It’s Hyouka! A light novel by Yonezawa Honobu, adapted into anime by Kyoto Animation. I’ve been wanting to review this for a long time. In fact, I thought I’d review it last week since I though the show was going to end for some bizarre reason on episode 21 (though instead it ended on the equally bizarre 22). Anyway, this show started on April of 2012, and ended this month. It was done by Kyoto Animation, or KyoAni. That in and of itself puts some expectations on the show.
Core content aside, KyoAni is generally known for putting out quality works. Shows like Haruhi, Lucky Star, K-ON, and Clannad are incredibly popular shows that most anime fans have at least heard of. And some, like Lucky Star or K-ON are quite polarizing. Still, they’re names people recognize. Ieven reviewed one of their unfortunate flops (financially, but never in my heart), Nichijou. So even before Hyouka began, there was a lot of anticipation for the show on my end, and I think for a lot of people.
Of course, if Hyouka were just another pretty KyoAni show, it would’ve fallen to the wayside. Thankfully, there’s some very impressive content to back up what KyoAni brings to the table. So in many respects, it was the perfect marriage of good content combined with a good technical producer.
Hyouka is a mystery/slice of life show. It’s also completely and utterly ordinary. No magic, no futuristic settings, no crazy situations. Pretty much everything that happens in Hyouka could happen… well, in certain locations in Japan I suppose. But, more than that, the mysteries are totally and utterly… tame. What I mean by that is that the situations surrounding the mysteries solved by the Kamiyama High School Classics Club are, by and large, fairly mundane and not fantastical in the slightest.
With a negative spin, I suppose that could make the show seem a little boring, but I thought it was quite refreshing to see the kind of ordinary mysteries solved in this show. Despite their ordinary quality, the mysteries can still be quite complex, and there’s still that satisfaction near the end of an arc of a completed mystery.
I’ll be honest, mystery isn’t my favorite genre. I can’t even think of the last mystery anime I watched, and I stay away from mystery novels. But I think Hyouka excels in relatable mysteries. Maybe not so much in “oh this happened to me” but more like “I could see something like that happening”. Moreover, the mysteries are surprisingly quite compelling for how simple they come across as being. It’s funny, at the beginning I was watching the show because the mysteries were fairly interesting. But then I really started to enjoy the characters, and the slice of life elements became what I looked forward to more. What really puts this series in a different league is how subtly the characters are handled and how that plays into their various interactions.
There are 4 main characters in Hyouka. Oreki Houtarou, who is more or less the main character. Then Chitanda Eru, the female lead. And the two other members of the Kamiyama High School Classics Club, Fukube Satoshi and Ibara Mayaka. Starting with Houtarou… Well, he’s the quintessential lazy genius character. He boasts incredible analytic powers and solves more or less every mystery in the show. However, his policy is to avoid any high-energy activity. In his mind, this includes things like solving mysteries.
But meeting Chitanda kind of changes things for him. She has this indescribable effect on him (maybe he just finds her cute?) but Houtarou can never say no to Chitanda. And of course, Chitanda’s character is that of a mystery-loving girl. Hell, her catchphrase is “I’m curious!” and she won’t let go of a mystery until, well, Houtarou solves it. And solve he does, again and again.
In contrast, Satoshi and Mayaka are kind of side characters, but they definitely have their moments. Satoshi is introduced to the viewer as a “database”. That’s supposed to mean he knows a lot about a lot of things. He’s a big mystery fan, and always longed to be the kind of detective Houtarou unwittingly ends up becoming.
As for Mayaka… She’s a normal, earnest girl who’s introduced as having a crush on Satoshi. I think that in and of itself is quite interesting, how they bring it up in the beginning and kind of leave that with the viewer, who waits for a conclusion to that plot thread.
And that’s one of the most impressive qualities about this shows. There’s a lot of subtle moments between characters that are flavored by hints of dialogue (or not flavored at all) that this show handles really well. For example, in the beginning they bring up Mayaka’s crush on Satoshi, and throughout the show you see their interactions without that romance being mentioned again. You pick up on slight inclinations Mayaka has, like her inclination to kind of cling to him, or talk to him about her worries and things like that.
