Competitive Karuta

I came home one day hungry and the only things in the fridge were some frost on the sides of the freezer and a plate of leftover spaghetti I swore was moving by itself.  Since I planned to save the frost for dessert, I ate the pasta first and, predictably, had another bad dream.  Archangel Duriel visited me in my slumber, and we started playing cards.  After a while, he said, “Tap your mana!” to which I replied “Super Trump.  All cards are mine!” and realized we were playing different card games.  I used the Super Trump as a shuriken and hit him in the eye, and he responded with the spell: Sodom’s Love, and I woke up with vomit all over.  Moral of the lesson: when unsure, just call for pizza delivery.  if you have the money anyway.  I didn’t, so the end result is my third anime series review, Chihayafuru.  Whoopee!

My verdict and rating for this series?  I give it 4 out of 5 rare Mad Jeek: The Garnering cards because it’s a great story despite being an anime about a card game involving poetry.  A card game involving poetry?! Why do I get the sinking feeling I lost a few more readers already? Please read on and find out why that’s not such a bad thing.

Our story begins with Chihaya, Taichi and Arata.


Best in the world.  Even though we do not want to admit it, we have always wished that there was something we could do better than anyone else.  All of us have skills, talents or attributes that we are proud of, and these are things we hope, we wish, we dream, would be good enough to be regarded as best in the world.  What we wouldn’t give to rise and be at the top.  This is where distinctions between words like ambition and passion blur or disappear.

Chihayafuru is such a story—a girl named Chihaya wishing to be the best in the world at something, in this case, karuta, a unique Japanese card game involving poetry.   She was once content on being her pretty older sister’s fan, but then she got to befriend Arata, a boy in the same class as her who made her passionate about karuta and got her to play competitively with her other friend, Taichi.   Though separated in middle school, Chihaya strives to advance and improve in the hopes that one day karuta will bring them all back together.

Chihaya versus Taichi with Arata reading in a round of karuta.


The series’ strong point is the depth of its characters.  They are believable beings, with quirks and flaws, and we are drawn to them.  The viewer is made to empathize with these imperfect people who despite themselves manage to persevere and come out better people.  We can always use something like this to make us feel good, and that I guess is what Chihayafuru does well.  It is a show about the triumph of the human spirit and the perseverance needed to be able to reach one’s goals.

The interaction between the main characters is fun and quirky and they go about everyday things like anyone would.  A love triangle develops and is seen as a highlight of the story.  People genuinely want to know how this dilemma unfolds and hopefully, within our lifetimes, reach a conclusion.

The show also is able to give us a good dose of excitement, even if it is about a sport that involves cards and poetry.  The pacing heightens the excitement, especially when they join tournaments.

Voice acting is great and contribute well to the presentation of scenes, especially the funny, lighthearted ones.  Jokes are genuinely funny and do not rely on fan service to elicit laughs, which is always good, of course.

The animation is done by studio Madhouse, who has made the character designs distinct and charming.  The backgrounds are done well with ample lighting.  Scenes involving action is rendered adequately but not exceptionally.  There are some really bad or conspicuous CGs, however.  It must be that hard to draw so many moving cards, I guess.

Little Chihaya memorizing karuta before falling asleep.
Chihaya and Arata learning a new concept called “teamwork.”


The music was awful.  You know that tune when characters achieve something against all odds, like in those Robin Williams movies?  Well, they overuse that one, so the intended effect weakens considerably.  Although music isn’t really essential to this kind of series, the musical scores just distract the viewer and hardly contributes to setting the mood.  The opening and ending themes are hardly memorable or moving at all.

Sometimes friends are more disappointed in you than you are in yourself.


Even when the theme or subject  isn’t that exciting or appealing to us, karuta itself isn’t forced down the viewers’ throats, and it’s the characters and their development that makes us hang on waiting for the next episode.  Chihayafuru gives us characters we care about, and we relate to their struggles with themselves and with others.  The story itself is unfinished in the manga so we may need to wait for more seasons of Chihayafuru to get some real closure, but it is a still an anime I would recommend for those who are looking for an inspiring slice-of-life anime to watch over a holiday.  My verdict and score:  4 out of 5 Super Trump cards, because in this age of 3D, HD, CG, we have already forgotten how mere cards can give us clean, wholesome fun, unless it’s a round of strip poker with Archangel Duriel’s, that is.

Yay! These lab tests show I have the biggest breasts here. Oh, I’m sorry. It actually says they increased our club’s budget. Isn’t that great?
I can only wish I had such a picturesque childhood memory.

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