The mysteries of the heart.
TV Series; 22 Episodes
Genre: Mystery, School
Produced: Kyoto Animation
It’s easy to see that Hyouka utilizes the mini-arc approach, with the entire show divided into several mysteries spanning a couple of episodes each. Typically this calls for a different analysis of the “story” when compared to a more linear, connected show. However, Hyouka is one of the few shows I’ve seen that actually maintains an overarching “plot”, if it can be considered as such, present in the background of each arc. That is, while it is tempting to judge Hyouka by the individual mysteries it presents us, it is actually more relevant to look at the ever-present character development and interactions. Since we have a whole section dedicated to characters, though, I will endeavor to present a meaningful summary of Hyouka’s mysteries.
Hyouka has its strengths and weaknesses, and unfortunately its mysteries fall under the latter category. As an extremely simple rule of thumb, the question we should ask ourselves here is; “Was the story engaging?” For the most part, the answer is no. I can’t remember how many times I found myself uninterested in the “mystery of the week”, but it was probably the case for a majority of them. The main problem with the mysteries is simply their seemingly forced nature. Now of course, it can be said that this is merely a reflection of Eru forcing the problems onto Houtarou, but that still doesn’t aid in our investment in the mysteries. Sometimes, we’re just not as “kininarimasu” as Eru is. Actually, that’s probably most of the time. Regardless, as previously mentioned, we should not judge Hyouka based on the quality of its mysteries. They just aren’t the main point of the show. Rather, they serve as a vehicle to convey the character interactions.
Moving on to the meat of the show, I can say without a doubt that the character development in Hyouka was done just right. The immediately obvious example is the star of the show, Houtarou. When we first met him, he was proclaiming his intent to remain lazy. Ok, so perhaps it was more of an intent to retain a laid-back way of life, but I digress. Obviously, given this proclamation things won’t go his way. And sure enough, as he gets involved with the Classics Club throughout the show, his life becomes increasingly hectic. Of particular interest are his interactions with Eru. In fact, pretty much all of the antics that Houtarou gets into involve Eru as the catalyst.
Eru acts as a textbook foil to Houtarou. As laid-back as Houtarou is, Eru is enthusiastic. And unfortunately for Houtarou, he can’t refuse Eru’s in-your-face advances precisely because of his low-energy nature. It is often said that opposites attract, but while this statement sounds romantic, it just isn’t true. At least, that is the case in real life. Even so, this makes us wonder just how Houtarou and Eru ever got along. The answer is surprisingly simple. Despite his claims of being laid-back, Houtarou secretly yearns for a more “active” lifestyle. He just can’t seem to find the motivation himself, so when Eru comes along and provides some much needed stimulus in his life, he can’t help but feel a sense of attraction. It might even be appropriate to compare this to a moth’s fatal attraction to fire, only without the life-threatening complications (though some may argue that Eru is hnnnng-inducing).
I could go on to further analyze Eru’s own attraction to Houtarou by the way he “compliments” her curiosity with his capabilities, but ideally this review should provide you with an understanding of the show without serving as a dumpster of information to overwhelm the reader. That said, I will cut the character development analysis short and avoid the equally fascinating interactions between Satoshi and Mayaka. Long story short, the character interactions are where the gold is for Hyouka.
Hyouka is undoubtedly pretty. At least, I did not notice any major lapses in production quality throughout the entire show. Being considerably dialogue-heavy, the show manages to pull off long segments of conversation (or explanation) without boring the viewer by complimenting them with visualizations of the discussion. Sometimes the visualizations are actually unrelated to the “content” and are purely eye-candy, but luckily these aren’t so distracting as to disrupt the viewing experience. As an example, the very last scene of the finale provided a perfect balance of eye-candy and relevance. The blooming sakura blossoms in spring are an evident parallel to the “budding” relationship between Eru and Houtarou, while also serving as a crucial point in the mystery of the week. And need I even mention the highly suggestive shapes of the blossoms? The whole scene (or scenery) was as pretty as it was significant.
As it so happens, the audio portion of a production tends to be more hit-and-miss for me. I don’t usually enjoy a song because it was done by a particular band, nor do I typically single out a show because of a particular voice-actor. If a song just so happens to catch my ear, then that’s all the better for my enjoyment of the show. At the very least, I can say that the audio rarely ruins a show for me. And in the case of Hyouka, nothing particularly stood out for me. The bgm did its job in setting the mood, and that was that.
I remember being skeptical of Hyouka when I first picked it up. And indeed, it did start off relatively slowly, but this was in a sense a necessary complication of the focus on the characters. Fortunately, the developments weren’t so slow as to completely bore me, and for those who just have to have something more, there are the “mysteries of the week” to help fill in the gaps. Add on the excellent visual quality, and I have to say that Hyouka has the makings of a rather solid show.
Guest Final Review
I really enjoyed Hyouka, and consider it one of the best anime I’ve ever seen. From the first episode, I was pretty much captivated, first by the beautiful art, and then by the fairly “ordinary person” characterizations of the main cast. Near the beginning of the show, I was racking my brain to try to come up with a comparison for the levels of ‘mystery’ that the show had in it. I know the show talks a lot about Holmes, and references these big mysteries, but I was really more interested because they *aren’t* big mysteries. They’re really minor things, and almost always things that make no difference whatsoever except if you’re “kininarimasu!” about that specific thing. The closest things I could come up with were that they were kind of between Encyclopedia Brown and Scooby Doo mysteries. But that really doesn’t matter, because the depth of the mystery is only a minimal part of the charm of the show. It’s really a show about four people who manage to end up together in a supportive group: two who were friends before, two who were cool on each other before, two who were connected by a one-sided romantic history, two who ended up as good friends, and two pairs that ended up as likely future couples.
And those couples are where the main charm of the show lies. As we see Houtarou change through the series, and through the school year, we see how his professed energy conservation lifestyle gradually but systematically breaks down under the relentless onslaught of his growing feelings for Eru, and her increased care for him. We see Eru inviting him more and more into her life, and rather than turn it down as too much bother, as he’d done at the beginning of the series, he accepts more and more of it. And it’s not a silly romance, it’s not even overt. Both of them are far too reserved for that. But they both know it, and even without a definitive conclusion in this series, it almost feels that their futures assuredly lie together. And Satoshi and Mayaka, while following a completely different path, bring a personality contrast and a completely different feel to their desire to be together.
And supporting this story was tremendous art and production. KyoAni found a perfect style for this storytelling. The settings, backgrounds, and details are amazing, but you never lose sight of the characters of the story. The major arc of the series, the Kanya Festa, made it a place you ached to be in, because the setting of this high school in a small city in rural Japan was still the most interesting place you’ve seen for those two days.