Chihayafuru 1

October 25, 2015

Yuki Suetsugu – Kodansha – 2011 – 27+ volumes
this is an English edition released in Japan

I was thrilled when I found out Kodansha had released the first two volumes of Chihayafuru in a bilingual edition.  This series is well-loved in Japan, but since it’s about a girl in the competitive world of Karuta, a Japanese card game with no English equivalent, there was no way it would ever get licensed for an English release.  So I snapped up the two bilingual volumes, and feel lucky to have them.

The main character is a girl named Chihaya.  When the volume opens, she’s in 6th grade, and completely obsessed with her older sister, who competes in beauty contests.  She befriends an outcast transfer student at her school, who’s talent appears to be that he’s memorized all 100 poems in the classic collection Ogura Hyakunin Isshu, which is studied in school.  Chihaya later finds out this is because he is an excellent karuta player.  Karuta is a competitive Japanese card game, where a caller reads out the first half of the waka poem from the Hyakunin Isshu, and two players compete to be the first to grab the second half of the poem from an array of cards between them.

The series implies that only young children play the card game as an aid to memorizing the Ogura Hyakunin Isshu.  But Chihaya is in awe of Wataya, that he could have so much skill at something.  When she tells him her hobby is cheering for her sister’s modeling career, Wataya tells her that someone else’s dream isn’t her own, and karuta is a great game to compete in, because since it isn’t played anywhere else in the world, if you’re the best in Japan, you’re the best karuta player in the world.

So Chihaya begins to memorize the poems to try to bring herself to Wataya’s level.  She is very fast, but has a hard time remembering more than 50 poems.  Her friend Taichi joins them, after initially bullying Wataya.

The story time-skips forward to 10th grade.  Their dreams of being on a karuta team end when both Taichi and Wataya move away after graduating 6th grade.  Chihaya is by herself, seen as an eccentric personality trying to get people at her high school to form a karuta league.  But she has no friends because of her extreme interest, and hasn’t gotten very far in professional (?) karuta ranks while in junior high.  She’s reunited with Taichi, and plays in a tournament to raise her rank.

It’s like a shoujo version of Hikaru no Go!  Whereas go is seen as a game for old men, and Hikaru is in the minority for playing it in junior high, there just aren’t that many adults (or anyone) playing karuta.  The best karuta player we run across here is Wataya, who is somewhat phased out by the end of the volume.  So there’s no Akira/Hikaru rivalries as of yet, but I suspect they’ll come in time.  There is a little of implied relationships, with elementary-age Wataya and Taichi competing for Chihaya’s affections, but I’m not sure how that will go by the end of the volume.  I was a little bored initially, since the game itself seemed too simple to serve as an exciting competitive activity, but I was hooked by the end of the first volume.  I’m glad I have another, and I’m thinking about getting more.  Happily, the cards are written in hiragana, and if the Japanese text in this edition is the same as the regular one, I may be able to puzzle through it.  Hooray!

2 Responses to “Chihayafuru 1”

  1. themooninautumn Says:

    The anime series is on Crunchyroll and is amazing. When you see how dynamic the game is for really competitive players (shonen-style), it’s even more compelling. : ) Some really unexpected licenses have been coming out recently, so maybe I’ll get to read this in English some day . . . : )

  2. Connie Says:

    Ooh, I didn’t even think about an anime adaptation! The game may make more sense if I can actually see people playing it. In the manga, I’m a little confused when they fall into the cards and do various other fancy capture moves. Hopefully a demonstration will make sense. Plus, volume 2 left off in an awful place, and now I can watch it to find out what happens.

    You’re right about unlikely series getting licensed. I used to think Hikaru no Go would never come out here either, so there’s hope. Chihayafuru appears to still be running, and it’s still popular enough to get a multiple-season anime, so I’ll cross my fingers.

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