Review: Hyouka

Hyou-ka: You can’t escape

What exactly was I getting myself into watching this show. I was expecting dime a dozen only to receive beauty and wit in one of the nicest surprises I’ve seen in a while. …god what a horrible betrayal of expectations.

Hyouka presents us with Houtaro Oreki, an energy saving lazy high-schooler with natural intelligence. Pushed into saving the dying Classics Club by his older sister, Oreki’s minimalistic lifestyle starts to crumble thanks to the whims of the other club members; old best friend Satoshi Fukube, Mayaka Ibara, and the ever curious Eru Chitanda. Thanks to Chitanda’s curiosity, the group end up solving mundane everyday mysteries with Oreki’s big noggin’.

See what I mean dime a dozen? ANOTHER SCHOOL CLUB ANIME: NOW WITH BORING MYSTERIES. OH JOY.

There is so much more beneath the surface and appearances.

So what we have here is a niche show that takes a curious spin on slice of life with mysteries, indulging itself in a suitably laid back and lackadaisical approach, one which it pulls off with grace. Hyouka rarely stumbles into territory where it drags on despite it’s slow pace, instead adopting a sense of lax intrigue which typically works well. I have to admit, that alone places the show in a category rarely seen, and personally, I’m a fan. It’s a fresh taste, and at it’s best, is jaw smackingly delicious. It doesn’t reach that high all too often sadly, but even on it’s normal days, it’s just wholly enjoyable.

Because when you get down to it, Hyouka is about teenagers who feel surprisingly real for anime standards. What’s kind of remarkable in that aspect is that most of development is done in a subtle manner, really unlike what I’m used to in anime like this. Treatment of typical coming of age issues, such as realizing others may have more natural talent than yourself, are treated with care along the full length of the series.

Hyouka does not hold your hand or forcefully drag you to the deeper end of the pool. The viewer can always calmly submerse themselves into what makes the show and it’s characters tick, and it feels great to have a show that simply let’s you understand the characters through their actions. They have a sense of being more than just 2D traits. All four of the main cast have distinguishable characters arcs which we can see develop au naturel, no lengthy awkward speeches to make sure the audience gets it. Makes for a fulfilling journey from start to end

And let’s get back to the surface qualities, because the show is actually, on a technical level, gorgeous. The atmosphere Hyouka creates is one its strongest suites, from scenery to creative “cinematography” and visuals oozing their pretty selves out of the screen. It’s luscious in all ways of the word, and the production values definitely show. The detail put into the animation is, well, really REALLY detailed. It’s eye candy plain and simple. It is the best.

As a whole, Hyouka is a testament what can be done with patience and slow painstaking care. The slow can be kind of painful, yes, but it always carried itself with charm and the sheer power of it’s atmosphere. So even in it’s laziest times, I could never truly call it dull – I was having fun. When it comes down to it, Hyouka captures a part of the teenage years and runs with it to its wits end. A real surprise for me, and something unique of its own.

    

    

Hyouka Series Finale Deducive Wrap-Up Episodes 19-22

There’s nothing in particular I wish to express on episodes 19 and 20 (other than that Oreki looks adorable wrecking things with a shovel), as they are standard Hyouka one-off episodes and there’s nothing I want to say about them that I wouldn’t include or rather spend talking about the latter two episodes.

So I won’t.

Shortcuts are a beautiful thing

But 21.

Man 21.

They just got the friggin’ drop on us.

D-day hit and I wasn’t even all up writing about this motherload.

The final episodes have been all about follow-up to what’s been set-up all show long. The furthering of a certain relationship, the inherent difficulties and intricacies for the externally inept Oreki and almost too emotionally in-tune Chitanda. And as much as this is addressed, we jump gears to what I’ve been waiting for since the whatever parade festa thing ended. We get the whole rigamarole with an episode as rich as Valentines should rightly be.

Satoshi and Mayaka are incredibly similar people on the down low. Their passions drive them to be the best, yet they face some very real road blocks. The more straightforward of the two, Mayaka, teared up at the face of talent during Kanya Fest, showing true that she takes what she does seriously. Even now in romance she does much of the same, refusing to give up at the face of rejection (says a lot about her “chemistry” with the apathetic Oreki).

