This winter I went on another anime binge and experienced that awful, bittersweet fangirl/boy feeling when you fall in love with something…and there’s no more. Although I loved Claymore, another anime I watched, Chihayafuru (and Chihayafuru 2) owns my heart right now. Already I’ve plowed through the (ongoing) manga and read most of the fic of interest to me on Archive of Our Own. The only thing saving my little fangirl heart is the fact that I just learned there will be another season of the anime once the manga finishes its current arc. THANK GOD. (And thank you to the fan writer who pointed this out in a note to her fic!)
To begin, here is what I loved about the anime (both seasons), in random order:
A love triangle done right. Love triangles are infamously mishandled and infuriating for fans. Typically, there is a clear “winner” or choice (even if only for the fan), and the other character is not an option at all. The girl/woman is often a prize and has little agency or is defined by her romantic interests. But I love both Taichi and Arata (okay, I admit I have a slight bias for Arata), and it is Chihaya’s search for an identity that leads her to learn and succeed at karuta, not romance. Arata introduces her to it, and her admiration for him plays a role, but even after reading 179 chapters of the manga, karuta is still her driving force. The romance is not the focal point; it’s wonderfully subtle–much goes unsaid or lies behind what is said. I also appreciate the way the characters’ love for one another manifests as respect and challenges each person to grow.
Gorgeous animation and music.
The idea of karuta: a game that revolves around cards with poems written on them. Poems. (Reminder/Note: I am a poet.) Kanade’s love of poetry also shapes how she plays and informs the story and Chihaya’s play as well. The last time I was so psyched about the role of poetry in a show, it was the Buffy the Vampire Slayer reveal that Spike was an awful Victorian poet as a human.
Likeable side characters. Whether fellow club or karuta society members or rivals (often the same), each character is distinguishable and showcases another facet of the karuta world or the main characters’ lives. At first, I was worried about Sumire, who initially appears to be a rival for Taichi’s affections and not much more, but as with everyone else, she’s developed nicely.
Arata’s Fukui dialect. Is Arata my first example of this, or is it something about Arata’s character that makes the sound of his speech so. damn. hot to me? It reminds me of a Southern drawl.
Competence as a defining trope. If you enjoy watching characters improve and excel at a sport/game/skill/whatever, you will have your fill of competence porn with this anime. It also never stops revealing new insights into the many ways and reasons why people play karuta. The matches and tournaments are dynamic to watch and include both team and individual play.
Just enough Arata but almost not. Once Arata moves back home from Tokyo where Taichi and Chihaya live, he appears sporadically. As much as I wanted the three to reunite, his absence is as powerful as his presence and builds a delicious tension for the viewer that mirrors the characters’ feelings.
I’m enjoying the manga–though the anime brings matches to life more clearly and dynamically–but hope the current arc finishes soon so the next season of the anime is on its way!