I rarely blog now, let alone blog about an anime series. But somehow, I felt compelled to write something about this series after it ended last Sunday. Why you might ask? Well why not? But the real reason might be that for a long time, it’s a series that I watched because I genuinely was interested in it, rather than watching just to watch some other generic shit that is puked out from some Japanese animation studio where I just mindlessly let it play in the background while doing work or other stuffs.
For those that never knew much about this series, it’s an adaptation of a novel series by the same name authored by Yonezawa Honobu by Kyoto Animation. Centred around everyday life “mysteries” and borrows some liberty from British detective novels by Sir Arthur Conan Doyle and Dame Agatha Christie, Hyouka was Yonezawa’s first published work, and also his longest running. Only 5 complete novels were published in between 2001 to 2010 and Kyoto Animation adapted the first 4 volumes.
The series piqued my interest quite a bit. Firstly due to KyoAni adapting a novel instead of a light novel series which seems to be the medium of choice for animation studios nowadays, and also what the director, Takemoto Yasuhiro said before the series aired, that the series will be bittersweet.
In the first ep, we were introduced to the main characters, namely Oreki Houtaro, a self admitted ‘energy conserving’ teenager that holds to the idea of ‘if I need to do something, do it quickly and swiftly’, Fukube Satoshi, his best friend and a ‘database’ and also Chitanda Eru, the moe mascot of this series, with her large shining eyes and trademark line, “kininarimasu” (literally either ‘I am curious!’ or ‘I am a tree!’, choose which). Other than the industry recognised KyoAni quality (the first picture I posted where Chitanda’s air grew into vines needed to be seen to be believed), the first ep was… quite boring. Oreki’s sister forced him to join her old Literature Club (Kotenbu) where he met the president, Eru, who was locked inside, and asked him how she was locked. It was mundane at best, and feels lacking since they ‘mystery’ was so easy.
The first real arc, The Niece of Time, seems quite normal as well. Kayano Ai was a breath of fresh air as the tsundere last member of Kotenbu, Ibara Mayaka, but that’s rather about it. The mystery behind the story of Chitanda’s uncle, Sekitani Jun helped explained quite a bit of the Kotenbu’s background, but it does not really bring much to the series in terms of a ‘Mystery Series’. Other than the great animation by KyoAni, I was thinking what were they thinking adapting this series. But there is a lingering feeling that something would happen with the characters for some reason…
The next arc, ‘Why Didn’t They Asked Eba‘ feels quite different from the first one. Borrowing from the title of a famous Agatha Christie’s novel, ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Evans?‘ the Kotenbu was tasked on solving a mystery of an unfinished movie, and figure out what the script writer wanted to do. Fair enough. Pretty straightforward right? And that’s what happened… initially. At the end of the arc, suddenly manipulations, lies and personal secrets appears out of nowhere. And yet looking back it was hinted there all along. I was just expecting this to be another moeshit show that I was too blind to see it. And that suddenly made me realise what’s this series is actually about. It was never about the mystery. The story is about the characters as humans, with the mystery being there for the characters to grow. And certainly enough, when you realise where to actually focus upon, that was when the series became much, MUCH better.
If ‘Why Didn’t They Ask Eba‘ was the appetiser, then ‘Welcome to the Kanya Fest‘ arc was Hyouka’s main course. A simple mystery of a thief in a school festival turns into an intricate story of multiple people, interwoven together where all path leads back to Oreki. Oreki, which character this time is based upon Christie’s Miss Marple. As with Miss Marple, Oreki rarely venture out from one place, instead relying on information that various people told him to solve this mystery. But being Hyouka, the mystery itself is just a backdrop of various characters, each with their own unique story which initially seems to be jumbled up but actually makes a larger picture that encompasses the whole Kanya Fest. Feelings, lots of them took the centre stage here as Hyouka toys with your heartstring more than once.
It was hard to see how the last few episodes could top the Kanya Fest arc, especially when it’s adapted from the 4th novel that focuses on the interactions of Chitanda and Oreki. And yet somehow or another, it still delivers, and delivers well. While the two previous arcs focuses on a myriad of characters, the latter ones shows the viewers how Oreki and Chitanda, and in a lesser part Mayaka and Satoshi changed according to the events that had happened around them.
The Valentine episode, or what would I call the “Deconstruction of Satoshi Fukube” episode showed that it can still spin an elaborate tale, even if it’s just a tale of one character. And yet it was believable and befitting of not only the character in focus, but all the other characters as well.
The last episode erupted so much reaction with the viewers that I could make a specific blog entry just to dissect it. But I won’t since it will spoil it’s beauty. But let’s just say that it was a befitting end to a wonderful series, where the characters stayed true to their character, even tho it would have been better for them to change for the sake of the viewers. But changing them would spoil the whole series, spoil how they have grown and changed, and for that, it was the only logical end that they could have chose to do.
There is a saying, ‘Truth Hurts‘. And yes, it hurts when watching Hyouka. It hurts because you are watching the truth about human. This is not your generic anime where the main character is some Gary Stu being the most important person in the world or encountering some aliens or fighting demons or meeting ghost. The characters in Hyouka are mundane, and in some cases just ordinary. And not one of them are perfect. They have individual flaws, dark secrets, jealousy, greed, differing personalities according to occasions, but in the end thats what humans are. What Hyouka shows especially in the latter half is that, it does not matter if you have flaws, you could change, and the people around you could balance out those flaws.
Kudos should be given to KyoAni for sticking true to the source. With just some creative changes, the magic of the novel was not lost, and in fact, the subtleness of it all was multiplied greatly using the animations. Each scenes felt like it belongs, and not just some random eyecandy created to pander to the viewers. Whoever says that ‘pictures tells a thousand words’ was telling the truth. The sideway glances, the cracked voice, the changing colour of the background, everything tells you something without it being forced down your throat. The above scene shows the change in Oreki’s mindset, from the dull ‘grey‘ at the start of the series to the ‘rose‘ tinted life he starts to embrace at the end. It’s subtle, yet it tells a lot.
And they certainly did not spare anything. The image above were sidecharacters, some appearing not more than once, but were given the same loving detail as any main characters. Heck, some are even voiced by big names, names usually HEADLINES series. Fukuyama Jun, Tomokazu Sugita, Chihara Minori, Toyosaki Aki, Taketatsu Ayana, and a lot more were used, some less than even a minute. It would be cheaper just to use some new names for them, but it won’t have that same feel, that feel of everyone is a part of a large community, and no one is more important that others.
Will I rewatch the series again? Sadly no. Firstly the roller coaster ride of various feelings that I have during watching the Kanya Arc was really too much for me to handle. Secondly due to my short attention span, I know I’d never going to enjoy this as much as I had during my initial viewing. Would I recommend this? Totally. Just that don’t expect this to entertain you like a normal anime would. If you want to follow how Mayaka defines a masterpiece, then Hyouka is certainly not one. But it certainly not something generic or normal either. I just wish Honobu-sensei would resume with this series, but going with his pace, it would take around 30 years for him to fully churn out a full compilation until the main characters finish high school, and he already stated that he would like to have Hyouka covering the characters in college as well. I might even live at the time he finishes this, so I’d have to be satisfied with how it currently ‘ends’.
Bah, I think I would follow what Chitanda says. Everything is just starting…