Sometimes I like to scroll through show listings to just randomly pick something out and that’s exactly how these two shows came to my attention, Chihayafuru and March Comes in Like a Lion. While watching these was a luck of the draw, the stories and characters definitely kept me interested.
So what are they about?
This anime focuses on Chihaya Ayase, Taichi Mashima and Arata Wataya who become friends in elementary school playing Karuta- a type of card game where player must memorize 100 poems, half of the poem is written on the cards and the other half is read aloud. The player who grabs the correct card to match the poem being read aloud gets the card and the player with the most cards wins. The three become close friends over the game and Arata and Chihaya especially form a bond over the game, but then Arata winds up moving away and the three drift apart.
Chihaya never loses her love for the game and when she reunites with Taichi in high school she talks him into joining her in creating a karuta club at school. Ultimately Chihaya’s wish is to become the best competitive karuta player so she can one day reunite with Arata again and play him in a match. Meanwhile Arata has stopped playing karuta due to personal reasons, but upon discovering that his childhood friends are competing again, he too jumps back into the game.
All three begin aiming for the title King/Queen of karuta, but who will come out on top and at what price?
March Comes in Like a Lion:
Rei Kiriyama is a young shogi prodigy who moves out of his adopted family’s home at the age of 17-years-old in order to find a way to some sort of independence from the pressures of the expectations placed on him by his adoptive family and the competitive shogi community itself. On his own, however, it becomes apparent that he is not capable of looking out for himself properly. Then he meets the Kawamoto family.
The Kawamoto’s are a trio of sisters who live with their grandfather and upon meeting Rei start to form a familial bond with him. Through his budding friendship with the Kawamoto’s and the friendship he begrudgingly starts to form with one of his shogi rivals, Rei learns how to start opening himself up more to people around him and to his own emotions that he’s kept locked up inside for so long.
There is just something about these two shows that give me a similar feel even though they are very different which is why I decided to talk about them together and those similarities rather than say a lot about the shows themselves.
***WARNING SPOILERS AHEAD***
The Isolation Games:
If there is one thing I remember from my time playing sports – reluctantly – as a kid, it’s how you can feel so utterly alone even when part of a team. Which is something Chihayafuru taps into well. Even though the characters are part of clubs and play as a team or go watch other matches in order to support their fellow club member during a singles match, the players are still alone. Isolated in their own thoughts, feelings, movements. Isolated in their concentration to hear what is being said in time to get the card before their opponent. Even in a team match they are isolated because they’re only playing the person in front of them. Although they can do things to cheer or inspire their team, they’re still having to mostly focus on their game alone. Which is a lot like shogi since it’s essentially another form of chess. Players may be sitting across from one another, but there’s no banter, they’re just trying to get into the mind of their opponent but that’s still an isolated space because you’re not reaching out in friendship or human understanding. You’re reaching out to overtake and beat them.
Both shows do a great deal of delving into this mind set with all the competitors, not just the main characters. Lots of anime – especially those involving sports – will take you into the minds of multiple players on multiple teams, but the way these two shows do this really stands out to me. It’s almost like you’re blindfolded and the characters are leading you on a journey of sensation and you have to just trust they’ll carry you along safely.
In Chihayafuru it’s down to sound. You’d think touch since it’s a card game and you’re physically knocking them about, but it’s sound. Listening to what the reader is about the say, the way their breath is taken in and let out, the way the first syllable starts to flow from their vocal cords and the emotions/sensations that gives the players almost evoking the seasons or the elements just from a word. It’s like all other noises stop around me while watching and I too am straining to hear those sounds. Those sounds are the life of the game. Without them, the game could not happen.
With March Comes in Like a Lion it’s touch. It’s the physical sensations a player gets from the board, the tiles and from their opponent’s movement and playing style. A type of touch sensory that can sometimes feel like a drop of water and sometimes like a raging river sucking you under so you can’t see, can’t hear, can’t out think the other person’s next move.
I know it may seem strange but that’s just how the shows affect me.
