I’ll go on the record now and say that might just have been the best culture festival episode I’ve seen in anime. Why? Well, for starters, this was a culture festival that’s actually part of the plot and not just a contrived excuse for characters to act in a certain way for entertainment value – they’ve been building up to it for the entire series, basically. But I also think this is a mode that Hyouka does exceptionally well – the exquisite art of time wasting in high school. The series just comes alive for me in episodes like this – the characters become much more loveable, and very few shows have ever has the ability to transport me back to those days in my mind like this one does. If there was ever a series genetically engineered for a culture festival episode, it’s Hyouka.
Needless to say, this was an episode much more to my tastes that the somewhat ponderous four-part “Why Didn’t They Ask Eba” arc (and I’m finding my tastes with Hyouka tend to run directly counter to the bulk of the fan base). In addition to all this reasons above, there’s also the fact that this kind of story is a perfect opportunity for KyoAni to really show off their visual brilliance. This is a playground for the artists and animators – so many different venues, so many rooms, so many costumes, so much action going on at the corner of the eye… No one can do this kind of stuff better than they can. Never has an anime culture festival looked more like a place I’d love to waste a few hours.
Another element I enjoyed here was watching all the characters with their differing ways of dealing with the event. Houtarou is very much his old self, barely able to keep his eyes open the night before, but the others are all wide awake for their own reasons. Satoshi is giddy with excitement at the prospect of experiencing his first high school culture festival (and his decor certainly reflects his larger-than-life personality). Mayaka is awake out of worry – worry at being a social pariah because she has to cosplay with the Manga Club, and because she made a mistake and ordered 200 copies of the anthology. And Chitanda is dutifully thinking ahead, making a pilgrimage to the Shrine to pray for success the following day.
The festival itself was pretty much KyoAni shamelessly showing off, but they’re so good at it I won’t begrudge them. Some of the highlights were Satoshi’s costumer (“My Saturn!”), the Karuta Club in action, actual breakdancers (well, this is a 10 year-old series) and the karaoke featuring the lovely pop classic “Ue wo Muite Aruko”, which is to this day the only Japanese-language song to hit the Billboard Top 100 chart in the US – as “Sukiyaki”. In short, it was colorful, silly, and looked like a great deal of fun – it’s hard to blame Chitanda for constantly getting distracted on her mission (though she does have the attention span of a chipmunk). And yes, there was a mission – to try and sell as many of those 200 copies as possible and bail out Mayaka – and Chitanda was on her way to ask the Student Council President Tanabe Jinrou (played by no less than Fukuyama Jun) for a better selling spot (denied). Meanwhile, Houtarou is dutifully sitting in the Classic Club’s backwater, unnoticed by the world, thought he does manage to sell one copy to a wayward member of the Fashion Club (with one of the worst smile attempts ever). After all the fuss last week, it was sort of reassuring to see Houtarou slip comfortably back into his slacker mode.
I also have to give a plug to the new ED, which I absolutely love – not for the song itself so much, though it’s fine, but for the animation. It’s a classic KyoAni number, really smartly crafted and full of wit, featuring Chitanda and Mayaka as Holmes and Hercule Poirot and Houtarou and Satoshi as Lupin and Moriarty. I don’t know how much sense it makes in the context of the series but it’s clever and a nice nod to the mystery tradition at least nominally at the center of the show. Also, I do plan to blog the special “Episode 11.5” as soon as a decent version of it is available subbed. Where are those Fairy translation glasses when I need them?
ED: [君にまつわるミステリー] “Kimi Ni Matsuwaru Mystery”