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Chihayafuru: A Review


Lady Marie

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Nothing motivates me to consume a piece of media more than when I hear someone else gush about it, and this show is no exception. Based on the recommendation from a voice actor / content creator I follow (ProZD), I decided to give this one a shot... and I have 0 regrets about it.

Chihayafuru follows three childhood friends who bond over a Japanese sport called karuta. The protagonist, Chihaya, falls in love with the game and makes it her sole objective to become the Queen (the number one female karuta player) so that she can be reunited with her friends. Going in, I had never heard of karuta, aside from seeing it briefly featured in other anime. The history of One Hundred Poets and the cultural impact of the sport may have been lost on me a bit, but the emotions and themes of what the sport meant to each characters definitely left an impact. Given that each episode was named after a verse from one of the poems, I could definitely tell by the end of season three just how much care was put into weaving the meanings of each poem into the show. It feels like the manga creator was writing a love letter to the sport or maybe just to One Hundred Poets.

While I went in expecting this to be a sports anime more than anything, the main genres are definitely slice of life and romance. Romance is far from my cup of tea since it usually comes off as superficial and forced to me, but in this anime, I actually found myself super invested in it. Even with a love triangle involved (yes, I know it's more like an acute angle than a triangle, but "love acute angle" is such a mouthful... and I could make an argument that Taichi and Arata have their own sort of romance going on), I still rooted for the characters to confess or realize their feelings. And the confessions were chef's kiss. I gasped and teared up during those scenes. Personally, I was really hoping that Chihaya and Taichi would end up together, but I could also see how much Chihaya liked Arata, which made it difficult to only care about one relationship. Typically it annoys me when a friend group with one girl and two guys ends up becoming a rivalry for the two guys to see who can get the girl, but this show made it feel so genuine and heartfelt that I didn't mind. There was so much thought put into how the romance would develop over time rather than it being rushed to the point of feeling like an obligatory plot line. I wish more romance in fiction felt like this.

Aside from all the lovey dovey stuff, I was also deeply invested in the sports aspect of the show. The dynamics of the different karuta clubs, the burning desire to win, the pain of loss or falling short of your goal... all of it feels reminiscent of how I felt when I played sports in school. The amount of time that students have to put into practice, competitions, and academics on top of that is no joke. I found myself getting attached to more than just the main three characters because they all felt fleshed out. Instead of the side characters just being a collection of character archetypes that check boxes, they each had their own mini character arcs and motivations. I was rooting for the main characters all the way, but I also found myself cheering for the side characters when they were going through their own struggles. The bonds that each character had with not only each other but the game itself actually made me want to watch real karuta. 

The narrative itself is more than enough to carry the show, yet the animation and music doesn't slack either. Madhouse did an incredible job with the animation and the details put into each scene. The way the backgrounds popped and the environment changed during an emotional scene really added to the spectacle of it all. I was entranced by the beauty of the character designs and the sets. During season two, I even started paying attention to the episode titles and how they fit into the theme of what was going on.

In the last three episodes of season three alone, I found myself absolutely sobbing. I had grown so attached to these characters and watching the emotional build up until the very end was so heartbreaking. When I wasn't watching, I was often thinking about it, wondering what would happen next. And sadly, it doesn't look like season four is coming any time soon. It may be in development, but there were six years between seasons two and three (season three aired in 2019), plus Madhouse is working on many other projects that are currently airing. Since season three ends on a cliffhanger, I'm really, really hoping it'll get completed some day. From what I understand it could feasibly be wrapped up in one season with how much of the story hasn't been adapted. I'm dying to know what happens, so if worse comes to worst and we don't hear anything about it this year or next, I may just have to pick up the manga where the anime left off. 

Overall, while the show revolves around a sport that contains a lot of cultural and historical impact that is specific to Japan, Chihayafuru does a fantastic job of explaining it so that anyone can understand the rules of the game. The athlete in me got swept up in the competitions and the emotions surrounding each player's development. It made me want to pick up a sport again or do something competitive. My opinion is usually that romance tends to weigh down narratives more than it helps, but this show executes it perfectly. I found myself crying, laughing, and watching eagerly to see what would happen next. While there are still some annoying anime tropes involved (anime's gonna anime), they're short-lived enough that I could move past them pretty quickly. This show has easily shot up to one of my favorite anime series of all-time, and I couldn't be happier that I took a chance on it.

So, if you're looking for a show about sports, romance, and some good old slice of life, then I highly recommend watching Chihayafuru (as long as you can deal with the agony of a cliffhanger and no sign of a new season release date). 

Sincerely,

A Former Athlete

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