As we cruise by the halfway mark of the anime season, I reflect back at the anime I’m following and why. Guilty Crown just out of pure interest in story, Un-Go for the characters, Fate/Zero because of Rider, but out of all of choices, Chihayafuru was one of the titles on the bottom of the list.
Frankly, all the information I heard about it was “It’s about a girl who really likes this traditional Japanese card game.” Yes, passing on that to a guy pulling voids out of people.
Though, thankfully, many of my friends were more ambitious than I and took the chance to watch it and after much convincing, I finally watch the first episode, and I promised it would be only the first episode. 2 hours later, I was fully caught up and wishing for more.
While the card game, Karuta, does play a very important role in Chihayafuru, the anime touches on many different elements: friendship, growing up, and discovering your dreams.
The story starts with Chihaya knowing what her goal is already, to make a Karuta club at her school. But we slowly find out that neither of her two friends (Taichi and Arata) want to play it anymore like they did three years ago. She views the game as something that held them together, no matter how far they were away. We soon get a detailed flashback to explain how we got here and why Chihaya is feeling regret over the loss of her friends and the fact they no longer play Karuta together.
The beautiful thing about Karuta is the poems, the words. If you became a good enough karuta player, you wouldn’t even have to hear more than the first syllable of a poem to know what its second part will be. Where’s the enjoyment in that? It’s feeling the words, and knowing them.
What do you want to be when you grow up? Chihaya used to not know. Her only dream is for her sister to become a model.
But she soon finds out when meeting an exchange student, Arata, that no one else in her middle school will talk to. He’s the “weird” transfer student who says things with a funny accent. Chihaya befriends him. This is great, right? Wrong. He’s the weird kid, remember, the geek, the guy who has holes in his socks. The rest of the class starts ignoring her as well. But, she even shocks Taichi when she holds her ground and stays friend with Arata.
Speaking of Taichi, he’s the smart guy who’s friends with Chihaya and just about everyone else in school. He’s the only one in the class who memorized all 100 poems that are used in Karuta; except Arata memorized all of them too. Making things worse since they both will now be competing in the Karuta tournament at the end of the semester.
This pushes Taichi over the edge. First his friend Chihaya befriends Arata, and now the guy is challenging his position as smartest guy in school. Who does he think he is? Needless to say, Taichi blows up at Chihaya and makes things worse.
This is where we learn about Karuta. 2 players. 100 cards. And this is Arata’s dream. To be the best Karuta player in Japan and the world.
Trying to put this building of relationships throughout the next few episode is impossible to do accurately in words. You just have to see it. See Arata show Chihaya her card—her poem, see Taichi and Arata find some common ground as teammates but also competitors, see how Chihaya struggles through becoming good at Karuta and how Taichi and Arata support her, and better yet, how the three of them grew to be friends driven by their dreams.
But then, as in any good friendships, growing up and changes break them apart. Arata has to move back to his hometown to take care of his aging grandfather (who, by the way, is a master Karuta player). And for the rest of middle school, Chihaya and Taichi go their separate ways. Chihaya, though, keeps practicing Karuta.
Fast forward back to the present and you meet up with Taichi again and even after dropping Karuta for a while, he is inspired by Chihaya’s passion for the game and decides to help her with it. Though, it does take some convincing.
Plus, he may have a crush on her. Though, this is put on hold when Chihaya wants to go find Arata, who neither of them has heard from since he moved away.
This turns out…bad, for the most part. To explain everything would through a spoiler in a very pivotal moment in the story. But quite honestly, because of recent events in my own life, this episode hit me pretty close.
But instead of giving up, this drives Chihaya on to work harder than before. And thus we begin the Karuta club and start gaining members who are all looking to fulfill their dreams. All different, but still able to come together in one simple game.
“Arata told me that if I became the best Karuta player in Japan, I would be the best in the world. And I think if I can be the best at something in the world, it’s worth a shot.”
Chihayafuru is a passionate show about making friends by following your dreams and discovering talents. While watching, I was being constantly reminded that we are put into situations every day that give us opportunities to find new dreams and new friends, and new things to be passionate about. Though this cannot happen if we don’t break out of our shell like Chihaya did and do something against the “normal,” to cross the line of peer pressure and see the bigger picture. It’s what makes life interesting, to reach out and grasp those dreams and follow where they lead.
I look forward to seeing where Chihaya will be lead on the path she’s following.