All things considered I’d call this episode a considerable step up from last week’s effort, which left me pretty disinterested in the end. I usually find with Hyouka that it’s hard to say just exactly why some episodes work better for me than others, but at its best this show has a certain off-kilter sensibility that I find gives it a desperately needed edge. In short, on balance Hyouka is quite nice – a relaxing contemplation of the idle hours after school that so many of us had trouble filling. But I like it better when it’s just a little bit weird.
As usual with Hyouka, the mystery is mostly beside the point for me (though it was certainly more involving than last week’s “Let’s listen to three dumb theories” approach), but the character stuff definitely had some spark this time. I’ve already stated that Satoshi is the most interesting character in the cast for me, and that continues to be the case. There’s a subtext in so much of what he says – something hiding behind his cheerful self-deprecation. Perhaps it’s a little bit of anger, some pride, and certainly defiance and a strong sense of self. It was certainly plain in his conversation with Houtarou this time, where he proclaims his lack of any special skill in any area and declares that Mayaka would be a better Sherlockian than he in three months, if she wanted. For himself, Satoshi says, he’s nothing but a traveler good for “nothing more than a stamp on the pamphlet.”
Now, I don’t believe that, Houtarou doesn’t believe it either and most importantly I don’t think Satoshi believes it either. When Hotarou says “I don’t agree with that stuff you’re saying about yourself” (which is an interesting character moment in itself) Satoshi’s answer is quite intriguing – “There are things that interest me more than being a Sherlockian.” He pairs this with a rare drop of the smiling veneer of genki that he always surrounds himself with – just for a minute – when he confesses to a little jealousy of Houtarou. We see the world through Houtarou’s eyes in this series, and hear his thoughts – and Mayaka and Chitanda are fairly transparent personalities – but Satoshi is different. There’s always a sense that we’re just seeing the tip of the iceberg with him, and that makes him the one to keep an eye on.
As for our main character (and Satoshi is careful to tell us “I could never be the star”) Houtarou has an interesting week, too. There’s the protestation to Satoshi for starters, which I think was his true opinion. But it also represents a quite open gesture of support for someone else’s feelings, which is another sign his shell is starting to crack. As is his quite transparent thrill at being praised by The Empress, which he fails badly at trying to hide. As Satoshi says, it’s made him start to question his own character – to believe that might actually have a talent that makes him “special”. Solving this mystery is kind of a dumb thing to get so amped up about, to be honest, but at least it’s movement.
In terms of that mystery, I confess that even though I knew this was a four-part arc I almost bought into the notion that this ep was going to end here, and that no one was going to ask the stupidly obvious question that’s been the white elephant in the room the whole time. Good troll, there – and it was Mayaka of all people who put a fly in the ointment in the end, pointing out that Houtarou hasn’t accounted for Haba-kun’s revelation that Hongou had asked for a rope for the production. Not to mention that Houtarou’s solution was not acceptable according to traditional mystery rules – that’s another debate. All that is small potatoes – I just want to know what’s really going on with Hongou, and why nobody is wondering why they don’t just get the answer from her.