Another example of one of these subtleties is Satoshi’s jealousy of Houtarou. While it’s not really outright stated until a little later in the show, there are slight hints in Satoshi’s attitude towards Houtarou as he solves mystery after mystery. Considering Satoshi is the one that’s a big mystery fan, and considering that he’s not an idiot in his own right, it’s a little frustrating for Satoshi to sit back and let Houtarou nab the spotlight each and every time.
What must be even more frustrating is that Houtarou has this air of nonchalance about him as he does it. As another character mentions in the show, it’s incredibly frustrating for the person trying really hard for the natural gifted genius to attribute their success as mere luck, and I think that really strikes a chord with Satoshi and Houtarou’s relationship.
Still, despite these subtle facets to the main characters’ relationships, it’s important to note that they are not defined by these little moments. Beyond these, each character expresses a full range of emotions and, like a normal person, can’t really be easily pigeonholed into having the same attitude all the time. This is another way the show excels.
There’s a lot of depth to the characters, and they all come across as quite real and believable, in an anime industry where far too many characters are more or less giant caricatures and receive very little to no real character development. Of course, I won’t say that the characters in Hyouka go through any life changing situations either. But their characters do develop.
Houtarou develops a romantic attraction for Chitanda, which is colored by their everyday interactions. Satoshi, to some degree confronts his inferiority to Houtarou. Again, this is colored by their everyday interactions. Similarly, the Satoshi and Mayaka situation is to some degree resolved, and yet again this is colored by their everyday interactions.
I think it’s refreshing to see that character development can occur without this giant catalyst that plagues many other characters in the medium. Moreover, this development doesn’t really alter who they are, fundamentally. It’s befitting of the circumstances these characters find themselves in, and fits well for this show
Moving on to the art/animation… This is where KyoAni shines, I think. The art is gorgeous. It really is. This show, takes place in a fairly rural area, and some of the scenery just blows me away. Particularly the very last episode.
Besides that, there are a lot of little touches to character design that really have me appreciating this show. For example, even though Houtarou is the kind of guy that generally has his stuff together (even if he is lazy) it’s cute to see how he kind of lets himself go at home. He has the most atrocious bed head. It’s little things like that which are a treat to see. Besides that, the art is just all around quite well done. While it may not be in the style I most enjoy, it’s crisp, clean, and a pleasure to look at.
But what I’d really like to touch on is the animation. This is KyoAni’s thing. You only have to look as far as Idolmaster to see that clearly (or Hyouka, preferably!). I know I often bring up the fact that animation doesn’t really matter for shows that don’t have a lot of action or something, but… It helps. It really does.
Having really stellar animation only adds to the quality of the show. Hyouka has absolutely gorgeous animation, and it pays off in so many ways. All those subtle facial expressions and silent exchanges. The effects done to the background (particularly on the final episode!), and really so many tiny things in the show.
Do I think it’s necessary? Not really. I think the content in Hyouka is solid enough that it could definitely stand on its own. But the art and animation quality definitely turns this from a pretty good show to a great one. No doubt about that. Like I said before, KyoAni and Yonezawa Honobu create an excellent marriage of technical production and stellar content.
The music is probably the most disappointing part of this show… And I really liked it. Just goes to show how excellent the other parts of this show are, I guess. Anywho, the BGM is done by one Tanaka Kohei. I’ve never heard of him before, but looking through his works… The guy is pretty damn prolific.
And to be honest, I like the BGM. It kind of has that Haruhi mix of some fun tracks, some slower tracks, but generally feels like a slice of life soundtrack. I suppose the difference here is that because it’s a mystery, it has some of those foreboding mystery tracks. Not my favorite, but overall the BGM is pretty solid. Insofar as the opening and ending themes go… They’re pretty decent.
I think, more than the songs, I love the animations to the second opening and ending themes. They’re well-done and in the case of the second ending theme, quite adorable. Unfortunately, this is an above-average category in a show full of stellar categories, so I’d say if Hyouka falls flat anywhere, it’s here.
Studio: Kyoto Animation
Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto
Character design: Futoshi Nishiya
Music: Kouhei Tanaka
Original creator: Honobu Yonezawa
Original run: April 22, 2012 – September 16, 2012