Chihayafuru, Vol. 2

By Yuki Suetsugu. Released in Japan by Kodansha, serialization ongoing in the magazine Be Love. Released in North America digitally by Kodansha Comics. Translated by Ko Ransom.

I’d said in the last review that Chihayafuru is, in many ways, a sports manga. But this is not your average baseball or soccer title. Karuta is not really thought of as something that kids do these days, particularly once they enter high school, and especially if they’re good at other sports, which Chihaya is – everyone points out she should be on the track team. But Chihaya has a dream, and is very, very driven towards getting that dream, even if it means playing over and over without her two friends – we’re in high school now, and both have been away for years. Luckily, Taichi has returned, bringing his unspoken crush, his reluctance to get back into an “uncool” sport, and his ability to see flaws that Chihaya can’t see herself. Arata is another matter – not only does he still live far away, but he tells them in no uncertain terms that he isn’t playing karuta anymore.

The reason Arata abandoned karuta is not the most original one in the world – in fact it’s the most cliched part of the book – but it works anyway, especially as it helps to show off why Chihaya’s impulsiveness is not always a good thing. That said, it looks like it may work out in the end, which is good. Karuta is very much something that Chihaya associates with ‘having fun with friends’, and the group activity is the most exciting part about it. In fact, Chihaya’s enthusiasm is actually masking several issues – Taichi notes that her memorization at the start is still quite bad, and a new character who ends up joining the club, Ooe Kanada, who reminds her that the poems aren’t just there because they sound pretty – there’s meaning and depth behind each one. This is AMAZING to Chihaya, who is nice and sweet but her single minded determination means she can miss the obvious.

As for the Karuta itself, it’s actually still pretty exciting. I was not entirely certain whether Chihaya would win the match halfway through the book – in a series like this, the occasional loss is going to be inevitable, even if you promise that you’re going to win. I’m still somewhat amused at various antics going on during karuta that I would argue are fouls, but then I’m not a karuta player. It’s also a very old-fashioned game – it’s pretty obvious why the club is somewhat mocked, though honestly you get the sense it’s due to Chihaya’s overenthusiasm more than anything else. It’s also very clear why Kana thinks that they should be performing it in kimonos – a lot of karuta runs on aesthetic, and if you look the part it may help in other areas as well. As for any romance in the story, well, Taichi still has a crush on Chihaya, but that’s about it – she’s totally oblivious.

Chihayafuru may not be the most obvious josei series out there, but if you read it it will win you over on pure energy, just like its heroine.

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