But they aren’t really alone:
The relationship between Rei and the Kawamoto sisters in March Comes in Like a Lion is one of the most touching things I’ve seen in a while. It hit me so hard in the feelz, I didn’t realize it had dug that deep until certain things began happening and I would find myself literally clutching my chest because my heart hurt – whether from some emotional anguish on screen or some really deep happiness – both got to me. Not that anyone is truly tortured any more than the standard stories of loss, redemption, finding oneself, etc. but I think it’s the warmth the Kawamoto sisters project versus the cold and calculated world Rei is used to that make it so much more. You can almost feel a temperature difference between the moments he’s with them and the moments he’s not. Even in the moments when any of the characters are going through a deep emotional or mental turmoil, it’s as if a warm welcoming wind blows around you whenever Rei is in any of their presence.
As for Chihayafuru, Chihaya, Taichi and Arata are really the reason I keep watching. I enjoy the other characters but the deep emotional entanglement between these three is what has me always coming back. The bonds that tie them together. The deep bond between Chihaya and Arata from the start that almost defies words, it’s just one of those connections you feel. The bond between Chiyaha and Taichi – as childhood friends and now teammates in karuta and their own rivalry which really makes their connection even deeper in ways. The bond between Taichi and Arata, although firmly rooted in competition – at karuta, for Chihaya – it’s a strong tie between the two. There aren’t a lot of shows I’ve watched that have three characters that are so deeply woven together that even during all the episodes where Arata doesn’t appear you feel his presence still when Chihaya and Taichi are together. Actually it’s that way with any of the characters, if one isn’t there you still feel their presence.
Or that could just be me because I’m a hopeless romantic. Whatevs.
Edge of my seat thrills?
Sort of. It’s the mental aspect of it all, seeing it from inside the minds of the players you start to get wrapped up in their tactics and emotions when they win or lose. I’ve never really enjoyed chess but watching the shogi players does give me an appreciation for just how much mental and strategic acuity you have to possess to become a great player. It seems odd that sitting and staring at a board and moving pieces around could be exhausting but sometimes I get tired just watching a game in this anime.
And karuta is more like an actual contact sport since you have to physically knock cards out of the way and then go grab them. Up, down, up, down…do real karuta players have really strong legs? Something to ponder… Then there is all the memorization that comes with it and training your ears to hear mere syllables over actual words, anticipating what could be read next and getting your hand ready to swipe the correct card.
I have sat on the edge of my seat, leaned in toward the tv when watching these shows and then catch myself and wonder what the heck I’m doing. LOL.
What else do I love?
The animation style of March Comes in Like a Lion took a while for me to really appreciate, but once I started to get used to it, it actually became quite lovely. The softer angles really play against some of the sharper edges of the story itself. The stark black and white images of Rei’s turmoiled mind juxtaposed with the lighter colors and textures when he’s with the Kawamoto sisters is really what makes this anime so heartbreakingly gorgeous to me at times.
And Chihayafuru isn’t too shabby either. There’s a great behind the scenes you can watch – I know it’s on Crunchyroll for now anyway – that shows how they blend the physical drawings with the digital animation. If you’re a fan of the show I’d say definitely check that out.
Are there ships coming into these harbors?
No, and yes.
Not as much in March Comes in Like a Lion- at least not romantically. I mean some characters have crushes on people or are in relationships, but none amongst the main characters. At least not as far as I’ve seen.
However, there is no doubt that in Chihayafuru there is definitely something brewing between Arata and Chihaya and Taichi for Chihaya. Don’t get me wrong, I appreciate how pretty Taichi is
but I’m team Arata all the way. There’s just something about Arata’s and Chihaya’s personalities that clicks more for me. Plus – and I admit it – I’m a bit of a megane (people with glasses) lover. Tee hee…
Hopefully, I’ve given you a good overview of the two enough that you might want to check them out to know more. Because there is more to know. I thought about delving a lot more into the characters themselves and their stories, etc. and talking more about the other characters I enjoy, but that would make this way too long. Then I thought about making a post about each show separately, but something about these shows really is interwoven for me and I didn’t even watch them that close together, there’s just a certain…something…I can’t explain it.
Anyhooo…anyone else watch either or both of these shows? What are your impressions? Let me know in the comments or hit me up on Twitter!
Welcome to the host club.
Ok…I can’t really end this without talking about how stupidly adorable the youngest Kawamoto sister, Momo, is. OMG! She’s too adorable for me to handle it.
Momo is excited:
Rei’s not momo’s big brother?
Cheering Rei on:
Seriously this kid is so adorable it kinda makes me angry…LOL
Share on Facebook