When Mayaka represents one who continues to exert her obsessions, Satoshi has given up trying to be more. He’s taken a step back to enjoy a happy life without aiming high, a change from his once obsessive self who refused to lose. He lapsed back to his middle school self when he tried to best Oreki during Kanya Fest, but that only served to further cement his reluctance to grab hold of an interest. This all as the genuinely super nice and smart guy that he is.

Failing to understand the complexity of Satoshi’s dysfunction, Oreki maladjusted self plays another interesting parallel. Even stated in the episode where Satoshi wishes to stay in his personal comfort bubble, Oreki has for the length of Hyouka been diligently dragged out of his. His confrontation of many social interactions and the growing understanding of them is in mirror to Satoshi’s apparent desire to simplify everything. Having conveyed all that, Satoshi isn’t at the level of detachment which he’s aiming for. While he wishes to live his happy-go-lucky life, Mayaka is somebody he does truly hold dearly. But she at the same time represents his previous obsessive nature; the fear of lapsing back to his old self is a very real one.

This episode is really kind of a gateway to talking about the entire series as a whole, setting the characters on theatrical display. It’s the long term buildup of the acts before given payoff of the greatest kind, and even if we know not of how Satoshi and Mayaka will continue their relationship, it’s spectacular conclusion to our time with them. I’d say I couldn’t be more satisfied with this, but then episode 22 exists as well.

In the same stride as the previous, but shifting our focus back on Oreki and Chitanda, episode 22 gives us the bitter sweet ending I guess we could all predict. And the beauty lies in the execution. I feel somewhat dense admitting this, but it took me a moment to realize exactly what made this episode work beyond just the regular Hyouka A-game. And “surprisingly” enough, the answer might lie in Chitanda.

Oreki, as we all once knew him, was the low energy zero effort sort of guy. But this changed as Chitanda entered his life, slowly pulling Oreki out of that tiny comfort zone bubble of his. But with these last few episodes, I realize, that dynamic may have just changed a little. Oreki’s bubble has already grown vastly beyond what it once was, and while Oreki is still growing, his bubble grows less and less. So next logical step? Chitanda starts pulling him into her bubble.

Well, okay, that ain’t some massive revelation or anything, but it’s a clear arc you can see the two have gone through. We’ve known Oreki all this time, and we understand who he is. His expanding boundaries have been a central topic throughout, and his view can be best scene thanks to Chitanda, who from the start was simply Miss Curiosity. But as Oreki has expanded his view, we’ve seen and understood more and more of Chitanda, episode 20 already pushing us more into her world and with this final episode, we probably have a clearer view of her than ever. And that’s why this final episode works so well.

Probably.

Hyouka 18

Are the Mountains Sunny?

Hmm. Hmm…

Hm.

This feels distinctly different now. I’d hate to bring Kanya Fest up after putting it to rest (no I don’t), but it feels as if we’ve trekked over the mountain range and arrived at an entirely new scenario.

The mysteries in Hyouka aren’t the main attraction, but rather always a source of intrigue which ties together the characters involved. And this might just be what I feel has changed in my perception off the show. Early on I didn’t entirely expect the show to crawl from its shell, in the same fashion Oreki is reaching out to the world at large. The cast was little more than “curious curiouser” and “database im such a friggin bag of fun”. I guess there were instances where characters showed they had more to them, but even then I had my doubts on if they’d be handled properly, if at all. Yet here we are after “my god i am so in love with kanya fest”. I now find myself watching with a new set of expectations.

So what we have this time around is a mystery initiated by King Slacker himself, pertaining to an odd scene from his middle school years when an old teacher of his, Ogi was his name I think, who had walked over to the window to watch a helicopter pass by, only to notice his staring students afterward and remark “I like helicopters”. In branded Hyouka style, it’s an odd little mystery with the whydunnit at the spotlight. Not just the reason behind Ogi’s strange behavior, but more importantly why Oreki of people acted out on his curiosity, why HE of all people wants to do something.

Satoshi and Mayaka’s reactions are spot on, but god, Chitanda’s reaction is one of the only times I genuinely find her adorable. Haah, admitting you’re curious in front of Chitanda was a pretty silly thing do, it’s like you’re asking for the SS Eru to set sail. But this isn’t only her being curious about Oreki’s curiosity, probably, but maybe even Oreki acting just a little more like her. My cold heart is a-flutter.

