I guess in some ways this show is a little like “Seinfeld”, except it’s about four Japanese teenagers and it’s not really funny. Monk’s Café is the classics room and the gender mix is off (Fukube is definitely Kramer, I’m sure of that much), but there’s a real sense that this is a show about nothing – actually a somewhat interesting take on the bored and unmotivated teenaged boy trope. Of course it’s only two episodes in and I haven’t read the novels, so that could change – and there was a hint near the end of the episode of something deeper. But for now it’s about wasting time and being bored, and nobody is better at that than KyoAni.
Hyou-ka has been compared to “Perfect Crime Party”, the fictional Shounen Jack manga that Ashirogi Muto were writing at the end of the second season of the anime, and that might be a good model too. There’s a tendency with really beautiful shows for the first ep to provoke a kind of giddiness, sheer amazement at the beauty of the animation. But a couple of bad things can happen – the quality can dip sharply with the budget (not too likely here) or, even if it doesn’t, one tends to get a little jaded to the eyegasm after a while and start to demand more of the plot and characters (there are obvious recent examples). That’s going to be the test of Hyou-ka, and given KyoAni’s recent track record I’m not confident either way.
Was this episode’s “mystery” interesting? To be blunt, not all that much – at least not to me. It’s more interesting (though hardly riveting, yet) to watch the characters. I kind of like the notion of Oreki being his trope exaggerated to its logical extreme, and watching the wheels turn in his head as he deals with this strange and insistent force of nature with piercing purple eyes. I also enjoy watching him get to the tipping point, where he realizes that humoring Chitanda is actually easier than saying no to her. She pushed it right up the edge of being annoying this week with her genki enthusiasm, but pulled back right at the brink. Something to watch out for, though. I get the feeling there’s something weird going on with her that we haven’t been told yet, something driving her to be so forceful and insistent with Hotarou and I don’t think it’s a schoolgirl crush. I don’t think it’s what she was about to tell him as the ep ended, either.
This week’s little caper mostly took place in the library, so naturally it involved a book – and it was also the introduction to our fourth main cast member, Ibara Mayaka (Kayano Ai). I tend to either love Ai-chan’s performances or hate them, and the jury is still out here. She seems to have been crushing on Satoshi for a while and has an antagonistic relationship with Oreki that goes back even farther, so if there’s to be romance I guess the couples have an obvious place to start. She’s a library assistant on Fridays, and it’s her boss, Head Librarian Itoigawa-sensei (Koyama Mami, historically quite an important seiyuu) who gives us the hint of a real mystery lurking beneath the fluff. Oreki and Chitanda are looking for an old edition of the Classics Club Anthology as they’re supposed to do one for the culture fair, but have no idea what it is. It’s her reaction when they ask that’s as interesting as the fact that no old anthologies seem to exist – she definitely seems a little taken aback, and leaves quite quickly with a frozen smile on her face. Sensei knows something.
The three-episode rule will definitely be invoked with this show for me. There’s enough potential here to make me hope that it’ll be a keeper, but the looming possibility that it will fall back on tried and true cliché and become repetitive. My sense with KyoAni is that they’ve become very risk-averse, and until I see some reason to change my mind that’s always going to be a concern – they make a lot of money doing what they do, and don’t seem especially incented to take any chances. The ED is about the edgiest part of the series so far – not the song itself, but the animation, which is an odd sort of soft-focus take on what I suppose passes for tasteful fanservice.
ED: “Promise of Slumber”