The Nihon Review - Anime Reviews & Editorials

Hyouka

Title: Hyouka
Genre: Mystery
Company: Kyoto Animation
Format: 22 episodes
Dates: 22 Apr 2012 – 16 Sept 2012

Synopsis: Houtarou Oreki is an energy-conserving boy who avoids non-compulsory activities at all costs. However, he joins his high school’s classical literature club at the request of his sister to keep it from being disbanded. In the club, he befriends a girl with boundless curiosity named Chitanda Eru, whose personality is outwardly the opposite of his. Alongside his friends Satoshi and Mayaka, Oreki finds himself unwittingly dragged into activity by Chitanda’s curiosity as they attempt to solve mysteries in everyday life.

The Highlights
Animation: Fluid KyoAni-quality. Bonus points for attention to detail.
Atmosphere: Surprisingly lighthearted—uses mystery as a means to a thematic end.
Characters: Unoriginal at first but grow over time.

Hyouka is a surprising addition to KyoAni’s repertoire if you only look at its genre. It’s an offbeat show if you view it as a mystery, given its focus on mundane, everyday puzzles. The anime comes across as a “light mystery” in that sense, similarly to K-On!’s light music setting that rarely involves playing music.  Hyouka’s mysteries are not mere plot devices, however. Chitanda’s innate curiosity and Houtarou’s innate lack of curiosity are contrasted by the way the pair interacts while solving puzzles. Hyouka places character and theme at the center of its narrative, drawing parallels between Chitanda’s unique worldview and the process of puzzle-solving.

This is a good thing because, despite their initially bland appearance (Chitanda especially—her basic personality is that of a cut-and-paste main heroine), the characters grow over time. Chitanda’s explicit moe traits feel less jarring as the viewer comes to understand her as a person with a genuinely romantic worldview. Similarly, Houtarou begins the series as a standard male protagonist with a personality that is easy to dismiss as being intended for the viewer’s self-insertion, but his worldview develops into something deeper. One of the show’s greatest pleasures is in watching Oreki slowly warm up to Chitanda’s worldview and learn to stop and smell the roses.

We are still dealing with a KyoAni production, of course, and the details in animation and direction do as much to bring out depth in character as the plot and dialogue. Hyouka is visually traditional—there are few artsy, SHAFT-esque discontinuous shots—but there is a tremendous attention to detail at work within this style. Facial expressions (and changes in facial expression) are animated in detail and the backgrounds take on surreal form to subjectively express the characters’ feelings. This is especially visible in Houtarou’s first encounter with Chitanda, in which her hair grows into a flowery, sparkly, constraining mess that holds him in place as she requests his help in solving the mystery. A moment later, the scene cuts to a regular shot of the pair standing in the club room, revealing that the prior shots were merely an expression of Houtarou’s perspective—an apt visual metaphor for the affection that he begins to feel for her. There are plenty more examples as the show goes along, but the overarching point is that KyoAni is notable for more than just budget. The show is visually detailed in a way that holds your attention but also makes good use of subjective narration to hint at emotions that can’t be easily expressed through dialogue.

The one major complaint I’ve heard about Hyouka is that its mysteries are too mundane. In a sense this is true, but I would argue that it is more a matter of misattributing preconceptions within the mystery genre. While Hyouka is ostensibly a mystery, it does not attempt to be suspenseful or dramatic. Instead, the mystery plots are a tool to draw the characters closer together and to contrast Oreki’s level-headedness with Chitanda’s dreamy curiosity. For those who want either a traditional murder mystery or a fluffy K-ON!-style slice-of-life, Hyouka is liable to bore. However, when given a chance to grow, the series develops into an extremely clever story that largely escapes genre categorization, subtly mixing larger themes into a mystery plot with character interaction and a straightforward love story at its core.

The Rating: 8
8/10
Reviewed by: Eternal

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