When you think of literary holidays — World Poetry Day, for instance — your first thought is probably not about action or competitive sports. But it could be. Because in Japan, there’s a competition where classic poems form the basis of a test of skill, speed, and memorization. And, of course, there’s an anime about it.
You may have heard of Chihayafuru in the past. You might even be a fan. But if you haven’t given it a go yet, today is the perfect time to do so.
Poetry in Motion
Let’s kick off your World Poetry Day with, well, some poems from around the world. Competitive karuta, the game central to Chihayafuru, uses a deck containing lines from the anthology Hyakunin Isshu. Knowledge of these 100 ancient poems guides the hands of players — hopefully speedily.
The point of karuta is, in short, to match the beginning of a poem to the end of it as quickly as possible. Two players have a field of cards, with each card bearing the last two lines of one of the poems. A reader draws a poem at random and begins reading it. Both players race to find the corresponding card in play and remove it from the field. The first to clear their field wins. It’s a battle of wits and speed, and Chihayafuru gives us plenty of action-packed karuta competitions.
Like any good sports anime, Chihayafuru is about the competition and the desire to be the best. But, also like any good sports anime, there’s more to it than just success. Our three protagonists — Chihaya and her friends Taichi and Arata — have a long-standing connection through karuta. Chihaya herself is aiming to make it to the championships, forming a club to improve her skills.
The Mizusawa Karuta Club stands out in competition, decked out in traditional attire. And each of them has their own reasons for being there, with interlacing stories. Especially Chihaya and her two friends.
If you’re sensing a love triangle at the center of Chihayafuru… well spotted. Taichi and Arata are two points of that triangle, both facing toward the hopeful Queen of Karuta. Following these burgeoning romances is one of the best parts of the series. Not only that, Taichi and Arata end up with a surprisingly healthy view of their shared feelings for Chihaya, and what that means about their friendship with each other.
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