The Country of Chihaya

 

The small valleys of the Country of Chihaya lie between the two imperial giants, the Country of Boys and the Country of Girls, posessing culturally the traits of both of its titannic neighbors, yet unique in its own traditions. Fields of rice are plentiful by mid-summer, and the plains are as golden as the sun in Autumn. Gentle are its winters. But perhaps its one unrivaled beauty lies in the plum blossoms of Springcoming, when its inhabitants celebrate the arrival of warm weather with song and dance.

                                                                                    -Records of the NHRV Historian

In her book “Anime from Akira to Princess Mononoke,” Susan Napier quotes Japanese writer and literary critic Saito Minako’s 1998 anime and tokusatsu book Kouitenron. Saito noted that in anime, there was a significant split between the types and forms of narrative, symbolism, and art consumed by males and females. Though Saito’s book was published a decade and a half ago, there remains some truth to that statement. At the same time, however, there are series that have the ability to pull in fans of both genders; Chihayafuru is one of them.

Published in josei manga magazine Be Love, which targets a slightly older female audience, Chihayafuru’s anime version is a fascinating example of how a series can transcend the established methods of representation found in anime, particularly in the area of sports drama and romance. There are a surprising number of anime marketed towards a specific gender that in the end gain a large number of fans in the other gender: Sailor Moon was a powerful example of how powerful creepy the adult male imagination could be, and the more recent K-On! has been noted for its substational number of female followers.

I want to argue that Chihayafuru is different from both of these examples. In the case of K-On!, the idea that girls even like to see cute girls doing cute things shouldn’t be terribly surprising—think about the cultural obsession Japan has with cuteness in general—since the comedy element is one of its main strengths. Sailor Moon is closer to Chihayafuru in the sense that they can both be classified as drama and romance. The important contrast, however, lies in the idea that the former possesses fantasy elements and was also marketed toward a younger audience with its magical girl elements, as opposed to the more down to earth sports focus of the latter.

This post will delve into the aspects of the Chihayafuru anime that arguably make it the refreshing and well-liked anime that people have considered it to be, taking a look at the way in which each element is influenced by certain conventions in anime, and how these aspects ultimately come together.

Motion

Perhaps the most noticeable element of Chihayafuru is its unabashed use of CG for scenes with cherry blossoms and the card matches themselves; motion infuses the entire show with a strong sense of energy that mirrors the characters’ passions for karuta. The use of CG to isolate the motion of cards flying is especially important in creating tension, particularly if the background image is still and the viewer’s eyes are focused on the flying card.

It’s interesting that CG animation was used for the card matches, much in the way that such techniques have been used in frequent male fare stretching across multiple genres, including mecha (various recent Gundam), space opera (Starship Operators), and harem romance (Infinite Stratos). As far as I’ve seen, CG use in series targeted toward women generally doesn’t have this trend toward an emphasis on kinetic motion. One reason why this may be the case could be due to the common stereotype of males as more spatially and physically-oriented cognitively relative to females.

Characterization

Despite the fact that Chihaya has her heads in the clouds, viewers can be thankful that it’s not due to some drug addiction to love. Her dedication to karuta, though inevitably tied to her adoration for Arata’s skill and passion from the days of their youth, is genuine enough to propel the story, but doesn’t make the story ride on it completely. Furthermore, Chihaya’s status as mudabijin (wasted beauty) is far easier to swallow than your typical shoujo lead, who may be a misunderstood angel in disguise that is frequently preyed upon by amoral agents in a corrupt society.

In this respect Chihayafuru mirrors the successes of its sister series, ranging from hit manga and anime titles such as Honey and Clover, Nodame Cantabile, and Kuragehime to other lesser known ones. Confessions and feelings are never obviously foreshadowed in such titles—though in the case of Chihayafuru the character developments are somewhat predictable—due to the realistic portrayal that it’s hard to tease apart romantic feelings with other emotions present at the same time. Taichi’s growing love for Chihaya and the game itself makes watching his actions entertaining, not just one or the other.

Aesthetic

When it comes to a romance series, there’s bound to be some panels or scenes with pastel colors and frivolous bubbles. The choice of effects is absolutely crucial to generating the well-established aesthetics of boys and girls manga. Chihayafuru doesn’t shy away from frequent use of flower patterns and soft colors to add bubbly warmth to some of its scenes: the moments where we see a framed composition of a character’s dignified face against a rosy background, we instantly recognize such techniques as frequently used by products marketed towards girls. What’s nice, however, about this series is that it changes it up in terms of the types of flowers, varieties of colors, and framing.

