Unbeknownst to most, if not all, I am a passionate and fervent sports fan. All throughout my life, sports has had a fundamental and irreplaceable role. Even today, I spend more time watching, following, and discussing sports than all my time spent on anime, manga and this blog combined. You figure it’d only be natural for me to be a fan of sports anime seeing how enthusiastic I am about sports. Well, for whatever reasons, I never found myself interested or excited about any sports anime, save for Battle Athletes Victory back in the 2000. In fact, I believe that was the last true sports anime I’ve watched (shows like Softenni do not count). Then, in Autumn of 2011, I started Chihayafuru, an anime revolving around one girl’s love of competitive karuta. It wasn’t until well into the second half before I realized I was watching a genuine sports anime. Not only that, but I was loving it, too!
Although I probably recognized early on that Chihayafuru is indeed a sports anime, I never really acknowledged that it was a sports anime until the latter episodes when the karuta tournaments began and the matches became pivotal storylines that dominated the episodes. Before, I figured Chihayfuru was along the lines of a club anime with subtle romantic undertones. Well, maybe the first half was, but the Chihayafuru of 2012 featured sensational, intense karuta matches that really solidified the anime as a favorite for me. What Chihayfuru was able to do was turn what seems to be a simple card game into so much more. It turned karuta into what I want to see from a sports anime.
Chihayafuru was able to showcase a number of elements that revealed itself to be a sports anime and it excelled in these areas to make it a compelling and passionate anime. One of the first hints is that the anime steadily became more and more scientific with karuta, dissecting movements and motions and strategies into technical components that were explained smoothly to the audience. It really focused on the mental aspects of karuta which is something I find essential for a sports anime to be good or even tolerable. No, this doesn’t mean I want to see the characters thinking during matches or whatever, but to see it in the preparation aspect where the true mental aspects of sports are highlighted. Chihayafuru was able to do that and acknowledged that the characters needed to grow throughout the anime outside the matches than through blind luck during the matches. Additionally, Chihayafuru was able to generate sincere interest in every match towards the end, thanks to heartfelt investments in emotions and in the opponents the characters faced. Not only were the tournament matches valuable for the characters to win, but the anime spent time to humanize every opponent and show what made them formidable or difficult to play against. This paid immediate dividends in that it felt like the characters were facing a challenge in each match and that every victory would be rewarding and that every loss would be defeating. Chihayfuru was masterful at manipulating the drama throughout the matches to make each one stimulating and enjoyable to watch. And perhaps the most important aspect of all is that Chihayafuru felt realistic. There were no godly players with superhuman abilities or Deus ex machina sequences that would’ve destroyed the authenticity of the matches or the anime. It remained down-to-Earth the entire time and this really impacted how I enjoyed and appreciated this anime. As a result, I found myself falling in love with the sports genre in Chihayafuru, a rekindling of my interest in sports anime that has been ignored for 12 years now. Just think about that for a moment.
Since the end of Chihayafuru, I’ve found myself becoming more interested and open to future sports anime. Although there have been few that have aired since, I realize there are a number of anime that I have ignored or dismissed over these several years that might be worth looking into again, especially with my newfound interest in sports anime after this wonderful exposure to what a sports anime can really be. Of course, each show will need to be evaluated since certain shows follow the tired, shounen sports tropes that steered me away from the genre in the first place. And even if I decide not to go back and watch some of these older, forgotten sports anime, I still feel like Chihayafuru was able to do something memorable and influential. To me, what Chihayafuru was able to do was shatter this perception and misconception of the sports genre and show me how interesting and worthwhile they actually can be. So even if I never pick up another sports anime again, for whatever reason, I’ll always remember that Chihayafuru is a sports anime that did sports justice and proved to me that sports can be done properly in an anime.