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Hyouka Anime Review
With my history in anime, I've found that a story very rarely heads in a direction that wasn't in some way apparent or obvious by the genre or style of the feature. For example, when someone watches a shounen action series, such as Naruto, they expect their idea of ridiculous action, unrealistic characters, or other shounen tropes to appear somewhere within the context of the story that that they happen to be witnessing. This is also true within the slice-of-life/romance genre in which it is expected for the main protagonist and some other character (usually of the opposite gender) to initiate a romantic relationship by the time that the material in question comes to a conclusion.
While a lot of the time these elements are included due to the author's own will, they often occur in many different stories with the simple goal of pleasing the viewer, just because that was what the viewer had expected to happen and what they might have wanted to happen. Most of the items or groups associated with the latter group may sometimes be accused of exhibiting "pandering" behavior, though at times this accusation is unfair because something has to have an appeal of some sort in order for anyone to find interest in it. However, at times, this expectation is completely forgotten or thrown out the window so that the writer may deliver a message of some kind or to just to do something that wasn't expected, an event sometimes used in satirical work, such as in the final episode of Bobobo-bo Bo-bobo, wherein an actual end to the story is not reached in order to make fun of the shounen action series Inuyasha, which does essentially the same thing but not in a comedic fashion.
Then there is Hyouka, a series so full of ideas and messages so far away from what is typically expected of slice-of-life anime in general that I have no idea as to why it was made into an anime.
Hyouka (the English translation of the title would spoil a major plot point) is a 22-episode (there is also a one-episode OVA that occurs chronologically between episode 11 and 12) drama anime series that contains elements typical of mystery, slice-of-life, and comedy. The series was animated by Kyoto Animation, a company known for its many works within the slice-of-life/romance genre, including titles such as Clannad, Free!, K-On!, and Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shita. Hyouka is based on a novel (not a light novel, a normal one) by Honobu Yonezawa.
The story begins as protagonist Houtarou Oreki is encouraged by his currently traveling sister via letter to join the classics club at his high school, since she is afraid that the club will become irrelevant and eventually be ended due to its lack of members. Houtarou shares this information with his male friend Fukube Satoshi who remarks that it would be unusual of Hotarou to be involved in an extracurricular activity. Upon reaching the room used for the classics club, Houtarou meets Eru Chitanda, a girl the same age as him who decided to join the classics club due to an undisclosed reason. Satoshi soon decides to join the other two characters at the classics club, and Mayaka Ibara also becomes a member of the classics club a few episodes later.
Most of Hyouka follows Houtarou and the three other members of the classics club in their adventures that often involve Houtarou solving some obscure situation only to be met with the awe and admiration of Satoshi, Chitanda, and Ibara.
Houtarou is the kind of protagonist that isn't usually the lead of most stories. He exists as a stark contrast to the usual kind-hearted, every-man character that is commonly the protagonist of slice-of-life stories. Houtarou sees little interest in things that aren't necessary and will often go to extreme lengths to output the lowest amount of energy possible while still achieving the bare minimum as far as what is important. Also, his expression rarely changes since he is probably not feeling any emotion most of the time, and the times where he is actually having them, he seems either incapable of doing so or simply doesn't want to.
I've thought about this for a while, and I've come to the conclusion that if Hotarou were to be classified in MBTI, he would result as an INTJ. INTJ is an acronym which identifies someone as being Introverted, iNtuitive,Thinking and Judging. INTJs are characterized as individuals who have a great ability to understand things very easily from an abstract standpoint and then are able to decipher these abstract understandings into more concrete meanings which they can use to meticulously arrange into a very coherent model or plan. INTJS are also known for their relatively low empathetic ability and inability to display any sort of emotion most of the time, though many INTJs, both real and fictional, have moments that showcase that they do, in fact, have deep emotions just like any normal person would. Although they are known for their cold logic, INTJS seem to daydream quite often, a condition which Houtarou seems to have no choice but to comply with.
The seconday protagonist of Hyouka, Eru Chitanda, is, in many ways, the complete opposite of Houtarou. Not only is she actually eager to interact with others and do things that aren't practical, she also has the added bonus of displaying nearly all of her emotions to the point at which someone with Asperger's syndrome could understand what she is feeling. Despite all of these traits which greatly contrast the ideology of Houtarou, the two share something very important: the desire to understand and to grasp things from an abstract or idealistic point of view. Chitanda also has the habit of moving her face very close to Houtarou's when she is enthusiastic about something and then exclaiming the phrase "i'm curious!" This particular behavior leads to Houtarou meeting her with a lot of distaste since his life revolves so heavily on "energy conservation."
