Hyouka: it’s all in the details

It’s ostensibly a ‘mystery’ series, after all!

Sitting down to write this comment was one of the most difficult tasks I’ve had to do in a few months. Normally, something about a show – whether I liked it all that much or otherwise – will pop into my mind fairly quickly, and I’ll be on my way. That’s certainly what happened with at least two of Hyouka’s stories, the latter of which produced this particular post on episode 21. However, the all-encompassing theme that I simply have to write about is eluding me: as much as I try to think about it now, I’m not sure what exactly it was that compelled me to watch this series week after week. What I intoned after the end of the first major arc remains true for me: there is something quite profound about the stories that Hyouka tries to tell, but it’s almost impossible for me to put it into words. That said, pictures aren’t going to do it either, so I’m just going to have to try!

Anyone else still doing this…?

Hence, this comment might really go nowhere. I could wax lyrical about how impressive I found the character animation, about how fluid the movements and changing facial expressions were, and how impressively they animated differences… Hm…I’ve already done so with CLANNAD, but it bears no harm repeating it: Kyoto Animation is pretty much peerless when it comes to character animation. Unlike most other series, even slight changes in facial expressions are recorded. But even more impressive are the idiosyncrasies, those little behavioural tics that people exhibit, such as foot tapping, raising a hand to the chin when thinking, and even the fact that people all do different things even when part of a crowd – all of this was reflected. I’d go so far as to say that it’s as realistic as animation can possibly get, except that there was a healthy dose of symbolism encoded in glowing eyes and, in the final episode, faintly defined shapes floating in a brightly lit landscape. I attended a friend’s wedding this weekend, and one of the little conversations I had there was about how the day would probably be a bit of a blur – of happiness if you like, but a blur all the same…and that’s precisely the kind of memory I felt Oreki Houtarou would come away with. Some viewers may have found such purposeful deviations from standard animation distracting or annoying, but I really appreciated how it conveyed the emotions that swirled within Houtarou from the time he first encountered Chitanda Eru that fateful spring.

I just need to know!

Another element of Hyouka that I absolutely loved was the Kanya festival. The mystery in that arc was interesting in itself (and perhaps my utter failure at picking through it is a factor in this), but what I really appreciated was the depiction of the festival itself. School festivals have featured in Japanese media for years, probably as long as they’ve been a staple in schools themselves. From snippets of plays, to maid cafés and running through haunted houses. Then we have the crazy, over-the-top antics that seem to pop up in shows with the name Yoshino Hiroyuki attached. However, this is the first time I’ve seen a show create an atmosphere that truly represented what I’d felt going to some of these during my stint in Japan. The organised chaos, pockets of excitement interspersed with quiet and restful lulls, activities extending beyond the typical staples to include quizzes, the production of manga anthologies, a dress-up photo studio and even a cooking competition!! It was just great to finally see a show that didn’t feature that typical haunted house!

Oh, the memories!

(That said, there is a reason for the dominance of haunted houses in school festivals: I do remember one year at my school where no less than 9 classes – out of 24 – put in motions to build haunted houses. Unfortunately, I left before that festival came to fruition, so I’m not entirely sure how that turned out…!!)

This is my world…

Finally, the last few episodes also remain with me, but, once again, for different reasons. Those few snippets of the characters lives in the collection of stories known as “Little birds can remember” were seemingly isolated, but they all served one subtle purpose, to demonstrate how Houtarou and Chitanda are learning more and more about each other. From pointed stories that are all about what drives the former’s investigations and theorising, to Valentine’s Day, when the latter revealed why she could not give chocolates to anyone close to her and, later on, the formalities that she involved Houtarou in: slowly but surely, they are becoming closer. That little conversation under the cherry tree in full bloom was especially poignant, as Chitanda clearly alluded to how her future was always to remain in that world of tradition. And Houtarou’s response spoke volumes… Personally, I would love to see more of this, so it’s a huge pity that we probably will not see more Hyouka, as there is but one novel that has not yet been adapted and the author is not being particularly forthcoming with new material. Nevertheless, Hyouka has been one of my favourites of the past year, and I’m definitely raring to drown myself in all those little details again.

About karice
MAG fan, freelance translator and political scientist-in-training. I also love musicals, travel and figure skating!

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