Oreki’s imagination even goes a little wild at the scandalous thought of riding a bike with Chitanda, and the rest of the episode is sprinkled with interaction between the two. But what tops off the episode is once the mystery behind Ogi’s words is solved, when the two leave for home. Chitanda asks “Why were you curious?”  Not knowing would be insensitive. It wouldn’t feel right to say Ogi likes helicopters when you don’t truly know how the person feels. The kicker being in that it’s not something he needed to know, and in spite of this, a part of him felt strongly enough to want to understand.

In his time with the Classics Club, Oreki has gained a sense of compassion, his degree of empathy has grown far and beyond what it had been. And there’s some special element to his evolution which really clicks in my mind. The sum of Hyouka’s parts have really made Oreki’s coming of age story something worthwhile.

Hyouka 17

Kudryavka’s Order

 

Hyouka’s been an experience for me. And with this final chapter of the Kanya Festival, I can definitely pin it down as a totally super mega fun one. Yeah, that sounds right.

When Kanya Fest started, I was enamored by it’s sense of atmosphere, a school festival which I truly would have wanted to be a part of. The energy was infectious, and in my mind cements Hyouka as a show that can just make the regular seem really really fun. If they wanted to set the stage any better, they’d have needed to take us there in person. But that alone is only part of what makes Kanya Fest was it is. Hyouka has already proven itself competent with it’s lackadaisical everyday style, but here is the first time we really step into the characters and see them become just that much more human, the mystery serving to this one cause.

And so what is Juumonji? Juumonji is to know talent, to fall short, to hold expectations. We’ve seen Irisu speak of this briefly during the EBA arc, yet it turns out this is the hook which reels all aspects of the arc together. From Satoshi, to Kouchi and Mayaka, to Chitanda, and even the infamous thief; student council member Tanabe something or other.

This conclusion was once again neatly deducted by our detective Oreki, even before the final incident had even occurred. Oreki’s confrontation with Tanabe, with Satoshi eavesdropping and getting his soul crushed from a distance, was as satisfying as I’d hoped it be. In fact, it went a step further as Oreki shows initiative in the form of wholesome blackmail, dumping the rest of the anthologies on Tanabe in exchange for cooperation with the last “heist”. And that’s how all of that went down. Juumonji’s message is laid bare, as expectations are formed when the less talented are outclassed.

How Kouchi felt animosity towards the moderate manga fan Anjou for creating the masterpiece which is “A Corpse By Evening”, many steps above her own “Body Talk”, the love and labor of her passion for manga. Even this is far beyond Mayaka’s level, one who understands Kouchi’s feelings all too well. Mayaka, inspired by the great pieces that she heralds, aspires to create something of her own, but has little talent in the area. Once she realizes who Kouchi really is, the tears shed are of one who understands all too well. There are people infinitely more naturally talented than yourself.

Satoshi could almost be the embodiment of this message, displaying the burden in it’s purest form. While throughout Hyouka he’s claimed to be nothing more than a database, he longed to partake in a role grander than a glorified computer. He sets himself to the task, investigates to the best of his knowledge, and does whatever he can think of to stay ahead. And that’s where his plight becomes it’s most crushing, as his best friend will always be much more able than him. Where Satoshi tries his best and fails, Oreki just finds the comfiest place to rest his butt and succeeds. With such a gulf in innate skills, Satoshi acknowledges his massive expectations of Oreki, a word he himself denotes as used by people who have given up.

Juumonji, much like EBA, sets its focus much more on the motivation rather than the mystery itself. Tanabe has faced the same burden of expectations which Satoshi has, having realized that his friend and student council president Kugayama withholds a talent much greater than his own. Yet his turmoil comes from that his expectations will never be met, as Kugayama’s role in “A Corpse By Evening” was merely a one night stand affair he partook in for the fun of it. The entire series of thefts was merely a message to Kugayama asking if he had even read the manuscript for “Kudryavka’s Order”, the work the now gone Anjou had left behind.

Chitanda is the only one who escapes the burden of expectations these other teenagers faced, realizing that what she was attempting to accomplish was impossible for her, and that as a person she has an entirely different skill set than Irisu. Chitanda’s role may have been small during Kanya Fest, but it provides a silver lining when faced against talent beyond our reach. She might have not been as interesting as Satoshi for example, but she served her purpose as an uplifter here as she tends to do.