Satoshi is the kind of person that could easily become friends with almost anyone. His cheerful demeanor and overall positive outlook allow him to meet the needs of friends with relative ease. Along with this, comes his lack of depth or or ability to understand most things that sit outside the boundaries that are known as basic human culture. Surprisingly, he is aware of this fault of his, and addresses it multiple times throughout Hyouka. He also has the unusual capability to understand the behavior and attitude of Houtarou better than the other two characters, due to the fact that he has known him longer than they have.
Perhaps the most rash member of the classics club, Ibara makes it clear from her very first moments on screen that she has a problem with the way Houtarou acts. This is probably due to the fact that he pretty much goes against everything that Ibara stands for. She routinely greets Chitanda and Satoshi with a much more pleasant behavior. Another reason that she dislikes Houtarou so much may be because she is jealous of his competence in the realm of complex problem solving, or because he is able to still find approval in Chitanda and Satoshi even with the minimal amount of effort he tends to exert towards everything. Unlike Chitanda, Ibara doesn't possess a child-like sense of wonderment, preferring to perceive things in a more definite manner. This attitude could possibly be a facade, though.
The rest of the cast of Hyouka is mainly filled with personas whose purpose is to question and accentuate the personalities of the four main characters. One of these characters in particular never has their face shown on screen despite the rest of their body appearing while they converse, which I found kind of odd. None of these characters contain as much depth as anyone from the classics club, but they still manage to give off the idea that they are human and feel as if they are complex.
I have to admit, I didn't really like the ending of Hyouka when I first saw it. it felt like there wasn't a satisfactory conclusion to the story. However, I thought about it for a while, and I realized that the main theme of Hyouka is one that you would not notice if you weren't really paying much attention other than the specific events that occur on screen. In other words, the many
"mysteries" which Hotarou solves throughout Hyouka are a metaphorical path for something else that is the main theme in the story, being the true "mystery" which Houtarou has either been unable or unwilling to solve for his whole life (if you think you know what I'm talking about, please leave a comment).
I also see this series as a commentary regarding the monotony of everyday life, as well as how insignificant the life of one person is in the grand scheme of things, and that there is nothing that anyone can really do to change these facts. This, in a way, is similar to a scene in The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in which Haruhi explains to the protagonist, Kyon, just how disheartening it is to her that most people in the world will never know who she is, and that it isn't even their fault for this, because of the sheer amount of people that exist on Earth. This is done in a similar way in Hyouka, although the method by which it is presented is not as direct with its approach.
I find the relationship between Chitanda and Houtarou to be holistic, with their chemistry being adorable. Despite his aversion towards her early on, Houtarou proves to be a very inspiring character who changes predictably but realistically at the same time. It's rare that a "slice-of-life" anime pushes so many boundaries in a way that is invisible to some viewers.
Animation & Sound
As previously mentioned, Hyouka was animated by Kyoto Animation. The company has a reputation for making very smoothly animated productions in which little to no action sequences occur. Hyouka is no different. The detailed facial and body movements add a lot to a story which would otherwise be a bunch of people sitting around and talking with no action involved. I can't really think of any animation studios that have managed to make everyday settings somehow feel interesting, and I can't think of anyone within the same field that really comes close to being at the same quality as Kyoto. Contrary to this, I do have a problem with both of the ending animations which seem to use a lot of romance and moe elements which I felt didn't really fit with the rest of Hyouka.
The sound, on the other hand, is nothing particularly special. There is isn't anything really noticeable in terms of audio other than the classical music that was thrown in regularly that seemed to add to the thought-provoking feel of the show as well as the setting. The other tracks also manage to perform a similar act, albeit to a lesser degree. There is currently no English dub for this series. I can't really say if the Japanese cast did their parts appropriately or not since I'm not a native Japanese speaker.
Hyouka is probably the most holistic anime series that I have ever seen. There are little to no flaws within the character design, and a very compelling story is delivered within the context of a high school setting. Though the sound is not the greatest in places, the animation quality more than makes up for this since this is Kyoto Animation after all. I can't really think of a reason for someone to not like Hyouka, other than a natural hatred for high schools, mystery, sublety, or Japan in general. It really saddens me that this series is so hard to come by in North America, and that it apparently was never popular enough to receive an English dub cast.