Hyouka – 05

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It’s the small, almost unnoticed moments that make Hyouka stand apart from the crowd.

After five episodes I can’t honestly say there’s any single element of Hyouka that blows me away in terms of plot or character.    The characters are all more or less safely within the constraints of their trope, with the possible exception of Satoshi, but none of the are unpleasant examples of it.  The writing is pretty good – not too flashy and possessing a bit of subtlety and flair, nothing to get excited over but solid.  A major positive is that there’s nothing in the show that annoys me – it’s all straightforward and well-presented, and doesn’t talk down to the audience or pander too much to the otaku gene.  In short – it’s perfectly fine but no wheels are being radically redesigned, much less reinvented.

With that in mind I really shouldn’t be as involved with the series as I am, but the fact that I am involved pretty solidly is a real tribute to KyoAni and the job they’re doing with the production.  I haven’t read the novels but surely this must be a case where the anime exceeds the source material, because it’s the visuals and soundtrack that give life to this interesting but hardly riveting material.  Content-wise I was perfectly happy with this first major arc, and with the way it ended.  I did think the “I Scream” payoff was a bit anti-climactic, but I can appreciate the message it sends about the events of 45 years ago.  I was curious to see how it all wrapped up, and some of my guesses were right, others wrong, but it was strictly an intellectual curiosity.

In spite of that this episode was still memorable, and it all comes down to the look of the series.  It isn’t simply a matter of flash – everyone knows KyoAni is going to spend whatever it takes to have peerless animation quality.  No, what amazes me is how smart the animation is, and how much style it has.  Take for example the character design for Itoigawa-sensei as a 16 year-old – despite the fact that this was likely the only time we’ll see it, it was absolutely lovely – expressive, vulnerable, beautiful.  Take for example the small, almost imperceptible movements of the characters – the way Ibara and Fukube straightened in their chairs slightly as Itoigawa-sensei was comfirming that their theories were basically correct, or the way the restless movement of Houtarou’s leg was shown through the ripples in the cup of green tea on the table.

Most impressive for me, though, have been the way the flashback and mind’s-eye sequences have been animated – each using a different style, no two alike, and all of them striking.  The entire montage of Itoigawa-sensei’s trip down memory line was breathtaking – not just the art itself, which was admirable enough, but the idea of having Itoigawa inhabiting herself as an innocent schoolgirl, eavesdropping on the scenes from those days, peeking in windows and through doors, wanting to intervene but unable to do more than observe.  It was beautiful and profound – a clever and insightful way of encapsulating the experience of remembering a long ago time full of joys and regrets.  The art design for Hyouka isn’t just skillful, it’s ingenious.  There’s so much creativity going into it, it’s as if there’s two different screenplays at work in the show, the written one and the visual one.  And the second one is more creative and arresting than the first.

In a mystery series there’s always a degree of uncertainty in guessing how the quality will hold up, because each arc is almost like a new series.  There isn’t enough banked with these characters to make Hyouka watertight – if a bad mystery comes along, the show will suffer for it.  I’m certainly hopeful that won’t happen, since the first one had a hint of the poetic to it and tied the past to the present in a fairly interesting manner.  While the story will turn elsewhere for now, I’m not convinced we’re done with this first mystery yet – it’s tied very closely with the Classics Club, and there’s still the matter of Chitanda’s Uncle disappearing to settle.  Of Hotarou’s struggle between the slacker imperative and a growing interest in the outside world (fueled in part by hormones) I can’t say it’s really captured me – there’s an air of self-importance to his adolescent grumbling that may be true to life, but isn’t especially endearing, and Nakamura Yuuichi still seems wildly miscast in the role.  But as main characters go I’ve certainly seen far, far worse – and in shows that didn’t have nearly so much else going for them as this one does.  So if that’s the worst problem Hyouka has, it’s in pretty good shape. 

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  1. A

    I think you need to put Hyouka into perspective here. The big wave of popular LN Adaptation in the second half of the 2000s, that invented the wheel you were talking about ironically derived their source material from LNs written mostly after Hyouka was first published.

    Take Haruhi Suzumiya for example – it was published in 2003, Hyouka first came out in 2001. Therefore, it is a little unresonable to expect Hyouka to reinvent the wheel – when the cliches of Light Novels of it's genre barely began to take shape when Hyouka was first written.

    To me, the reason why Hyouka avoids alot of the pitfalls and cliches of other LNs of it's genre is because it predates many of those LNs that shape our expectation. Therefore, we are looking at a Prototype of the wheel that you refer to here in your post.

    Bakemonogatari? 2006. Haruhi Suzumiya? 2003. Baka and Test?2007. Hyouka? 2001.

    In other words, Hyouka is a throwback to an older, Pre-moe era Story-form. It's very unfair to asses it based on originality, unlike another adaptation of a more recent LN, or an Anime original.

