This is going to be a PRETTY SHORT review. Why? I’ve already explained why I loved the first series, and this is basically more of the same. If you think this is a bad thing, you don’t fully grasp the implications in “more Chihayafuru”.
Long story short: yessssssssssssssss it is so good. We’ve got wonderful, memorable and truly engaging characters and exciting, tense card games about old poetry. EXCEPT MORE: TWO new core characters, and more card games in the form of the entire series basically being one long tournament arc. And it’s not just the gang playing the game that makes it so great – it’s seeing all the effort they put in bearing fruit, seeing them make mistakes and learn from it in a real, tangible way. The sense of progression in their karuta play is phenomenal, not only from the previous season but from match-to-match. It’s an exciting and intense experience, and the change in perspective the two new characters bring (in particular with Sumire, being completely new to the game as she is) gives us as the audience a chance to see just how powerful and passionate Chihaya, Taichi and everyone else really are. The matches are on top form from the very start, and only get better and better as the series progresses.
That said, there are issues with Chihayafuru 2. Or rather, one major area in which it lacks. It’s not all that noticeable when you’re wrapped up in the round-to-round flurry of the tournaments, but once you lose engagement and investment with the outcome (say, by being spoiled for the finale), the missing element is absolutely glaring:
There’s basically no character or relationship development outside of karuta, and outside of their skills as players.
One of the absolute best parts of the first season was the amazing characterisation and development of the cast, and their relationships and feelings towards each other. I was choking up a little at the end of the childhood arc, and that was barely a handful of episodes in! The people of Chihayafuru were always the core of my enjoyment; the card games were merely the icing on the cake. It’s a shame that this side was neglected in favour of focusing so much on them as sportspeople, because while doing so certainly wasn’t bad and unenjoyable, it just wasn’t as satisfying. It’s telling that I remember the last two episodes – after all the tournaments, when it did focus on the characters as people – far more fondly than the episodes preceding it.
It’s a relatively minor gripe in the grand scheme of things, but given that my enjoyment of the meat of this sequel season was impacted by spoilers, it does become more prominent. But regardless, this is fantastic and worthy sequel to an absolutely incredible series. If you haven’t watched Chihayafuru 2 yet, go watch it. If you haven’t watched Chihayafuru, watch it, and then immediately watch Chihayafuru 2. Neither of those are suggestions. You’d be doing yourself a disservice if you didn’t, frankly.