Ai KayanoYuka TerasakiChihayafuruYoshimasa Hosoya
Chihayafuru Season 1
Medium: TV, series
Year: 2011
Director: Morio Asaka
Writer: Naoya Takayama
Original creator: Yuki Suetsugu
Actor: Ai Kayano, Asami Seto, Ayahi Takagaki, Kazuya Nakai, Mamoru Miyano, Mihoko Nakamichi, Tooru Nara, Tsubasa Yonaga, Unsho Ishizuka, Yoshimasa Hosoya, Yuka Terasaki
Keywords: Chihayafuru, anime
Country: Japan
Language: Japanese
Format: Episodes 1-25
Url: https://www.animenewsnetwork.com/encyclopedia/anime.php?id=12991
Website category: Anime early 10s
Review date: 23 April 2022
chihaya furu
It's a sports anime, so I normally wouldn't watch it... but its subject is a mind sport. That can be an entertaining sub-genre, e.g. Hikaru no Go (about Go) and March Comes In like a Lion (about shogi), while in addition I've been hearing for years that this show's excellent.
It's about karuta. The game has lots of variants, but I only know the one in this show. There are 100 cards, each bearing a Japanese poem. If you can't read Japanese, you can't play it. You and your opponent lay your cards on the floor between you, then a reader recites poems one by one. (These will include a few "dead poems" with no corresponding card, to trip you up.) It's a speed game. You have to touch the matching card first. Top players have good ears, quick hands and a monstrous memory.
At first, I thought this game sounded pointless... but I watched it anyway. Unsurprisingly, I found it hard to care about the game in the early episodes, but later we meet top-flight players and learn about strategies. It's surprisingly deep. There are all sorts of ways to win. Chihaya is a bear of very little brain (and she's funny), but her reactions are like a wild animal's. (She's the title character, but she'll still have to teach herself new tricks if she wants to compete with the best.) Taichi memorises. Arata is a child genius. Kanade loves the poems as poetry and can give Chihaya viewpoints she'd have never considered by herself. Nishida is a top player who quit. Tsutomu is an analyst, taking notes on every game and seeing things about his friends' playing styles that even they hadn't realised.
The important thing, though, is that the cast are fun and that I enjoyed pretty much every episode. Chihaya is a goofball. (She's a famous beauty... until she moves or speaks, whereupon the illusion will be ruined.) I love Chihaya. She's so determined, always giving 110%, but also a complete spaz. Sometimes she's alarmingly fragile and sometimes she's flat-out awesome. Her match against the queen in eps.14-15 is cool.
Taichi keeps so much suppressed that it's hard not to worry about him. (His dragon mother is to blame for half of it.) The relationship triangle of him, Chihaya and Arata is what underpins the series, although it's usually not in focus. Everyone's fun to watch, though.
I never skipped the title sequence, by the way.
The plot's routine for a sports anime, but it works very well. There's a reason why these story beats are a genre staple. People play games to win. Give them opponents and bang, instant drama. It'll make you care about a game you could never even contemplate playing. Mind you, the karuta matches are exciting and the players' tactics are intriguing.
I'd recommend this show. Never mind the episode count and the obscure (for Westerners) subject matter. Never mind the lack of action, unless you count "sitting on the floor with playing cards". It's funny, engaging and very likeable... but be warned that it still took me ages to get through all these episodes. It's easy to find yourself watching something else. It's karuta. It can slip into the zone of "oh yeah, I was watching this, wasn't I?" I'd return to it when I remembered. Nonetheless, Chihayafuru has two more anime seasons, a total of 75 episodes, three live-action movies and a 45-volume manga that's still ongoing... and I've since completed everything except the manga. I might hunt down that too.