Anime Review: Chihayafuru


Reposted from Facebook 27 June 2012.

It comes to no surprise to anyone that I really like this series. Chihayafuru is an ongoing manga series written by Yuki Suetsugu, and has gotten quite popular among shoujo manga readers. An animation was then created by Madhouse Studios (yes, they’re going to be there for Anime Expo) for the Fall 2011 and Winter 2012 lineup. While I haven’t quite caught up with the manga, due to some obvious language barriers, I watched the entire series eagerly from beginning to end, and believe me, I will be tracking the second season when it comes out!

Chihayafuru follows the story of Chihaya Ayase; and more specifically, her obsession with Karuta or Hyakunin Isshu (literally The Hundred Songs): a card game of memory, speed, and stamina (for competitive Karuta). This game consists of, you guessed it, 100 songs written in tanka form (5-7-5-7-7 syllabic structure) which are read aloud. Players must find the card in a sea of as many as 50 cards which has the last three lines of that song written on it. Hyakunin Isshu has been around for centuries in Japan, so it is taught in elementary and middle schools for kids to learn the Japanese alphabet and literature. For competitive players, each song can be recognized by the sixth, third, or even first syllable! Well anyway, that’s the basics of the game, and I don’t want to take up this entire review explaining a game that even most Japanese people don’t bother to play due to its difficulty.

Our heroine is introduced to karuta in the sixth grade, when she meets Arata Wataya (which one of these days I will cosplay because his character is simple, but awesome). Arata’s grandfather was a meijin of Hyakunin Isshu, a well-respected master in this sport (yes, I said “sport”); but since being a master of an esoteric game is not very profitable, the Wataya family was relatively poor. Arata plays a game of Karuta with Chihaya and after a quick match, a lasting bond of friendship began. Soon after, Chihaya’s childhood friend Taichi who is considerably good at everything (and comparably rich as well) develops a brotherly rivalry with Arata. Thus, this triple friendship grew through the karuta game. However, Arata moves back to his hometown in Fukui due to family circumstances, leaving Chihaya and Taichi behind in Tokyo. Three years pass, and Chihaya is determined to reach the top in competitive Karuta, in hopes to someday play against Arata again.

Well, that’s the general back story, anyway. I like the series overall, so reviewing it in my fanboy perspective won’t really do it a lot of justice. I will say that I definitely like how this series combines the storyline beautifully with the songs of Hyakunin Isshu in a present-day setting. One example would be when Chihaya finally gets in touch with Arata just after the annual Meijin and Queen tournament qualifiers. At this point in the series, we discover that Arata’s grandfather had passed away; and Arata himself has barely started playing Karuta again. Chihaya knows that Arata’s fragile spirit might never get past the grief; and yet in this moment, she was relieved to know that Arata was still determined to do his best in Karuta because he, too, wanted to see Chihaya again. Now, if I haven’t lost you in this storytelling yet, Chihaya then remembers this poem (translated loosely in English from Crunchyroll):

When the misty bridge of the

magpie feathers comes into sight,

the night is nearly past.

This poem among the Hyakunin Isshu, for those who don’t know, refers to the story of Orihime and Hikoboshi, which is celebrated during the Tanabata festival (which is coming up starting July 7!). For those who get the reference, Chihaya (Orihime) awaits the day she is reunited with Arata (Hikoboshi); and even if it is just for a moment in time, it is the most loving moment she will definitely never forget.

You don’t have to be a karuta player, a girl, or a Japanese culture enthusiast to appreciate this series. It has a great storyline, wonderful art, and very heart-warming themes. I definitely hope the series continues to do well.


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