Hyouka – 17

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Even if it had never done or will do anything else of consequence, Hyouka would go down as a worthwhile series based on the strength of the Kanya Festa arc alone.

Hyouka is a good show, and pretty much has been from the beginning apart from a couple of hiccups.  But I’m sure glad I stuck around for this arc, because it completely justifies the series as a whole.  Adjectives spring to mind that I don’t normally throw around with anime – words like “elegant” and “perfect”.  The genius of this arc sneaked up on me, only really becoming apparent in the last couple of episodes.  It was a great arc  from the beginning, but I didn’t realize how successfully it was operating on so many different levels.  And this episode wrapped it up beautifully – I really don’t think it set a foot wrong.

The list of things I love about Kanya Festa is a long one.  It started out as something close to the Platonic ideal of a school slice-of-life story, with a pair of episodes that for all practical purposes appeared to be trying to do nothing more than set the scene at the culture festival and create an entertaining atmosphere.  It succeeded unreservedly on those counts – those were some of the best anime eps I’ve seen in years in terms of pure fun, and they made the festival a place I really wanted to be.  They were hilarious in that slightly-bent Hyouka way, too. But while this was happening, the scene was being set to take the arc to another level entirely, and I barely noticed it.  In short, Kanya Festa started as something really good and built from there.

The way this story came together represents the first time that all the elements that make up Hyouka worked for me.  We’ve had other stretches where the pure time-wasting idyll of high school was successfully portrayed (though not to this degree) but Kanya Festa managed to score big both in terms of crafting an interesting mystery and going to some very clever places with character development.  Those haven’t been the strengths of Hyouka and it didn’t seem at first as if this arc would change all that – and the thing is, I’d have been perfectly happy to have it stay that way with as much fun as I was having.  But the last three episodes tweaked the character dynamic in a much more compelling way than it had been before, and in the process crafted a mystery that was directly linked with the character side of things.  If that isn’t elegant writing I don’t know what it is.

Another thing I can’t help rave about is the way multiple character threads turned out to revolve around the same theme.  When a writer tries to tie everything together neatly it can often seem contrived, but it was very believable here.  There was a definite recurring theme running through this arc finale, and that was expectations.  Expectations were critical to the argument Mayaka was having with Kouchi about whether objective masterpieces exist.  They were central to the inner conflict Satoshi was dealing with in terms of his relationship with Houtarou.  And they turned out to be at the heart of the entire Juumoji mystery itself. 

It turns out that Satoshi, Kouchi and Tanaba Jirou were all basically feeling the same thing.  They all saw friends less knowledgeable and less hard-working outstrip them in something they were passionate about.  Kouchi’s resistance to Mayaka’s argument was grounded in her resentment of Anjou Haruna, author or “A Corpse at  Midnight” – a non-manga fan who wrote a far better manga than she (a manga otaku) could write (though that itself is much better than Mayaka is capable of).  Satoshi, of course, longed to transcend his self-imposed database role and solve the puzzle himself, and while he pounded the pavement trying to do so Houtarou managed to win the game barely having to get off his ass.  And Juumoji turns out to be Tanaba Jirou – who turns out to be the lowly backgrounds artist who wrote the afterword for “Corpse”.  The Juumoji incidents were all an attempt to send a message to President Kugayama Muneyoshi, who tossed off “Corpse” for fun and hasn’t even bothered to read the manuscript for “Kudryavka’s Order” than the now transferred Haruna left behind.  All three of these kids are dealing with the curse of expectations – which, as Satoshi says, is a word really meant for after you’ve already given up.

Beautiful, the way all that ties together.  Elegant.  Maybe even perfect.  Houtarou’s deduction is pretty elegant too (especially the riddle of the nom de plume “Ajimu Takuha”) as is his scheme to blackmail Tanaba-kun to buy 30 copies of Hyouka to sell on the school’s website and stage an attack on the Classics Club to drum up interest.  Houtarou isn’t exempt from interesting character development here either – I find it very interesting that he took the trouble to pull off the blackmail scheme (he actually had to stand up, walk outside and carry a bunch of anthologies).  He’s still dense – he doesn’t seem to have really grasped just how wounded Satoshi is (Mayaka seems to, for reasons Satoshi is unaware of but we know) – but he’s fully crossed the bridge to giving a damn, and that’s pretty much a one-way trip.

If there are quibbles to be made, one might point out that Chitanda’s arc feels pretty one-note and predictable compared to the other characters, and her role never really transcends its usual comic relief (it’s very good comic relief) and plot driver functions.  As well, Tomoe’s introduction of a copy of “Corpse” into the narrative has a bit of a Deus ex machina quality to it.  But those are minor points when measured against all the very, very good things this arc does.  And the arc leaves the characters in a very interesting place going forward – each of them (well, three of them) are better-defined and more human than before.  I like the fact that Satoshi’s crisis isn’t neatly tied up– he’s got his game face back on and resumed his role as the unsung hero of the group, but clearly he’s still hurting inside.  In the end, he didn’t come close to changing the dynamic – Houtarou was still the one who untied the knot, and he was still the one carrying the bag and not the one hitting the shots.  Satoshi is all smiles again, but the larger issue still looms between he and Houtarou, and it’ll be interesting to see if the adaptation returns to that theme before it wraps up.

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16 comments

  1. A

    I'll be damned if that wasn't the best plot arc ever, animated perfectly. This isn't just good, this is high art.

  2. I

    Was Houtarou's Seiyuu different for this episode? He sounded a lot less deep.

  3. Nope, same seiyuu.

  4. I

    May be Yuuichi Nakamura had a cold or was stuffed with helium because I'm sure he sounded higher pitched than normal.

