Chihaya Ayase is a frank and ebullient girl who becomes fascinated by the obscure world of competitive karuta, a card game based on Japanese poetry. Introduced to the aggressive style of the game by a quiet and thoughtful elementary school classmate named Arata Wataya, the two quickly become close friends. They start playing as a group with Taichi Mashima, Chihaya’s smart and athletic childhood friend, until they have to part ways during their middle school years due to several circumstances. As their high school life begins, they meet once again.
Just before today, Bamboo Blade was my favorite sports anime because I like the atmosphere of the series and that the characters were all so cute and loveable. It introduced me to Kendo and made me like the sports for all the “Men!” and “Kote!” and other shouts. When Chihayafuru came into the picture last Fall, I knew instinctively at the first episode that I’m gonna love this series even more. Guess what. I was right. Today, my dear readers, Chihayafuru is my favorite sports anime.
Warning! Spoilers ahead.
I personally think that Chihayafuru has one of the greatest characters – main cast and side characters – in sports anime. Chihaya, the main protagonist of Chihayafuru, is one fiery and single-minded teenage girl. When she wants something, she puts forth all her efforts to achieve it. I admire her full concentration (when she’s in one of those moods). Nothing can shake her when she’s in that state. It’s interesting to watch her with all the energy that is oozing out of her and it kind of affect people in a good way. It made you want to be like her – so focused and so dedicated. However to some, her attitude can be extremely annoying as in being too pushy, too hyper. She might be the “queen” at her own turf but experiences made Chihaya learned how to pick up skills from others and apply them to her own karuta style as she progressed. Even though the ability to learn from others is a simple skill, it’s sad to say however that it’s not something all of us has.
When the series just started, Taichi attracted a lot of negative attention from viewers. As a kid, Taichi is a sore loser but he has changed a lot since becoming the president of his school’s karuta club. He has matured and developed burning desire for the sport. In my opinion, Taichi is a natural leader. He advised, calmed and encouraged his team members in their moments of needs. It’s something Chihaya couldn’t achieve. He’s at a different level in terms of leadership. Taichi’s always in a difficult position whenever it comes to Arata but at the end, he has proven that he treasure his friendships more than anything else.
The entire team itself helped shape the sports series. The interactions between the characters – learning from each other, work together towards one goal and encourage each other in their quests of self-improvement. They are each other’s strongest support system. It’s always lovely to see such high team spirit within a club that has so few people and unpopular in school. I even think the Empress (Miyauchi-sensei) played a positive role in the team’s progress. Sure, she seems distant and uninterested at first but after witnessing how bad her students want to win or rather the burning spirit within her students, she learned to like karuta and defended the club at all cost.
Great characters aside, what made Chihayafuru stood out for me is how the direction of the story was handled. It’s very rare for me to watch a story of a person from young to present. Chihayafuru managed to do that and did well. The story progression in a linear manner was something I really appreciate. It explained from the very beginning how Chihaya’s unusual passion for karuta begun and what’s it like for Taichi and Arata to be part of it. Usually, sports anime (at least the ones I saw) tend to have a flashback episode somewhere in the middle of the series to tell the origin of the main character in the point of a sports. When explained at the early stage, it’s easier to understand how certain characters behave and made the choices they did. It then all becomes really smooth and natural. Having a selection wonderful music to compliment the various scenes is a plus too. It did a great job bringing out the flavor of each scene. I’m listening to the soundtrack as I’m writing this post, gotta say it’s Hans-Zimmer-The-Holidays-OST-ish . My cup of tea.
Also as a bonus, Chihayafuru has never failed to provide some good laughs, even with all the tension and anxiety of competitions that went on. Credits all due to Chihaya and the Empress. Seriously you guys, I like the Empress. She may seem like a tigress and Ms. I’m-in-charge when she’s a sensei but she can be really nice and funny underneath it all. I’m quite surprised that she wasn’t mad when the karuta club didn’t excel in their first nationals. I was expecting her to grumble how she had wasted her time accompanying this “useless” club when her tennis club was also in some major competition.
Anyway, if anyone of you want some high energy series with some good laughs, I recommend Chihayafuru to you. But if you think you’re easily bored or annoyed by the chanting of the poems, then maybe you should reconsider because there are tons of it. Also, bear in mind that the manga is still on-going so things may not go as you like. I assure you though, the mysterious world of karuta itself will instantly draw you in before you know it.