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Chihayafuru and the Power of Musical Motif

If you had to name one song from your favorite anime, which would you pick? Like most people, you would probably pick the opening theme, the hook, the banger that draws you in and makes you stay. You may even pick the ending theme, usually more reflective and thematic in feel, the perfect way to close ties with a show for another week. Those are the two most likely answers to that question. But when it comes to Chihayafuru, my favorite anime of the Fall 2019 season so far, I wouldn’t say either of those pieces. I would choose the true theme of the show, simple titled Main Theme, the song that ties everything together and flows throughout the entire soundtrack with its musical motifs.

Scrolling through the internet, I see a lot of the same comments. “Chihayafuru is great but I don’t know why.” “Chihayafuru has this something I can’t explain. But it’s that something that makes me love it.” “Whatever Krabby Patty formula Chihayafuru is using, other anime should try to steal” (OK, I made that one up). I think that this something that Chihayafuru has— its beautiful exhilaration and emotional resonance as a series— is perfectly reflected in Main Theme. Listen to that track. There is something so graphic and physical in this piece. It sounds like opening the windows on the first spring day and letting the breeze hit your face. It is so full of wonder, hope, and earned victory. Those are the things that make Chihayafuru great. It isn’t just a sports anime; it’s a sport anime that cares. It cares about Japanese poetry and tradition, it cares about its characters and their relationships, it cares about its “sport” in a way that no other show of its kind does. Its expressive heart is its Krabby Patty formula; you hear that empathic spirit in Main Theme. You also hear its joy because— of course, for Chihaya and the cast— karuta is more than just a card game. It’s a lifestyle…and it’s a lot of fun.

After episode six of Chihayafuru, I was obviously on edge. It was a masterful episode filled with tension, excitement, and amazing character development on both sides of the mat. It was so good I couldn’t get over it so I went to work and listened to the OST. It was my first time listening to it from start to finish. And I was shocked. The majesty of Main Theme is sprinkled through every track in the soundtrack. From Team Chihaya, an upbeat remix of sorts of Main Theme, to Karuta Biyori and Takabura Kimochi which just have flurries of the Theme’s notes, the whole of the OST is brought together by the structure and subtle brilliance of Main Theme and the entire show benefits from this musical choice.

By continually falling back on the same motif, the characters and viewers are always able to return to a safe place. No matter the defeat or the drama, karuta is always there as a consolation— karuta and its hopeful, wonderous melody. Main Theme cements what Chihayafuru stands for in a beautiful way; it is one of my favorite anime tracks of all time. And knowing what this new season holds (I’m a manga reader after all), I cannot wait to see how the anime staff manipulates this theme to bring it to even further heights. Chihayafuru is a beautiful series that keeps your eyes glued to the screen, but make sure to keep your ears open as well unless you’re willing to miss something that makes the show even more masterful.


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