Chihayafuru is one of my all-time favorite anime series, so you can imagine my surprise and delight when Kodansha announced they’d licensed the manga for an English-language digital release. While devouring the first volume, I once again fell in love with this endearing, intense, emotional rollercoaster of a sports series about three friends in the world of competitive karuta—and was also struck for the first time by how insightfully Chihaya’s childhood arc depicts the plight of the “tomboy.”
Sometimes wrenching but ultimately inspiring, Chihayafuru’s first volume quietly challenges traditional gender norms and offers the hope of a supportive community to anyone who’s ever felt like they didn’t quite fit society’s gendered expectations of who they’re “supposed” to be.
In 1964 Japan was the first Asian country to host the Olympics. With the world watching, Japan won the third most gold medals (behind the United States and the Soviet Union), including the gold in women’s volleyball. This sparked a boom in female athleticism and added volleyball girls’ gym class curriculums across the country in addition to inspiring an anime called Attack on No. 1 about a young girl struggling through fierce volleyball competitions. Attack on No. 1 is the earliest example of a sports anime starring female characters and its popularity influenced other sports anime like Aim for the Ace, a show about a female tennis players that is still referenced to this day. (If you see a girl playing tennis with curly hair and doing an ojou-sama laugh, chances are that’s an Aim for the Ace reference.) But in recent years all high profile sports anime like Yowamushi Pedal and Kuroko’s Basketball focus on men’s sports. Women’s sports anime hasn’t been able to grasp the same popularity it did during the intense shoujo showdowns of the 60s, leaving female driven sports anime lacking in quantity.