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I wouldn't have thought that I would like a show about a high school card-game sports club, which sounds nonsensical. However, it's really not that strange after all - karuta definitely qualifies as a sport, given how much it relies on speed and endurance, and the kids who play are incredibly endearing.
Chihaya, the female lead, is great as a subversion of our expectations. She's beautiful and doesn't care - but not in the Hollywood trope way... she *really* doesn't care about anything other than karuta and her friends. Her childhood friends, both guys, would normally be a recipe for a dumb love triangle, but, well... it's complicated. One of them is at a different school altogether. And frankly, they seem to ALL be hung up on each other, not just the boys on Chihaya. I've never seen a show that was a better candidate for an OT3.
The other karuta players steal the show sometimes; we really get to know their motivations and how they react to being on a team with people they didn't know well before, and they feel like real people who have real problems that aren't solved just with the Power of Friendship. In particular, I love the kid who studies like crazy to the point that the other students call him Desk, but who still can't get the kind of grades that the gifted do without effort. He joins the team after being harangued into it, and gradually finds a niche for his studying habits to enhance his play style.
The next season is equally great, with a handful of new characters and a commitment to furthering the plot (to wit, can Chihaya or her friends become the top-ranking karuta players in Japan?). A third season is due out in April 2019 - here's to hoping that the story is finished in four (thematically, since karuta uses an 100 card deck and each season has 25 episodes, it would be satisfying).
My reviewing system for films and shows that are NOT anime: 1-5: I hated it. I also don't think it has redeeming qualities, so you shouldn't watch it either. 6: I didn't like it. It's not my thing, I didn't like the execution, I don't want to see it again. However, I don't think it is a BAD film or show - it has qualities that will recommend it to those who like that kind of thing. 7: It was fine. I didn't love it, and I don't need to see it again. I won't be sad if I never see it again. 8: I liked it. I didn't love it, and while I'd like to see it again, I wouldn't want to see it often. 9: I loved it. I would be sad if I never saw it again. I might want to see it every few years. 10: I loved it beyond description. I wouldn't mind re-watching it every year.
Clarifying my Anime rating system: My number key below is an attempt to parse the small differences between 5 and 6, 7 and 8, & 9 and 10. When I rate, I consider my own enjoyment, the characterization and the plot, the appearance of the animation, and occasionally the soundtrack - in roughly that order. An anime will lose at least 1 point for presence of deal-breaker tropes (for example, comedic pedophilia), and more if the trope(s) ruined my enjoyment. On the other hand, it will gain at least 1 point for artistry in animation or sound.
Never Recommend: 1-4, inclusive. Further clarification: I don't expect to rate anything 1-4, as I would probably never finish watching something in this range of rating. It's likely to have bad plotting, subpar animation, bland characterizations, silly and/or irritating tropes, etc.; I would consider it to be pure excrement, and I would rather be getting unanesthetized surgery for the entire running time.
Cautious Recommending: 5: I watched at least part of it, and may have stopped due to not liking the plot twists, character derailment, specific tropes, etc. In this case, it started out with a higher score and slipped over time... because I normally don't watch anything that I would score below 6, except for movies (small time commitment). 6: I may or may not have watched the whole show, but I recognize deal-breaker issues in it, and I'm unlikely to rewatch (I would rewatch only if a friend begged me to). It just wasn't enjoyable enough for me to forgive its flaws. There would be huge caveats to any recommendation.
Likely to Recommend: 7: Not my thing, but usually I at least respect it. Generally, I didn't like it enough to think I would rewatch it, but also didn't see huge problems in the plot, characterizations, etc. and thought it was worth finishing. I might suggest it to someone if I know they like the specific sub-genre or other work by the studio. 8: I had a good time watching it, but it didn't move me the way a 9 or a 10 does; it's possible that over time I would upgrade it to a 9 if I liked it more on reflection. I would be willing to rewatch it. I'd consider it mostly harmless to view, and would recommend it with the occasional caveat.
Highly Recommend: 9: I enjoyed very much. It may have had one or two issues, but not enough to diminish enjoyment. It's possible that over time I would downgrade it to an 8 (changing tastes) or upgrade to a 10 (realize it's never left my mind). I'm likely to rewatch, and likely to buy the DVDs. I'd recommend it to most audiences. 10: Virtually flawless. I'd definitely rewatch, and definitely want to buy DVDs. I would shill this to anyone.
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