(Warning: this post contains thoughts on characters from Chihayafuru and thus might have a light spoiler hidden here and there)
Finding solid female characters in any form of media can be a struggle. But anime is probably one of the more difficult categories. This is in part due to the far slower progress of feminist movements within the country, but the biggest immediate reason likely has to do with the lack of female writers and directors within the industry (not that Hollywood is winning any points in this area either, mind you).
Now this is not to say that men cannot write believable female characters. By no means. It’s just far harder to do so. The same goes the other way, of course. It’s harder for a woman to write a believable male character. The reasoning should be pretty obvious. Writers can write a far more realistic story based on things they are more familiar with rather than things they are not.
Which brings me to the surprise that is Chihayafuru and the females characters found within. Considering that this show is technically labeled as a shoujo title (although it’s also marked with two other major genres), I really wasn’t expecting anything fresh in it’s characters. I’m happy to report that, for the first time in many moons, I was wrong.
So let’s talk about Chihayafuru’s main female characters, shall we?
First up is Chihaya Ayase herself. She’s loud and generally air headed about anything that isn’t Karuta. And thus, right from the start, we see a huge difference in this heroine from other shoujo heroines. She’s legitimately clueless. Honestly. Not just clueless here and there when it’s convenient for the writers. She honestly doesn’t pick up on the feelings of others easily, if at all. Just about the only thing that makes her a shoujo heroine is that she has more than one guy who likes her. But with two full seasons down, she still has yet to even consider having a relationship with anyone outside of Karuta. She’s completely focused on her own passion for this Japanese poetry game and you could say that the game itself is her true love.
This is not to say she’s a horribly absent character emotionally. She’s very kind and compassionate as well. But it takes her longer to pick up other’s emotions and her own usually circle back to, yes, Karuta. She also has a bit of a complex about her older sister, who often gets all the attention in the family. But thankfully, in this area as well she remains unpredictable, for she never holds it against her sister and instead continues to support her despite being largely ignored herself.
Chihaya is not defined by her romantic relationships with the opposite sex either, but by what she truly loves and wants to do with her life (although, comically, she struggles to figure out how to apply her passion to a real life job for her future). She’s a female character that doesn’t need a male character to stand. Her admiration for Akira is tied directly to Karuta and it isn’t until the near end of the second season that the smallest thought that her feelings could be deeper even occur to her. Not that the thought sticks. Karuta still rules her and soon she sees him for what he is to her: a rival in Karuta. That’s all.
Next is Kanade Oe, a very strong female secondary character. Now on the surface it seemed like she might end up as an excuse for a big chested character. And yes, I’ll admit, that trick is played a few times. But not often. In fact, her chest size really isn’t even mentioned for quite some time. But what is mentioned is her own passion, which exists in traditional Japanese clothing and the history surrounding it and classical poetry. Her nerdy knowledge of literature really drew me to her as a character, especially as I’m a literature major myself. And, like Chihaya, she’s devoted to her own passion in life rather than throwing herself at any male character that shows any interest in her. Just like the lead of the show, she isn’t defined by a romantic love interest, but by her goals and passions. Her reveal that she wishes to be a reader rather than just a Karuta player later in the series made me more than a little happy. Finally! A girl with a goal!
This brings me to the last female lead in this show and one that doesn’t appear until season two. Sumire Hanano, who is actually one of the most complex female characters I’ve seen as of late. At first, as usual for many female character introductions these days, I feared she was a stereotypical popular girl type who would end up as little more than a catalyst for furthering the incredibly slow shoujo element to the series. I was wonderfully wrong! This female is very stuck on romance and looking good. Very much so. But she’s realistically written that way. She’s more in love with the idea of love, rather than an actual person. She honestly believes that she needs to fall in love as soon as she can and experience love quickly as beauty fades. She knows youth lasts only a moment and thus flings herself into romance with little thought at all as to the other side’s opinion on that matter. At least, she does at first. Over time, she begins to enjoy other aspects of life and slow, very slowly, allows her makeup covered mask to drop. But her passions and life views are still strongly obsessed with love and romance, compelling her to notice the relationships around her and the poems in Karuta very differently from her comrades.
It’s refreshing to see female characters with personal goals and agendas outside of ordinary romance clichés. Women are not defined by a single emotion: romantic love. Some of us do indeed fall in love. Some of us do not. Some of us don’t even register romantic love as something to think about. Regardless, we’re not simple and should never be written as such. We’re human begins. And humans are always complicated things.