December 24, 2015
Yuki Suetsugu – Kodansha – 2012 – 27+ volumes
The pace of this series is a little slow, so it feels like so much happens in these volumes! I love it. Here, Taichi and Chihaya go to find Arata. They do, and we learn why he stopped playing karuta, but it appears as if he’s not going to join the story just yet. Interestingly, he’s a viable love interest, even from far away. Taichi crushes on Chihaya hard in this volume, but not much comes of the love triangle here. I love that everything seems to be unspoken, even to the point where the characters don’t think about or admit their crushes.
So Taichi promises that he’ll help Chihaya start a karuta club at their school. They quickly recruit an old karuta club comrade named Meat Bun. We get a bit of story about a character named Desk, second place in the academic rankings to Taichi and possessing a huge complex about it, as well as the fact that Taichi seems to effortlessly have friends and attract attention and generally be a great guy. Because he seems smart, Chihaya targets him and relentlessly cajoles him until he joins the club.
My favorite character was the only new member with a name, Kanade. She’s awesome. Her family runs a kimono shop that’s struggling, and Kanade is really, really into traditional Japanese study. She’s currently in the kyudo club, presumably because she can wear hakama and kyudo is pretty Japanese. She’s attracted to the karuta club because she adores the artistic sentiments behind the 100 poems themselves. This is alien to Chihaya, and when Kanade finds out that Chihaya and Taichi are only playing a game, and not appreciating Japanese culture, she leaves. But Chihaya pursues her relentlessly again, and begins studying the poems as poetry, rather than just pieces to memorize. It improves her game! Kanade agrees to join the club as long as they play in kimono, and Chihaya models for her family’s catalogue.
So they do sports manga things like have a karuta camp and play as many games as possible. Chihaya refuses to go lightly on the new players, since she got into karuta by being totally dominated by Arata. They celebrate her birthday, then go to a high school tournament.
I loved this tournament. Sentiment turned against them immediately when they showed up in traditional attire. Apparently one has to wear such things in the upper ranks of karuta, and the other players took it as arrogant “practice.” The main struggles at the tournament are playing as a team, which I enjoyed, since it put a unique spin on the early team dynamic I’ve never seen in a sports manga before. It’s implied they don’t play well as a team because the players are selfish, which I thought was interesting. Usually you don’t play well as a team because you don’t know each other well enough.
This tournament was also fun, since we got to see some combative karuta strategies. One player in particular towards the end of the volume was playing some pretty hilarious mind games against Chihaya. The weaker players start coming into their own here, too, and unfortunately, the volumes ends in the middle of the tournament.
I am devastated. I didn’t realize there was an anime, so I’m going to pick up the story there, but I like this well enough that I probably will bother to puzzle through the rest of it in Japanese.
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!