Gang, looks like we have another mystery on our hands!
Check out Kaushik’s review too!
Kyoto Animation brings us their adaptation of the first of Honobu Yonezawa’s mystery novels. And I’ll say, at least for the moment, this is a curious contender for show of the year.
Hotaro Oreki is what you’d call an “energy-saving guy”. Minimum effort and maximum efficiency is his way of doing things. Upon entering high school, Hotaro’s older sister charges him with continuing the now empty Classics Club, where our man then meets Eru Chitanda, a girl whose intrigue and energy overflow to that of wastefulness. Joined by his old friends, the human database Satoshi Fukube and the spunky Mayaka Ibara, these four teenagers solve the mysteries of their everyday life in their small town.
The story is a mystery story. Don’t expect anything particularly fantastic, action-packed, or out of this world when getting into Hyouka, that’s the first thing I’d say. But if you’re into mystery or a setting that requires much less suspension of disbelief, then you’re in the right place. Every episode has some kind of mystery to debunk, and it’s up to the gang to solve it. The mysteries themselves are rather clever and everything congeals once you assemble the pieces. At the heart of it, any mystery of any type boils down to presentation of logic to solve the puzzle. It makes you wanna find out whodunit or find the solution. Hotaro is kind of a genius but Chitanda and the others usually have some kind of input or alternative perspective that one doesn’t usually see when solving a case. That said, what of the members of the Classics Club?
A recurring theme of the story outside of a colorful life is how people feel. Sure, you solved the case, but what about the people involved? How did they feel? What does it mean when you think you’re someone’s Watson all the time? How frustrated do you get when you think a friend is squandering their potential? There’s quite a bit of drama in the narrative and while I’d say it may seem trivial to an audience if told outright, the role music and animation have in playing up tension and emotion can easily engage anyone willing to be signed onto the show. And once you’re invested in the characters and you really see their depth, maybe you’ll sympathize with them too? Even the ones that are mentioned in passing!
It would be boring to see and hear the explanations of four teenage kids for about 22 minutes. This is where KyoAni comes in. The animation is very well-done. Right from the get-go in episode one, we do a bit of mental dive into Chitanda’s first encounter with Hotaro in a trippy faintly-romantic way. I have half a mind that KyoAni basically took the gold mine they made off two seasons of K-On! and proceeded to send a little bit of that gold this way. Visualizations of the characters’ logic whenever they appear are stylish, artsy, and at a couple times experimental. Adding both visual flair and more detail in conveying the case. As for the design department, characters in other cases would be pretty bland-looking working with what we’ve got, but the eyes have it, literally. The brilliant purples, greens, ambers, and so forth in the eyes of the major and supporting roles give much distinction and will likely stick with you throughout.
While I was very engaged in the mysteries, I do have one slight issue. To some audience members some of the explanations can be rather confusing in portrayal (being limited to reading subs doesn’t help much either). For example, in the movie murder mystery it’s hard to grasp the situation unless you had the floor plan of the mansion or had more visuals. When reading a novel, you could easily just take a beat to reread, look at an illustration, or chart it out yourself. Not really possible with anime. I was hoping for more visual explanations like earlier on in the season. Granted, that would consume more budget, but it also means everyone can come along for the ride. My reasoning is as the season progressed, it seems the staff forgot how close they were to the script. They knew the mystery in and out as well as what theories and logic the characters would present, so very little explanation or mental scaffolding would more than suffice, but that’s not so much the case for the audience though.
Voice work hits all the notes it’s supposed to. In particular Satomi Satou does a fantastic job with Chitanda, conveying her peppiness as well as her composition as a true lady of a locally famous hard-working traditional family. Spot on portrayals all-around if I don’t say so myself. It just suffices, but I feel this show emphasizes more minimalism to BGM. And again, the OST is vital to playing up suspense and drama, otherwise everything comes across as boring or no big deal. That or the motivations for even diving into a mystery may seem trivial. The key in the “suspension of disbelief” you have to use in Hyouka is that the cases and reasons for investigation are indeed worthy of the time spent. I can’t say it always went 10 for 10 that way for me, but animation, acting, and sound helped push me to accept the importance of some cases.
_____ A brief interlude _____
After reading Kaushik’s review, I’d second his motion that the characters are very realistic, but I disagree in that the minimal BGM adds to the experience of “normality”, which I feel is part of the big point that the characters are very real. Their subtleties aren’t like
(SATOSHI turns to the camera, winks at it, then continues talking with HOTARO as if nothing happened)
and that’s what I do dig about the show. You kinda come for the mysteries and stick around for the slice-of-life and to see the very robust characters grow. When someone is sad, you feel sad too, that’s good character writing there. And I like how the characters develop. These days to “show character development” the idea is to take a one-note personality, jam in a huge earth-shattering event, and then they shift into a completely different one-note personality. Instead, the cast, both main and supporting, are very real which is so contrary to modern ways but so refreshing. I wonder really, no matter the genre, what if anime had characters that acted “more real”?
And that’s my second opinion, join me next time for ice cream.