So what exactly is Chihayafuru? Well, it’s about a high school freshman Chihaya Ayase who, in the hopes of reuniting with her childhood friend Arata, decides to create a karuta club. Initially, Chihaya’s dream was to see her older sister become a fashion model, but a chance encounter with Arata in her childhood caused her to change her dream and pick up karuta competitively. While this is definitely qualified to be a slice-of-life genre, the aspect of reunions with old friends, dreams and potential unrequited love mixed with competitive card playing makes for an interesting combination. The series kicks off at the high school Chihaya attends where several male students are whispering about the gorgeous Ayase Chihaya is class 2. As they head down to the student lobby to try and sneak a peek at her, they’re blown away by her beauty. Of course, the image is ruined as soon as they notice that she’s in track pants (while still wearing her skirt no less) and is tacking fliers for her karuta club on the bulletin board. A teacher comes up and scolds her for being indecent, but Chihaya tells the teacher that she was told she couldn’t wear only her skirt while tacking things on the board, so she put on her track pants. The teacher agrees that that was what she told her, but she never meant to wear the track pants under her skirt (I have to admit, I did giggle a little bit because it did look a tad silly). The boys who were initially glamored by her looks start whispering about how as soon as Chihaya does something or says something, the image is ruined and they return to their classroom. Later that day, Chihaya is in her classroom mourning about the lack of interest in her karuta club when one of her friends shows up. Her friend tells her that she should forget about karuta and join the track team like she did in middle school. Chihaya is adamant about starting her karuta club, so she declines.
After her friend leaves for her clubs, Chihaya takes to lazing about on the hill in the courtyard and listens to her mp3 player. She reminisces about how she and her two friends in elementary school promised to continue playing karuta in the hopes of reuniting one day. The thought makes her teary-eyed, but she’s startled from her thoughts as a familiar person appears. Chihaya is ecstatic to see her childhood friend Taichi, whom she hasn’t seen since they started middle school. The two of them walk towards the train station together and catch up, though Chihaya is overjoyed to see that he hasn’t changed much in the last three years. Their talk then turns to karuta and her desire to starts up a club in the hopes of becoming good enough to enter one of the national tournaments. Taichi is obviously depressed over the fact that she’s still hoping to reunite with Arata and tells her that karuta was just a hobby and that he plans on continuing to play soccer throughout high school. This upsets Chihaya, but she drops the subject. Soon enough, they arrive at the train station when Taichi gets a phone call. As it turns out, he has a girlfriend, though he admits that he likes her but is only going out with her because she asked him in the first place. It’s so obvious that he likes Chihaya but his feelings are unrequited that it almost hurts. Taichi accompanies Chihaya on the train and asks her why she’s so intent on continuing karuta. Chihaya admits that it’s her dream to play competitively alongside her friends.
Now, the rest of the episode is a flashback to before Chihaya and Taichi started middle school and Chihaya became obsessed with karuta. The two of them are in class, talking with their friends, mostly about the fact that Chihaya’s sister recently placed in a national beauty contest. Then, the new transfer student (Arata) appears and a hush falls over the classroom. Unfortunately, Taichi and his friends start teasing Arata about the fact that he wears the same jeans to school every day and has holes in his socks. Chihaya’s friends whisper to her, saying that the way Arata talks is funny and they’ve been taking notes on how his dialect is different. Chihaya seems unaffected and says that she wouldn’t want to talk to anyone who takes notes on things she does only to use them to tease her later on. Her friends apologize to her, saying that they didn’t really mean it, though Taichi seems irritated that Chihaya was taking Arata’s side. The next morning, we see Arata picking up his newspaper route and when the owner goes to hand him the route chart, he refuses, saying that he’s already memorized it. As he takes off, his boss shouts at him, saying that he better not mess up. Surprisingly, he does seem to have the entire route memorized and he quickly makes his way through the neighborhood before making a stop at Chihaya’s house. He’s surprised to see Chihaya standing outside, waiting for the paper and he timidly says ‘good morning’ before she snatches the paper from his hands and dashes inside. Later that morning at school, Chihaya is showing off her sister’s photo in the newspaper from the beauty pageant. Everyone is gushing over how pretty she is, but the teacher comes in and tells them to find their seats. She then reminds them that their assignment is to memorize 100 poems for the school-wide karuta competition. Everyone groans, since a lot of them were unable to memorize them though Taichi gloats that he already memorized all of them and passed his test. Their teacher then announces that one other person was able to complete the assignment, and that was Arata.
Chihaya suddenly puts two and two together and realizes that it was Arata that delivered her newspaper in the morning. Because she has absolutely no filter on what comes out of her mouth (and yes, she admits this in the show), she exclaims that he was the paper boy that came to her house that morning. This causes everyone to start whispering because elementary schoolers aren’t supposed to have jobs. The teacher then asks him if it’s true and Arata meekly says that it is, though he only does it when he’s asked to help out. Of course, this just results in more teasing, which makes Chihaya feel bad. After school, she goes to apologize to Arata for what she said when Taichi sees them talking. He gets angry and runs over, shoving Arata to the ground. He then teases him, saying that he’s sorry if he ruined the only pair of pants that Arata owns, but this just pisses off Chihaya. She punches him in the stomach and tells him to apologize. Taichi then shouts at her, saying that no one will want to talk to her if she keeps hanging around Arata and she says that’s fine because she doesn’t care. Angry, and likely hurt, Taichi shoves Chihaya and she falls into the puddle with Arata. Later, Chihaya and Arata are at his house, drying off while Chihaya apologizes on Taichi’s behalf and for what she said earlier. The two of them start talking and Arata asks why she was waiting for the newspaper. She tells him that her sister placed in a beauty pageant and it’s her dream to see her sister win a title someday. Arata scoffs at her, telling her that it’s not a dream if she’s living for someone else. Chihaya becomes angry and demands to know what his dream is, so he tells her that he wants to become King of karuta. When he finds out that Chihaya knows how to play, he becomes incredibly excited and asks her if they can play a game. Chihaya agrees, but soon is overwhelmed with how good Arata is. It turns out, everyone in the town Arata is from plays karuta, though no one in Tokyo plays it so it’s hard for him to find someone to play against. Later, Chihaya heads home and it seems as though her goal has changed to something involving karuta.
Opinions: For a first episode, this was really good. I wasn’t entirely sure what to expect with this show since I have no prior knowledge of the card game that it’s centered around, but I really enjoyed the fact that they took the first episode as an introductory of sorts. Not only were we introduced to the characters and their relationship to one another, but we also go an introduction to the game itself. Chihaya definitely reminds me of myself; pretty much a tomboy who doesn’t think before she speaks at times, though I’m terrible at memorizing things. I’m curious to see how her relationship with Arata develops (even if it’s just through flashbacks) and how she manages to rope Taichi into playing with them and if he even befriends Arata. It’s pretty obvious that Taichi has feelings for Chihaya, though I can’t tell if she has feelings for Arata or if it’s more of a sense of competitiveness between them. Either way, I smell a love-triangle forming and that could definitely make things interesting. Overall, it was a great introduction to the series and I’m eager to see what will happen next.
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