Aired: Fall 2011, Winter 2013
Genres: Sports, Game, Drama, Slice of Life, School, Romance
Date watched: Dec 18 2018 – Dec 20 2018
Series watched: Chihayafuru (25 ep x 22 mins), Chihayafuru 2 (26 ep x 22 mins)
Why I started watching: I really wanted to try a games/sports anime, and this one looked interesting. I also noticed that Season 3 was coming early in 2019, which was a major decision in trying this one out now. Furthermore, Nodame Cantabile was tagged as Josei, and I was wondering if I disliked it so much because I just didn’t get that genre. Chihayafuru was in that category too, and I wanted to give another Josei show a shot right away to find out. Lastly, I was weighing watching this versus Sangatsu no Lion, and though I eventually watched that too, this won out at the time because after Nodame, I wanted a strong female character lead and this seemed to fit the bill.
While I am very organized and enjoy making lists, I have always found it difficult to decide on a list of “favourite anime”, because the criteria can be so subjective. Still, I’ve thought about it a lot. As of writing this blog entry, I’ve watched about 40 shows, and 5 of them have held my coveted #1 spot for any period of time. The first show I watched, by default, Demi-chan wa Kataritai. The third show, Non Non Biyori, which is still a top 3 show. K-On! at #7, briefly, before the euphoric bliss wore off. This #21 show, Chihayafuru. And #27, Konohana Kitan. It’s pretty obvious from that list that I slant toward Slice of Life and School shows, however of the five, Chihayafuru is probably the one furthest out from that orbit, because large swathes of the anime have nothing to do with either genre, once they get into the awesome tournament arcs.
The story follows a feisty high school girl, Chihaya, as she gathers people for a karuta club in her high school. Karuta is a card game revolving around Japanese poetry that demands intense concentration, stamina, speed, strength, and more, and the game does a great job teaching new viewers how to play. Though Chihaya’s club consists of a ragtag bunch of kids at first, the show really shines as it demonstrates how all of them have a different reason and approach to the game – one excels in speed and strength, one excels in memorization, one is interested in the poetry itself, one likes calculating odds and statistical analysis, and so on. Over the course of the series, they all grow and teach each other their viewpoints and knowledge about the game, enabling them all to improve their solo game as well as come together as a team.
This is significant because one of the meanings behind the name of the show, as they eventually tell us, means to be strong and yet balanced – like a top that spins perfectly, being impassioned without going frenzied and spinning out of control. That theme not only refers to Chihaya’s personal growth, as she starts off as a one-trick pony and has to learn to become a well-rounded player over time, but it also applies very strongly to her team, and it was a joy to see them train and learn with each other, picking up tips and encouragement, and to see the team together become stronger than the total sum of their parts.
It also applies to the romance in the story, as while the characters do hint at it, and send out tendrils of interest at each other, romance largely takes a back seat due to the investment that all of them have in karuta. I was actually fine with that – while Chihaya has two love interests, and the community is pretty split between them, I didn’t really support either one strongly, and it was intriguing to see a “light” romance where neither the heroine nor the two guys did a lot of serious pursuing either. This to me is more of a realistic, gentle high school romance – boys and girls watching each other and thinking about making a move while they associate with each other, rather than actual confessions. I really liked it. It played out like small interludes between the various tournaments and practice sessions that they had.
The tournaments were definitely the best part of Chihayafuru. Since the show had the luxury of 25-episode seasons, the tourney arcs often spanned multiple episodes – the longest one spanned about 10, I think. During each tournament, we get to meet a whole host of side characters, and receive narrative insights on the dreams and motivations that nearly every one of them has, and why they absolutely needed to win the match they were in! It was really well done, and I ended up liking most if not all the characters in the show, even all the various opponents that Chihaya and her team faced. The tournaments were extremely tense and the anime played on that tension, pulling the strings and keeping me on the edge of my seat through all the tourney episodes, cheering for Chihaya and co.
In terms of music, both seasons of the show had a great accompanying instrumental soundtrack, full of lilting flutes and verdant tunes. The OPs and EDs were fantastic, as all four of them got into my song stash. The two OPs were sung by 99RadioService – YOUTHFUL for season 1 and STAR for season 2. I’ve found that very rarely do male singers or groups get into my song stash – I guess I’m biased against their lack of vocal range, and “loud” or brash songs in general. But these two songs are definitely exceptions! The two EDs were even better. Chihaya was voiced by Asami Seto, and she sung both EDs as well – Soshite Ima in season 1, and Akanezora in season 2. Although this was the first show of hers that I had watched, this turned me into a huge fan of hers, which later influenced me to watch other shows of hers, like Bunny Senpai. Definitely looking forward to Season 3 of Chihayafuru in April 2019!
Final Score: 10/10