Management: Anime Secret Santa is a project in which bloggers (anonymously) give and are given anime to review. Of the anime I was given, I got around to seeing Garden of Words and the first season of Chihayafuru. I’ve written a review of the former and some scattered thoughts on the latter. Please enjoy.

If I were to sum up Garden of Words in a word, it would be “refuge”.

The garden exists in a secluded park in the middle of a bustling city. The male and female protagonists only meet on rainy days, sheltering themselves in the gazebo from the downpour: he comes to skip class and lose himself in his passion of shoe design; she comes to escape from her workplace and down a few cans of beer.

The film is at its best in evoking this magical feeling of escape, of refuge, of a “shangri-la”. The rain generously drips from the lush vegetation, accompanied by the sounds of water pattering and gurgling in the background. The air oozes sensuality as she allows him to measure her feet, the camera zooming in on the foot in exquisite detail. She recites two classic Japanese poems, and while I don’t quite understand the critical interpretation of it, it appears in this context to be yearning  for company in this refuge.

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This shot nicely captures the rain, the greenery, and the secluded refuge

Outside of this refuge, however, the story stumbles a bit. Yukari’s workplace troubles seem believable, and although Takao’s actions seem dramatic, I’ll give it a pass for the vigour of youth. The romance angle, however, fell flat on its face. Notwithstanding the age and power dynamics between the two, the film’s emphasis up to that point had been the magical feeling of two kindred spirits escaping from their lives, rather than any romance developing between the two leads (however, the poems that Yukari recites can be interpreted as a dialogue between lovers, which…oh god*). To me, Takao’s declaration was completely unnecessary.

Thankfully, all this blows over, and this chance meeting becomes but a passing dream. All in all, Garden of Words works best as a mood piece, evoking the beauty of a refuge from the world. If you’re in the mood for such a story, give it a shot.


Bonus: some thoughts about the first season of Chihayafuru because I don’t have enough for a full review.

  1. I LOVE THESE DORKS
  2. Kana’s characterization relies a lot on the running gag of her being a traditional-Japanese-culture otaku. Nishida is fairly generic with no memorable qualities besides somehow always having pork buns on hand, but he’s at a higher (and frankly not exciting) stage of emotional maturity. Tsutomu is delightful in his dedication. But together they are adorable dorks and I love them.
  3. I like how Chihaya is essentially a female version of your competition-focused, low-emotional-intelligence shounen protagonist.
  4. Consequently, most of the emotional work is done by Taichi and the other club members. Oh Taichi please be kind to yourself.
  5. The story is a weird mix of shoujo and sports anime, with its training arcs, hot-headed protagonist, in-depth discussion of strategy, and general sense of “I need to get better!”
  6. Shinobu is also an adorable dork.
  7. things make people happy.jpg
    THINGS MAKE PEOPLE HAPPY
  8. Before watching the series, I had actually seen the two films released so far. I think both the series and the films did a good job telling their stories in their respective mediums. The film certainly rearranged the order of some events, but it succeeded in selling its conflicts.
  9. One thing the films did that I wish the series had done is to disperse the flashbacks with Arata throughout the series to better create a sense of nostalgia. This reinforces the current bonds of Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata, and also allows us to get the story moving faster by getting to the recruitment of the other club members earlier.

Notes:

*This Japanese site here has an interpretation of the two poems that paint it as a conversation between two lovers. The key is apparently the usage of 君 and 妹 as forms of address between lovers, as suggested by this other site. Native Japanese speakers please confirm.

The Afictionado blog has a review of the Garden of Words, with a more detailed critique of the romance angle.

You can read more about the Secret Santa Project on the Reverse Thieves blog here. [EDIT: here are the 2017 results!].

You can read about the 12 Days of Anime project on my intro post here.

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