Like most anime that are set and based in high school, Hyouka ends with a proclamation of love. But similar to most other Kyoto Animation titles, it's a lot sweeter and quieter than, say, a boy screaming it from the rooftops.
Treating every problem problem as a mystery in this series turned me off initially. My sense of believably can only go so far, and I can't believe that normal high school students can willingly participate in meaningless "mysteries". It seemed just too... corny, you know? Then after a few episodes, I started to ease up. It wasn't until it dawned on me while watching episode eight did I fully start to appreciate this show.
Just like how Nichijou took an extreme to celebrate the ordinary, and how K-On! re-ignited a craze that kept certain people interested long enough to cute girls doing mundane things all day, Hyouka builds upon that by taking the typically dark mystery genre and throws a new spin on it by applying it to boring, everyday life.
If anything, it gets me motivated to find some of my own mysteries to solve...
As far as I can tell, established mystery shows are a tough pitch to new viewers: the main detectives are considered virtually untouchable (unless it's a finale, of course), so the sense of danger is missing. There's always a culprit, so if there's one certainty in the series, it's that the bad guy will always be caught by the end of the episode (or maybe the end of a two-parter if the creators are feeling clever). Where does the excitement for the genre come from if you can predict the basic outline for each episodes script?
Well, mystery TV shows are a really finicky thing to get right: the whole point of the thing isn't so much to make the viewers believe that a real werewolf is chasing down Scooby-Doo and the gang, but rather revealing to them at the end of the show who and why. The reveal is the most exciting part of the show each week, and I guess you can chalk that up to human beings constant need to peak into curious things.
Poor Houtarou. With Chitanda having no tact when it comes to keeping her curiosity in check, you can see the strain it takes on his careless facade every time she says that word. Don't get me wrong: I know this motherfucker loves attention. As much as he monologues against it to himself throughout his own perceived shitty, boring, pointless life with his "everyone-is-dumber-than-me" mentality, he secretly loves it, as proven by the terrible excuses and things he tells himself to "tolerate" each mystery.
There's a real willingness to participate with friends in Houtarou... it's just bogged down by, maybe, poor self-esteem or some illogical reverse psychology going on in his noggin each week. It's Chitanda that I'm worried about. You would think this sick bitch gains satisfaction from solving mysteries and pissing him off. Ironically enough, Houtarou's attitude of "not giving a shit" that he tries to hold up is the one thing keeping him from enjoying solving mysteries.
On top of that, you have his weird relationship with Satoshi, perhaps one of the more heated friendships in anime this year. just like how Houtarou has sort of added just enough truth in reasoning to his lazy personality to make it seem genuine, Satoshi has started to actually change from a guy who used to be competitive to someone who is more than happy to be the second-best. What goes on in Satoshi's head each week as Houtarou takes the spotlight is a mystery in its own, though the fleeting moments when he actually lets his emotion out make you want to understand the picture at large. It's both really simple to "get" the relationship these two have, though very complex to wrap your head around.
It's funny how the show itself brings up parallels in the Juumoji Incident to Satoshi and Houtarou. Tanabe-sempai wished that Mune, his co-artist on A Corpse by Evening, realized the gift in drawing he had and how jealous he was because of it, simply because he refused to treat it as anything more than a fun project, unaware of how truly great he was. It's a sad thought and the reveal has an empty feeling... though it's not fair to say that it's in the same league as murder or robbery seen in most mysteries, under the innocent high school setting, it reaches into reality and how some friends treat and think of each other a bit too far into unsettling, and for that I applaud Hyouka. Given that this show has no gore or little violence, darker twists in relationships are a great alternative to keeping things from being too mundane.
Real quick, can I just mention how great this show looks? Granted, KyoAni always puts out amazing looking stuff, but I cannot stress how big of an improvement this series is over anything else under their repertoire. Every thing has a sense of acting realistically, from hair behaving as it should when shaked to the tiniest of details in mouths and facial features. The detail my be incredible, but like Nichijou before it, it's still simplistic enough to stay consistently good throughout, never letting up the superb quality until the final episode, even if I would still totally forgive it if it did.
How the show handles visual exaggerations and metaphorical ques is a pretty smart trick, too. From the moment Houtarou was first asked to help Chitanda to Houtarou covered in mini-curious Chitanda's to the abstract first ED (which, actually, I don't think had any meaning behind it at all, now that I think of it...), Hyouka is not against adding as much as possible to throw viewers a bone and overwhelm them with that infamous KyoAni budget. Visual typography and animated graphs bounce around as Houtarou funnels heaps of information towards the Classics Club, keeping the viewer in check and displaying key things to keep track of. If I were to have one complaint with Hyouka, apart from some lame episodes and its hesitance to do anything more, it would be how sort of redundant it is with its explanations; sometimes these teenagers need to just stop talking for a little bit and realize how much they sound like losers. Even with that said, the anime was competent enough to not give too much away or to treat its viewers like children (sometimes).
In my Hyouka First Impressions, I gave KyoAni the honorable comparison to Valve. I think KyoAni is doing fantastic how they are now; their doctrine in making the mundane interesting is really intriguing to witness. It's not just about catering to the masses, but they are doing what they want to do. In a certain sense, this gives them a much bigger cohesion than any other studio, and as a result it arguably makes them have a stronger work ethic and allows them to put more love into their anime. You can see the effort they put into it every time you watch one of their shows. The writers know exactly how to pander to their audience AND piss them off at the same time.
This studio is pure genius in how it handles its properties. They stick to their guns and they make what they want to make in order to be consistent. Hyouka, just like some other KyoAni shows, has its ups and downs, but its still so full of its own personality that you can't really blame the series as a whole for a bad episode. They get you to love them, then they continue to use similar settings and characteristics for their next anime, all the while teasing you every six months with a new PV or announcement... they drag you along instead of actually delivering a brand-new formula to their shows. But since we're all too busy "ridin' that moe dick" to notice, we're happy with trusting them instead of pressuring them. It's sheer evil genius, but the end result is so good, we can hardly care.
Goddamn it, they are just like Valve...
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