Chihaya Ayase is a famous beauty at her school, but she’s far from a conventional girl. Three years ago in her final year of elementary school, Chihaya and her friend Taichi became infatuated with the card game, Karuta, after connecting with a lonely boy named Arata Wataya. But when the trio graduated from elementary school, they each went their separate ways but shared one common goal: to excel in the game and meet each other at the national championships. Now, Chihaya is attempting to share her passion for the game by creating a competitive Karuta club at school, but when she reunites with Taichi it seems that maybe she’s the only one with the intention of fulfilling their childhood promise...
I read the majority of this manga over spring break a few years ago, but the story has remained in my head ever since. Although it's technically josei (I would say more so in the second half), it combines elements from shounen sports-manga with the shoujo flair for emotional drama. If I had to compare its overall vibe to other stories, it's like a more mature Kono Oto Tomare! or Yona of the Dawn if that story was about playing karuta. The story definitely matures as the characters do. Their situations become increasingly challenging and complex as the MCs move from childhood through to the end of childhood. It was also really interesting to see how different character motivations interacted through the game of karuta -- it makes it feel like a sports manga a lot of the time, but something about it felt very different to me. I'm not sure what, exactly. Although I wasn't a huge fan of all of them, I could see that all the characters were very well-written (and some get better with time!). Without giving any spoilers, Taichi is and will always be the best-written character in my eyes, but Chihaya herself is probably the one I love the most. I especially loved watching her struggle and fail (mwahaha), especially since it made the story feel very realistic. On one hand, she is very much the talented and motivated protagonist of a sports manga, while on the other, she has very clear weaknesses and makes a lot of stupid decisions. Understandable, but stupid. All in all, while the anime might give you a better experience of what playing karuta actually looks/feels like, the manga is well worth the read. Despite its relative popularity (in Japan, at least), I don't see a lot of people discussing it. If you've stumbled upon this review, I suggest you give it a read.
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