When fellow NHRV reviewer Reckoner claimed that Chihayafuru was too melodramatic at times, I couldn’t help but think if whether or not that’s the right critique for a josei show. What seems to make Chihayafuru a curious case is essentially the blend of motion and aesthetic elements I’ve listed above, with characterization slightly more complex than both your average shounen or shoujo fare. Contrasting the vigorousness of the kinetic energy in the series with the orchestral score and flowery imagery is quite the refreshing experience, one that, though perhaps difficult to pin down, transcends the typical conventions of sports drama and romance, therefore generating the perception of being melodramatic.

To conclude, I’d like to return to Saito Minako’s comment on the strong gender demarcation found in anime by saying that I think there’s josei manga and anime is becoming a genre that has the ability to transcend conventions, particularly in relation to the treatment of romance. We’ve seen recent successes in the previous decade stemming from content marketed towards adult women, and I don’t think this will be the last of it.

The Country of Chihaya may be smaller than its neighbors for now, but as new generations of manga and anime consumers grow older, there’s a chance its land—and the land of other countries like it—to expand.

Notes

Follow me on Twitter @KylaranAeldin

5 Responses to “The Country of Chihaya”

  1. I think that generally josei and seinen get the attention of both genders. I believe we usually forget how josei and seinen are simply tags that associate first of all with the magazine world and by that I mean that these terms describe where the content is published and doesn’t restrict the audience or the themes at that. Otome Youkai Zakuro, for example, was published in a seinen magazine. Can you really guess that such a pink tinted anime has such a tag?

  2. Kind of don’t agree with many points raised in this post (Chihayafuru can be better stated as a manga aimed for girls using a proven formula–the shounen sports manga formula) but I like the analysis on aesthetics.

    I think instead of talking about Sailor Moon or K-ON, you’d be better off talking about Desu Note or One Piece or Adachi’s sports manga.

    I think the whole motion stuff is kind of interesting but more a red herring. One Piece applies a lot of CG and girls dig that show way more than most shoujo/josei stuff…

    Or for that matter, there’s a lot of CG just as of matter of everyday life in today’s animation, from mahjong to Nodame’s orchestras to even walking to school in BRS.

  3. The reason I lamented about Chihayafuru being a tad too melodramatic at times was just simply about pure entertainment value.

    There was one scene I remember when Chihaya got to see Arata play karuta after so long and we got imagery of water in his style of playing (Part of the aesthetics you eloquently described here) and Chihaya was so taken aback about finally getting to see her long separated friend, who originally inspired her, playing again that she broke out into tears.

    Sure, the emotions here are complex, and you could say this is part of what makes Josei stand above shoujo with their more straight forward themes and emotions, but for me this was also a bit heavy handed in execution. I’m not knocking the point that they were trying to get through here, and it’s certainly this type of “elevated” complexity that makes Chihayafuru an even better title, but what I am railing against a little bit is how it used a sledge hammer instead of a hammer to get the point through.

    I don’t need to see Chihaya get THAT emotional over things like that constantly (She even cried watching the Queen match!). There are ways to show that Chihaya is emotionally affected without having her tear up at everything. It just reflects weakly on her character when it comes to just asking the simple question “do I like watching this?”

    I don’t know if that makes sense, but basically, while the intentions were good I saw the execution as heavy handed at times ,and it could’ve used a bit more subtleness and restraint. There are ways to display emotions other than just crying and smiling, and it’s not pleasurable personally for me to see someone always crying on the screen. That’s one of the main reasons that drove shows like Ano Hana down for me personally.

  4. @Foxy Lady Ayame

    Sure, the audience itself isn’t restricted, but I think the problem today is that from the standpoint of the general populace, genre serves as a guideline by which they can expect certain genre conventions. Even among sports-themed manga for girls, the execution is slightly different than manga for guys.

    @Omo

    I think you’ve misunderstood my points, because every single anime you’ve just listed (Death Note, Adachi sports manga, etc.) are targeted towards males. My goal in this post is exactly what you said it was: a manga geared toward girls that also takes an even stronger element of action and motion from CG that is frequently seen in shounen fare such as One Piece, while retaining its shoujo/josei elements.

    If that didn’t come across, then I failed in arguing my points clearly.

    @Reckoner

    Maybe. I’d agree with you if it wasn’t for the fact that I actually know people who tear up kinda frequently over very little things. We probably are taking the meaning of tears differently here, because I tend to view tiers to be more of a visual representation of the emotions rather than an attempt to convey serious emotion. Scenes where the crying truly matters, like the one with Arata that you recalled, are the ones that we should really consider to be the “emotional” scenes.

    Then again, I read a lot of shoujo manga on my spare time.

  5. […] Face It. Expressions and Emotions in Chihayafuru from Snippettee (Lemmas and Submodalities) The Country of Chihaya from Kylaran (Behind the Nihon Review) Chihayafuru — 25 [END] from Metanorn Team […]

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