The Chihayafuru anime is back after nearly six years, and I’m just thrilled. Rarely is there a series that so deftly balances interpersonal drama, the excitement of competition, and the effective portrayal of its characters through both of those aspects.
Chihayafuru is about playing karuta, a game based on matching cards to recited poetry. It looks like the kind of thing kids would play when they’re bored, and it is. However, the series does such a convincing job of making competitive karuta look like a fierce and deep game, and it does so without necessarily needing to go for an over-the-top presentation. There’s nothing like ancient Go ghosts, basketball powers, or ultra mahjong luck. The “powers” aren’t otherworldly, but rather play styles based on individual traits and personalities, with just a slight dramatic flair. Chihaya, the heroine, doesn’t have superhuman ears, but the idea that she has better hearing, and that it pushes her toward a more aggressive style makes sense. Her old friend Arata’s memorization is uncanny, but not beyond the realm of mortals, and the fact that his grandfather was a former king of karuta gives him ample reason to have spent time on the game.
When the series introduces new characters and potential rivals, it rarely feels contrived or as if certain characters are clearly there to take the loss. Whether they’re former queens, players from other high schools, or even small children, they feel very human, both through their personal motivations and idiosyncrasies, as well as through their play. A lot of series bank on having large casts, but Chihayafuru‘s maintains an intimate feel.
Here’s to another season, and the hopes that we’ll be getting lots of emotional intensity and bad t-shirts.
(All hail Shinobu.)