Director: Kou Matsuo
Writer: Ichiro Okouchi
Animation Studio: Sunrise
Version Watched: Subbed
When a friend of mine caught wind of the fact that I was calling Chihayafuru my first “sports anime” I had ever watched she seemed rather upset. It’s true, though, I haven’t touched any of the classics like Kuroko no Basuke or Hajime no Ippo and Chihayafuru doesn’t really fall into any other genre. It’s all about teamwork, friendship and honest competition, taking what might seem like a boring pastime and making it truly exciting. I can’t tell you whether Chihayafuru breaks any new ground, but it was incredibly popular when it first aired and it’s easy to see why.
Ayase Chihaya first encountered Karuta when she met Wataya Arata as a child. The game which combines memorization, reflex and knowledge of a select set of iconic Japanese poems was introduced to her by Arata when she stood by him against the bullying he suffered from the rest of their class. Together with Chihaya’s other friend Mashima Taichi, the three learned Karuta as a team and formed memories they could never forget. Now, as Chihaya enters high school, she finds herself the sole proponent for beginning a competitive Karuta club, with Arata having moved far away and Taichi having lost interest in the game. Chihaya’s will does not waver, however, as she aims to master the art of Karuta to become Japan’s, and the world’s, next Queen.
One of the reasons I’ve been a little hesitant to pick up sport-focused anime is that I’m simply not into sports (playing is fine, watching doesn’t interest me). So how could a show about whacking away cards containing snippets of poetry I can’t even understand possibly keep me entertained? While I’m still not entirely sure how it managed, Chihayafuru did just that. The usual anime themes of friendship are transformed into ones of true teamwork and learning to work together in pursuit of a goal that only really asks for individual achievement. It’s not the game that interests so much as it is the passion of those playing it, their successes and triumphs and the thought patterns rushing through their heads as they compete. That said, Chihayafuru does a great job of showcasing Karuta as a sport and explaining its mechanics without ever getting bogged down in exposition. By the end of the series I was able to watch actual matches and follow them without any trouble at all (though I can’t say I actually finished one…those things are long). I was never bored during the matches and given the subject material I think that’s very impressive.
In following the actions of the competitors the show does ask you to stretch your imagination a little but never becomes too far-fetched and never picks up plot developments at random. Realism comes into the picture when it comes to the characters, as their internal and external struggles are easy to relate to while also making for entertaining watching. Individuals are consistent within their own unique personalities and it’s easy to root for each and every one of them while following the team as a whole. All in all, Chihayafuru has some deeply satisfying moments while remaining both believable and exciting. That said, however, I need to mention some slightly less positive aspects. Yes, this is another case where character relationships never really move from the start line despite appearing in the spotlight reasonably regularly (though there’s probably material for a third season where this could be developed). No, I can’t say I often really looked forward to getting back to the show despite enjoying myself while watching. And yes, that’s really all I have to complain about.
Art-wise Chihayafuru utilises a style that suits it to a T. Leaning towards shoujo-styled visuals gives it the ability to showcase some breath-taking scenery and character close-ups that go a long way toward forming the competitive atmosphere shows like this need. It’s easy to become wrapped up in events and the art is a major reason for that. Karuta allows for some interesting vocal work that anime fans may not have been exposed to previously, which for some may be a big plus as well. The openings and endings were also very fitting and the majority of them have made their way to my playlist.
Summary – While some may argue the “sports” label for Chihayafuru, I would assert that the series earns it repeatedly. The game of Karuta is made interesting and the team atmosphere the show cultivates is impressive. Characters are realistic and easy to identify with as well as diverse, and their efforts to work together are that much more poignant for that reason. Every single component of this anime comes together to form a cohesive whole, with the technical aspects backing up both the writing and concept wonderfully. While individual episodes can be exciting, however, I was never quite lusting after more in between viewing sessions and there are several plot threads (particularly regarding inter-character relationships) that are revealed but never pursued. Regardless of any minor complaints I might have had, though, Chihayafuru makes for a very enjoyable experience and The Geek Clinic happily recommends it.
Score: 8.5/10 – Good
P.S: The second season is definitely better than the first, so if you’re on the fence about continuing then just go for it!