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    “Chihayafuru” Graphic Novel Review

    By Sydney Liang

    “If you didn’t experience it yourself, then you cannot call it your dream.” This quote ignites a burning passion within a young girl named Chihaya, who will take this quote and pursue her dream. Yuki Suetsugu’s award-winning graphic novel Chihayafuru is a story told as a flashback of the heroine, Chihaya, dedicating her entire youth to her dream: becoming the Queen of competitive Karuta, a traditional Japanese card game that is considered a sport. The story begins in Tokyo, with Chihaya challenging the current Queen of Karuta (the best female player of Karuta) in her senior year of high school, and then flashes back to Chihaya when she first enters high school. Readers get to follow Chihaya as she creates a team of Karuta players in her high school, and continues to pursue her dream to become Queen. Suetsugu uses beautiful illustrations and skillful character development to depict Chihaya along with her friends and competitors in their dream of Karuta. Chihayafuru shows readers all the different sides of youth: friendship, love, competition, but most importantly, identity and heritage and dedicating everything to pursue a dream.

    In Chihayafuru, the way art ties into character development brings the story alive. One of the important motifs throughout the story is “imagining”. The author brings up the concept that envisioning an “image” in your mind will help players of Karuta to memorize all the Karuta cards and their positions. By associating “images” with each of the cards, the characters in this manga envision a landscape, an object, or a person when a certain card is mentioned. Suetsugu drew these images with great detail, revealing in stunning illustrations the inside of each character’s imagination. Japanese graphic novels are all in black and white, and so to be able to express different mental images in monochrome, Suetsugu demonstrates artistic skills that surpass many other graphic novels that rely in color. This helps to create depth for building each character as readers are given a tour of each character’s mind and imagination, as well as intriguing readers and bringing readers to care for the characters.

    There is only one major drawback of Chihayafuru for non-Japanese readers, and it is the culture barrier. Karuta is deeply interconnected with Japanese culture, and a lot of the cultural references are difficult to translate. This affects readers that are reading translated versions of the graphic novel by not being able to understand many crucial components of the original novel. For example, the theme of retrieving and being proud of one’s cultural heritage is prevalent in the graphic novel. Chihaya finds out the meaning behind all the poems written on Karuta cards, and it was a turning point for Chihaya when she realizes the importance of the history behind the Karuta that she is so passionate about. When reading translated versions, there will be a barrier in understanding the historical references the poems contain, and why Chihaya finds herself connected to a certain rhythm of the poems written on the Karuta cards.

    Chihayafuru is most suitable for teenage readers, for it is a high quality graphic novel portraying youth and dreams. Teenagers might be able to find themselves in this graphic novel, and find inspiration in Chihaya’s journey of achieving her dream.

    Chihayafuru is known as a popular graphic novel, and some argue that it is not literature. Literature is when a story or an idea is expressed in words, and is able to be lasting in time. Art exceeds the limits words, and is usually a pure visual form of creativity. Graphic novels are able to tell stories through intricate illustrations, but Chihayafuru also utilizes language to aid its storytelling. The high quality of the visuals and the depth of the content makes it possible to last in time. Therefore, graphic novels such as Chihayafuru should be considered literature, though containing visual elements.

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