Hyouka – 18

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I hate to say it, but I may have gotten to the point where I want my Hyouka with a little bit more plot.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_03.39_[2012.08.19_22.08.32]For better or worse, the epic “Kanya Festa” arc of Hyouka has dramatically reshaped the playing field.  It raised my expectations of what this series was capable of – shattered them, really.  I was quite happy with my quirky little show that was all about atmosphere, and had a way of capturing the feeling of being smart, adolescent and desperate for ways to fill the day – and more than happy to marvel week in and week out at the magic KyoAni was weaving with animation and art.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_04.20_[2012.08.19_22.09.13]Kanya Festa changed all that, though.  It started out as the same old Hyouka, only better – giving us a couple of episodes of pure atmosphere building, creating an amazingly vivid and seductive world inside the culture festival that made me desperate to go there.  But then it built and built on that, giving us both the best character development and most interesting mystery of the series, by far, before wrapping it up with a conclusion that was so elegant and comprehensive that it elevated the series to high art.  I never had any expectation that it would follow that up immediately with something else at the same level, but it did leave me with a taste for what the series could be at its best, which makes episodes like this one not quite as tasty as they would have been before.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_04.31_[2012.08.19_22.09.24]What we got with the story of Ogi-sensei, the middle-school English teacher of Houtarou, Satoshi and Mayaka, felt very much like something from the first cour of the series.  There was a difference though, and that was Houtarou.  Whatever else happens in the final several episodes it’s clear that Houtarou can never go back.  Hyouka is an interesting series in that the character development is so slow that you almost don’t notice it’s happening – but it’s there.  The end of Kanya Festa was like a moment when you stand next to a 14 year-old relative you see frequently and realizing to your astonishment that he’s grown six inches, and you never noticed.  It was a little more stark with Satoshi and Mayaka, but no less apparent with Houtarou – and he’s been developing at a glacial pace all along, even through the pre-Kanya arcs.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_04.38_[2012.08.19_22.09.31]So how does that manifest itself in this episode, which is extremely Houtarou-centric?  Well, things start out very typically – a helicopter flies by, and Fuku-chan goes to the window to look at it.  This leads to an offhand remark about an incident from middle school, where Ogi-sensei went to the window and looked out for several seconds as a chopper flew by before smiling and saying, “I like helicopters”.  This is an extremely esoteric mystery – one comment made by an old teacher none of the trio who took his class are ever likely to see again.  But the important point is that Houtarou actually takes the initiative to act on his curiosity about the gap between what he remembers and what Satoshi and Mayaka do.  I think Houtarou’s always been curious, but before, could rarely be bothered to act on it. 

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_05.29_[2012.08.19_22.10.39]It’s not just that, though – alarming though it is that he’d actually take the initiative to research his hunch at the library and invite Satoshi along.  No, there’s a degree of empathy that’s grown in Houtarou through his connection with the Classics Club, and that’s what makes distant curiosity about Ogi-sensei into something insistent.  He describes it in a very interesting way – that it would “insensitive” if he never looked into why Ogi-sensei said what he did that day.  Clarifying for Chitanda, he says it wouldn’t be right not to know how Ogi-sensei felt, even though (and this is the key) he doesn’t need to know.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_07.03_[2012.08.19_22.12.12]There’s another element that’s changed for Houtarou too, and that’s his feelings for Chitanda.  The two of them ceded center stage to Satoshi and Mayaka to a large extent in Kanya Festa, but they’re very much in focus here.  Houtarou’s open admission of curiosity is to the queen of curiosity, of course, like waving a red cape in front of a bull.  Chitanda is now curious mainly about why Houtarou is curious, and accompanies him on his research to the library.  The episode takes some pains to ensure that the two of them are alone together on this quest, and I don’t think it’s an accident (nor is his musing that he “owes her”) – effectively, this is a “library date” (and could anyone make a village library look more interesting than KyoAni?).  There are some very funny moments here – Houtarou’s fantasies about riding with Chitanda on her bike, and Chitanda’s general behavior in the library.  A public library is a tough spot for her, with the attention span of a gnat – everything is fascinating, but only until something more fascinating comes along.  Cabbages, tomatoes, dung beetles – they’re all a part of the wondrous world she’s endlessly curious about.

[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_07.06_[2012.08.19_22.12.15]For my money, I still find Satoshi and Mayaka the more interesting pair.  Chitanda has evolved the least of the main cast – she’s still largely a plot driver and comic device (and she excels as both), still mired in her disconnected world where mansions are “average” and life is full of new wonders waiting to be discovered.  But Houtarou’s journey from a clichéd teenage version of The Dude (The Dude Abides) to fully-vested member of society has become far more interesting than I ever expected (and I would be remiss in not restating my admiration for Hyouka in being that rare school ensemble show where the boys are as complex and well-developed – significantly more so, in truth – than the girls).  And undeniably Chitanda is a major component of that – if she hasn’t developed much, she’s an indispensable element of Houtarou’s development and that makes her totally crucial to everything that happens in Hyouka.  If the series spends its last month on well-crafted idyll I’m sure I’ll enjoy it, but I’m spoiled now – Kanya Festa left this cast in a fascinating place, and I really want to see where the road takes them from here.

