Chihayafuru is a fall anime based on an award-winning josei manga. It falls under the genre of “sports,” but the game is more similar to a combination of chess, slapjack, and Trivial Pursuit. The premise is pretty worn. Chihaya has a blissful childhood without any dreams of her own. One day, she meets Arata, a transfer student who is also one of Japan’s top karuta players. He relates to her that, since karuta isn’t really played in any other country, being the best karuta player in Japan means you are the best in the world. Taking those words to heart, Chihaya aims to become the Queen of the karuta world while also maintaining the friendships she makes while mastering karuta.
The anime has now surpassed the translated manga chapters, so there is enough content (for a non-Japanese speaker like me) to really start evaluating the series on. Certainly, the base elements of the show are quite intriguing, especially to people who are not intimately familiar with the game (imagine an anime about checkers; not sure how interesting that could get, merely because anyone who knows how to play checkers realizes there isn’t enough complexity in the game), the characters are interesting, and the art is beautiful. However, now we are starting to really get into the plot and getting more depth out of karuta.
Until now, all we’ve known is that Chihaya has a preternatural hearing ability, which allows her to react faster than most other people. Since that is the surface element, the speed at which a player is able to take a card, that has been of utmost importance. However, in episode 7, newly-introduced Tsutomu proposes a new idea: if players are supposed to memorize the locations of all the cards, couldn’t they play with the cards flipped over? In this variation, Taichi is finally able to shine, which gives him a taste of winning, and really homes in on Chihaya’s weaknesses. This “twist” is welcome, to me, since now the characters are displayed as having different strengths, rather than just a straight “power at karuta” scale. The next question is, will a 5th member be found, or will Arata come join their club? When Arata makes his comeback, will he still be stronger than Chihaya, or will the club’s various practice techniques cause her to improve past him?