Saturday, July 6, 2013

A WELL-TOLD TALE

I recently finished watching an anime that holds valuable lessons for writers.


Chihayafuru has no magical or supernatural elements, monsters, mecha, typical battles--it's about a card game, and not even the sort with any high stakes betting involved. No betting at all, unless individual players or clubs might choose to place wagers, monetary or otherwise, in real life.

The game is called karuta, and prior to watching the show, I'd never heard of it. There are several different versions, but the one featured in Chihayafuru is of the competitive Hyakunin Isshu variety, based on The 100 Poems.

Many people would consider the game boring, too complicated and so on, which is depicted in the show, being a reason why it's difficult to find members for the karuta club. Gaining enough members to establish and maintain the club is a primary focus in the beginning of the first season.

So why is Chihayafuru still so good? Because the story and the characters still draw you in. Prior to watching this show, I'd never imagined finding myself on the edge of my seat waiting to find out who'd win a card game, cheering right along with the participating character's teammates in individual matches, cheering for all of them during team tournaments.

Of course it isn't only about karuta; you gain insight into the characters' lives, backstories, and there is a love triangle or two. But that doesn't change the focus of the show, the fact that it's primarily about a card game that's not all that popular even in Japan, according to this interview with members of Chihayafuru's creative team.

But the popularity level doesn't matter. The fact that I'd never heard of karuta doesn't matter. The fact that I'll probably never play it myself and can't truly relate to the cultural significance of the poems and the game in general: still doesn't matter. I still fell in love with the show, the characters, and after two seasons, I'm dying for a third, along with the vast majority of Chihayafuru commenters. The overall consensus: we want more!

Why is this a valuable lesson for writers? Because it illustrates so well the fact that, if executed properly, a story that wouldn't seem all that interesting on the surface can still be extremely engaging, that characters and scenarios can still be relatable even when it seems unlikely. I'm not in high school, never really played any competitive sports, but I could still relate to Chihaya's desire to become the best, her dedication to an activity she loved, to her teammates, her admiration for and devotion to the person who introduced her to karuta--and Chihaya is far from the only relatable character. Kana's love for poetry and desire to promote her family's business. The pressure Taichi's under to be perfect at everything. Arata's struggles...don't want to go too far into those, since that could get into spoiler territory.

Unfortunately, neither the anime nor the manga has been licensed in the U.S. Hopefully that will change. But until then, watch the anime here (legal and free, via Crunchyroll).

If you don't watch it, still take note of the lesson it teaches: write your story. Say what you have to say. If it's a well-written, compelling story, it will still be compelling even if it's not filled with nonstop excitement.

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