  5. A

    great post enzo! i agree with everything, it was truly a flawless arc. it set up everything perfectly with no loose ends.

    i'd like to also comment on how i think that this is the first series i've seen that actually plays to the respectful side of the anime/manga world. in other series i get the sense that it's downgraded by a lot of ott otaku characters and manga put into context where characters get dumbly distracted by it, etc etc. however, this series uses manga as a symbol of excellence. and it was just so refreshing to see it finally viewed directly like this.

  6. Definitely not the first series to do so (heck, Bakuman is riddled with love of the art) but I agree, there's a real and powerful love of manga on display in this arc. One of many wonderful things about Kanya Festa.

  7. w

    Finally after that awful Where is EBA? arc, this one totally redeems not only that arc but the entire show. Easily this episode and this arc are a solid 5/5, and I haven't given a perfect score to any new series so far. Gonna up this to an 8, which I also haven't given out in a while. Really impressed with KyoAni.

    Really liked how the theme of expectations was weaved into this arc and how it started off doing nothing and then WHAM.

  8. A

    thank you for your kind words, i agree to everything you said. really glad I stuck with this show. despite, the bad raps i read or heard. and also, finally we see a perfect cooperation of brilliant animation (KyoAni, good job but we're still waiting for the fmp) and brilliant writing/plot in this anime. familiar? coincidentally, that is the supposed masterpiece Dead by Dusk/Corpse by Evening.

  9. S

    What a brilliant arc. Most festival arcs in anime make me want to cook something (lots of interesting food, obviously). This was the first that made me want to fly out there and attend the festival. It was that well realized.

    The one question I had going into this episode is what was really going on with Mayaka and her senpais. It seemed overblown, but it really wasn't. Mayaka had accidentally twisting a really nasty knife. Though her Senpai is at fault for not actually addressing what Mayaka was arguing and just responding, but, well, these are still high schoolers and she was acting pretty human.

    Though I'm not sure I really liked the resolution for Mayaka there. She's acquired Chitanda-Eyes. Houtarou & Satoshi are completely screwed. (Mayaka is also getting a bit more forward with Satoshi, which was cool to see)

    One thing I'm not sure we've really commented on much is the writing staff. The "hype" going into this series was that the Light Novels were actually pretty bad, or at least not very interesting. Kyoto Animation has done a wonderful job of bringing out the best in the base work. Which, and this is something I didn't realize until recently, shouldn't be too much of a surprise. Gatoh Shoji is the series comp & writing many of the scripts. He's the creator of Full Metal Panic! Though the genre difference is pretty stark, hehe.

  10. H

    Not only did Houtarou win the game, he won it before it was even over. It was a great exploration into feelings that almost everyone has: We always know of a person who can do what we want to do, but better. And no matter how good we may be at what we do, there's usually something that we want to do, with a large part of our being, that we realize we're just not able to do.

    I think you give Eru a bit of a short shrift in this arc, tho. While not as profound as Satoshi's and Mayaka's exploration of self (or maybe it's just as profound, but she is able to deal with it better than a normal teenager's moody reaction), she also ran up against a personal limit in ability that someone she looks up to has an excess of ability in. In the end, however, Eru realizes, through whatever mechanism she has for right / wrong, that using Irisu's methods of persuasion just aren't for her. Realizing and acknowledging your own limits can be the first step to extending those limits, and accepting where they are is a key step towards self-contentment.

  11. H

    BTW, did we get so totally trolled by Tomoe in that she ultimately wasn't involved at all? Or do we hold out hope that she was actually in contact with Tanabe prior to his beginning of the Juumoji event, and helped with the idea, much like she did with Irisu?

  12. I don't think we know the answer to that. What I will say is that I see no direct evidence that she was in contact with Tanabe in any way and that her introduction of ACbE was anything but a coincidence. Doesn't mean it didn't happen, but I don't see any evidence.

  13. M

    I think this may be the best school culture festival arc ever but I can not help but think that they could have gotten a copy of ACbE into the story in a more organic way.

    Mayaka could have mentioned her losing her copy to the club members then Houtarou might have reacted slightly leading to Eru badgering it out of him that he thought his sister had a copy.

    That would have keep it all within the club.

  14. s

    Great commentary! I felt really stunned but also pleasantly surprised at how emotionally complex this arc turned out to be. It's amazing how seemingly different situations for each character turned out to have such similar emotions and resolutions.

    Even though it was less impactful than what the other characters experienced, Chitanda's discovery that she isn't suited to Irisu's style of dealing with people was also pretty interesting. I somehow feel like Irisu ended up getting more development from her interactions with Chitanda than vice versa; maybe it's because she's known Chitanda for a while, or maybe it's just Chitanda's quirkiness coming into play, but Irisu seems to lower her ice queen-ishness around Chitanda and actually show concern for her.

  15. N

    Yes, I felt exactly the same as you! In retrospect, the arc has neatly and elegantly tied up 3 stories of 3 different, passionate young people who were easily surpassed by their nonchalant friends. What's more frustrating for them is that those friends are not nearly as dedicated, and yet they always get the spotlights. Despite being determined and even a little jealous, they could do nothing but watch the others from the sidelines. It must have been hard for Satoshi, Kouchi and Vice-Pre; and the next best thing they could do as a disguise for their seemingly shameful and competitive feelings is to have great expectations of their friends, or in Satoshi's words, "to give up."
    And yet, whether their friends could fulfill those expectations (like Houtarou) or not (like President Kugayama Muneyoshi & Anjou Haruna), what's left is nothing short of unease and regret…

  16. A

    I do not believe that it is much of a surprise that Houtarou's sister was an element of deus ex machina.

    Houtarou's sister is deus. I believe she has been involved in all of Hotarou's adventures with the Classic's Club.

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