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[Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_12.27_[2012.08.19_22.17.36] [Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_14.57_[2012.08.19_22.20.07] [Mazui]_Hyouka_-_18_[008C19AC].mkv_snapshot_15.22_[2012.08.19_22.20.32]
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  1. A

    I strongly suspect that the last few episodes will be standalones like this one. There are five Hyouka novels in publication, and so far the anime has covered the first three novels. This episode was adapted from the fourth novel, a collection of short stories. There is one more longer arc in the fifth novel, but there are simply not enough episodes left to animate it completely.

  2. K

    For once, this episode was not adapted from the fourth novel, but is actually a Kyo-Ani original. Note the lack of any episode subtitle at the end of the episode prior to the credits, the episodes adapted from volume 4 would have been titled "Little birds can remember".

    Still, a good enough original to allow Houtarou and Chitanda to develop their relationship with each other.

  3. H

    I wonder if Eru comes off as not being developed mainly because it's in comparison to Houtarou and Satoshi. I seem to be a bit of a fanboy for her, but I think she tends to get a bit of a short shrift because she's superficially a pretty superficial character. Yet it feels to me like she's seen a good bit of growth when judged as an anime character, even if a lot of that growth is not particularly apparent. Things like her realization that Irisu's suggestions to her are not appropriate and her abilities to read other people. Even if her mannerisms come across as over the top and caricatured, I think there's still been a change in her perceptions.

    For my thinking, the character that hasn't gone anywhere is Mayaka, in terms of both who she is and what the audience knows about her. Yes, she was more featured in the Kanya Festa arc, but in the end it seems that all we found out was that she feels inferior to other people, and she didn't really move away from that position. We didn't learn anything about why she is the object of jokes in the Manga Club, why she seems to be an outsider everywhere, or even what she thinks she is good at (since she considers her artistic skills to be subpar).

  4. "Superficially pretty superficial"? Sometimes a cigar is just a cigar!

    I think even the development you discuss, with Irisu, is very superficial – it's plot-driven development rather than character-driven development, if you get my drift. Chitanda changes a bit, but it's all very transparent stuff – there's not much subtlety there.

    I disagree a little bit about Mayaka, who I think showed a much more nuanced side in the Festa arc – idealistic, artistic, passionate. We knew what her trip-wires were – that arc gave us the reasons behind them. For me, that's good development.

    Overall, I think Satoshi and Houtarou have gotten the most development here. I like the fact that all the characters are important, but it is refreshing to see the guys take the lead in that department.

  5. J

    Hyouaouaauaooauaoaaaka? I think it's Hyouka!

    Fix the title unless you like it the way it is, and get some sleep man 😉

  6. J

    By the way, I'm digging that banner. I don't think those tabs were there before too.

  7. What tabs – you mean the dropdown menus? That's been there for at least a year.

  8. J

    I wonder how much of Chitanda's curious nature is a conscious choice for her. After last weeks admittance to realising that the other girls tactics weren't right for her, she seems oddly conscious of her own state of eagerness.

    And now, when she sees how Houtarou, she shows surprise at his sensitive reflection on life. Almost as if she dropped her veil for a moment and was on the same level with someone equally eager, and thus didn't have to hide it by the typical (put-on?) squirrel-like behaviour.

    What do you think about my theory Enzo?

  9. Hmm… I don't have anything in there I specifically disagree with, but I don't see quite the same level of self-awareness in her that you're describing. I think she was simply excited to see Houtarou acting more like her. She doesn't let it show, but she has to be aware of the way Houtarou usually plays her, I would think – how he humors her and such.

  10. a

    I was wondering why Satoshi is interesting? Is it because he is just superficially genki with all that dark undertow? Admittedly for my part, his character has been a bit grating, a bit like listening to modern classical music. Perhaps I'm not giving him a chance?

  11. Well, he's the one character in the show I've found interesting since the beginning, so I could give you quite a long answer. But if I were to summarize…

    Satoshi is the one member of the cast whose public persona is most at odds with what he's feeling inside. He's also by far the most self-aware of the gang – he has a strongly defined idea of who he is and he's proud of it, but he's also well aware of his weaknesses and they frustrate him. I've been fascinated with his character from the time he gave that speech back in episode 4 or 5, when he and Houtarou were riding to Chitanda's house, the one about how he wanted to shine brighter than the people around him. That was the first time I felt there might be something deeper going on with Hyouka than I initially thought.

    Now, if you want to get speculative, I think it's quite possible to infer that Satoshi might be gay, and that's partly what he was doing – coming out to his best friend in a way he hoped Houtarou would understand. That would make Satoshi even more interesting, as a perfectly likable and interesting gay male whose sexuality isn't the point of the show or played for laughs. But even setting that possibility aside, I still find him the best character on the show.

  12. a

    I agree Hyouka just leveled-up with the Kanya arc. This wasn't my favorite episode but there was a striking line in the end. I guess it's less being "insensitive" and "more of knowing how one feels." It show a certain degree of self-awareness and deep thought. For some weird reason, Hyouka has been highlighting points that I'm experiencing lately for the past 2 weeks now.

  13. K

    I was also spoiled by the Kanya Fest arc. For the first 5 minutes or so of this ep, I'm wondering why so much time is being spent on such a mundane topic, before remembering that Hyouka was always like this.

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