere else. But this time, when I watched this season, I felt frustration towards her insensitiveness to the people around her — her actions and words tend to hurt people close to her, and she seems so completely oblivious to it because her entire mind is dedicated to karuta and nothing else.
Instead, I found myself rooting for Inokuma, a new character who took a hiatus from karuta to start her own family and raise two children. Her desire to prove that her passion hasn’t disappeared just because she has parental responsibility and her sense of a greater duty towards people. That resonated with me a lot, as did Harada-sensei’s continued quest to become the king of karuta, a man past his prime years.
That is undoubtedly one of the third season’s strong points. Despite the fact that the anime is named after its protagonist, the series still makes a point to provide a spotlight on the motivations and reasonings behind every character, even “old” characters who are often nothing more than sidelined mentors meant to usher in a new generation and age into the story. It’s a powerful message, especially to millennials, who are now all adults and struggle a lot with feelings of powerlessness and worthlessness in a technological world that tells only great success stories involving prodigal or lucky people. You are not old at any age because as long as a future is still there, you can still pursue your dream and reach it.
However, I do feel unsatisfied with Chihaya’s development this season. Her karuta playing style evolves greatly, and she becomes a far more powerful player than in any of her two prior seasons, but that’s not the kind of development I seek. I search for growth in personality and mentality, and that is clearly lacking. Despite the fact that she seems to have chosen a career route, albeit one still related to karuta, she continues to remain immature and oblivious to the world around her. This results in actions that hurt Taichi beyond belief, and it took till the final episode for her to even realize just how bad of a friend she’s been to him, even though she does care for him. In summary, her skills continued to improve but her own core didn’t, and it left more of a bitter taste in my mouth to see that happen.
Taichi, on the other hand, gets an incredible and heartbreaking spotlight that I will delve into in a separate article. His arc in this season takes him beyond the love triangle that the series started out as, and at this point, I don’t believe Chihaya should actually be with any of the boys; she’s just not mature enough to handle it.
I sense that Arata will get his own arc eventually, but his appearances here simply serve to instigate the romantic rivalry between Taichi and himself. That is fine as Arata is physically distanced from the other two, so it makes sense that he can’t play an active role in the storytelling yet.
In the end, I found that the supporting characters grabbed my attention more than Chihaya herself, and I can’t quite decide if it was the right thing for the series to do or not. But while I grapple with that conflict, I can easily praise the production values of the series itself. The art is still stylistically beautiful, the soundtrack is to die for, and the voice acting is incredibly well done. I have an even greater appreciation for Hosoya’s accent in voicing Arata, as it adds so much personality to a character that hasn’t received screen time yet.
This third season feels like more of a set up to Taichi’s character development to come, and the arc only just begins at the end of its 20-episode duration. If a fourth season ever comes out, and I really hope it does, I think this third season will be better enjoyed as a complementary watch than a standalone experience. Otherwise, audience members might feel as if they have simply watched a long prologue to a full season to come.
Voice acting: 8.5
FINAL SCORE: 79