  2. You raise a fair point, though I certainly don't hold Bakemono or Haruhi up as standards to measure against as I dislike the former and I'm indifferent to the latter. Still, in the context of 2001 this does seem a little less played-out – although if you think these tropes didn't exist in the last Century in Japanese pop culture, I'll have to disagree.

    Does knowing that change the viewing experience? That's probably more to the point. I don't necessarily need characters to break the mold to find them interesting, so the fact that this quartet is familiar never precluded them from being interesting and even compelling. I don't dislike any of them, but so far Satoshi is the only one I really find interesing – and that has nothing to do with reinventing any wheels.

    In spite of any concerns, though, I do like the show. It's visually almost peerless and it has a dignity and grace that's very attractive.

  3. L

    Quote Enzo: "though I certainly don't hold Bakemono or Haruhi up as standards to measure"

    …and that's why you're the only blogger on Random C whose posts I follow (along with that other guy who blogs Shirokuma Cafe). I never got all the fuss about Bakemonogatari. It's basically a peep-show: Audience peeping at the writer masturbating. Same could be said about Haruhi, to some extent.

    I must say that I'm enjoying this Hyouka more than I thought I would. Sure, the character designs are generic as hell, and the actual "mystery" seems rather trivial at this point (personally, I never considered my highschool life significant in the least), but the way it's presented is more than acceptable. None of it seems self-indulgent (except maybe all that talk about colored lives … rose-colored, gray, hot pink, etc) and the vocabulary is used in places it needs to be, unlike the other 2 series mentioned above where they just use flowery words and meandering sentences for no reason whatsoever.

  4. d

    Peep show dont see how? Do you like Elfen lied? do you like katanagatari? do you like Kara no kyoukai?

  5. I

    The animation direction, especially for the moments that describe parts of the anthology or theories is possibly the best Kyoani have ever done.

    It's surreal and at times makes me think of what Shinbo would have done if he was at Kyoani and had their budget and animation style at his disposal.

    I thought Hyouka meant result or report or investigation. So quite anti-climatic. Also with the origin of the name of the series found it begs the question of what now.

    Will it like so many mystery animes have several low key mysteries before another multiple episode one or will we jump straight into another arc. Another thing is that will any of the next mysteries match the first, which was not all that great to begin with?

    At least Chitanda hasn't said her excruciatingly annoying line this episode.

  6. d

    So Enzo, I guess you changed your mind and wouldn't drop this show? You seem to be at the verge of doing so back in episode 2 review.

    As I was watching this episode, I was put off by so much overreacting on what appears to be really, really trivial matters (call up "dramatic beaver" from youtube!!!) around the mid-point. Seriously if these characters were real actors, they'd all deserve oscar nominations for managing to conjure up such dramatic acting for such non-important facts as if the mystery of universe was revealed. My cynicism was slowing raging up. Forget the fact that I am in opinion of this show is a borderline bore in general…

    But having said that, towards the end, I felt it was "nicely done". I don't know what it was, but the mood and all during the epilogue somehow made me appreciate the good production value of the show and made me to let go the silliness in the middle I felt somewhat. I still think they went overboard (the mood was more appropriate for Kindaichi case file or murder mystery), but oh~~ the shiny, pretty visuals. I forgive ya.

    I probably will continue to watch this despite somewhat lackluster trivial mysteries they keep pulling up on me.

  7. It was probably not on the verge of being dropped after two eps, but it wasn't out of the realm of possibility. I think it's been clear from my posts from episode 3 on that I was sticking around, and by now it's safely in the keeper zone. It's not revelatory apart from the art direction and animation (which are, comfortably) but it's very solid show.

    I do agree that the drama outweighed the events just a bit this week, but it didn't bother me nearly as much as it did you. I like historical social commentary.

  8. P

    makes me wonder if the focus will now move to discovering the identity of the person who was the actual leader of the student protests but wasn't brave enough to identify themselves as the leader and how that single action had repercussions through to the events of today. Perhaps the person involved will shake our hero's belief on his slacker ethos to truly change his outlook on life. Or it could just perhaps devolve into a love story… not sure on how to bet on this one.

  9. Given the relative weakness of the characters as opposed to other elements of the show, I hope it doesn't go the romance route myself.

  10. J

    I still don't know how hyouka translates to ice cream…my japanese must be REALLY rusty

  11. U

    Think of it from the Japanese point of view. It's a translation that works better from English to Japanese than from Japanese to English. There is no commonly-used, traditional Japanese word for "ice cream." Everyone calls it "aisu kuriimu." But if asked to find a traditional Japanese word that most closely corresponds to "ice cream," I think "hyouka" is as good as any.

  12. A

    Looked it up "Hyouka means "edible ice," which refers to "ice cream" in English".

  13. J

    No, yeah I get that it's because of the direction of translation, but that edible ice explanation makes sense. Thanks anon!

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