What it’s about: Karuta is a game of poetry and cards, native to Japan but little known elsewhere. Of course, this means that whoever reaches the top national rank is not only the best at the game in their country, but the best in the world. The tomboyish Chihaya learns of karuta from her friend Arata, a loner obsessed with living up to his grandfather’s legacy as a karuta master. She sees in the game a way to step out of the shadow of her sister, to find a dream of her own.
Why you should watch it: Like all the best sports anime, the actual game being played matters very little, and the nature of karuta makes audience predictions and strategising entirely moot. Instead, the show uses the game as a lens through which to examine the characters and their relationships to one another and to the game itself. All three protagonists are incredibly well-realised; I can only think of a handful of other anime with characters that seem so *human*: flawed, vulnerable, but capable of greatness. The art and character designs are utterly gorgeous and the soundtrack, while unobtrusive, ties the show together. This is a really, really strong show and all too easy to binge through.
Caveats: You don’t need to know anything about karuta going into it. It won’t affect your enjoyment at all. This is a very character-based show, so what happens in the plot is never as important as the way the protagonists react to the changing circumstances. There is no dubbed version available, and the nature of the sport makes it uniquely unlikely to ever receive one.
Themes: Finding a dream for oneself, and dedicating one’s life to its pursuit. Bonding through shared experiences.