Chihayafuru got off to a great start, probably the best in a manga I’ve read for a long time. The second volume adds some more dimension to Chihaya’s character, making me fall even more in love with her and the series in the process.
The last volume left Chihaya, Taichi, and Arata on a cliffhanger in their first karuta tournament. This volume picks up right where that one left off, where Chihaya sadly loses her match. After this, the three graduate from their elementary school. Then there’s a timeskip to the present day, which I found a bit more compelling.
Chihaya enters high school, lamenting the fact that she wasn’t able to make any friends around her karuta playing. She’s almost immediately “othered” at her entrance ceremony because her classmates, most of whom seem to know her older sister’s modeling work, expect something different from her. Chihaya’s got a one track mind, though, and while she’s encouraged to continue track club in high school, she is entirely focused on earning her Class A rankings in karuta so she can share with Arata, who has moved back to Fukui due to a family emergency years earlier.
Chihaya is shocked to learn Taichi is going to her high school, given that he was on track to get into a prestigious university through his middle school’s connections. Then she’s overjoyed to see him back, because that means more karuta matches. The problem is that he hasn’t played karuta much and is much more interested in keeping his girlfriend company. Still, he cares enough to join Chihaya at practice, and later accompanies her to a tournament. He chides Chihaya for her goal to reach Class A; since it took her longer than usual to hit Class B, he feels like Class A will take her too long.
She later takes a trip to Fukui to meet with Arata, as after making a surprise phone call to him, he drops a bombshell that he isn’t playing karuta anymore. Her hope is to meet him in person to talk. She’s able to meet him, but isn’t able to get him to play again. She returns to Tokyo half-dejected.
The tides shift somewhat when she meets Kanade, a student at her school interested in joining her karuta club. Chihaya is elated at the new acquaintance, but later realizes Kanade’s interest in karuta is slightly different from Chihaya’s. That doesn’t faze Chihaya much, as she still takes a liking to her.
The only thing I didn’t like was that the first two chapters featured the main kids during their elementary school years. The mood of those chapters compared to the rest is so different, in ways that I didn’t really like. The karuta match in this chapter is rushed; usually, the series does a good job of explaining the game well enough that total outsiders like me can follow along. These chapters didn’t work as well, for reasons I couldn’t put my finger on. It was so rushed that I thought I was reading a Sailor Moon fight, which isn’t a good thing to me. The bittersweetness of theses chapters didn’t jive with the later ones to me. I thought it would’ve been better to move them to volume 1, so volume 2 could have had a more consistent tone.
I still loved this volume, though, because it expanded Chihaya’s character in effective ways. Her dedication to karuta causes her peers to disregard her, but Chihaya’s so focused on her passion that she ignores it and continues to push on. Taichi and Arata’s detachment from karuta initially hurts Chihaya, who wanted it to be the thing that kept them together forever, but it causes her to refactor her love of the game into something more singular and personal to her. Kanade’s love of karuta for the poems and historical context, rather than the competitive aspect of the game, also prompts Chihaya to reevaluate the Hyakunin Isshu, which helps her understanding of the poems. Her remark to Kanade when she explains herself is simply, “You’re friends with all of them!” a reference to something her sensei told her in the last book.
I love her passion, and I love that she’s able to let these outside interactions alter her strategy. It makes sense when considering the game – characters even remark that it’s good for her to think outside her sensei’s box, as different teachers have different methods of explaining the game and strategizing for it. But it’s also indicative of how open she is to making friends that share her passion. I don’t quite know how to put it in words; Chihaya is just so lovable as a character. Even in volumes like this, where there’s relatively little action and a much larger focus on interpersonal relations, she still elevates the series to something special. She expressed desire to be the best at karuta, and I really hope she gets there someday.
Chihayafuru is written and illustrated by Suetsugu Yuki. It has been serialized in Kodansha’s Be Love magazine since 2007, and its chapters have been collected into 36 bound volumes as of November 2017. It has been licensed for release in North America by Kodansha Comics, which has released nine volumes to date.