Hyouka: Mystery x Slice-of-life

Posted on June 13, 2013

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hyouka (16)

I’ve been hearing some noise about Kyoto Animation’s recent work, Hyouka, and decided to give it a try. Hyouka at face value is just your ordinary high school slice-of-life anime, a theme used by many anime nowadays, initially making it hard to distinguish it from the rest. However, with its superb art, unique plot elements and a painstakingly detailed character development, Hyouka actually offers something more than the mundane expectations from school-themed anime.

Plot: 8.5/10

Hyouka does not really escape from the generic framework of school-themed anime, and we shouldn’t really expect as much, as far as realism is concerned; Hyouka intends this generic-ness to be the backdrop of what trick it has on its sleeve; namely, the incorporation of mystery elements in its plot.

At first, I thought that, as with most mystery-themed anime, Hyouka’s plot would simply move towards a darker nature as the main characters get immersed in deeper and deeper conundrums, but that, surprisingly, is not the case at all. School is not sucked in by mystery; it was the other way around. The main character, energy conservationist (aka lazy ass bum) Houtarou Oreki has an aptitude for logical deductions that can solve simple and harmless mysteries that normally happen in school. Armed with this ability, he and his friends try to make the most out of their time, tackling one harmless mystery at a time. This is a pretty fresh perspective on portraying mystery elements in anime; you won’t get to see any blood or dead people at all. Just plain, mundane puzzles that even ordinary students might encounter, provided that they’re curious enough, that can be a good treat for your mind as you try solving alongside the characters. And, as far as the context of the anime is concerned, this strategy worked beautifully.

The plot worked in such a way that the mysteries that occurred in the anime seemed natural; the realism of the show was not sacrificed one bit in the process just to arouse detective-esque curiosity from the viewers and characters. One does not simply pull off a stunt like that. Moreover, the mysteries were interesting enough to want for more, and the show was only too happy to do so; the series presents several, entirely separate mysteries throughout the show, (except the “murder” scene from the movie the characters watched; you have to see that for yourself) a la Sherlock Holmes.

I felt a little disconnection during the final episode (a cultural parade out of nowhere, and then a fairly shallow mystery), which made me knock off points in my score, considering that the final episode of any anime tends to leave the biggest impression on a viewer. However, what greatly makes up for this is Hyouka’s spectacular character development, which I shall discuss in more detail below.

Character Setup: 10/10

The best aspect of Hyouka is how it took great care of its characters. We have the lazy, anti-social Houtarou, countered by the cheerful, overly inquisitive (and veeeery cute) Chitanda Eru, laid-back, happy-go-lucky dude Satoshi Fukube, and tsundere Mayaka Ibara. This cast of characters screams Clannad in all directions:

Houtarou Oreki = Tomoya Okazaki

Chitanda Eru = Nagisa Furukawa

Satoshi Fukube = Youhei Sunohara

Mayaka Ibara = Kyou Fujibayashi

And it makes sense, since Kyoto Animation produced both series. Still, it’s kind of fun to point out the parallels between the two. Heck, even the plot device used to bring the main characters together is the same; saving a club from closing down due to lack of members. While this fact alone is interesting enough, what really takes the cake is the very subtle and effective character development employed by Hyouka with its characters. Very slowly, we stand witness as Houtarou is gradually pulled away from his lazy shell by his friends, most notably Chitanda’s overwhelming curiosity about everything, as Houtarou is forced to tag along with the rest of the gang, solving mysteries and just being regular high school students. We see Houtarou’s personal motto “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t; if I have to do it, I’ll do it quickly” get shattered to pieces in the course of the story as he finds himself becoming more and more involved with the people around him, to the point that he himself at times volunteers to actually do work (which he previously dismisses as “waste of energy”). We also see romantic feelings bloom between the characters throughout the series (I honestly find the awkward scenes between Houtarou and Chitanda really cute).

All of these were done with great subtlety and in a very slow pace, which makes it very engaging and easy to keep up with. What really got me was Hyouka’s open ending, being ambiguous with how the love stories that bloomed will end. This is where the plot structure of Hyouka noticeably diverges from that of Clannad; perhaps this might be a pain to some viewers, who really want to see two people actually go out, but open endings like this one convey a special kind of beauty. Given Hyouka’s very slow pacing in character development, it could be said that the open ending is merely the perpetuation of this kind of pacing. We can cook up a bunch of plausible theories about the characters’ future, but, given how Hyouka ended, all of them are sure to have a slow pace as well, which makes Hyouka’s ending strangely beautiful in a number of ways. The events that could happen to the characters (in our minds) project far, far into the future (which a 26-episode anime can’t really handle) as if to remind us that this romance will not be restricted to high school life; it would extend to the future in the same slow manner, like any realistic relationship. And realism is Hyouka’s primary theme. It’s amazing how Hyouka was able to pull this off.

Art: 10/10

As I said in the intro, Hyouka’s art is superb. Great background artwork, the characters’ features are well-defined, very expressive eyes, and amazing lighting. It’s also noteworthy how Hyouka made use of lighting to visually portray Houtarou’s change in his outlook in life; from gray to rose-tinted, which is a recurring idea in the series. Simply wonderful.

Sound: 9/10

Music in Hyouka is also well-done. The music is subtle enough so as not to disrupt the flow of the story, but stimulating enough to give the series more oomph. I also like the opening and ending themes; relaxing while sending out the “fun vibes” to the viewers.

Replayable? It depends.

There can be good reasons to re-watch the series; re-evaluating the mysteries offered in the show, reliving the cute high school love between the characters, or simply appreciating Hyouka’s wonderful art.

Overall: 9.5/10

Hyouka diverges from most mystery anime by making it harmless and mundane. But it also diverges from school-themed anime by utilizing mystery elements. This makes Hyouka a new kind of experience altogether. Coupled with its eye-catching artwork and animation, and a spectacular character development, Hyouka will give you that warm, fuzzy feeling as you watch how the characters go through their lives in high school. This should make you very curious about the show.

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Posted in: Anime