Chihayafuru Has Hinted at Potential Romance – But It Isn’t Necessary

With both a successful anime and manga, the josei series Chihayafuru has sustained a cult following by offering compelling drama and intense sports matches focusing heavily on the Japanese card game of karuta. However, despite being predominantly a sports anime, there have been hints at potential romances throughout the story, with a love triangle forming between the three main characters of Chihaya Ayase, Taichi Mashima and Arata Wataya.

Taichi harbors a one-sided crush on the currently oblivious Chihaya, while Chihaya seems to harbor feelings of deep admiration -- possibly more -- for their long-distant friend Arata. While being part of the main storyline from the beginning and a key form of entertainment for some fans, Chihayafuru has so much going for it that the series would be just fine even if there are never any full-blown romantic relationships.

Written and illustrated by Yuki Suetsugu, Chihayafuru began publication in December 2007. A total of 48 volumes have been released so far, with the series set to end with the release of Volume 49. An anime adaptation produced by Madhouse Studios has garnered three seasons and 74 episodes. Both the anime and manga have been met with high praise from fans and critics alike.

Putting the romantic tension aside, the three main characters each manage to be complex and entertaining all on their own. Chihaya, while naturally having great reflexes and impeccable hearing -- traits well-suited to playing karuta -- is still growing into her own. She aims to be Queen -- a title awarded to the best female karuta player in Japan -- and she chases this dream with an admirable level of passion, so much so that karuta becomes the focal point of her world. Chihaya dedicates so much love and hard work to the game that her wins are satisfying and her losses difficult to watch, to the point where fans can't help but root for her.

Despite excelling both academically and in sports, Taichi is not naturally gifted and works extremely hard to attain perfection due to the high expectations placed upon him by his strict mother. As such, he struggles to learn karuta, although is encouraged by the joy he finds in the game through playing with his friends, Chihaya and Arata. While he first became interested in the game because of Chihaya, over time, he has genuinely come to love it.

Arata introduced Karuta to both Chihaya and Taichi. He is hailed as a prodigy in this field and was taught the game by his grandfather, Hajime Wataya, a renowned master in the karuta world. Arata was close with his grandfather, but when he passed away due to illness, Arata began carrying the weight of his grandfather's death on his shoulders. Devastated and grief-stricken, he quit playing karuta.

While the love triangle certainly adds to the drama, the platonic interrelations are just as fascinating. Meeting as children, the friendships between Chihaya, Taichi and Arata are forged and intertwined by karuta. The trio loses contact before junior high school, each falling out of karuta for different reasons. It isn't until high school that Chihaya and Taichi reunite. Eager to play karuta again, she convinces Taichi to start a karuta club with her where they recruit members, introducing their love of the game to newcomers and establishing their own friend group who now all share a common interest. However, while these new friends are great encouragement for climbing up in the tanks, no one motivates Chihaya or Taichi to play to the best of their abilities more than Arata.

Although the third main character, Arata is absent throughout most of the story. Rather, it's his memory and distant presence that pushes Chihaya and Taichi considerably, as his karuta skills have always surpassed those of his friends. This makes his limited appearances extremely gratifying, which is only exemplified with silent reminiscences of the strong bond the trio once shared when they were kids before the hardships of life caught up to them. Childhood friends and rivals, they are each on their own journey, attempting to carve out their individual paths as they fight to achieve their dreams.

Additionally, while karuta may seem like a trivial, uninteresting card game, like every other sports anime, Chihayafuru uses its characters, story, visuals and soundtrack to amplify the karuta experience. There's never a dull moment, with every match providing plenty of drama and intensity. One of the most standout elements of the anime is the stunning visuals, which are used creatively and silently to showcase the various complicated emotions of the characters. The audience is brought into their world through a poetic lens that mimics the poetry found in karuta.

So does the story really need romance? Not really. Chihaya is mostly obsessed with karuta, and has little interest in pursuing a romantic relationship, while Taichi and Arata also strive to be the best they can be. Romance is definitely a side venture, but karuta remains the main focus. Matches are engaging in their own right, and there's a full cast of well-developed characters who further flesh out the story. Whether Chihaya ends up with someone or not, Chihayafuru successfully manages to tell a beautifully conceptualized story about the realities of chasing a dream that's sure to tug at heartstrings.

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