And that is Kanya Fest. It’s exactly what I had envisioned as a Slice of Life Mystery, pushing past what I had expected Hyouka to accomplish. EBA and the original Hyouka mystery may have been nice in their own right, but as of now, Kanya Fest is the high of the show.

Hyouka Episode 16

The Last Target 

Now now now, where to start. The threads laid throughout the previous episodes are finally forming a tangible image, the mystery in it all becoming clearer and clearer with the stars of the Kanya Festa arc, Satoshi and Mayaka, edging towards the critical point, bursting with pent up emotion. Hyouka captures the strange essence of a Slice of Life Mystery, brewing the mystery as the turmoil of the characters grip your focus.

But I digress. Detective wannabes, gather one and all, it’s time for Juumonji to play you all for fools. Deviating from the ABC order established, the thief bypassed Ku entirely for Ke, leaving us with just Ko left. Count one more blow dealt to Satoshi’s being, while another one is being built up back in the Classics club room. Oreki manning his post admirably is pretty much handed the key to the mystery by none other than the elder sibling.

She has pretty much the best fashion sense, I’m SURE we’ll all agree. But with how his trade quest was going, I guess it was inevitable he’d find the ultimate weapon at the end of it all. Trading his mirror, he receives A Corpse By Evening. Pinning down Oreki’s special detective quirk as the ability to solve any case without leaving his chair, Oreki’s sister is certainly helping him out a lot, despite just arriving at the festival. See, as this doujinshi, in it’s after thoughts or whatever you call them, makes mention of another planned work of the doujinshi group at next year’s festival. Something based off one of Agatha Christies famous novels. It also makes mention of a Kudryavka’s order. Gee, it’s almost as if these things might play an important role in this mystery.

Back to Mayaka, disaster strikes. If the regular verbal abuse directed toward the girl isn’t enough, a small attempt to get at her by splashing water goes wrong, if you can even say “goes wrong” at something like that, when her entire outfit is wet and ruined. In restricted silent frustration, Mayaka leaves the club room, excusing herself barely keeping her voice stable. Even the girl with the water pan realized how the situation had gone too far, but the intention to take a stab at her was there, regardless of it’s intensity.

Thank god for people like Chitanda, meeting Mayaka at the very moment she needed it most with the very thing she’s been searching for, the doujinshi Oreki had acquired just moments earlier. If that weren’t enough, Chitanda had borrowed the doujinshi since apparently one of the advertising posters was of the same artstyle. And in a single swoop, Mayaka is out of her slump. Momentarily, at least. She’s a strong girl.

The two manage to track down the artist to none other than the student council president. Now with the artist in the bag, along with the writer Anjou Haruna, we’ve got quite the amount of tools at our hands. Oreki realizes that much, grabbing onto his 50% of the animation budget hair to get into serious mode. And as he’s dragged out of it, Satoshi’s face is freakin’ priceless, the face of someone who knows exactly what’s going on.

Now with so many pieces at his disposal, he manages to drag Satoshi out for a 1-on-1 talk about the mystery. Which, inadvertently, gives way to Satoshi to display some of HIS pent up frustration. For about the next four minutes, Oreki begins to go through many aspects of the case there was no way of Satoshi figuring out, yet here Oreki has seemingly done it with supreme ease. A cold hard case of good hard work producing very little, while all the while the shining star does everything and more, his best friend no less. I could imagine he’d want nothing more than to stand with him doing what he considers incredible. Huh. In the midst of these mystery, we’re dealing with some very real teenager issues.

The explanation is all simple info though, stuff that’s pretty easy to put together from the sidelines. Just an extended connect the dots session, really. Real simple stuff. Simple, like Chitanda. Simple, unlike microphones. Haah, yeah, you go Chitanda, sell those anthologies, use that head of yours.

Hyouka Episodes 13-15

A Corpse By Evening

Wild Fire

The Juumonji Incident

Before anybody thinks it. No, no I’m not being lazy with the following blog post, I’m just really getting into character. Honest injun. A tribute to what Oreki is, really. Honestly, a blog post like this should just be lauded and put on a pedestal in some museum in Europe.

