Chihayafuru is a Japanese manga series written and illustrated by Yuki Suetsugu. It has been serialized in Kodansha’s Be Love magazine since December 2007. It is about a school girl, Chihaya Ayase, who is inspired by a new classmate to take up Hyakunin Isshu karuta competitively. A 25-episode anime television series adaptation aired from October 2011 to March 2012. A 25-episode second season aired from January to June 2013. A 24-episode third season premiered in October 2019. Three live action film adaptations were released from 2016 to 2018.
The manga has won the Manga Taishō and the Kodansha Manga Award. Since its fourth volume was released in March 2009, it has regularly appeared on the Japanese Comic Ranking chart, and in 2016 was estimated to have over 16 million copies in print. Its popularity has boosted the profile of competitive karuta in Japan.
The manga has been serialized in Be Love since 2007, and has been collected by Kodansha into 44 tankōbon volumes as of May 2020. According to the author, the manga was close to ending in late 2019. Kodansha has also published the first three volumes in a two-volume bilingual edition, with English translations by Stuart Varnam Atkin and Yōko Toyozaki. On 14 February 2017, Kodansha Comics began publishing a digital edition of the series in English; 20 volumes have been released as of June 2020. The manga is licensed in French by Pika Édition, in Korean by Haksan Culture Company, in Taiwanese by Tong Li Publishing, and in Thai by Bongkoch Publishing.
Chihayafuru won the second Manga Taishō award, and the 35th Kodansha Manga Award in the shōjo manga category. When Chihayafuru won the Manga Taishō award, it was commented that the series combines elements of the sport genre and literary elements with a discerning eye on the subject matter. The manga had sold over 16 million copies in Japan as the first half of 2016, and its popularity has boosted the popularity of competitive karuta. The manga has regularly appeared on Oricon’s Japanese Comic Ranking chart. Between March 2009 and September 2011, the fourth through fourteenth volumes all appeared in the top 25 during the week of their release and the week after.
Among North American reviewers, Gia Manry, writing about the first episode of Chihayafuru, felt that despite the animators’ efforts, karuta seemed boring, and criticised the overuse of CG sakura, describing it as a “mixed bag” of an anime. Bamboo Dong says that Chihaya’s passion and characterisation make karuta interesting. Carlo Santos felt that the series was the “first genuinely good show of the season”, citing its characterisation, unusual subject, and polish of the first episode. Marcus Speer enjoyed the production values of the first episode, but felt that the theme songs were “standard fare”. He was intrigued by how the characters’ childhood impacted on their present interactions. Theron Martin appreciated the focus on the characters rather than the game, feeling that while the teenage Chihaya seemed “gimmicky”, her younger self was “quite likable”. Chris Beveridge praised the tension shown between Arata and Taichi in the second episode’s karuta match. Theron Martin felt the second episode’s karuta tournament was tense and compelling, and that despite the plot unfolding in a predictable fashion, the execution made this forgivable.
Crunchyroll’s editorial team chose Chihayafuru as one of the best anime of the 2010s decade and writer Humberto Saabedra commented, “You might expect such a series to be dry and uninteresting, but Chihaya’s journey from bright-eyed freshman player to wiser and well-practiced is why the series shines”. Writing for Forbes, Lauren Orsini considered it to be one of the five best anime of 2011; she wrote, “Even Western viewers will quickly become invested in the fast-paced drama of competitive karuta“.
Yuki Suetsugu belonged to a karuta club in high school and feels that the school years are a period of a person’s life where “you can dedicate the most genuine part of yourself to something.” The name of the series is a poetic Makurakotoba, or pillow word, and comes from the first five syllables of the seventeenth poem in the Hyakunin Isshu poetry anthology, a collection of 100 poems which are printed on the karuta cards. In this poem chihayaburu is used as an epithet to kami and can be translated into English as “shaken in fury” and “swift in fury”, according to Edwin A. Cranston, or “awesome”, as offered by Joshua S. Mostow.
Chihaya Ayase is a girl who has spent most of her life simply supporting her sister in her model career. That changes when she meets a boy named Arata Wataya, a talented karuta player. After becoming friends, he believes that Chihaya has potential to become a great player. As Chihaya takes on a new dream of becoming Japan’s best karuta player, she is soon separated from her karuta playing friends as they grow up. Now in high school, Chihaya is reunited with her childhood friend, Taichi Mashima. Together, they form the Mizusawa Karuta Club. With her teammates and friends supporting her, Chihaya strives to become the best karuta player in the world and to one day be with Arata again.