First episode. A quiz show, starring Saturn. A pointless one-sided rivalry develops. Chitanda returns from a largely pointless journey, provides racy pictures. They are incredibly cute. She then sets off for another fruitless journey to the School Paper club. The mysterious Juumonji strikes the Occult or whatever club. Oreki is paid a visit by some Gardening Club guy. After those photos, his eyes immediately drift towards the guys open fly. Oreki Trade Quest Part 2: Dress Pin traded for Water Gun. Mayaka discusses the rivoting topic of reviewing manga. This has nothing to do with me, so I will not expand upon it further. A cooking team is formed for day 2. Mayaka is does not manage to find her manga. Nandeee?

Second episode. Mayaka agrees to make a poster for the manga club, half jeopordizing he crucial role in the cook-off. Oreki is left alone to do what he does best. Juumonji is gaining small publicity with his petty thefts. Irisu teaches Chitanda how to solicit favors from men. Oreki’s favorite time doing nothing is interrupted by talking pumpkins. Huzzah, trade quest part 3: Water gun traded for package of flour. Could this be used for something, like in cooking? That’s silly talk, stop talkin’ silly. Pointless rivalry escalates. WILDFIRE! Satoshi’s cooking, like every part of him, is painfully average. Will you ever be special at anything Satoshi? On the other hand, Chitanda is brillianto. Yet they waste all of their food. Uh oh, spaghettios. Mayaka arrives late for her turn, with no food left. What does she do. What does she do. What does she do. Oreki displays outlandish amounts of  effort, and in a surprise move, hands off his flour for the cause. Classics Club wins, Juumonji strikes once more.

Third episode. Oreki displays the face of absolute terror. Chitanda curiousity claims it’s victim again. Oreki is placed on the detective platter against his will. A.B.C murders makes it’s way into the game. Juumonji stands for 10 letters; A I U E O, Ka Ki Ku Ke Ko. Oreki is smart Satoshi, you will never amount to him. Give up. Chitanda’s 3rd pointless venture is equally pointless. The News Club is sparking with Juumonji related activity. Now why did Juumonji want to emulate the A.B.C murders? Oreki is heated up for Chitanda again. More importantly, the trade quest continues! Flour traded for cosplay mirror. Satoshi messes up at the Magic Club. Like expected. Why does he even try. Mayaka is harassed, proving that vocaloids are the root of all evil.

Chitanda is getting nowhere fast, tiring her poor soul out.
Mayaka feels despondant over the behind the back talk, simply wanting to share a source of her passion.
Satoshi grows ever envious of his friend’s abilities, wishing to match up to the potential he beholds.
Oreki surfs the internet at night, because has nothing better to do.

Good batch of episodes, delving into the group as individuals. Oreki is the bestest.

Hyouka Episode 12

Practically Piled to the Ceiling

Globaru actiooooon, globaru actioooon~~!!

Living in a country without the word ”club” sucks. They can be lame and embarrassing, but at least you’d have a group of people to be lame with. Aaah. You’re so lame Satoshi, so incredibly super lame. Now here we are, the big Kanya Festa with every club hustling and bustling about, the very same school festival where the Hyouka anthologies are meant to be sold.

I openly admit I forgot all about it.

There seems to be a problem with that however, as Mayaka mistakenly placed an order for 200 copies rather than something reasonable. So the Classics Club divides up to sell as many anthologies as possible. Mayaka, more than sorry, takes her place in the manga society in her Frol cosplay, Chitanda is distracted by absolutely everything as she tries to get the anthologies more visibility, Satoshi completely forgets his advertising duty as he watches horrible comedy routines, and Oreki does jack all watching over the booth while discovering his true calling as a circus seal.

All the high energy of the festival makes for a nice lighthearted start to this Kanya Festa story; the assembly hall is lined up with dance and comedy performances, the Karuta club holding games in the hallway, and what seems to be an a capella club singing outside. You even see plenty of strange costume individuals running about, other than the cosplayers. Oreki himself meets one as he makes his first, and so far only, sale of the day to the man with the happiest shoes in the world.

As far as the episode goes, nothing particularly happened beyond showing off the festival and Chitanda running around like a lost child,  so there honestly isn’t much to say, but for what it’s worth, it was still enjoyable. Course, with this atmospheric set-up out of the way, time to move on. Let’s see if some incident occurs which puts the Classics Club in the fore front. Who knows, Oreki’s sister is in town, might be even she’ll show up to spice things up.