I suppose the highest praise I can pay to Hyouka is this: not only can’t I think of another anime that would have been able to pull this episode off, I can’t even think of another one that would try. It’s certainly audacious to have an entire episode be one character spinning BS (even if it did turn out to be true) off a random PA announcement, and think people will keep watching and be entertained. It requires a great deal of confidence in the material to trust that it can hold up when stripped bare like this, but then I think the confident writing in this series has been a strength from day one. I haven’t exactly loved every arc, but I’ve never had a sense that the show was struggling to define itself. It was more, “Here I am – take it or leave it.”
One way to look at this ep, I suppose, is that the whole thing was a pretense to show how far along Houtarou and Chitanda have come in their relationship since the string of “much ado about nothing” mysteries that dominated the first cour. And there’s no question that they have – starting with Houtarou’s inquiry about Chitanda’s Uncle’s funeral, and his willingness to visit his grave with her. We saw something of this last week, too – in structure the episode was very much reminiscent of the early part of the series, but with a different Houtarou at the center of it. It would be hard to imagine a smaller kernel of plot to build an episode around than a 5-second announcement, but while they did a pretty solid job making that interesting, the dynamic between the two characters (the only two who appeared in the ep) definitely gave things an added air of significance.
There’s sexual tension between these two, of that there can be no mistake. It’s tempting to believe that Chitanda is innocent as to the effect her increasing willingness to invade Houtarou’s personal space is having on him, but I’m not so sure (the blush doesn’t lie). Houtarou is certainly aware of it, of that there can be no doubt. The attraction is there, though just how much of it extends beyond the physical is still hard to say. Both of them are playing a game with the other at the moment, both know it but don’t really talk about it. Houtarou still isn’t especially comfortable being the center of attention, be it a group or a group of one girl with no sense of irony or attention span, but I think he enjoys the crash of his irresistible apathy against Chitanda’s immovable curiosity, and the mere fact that he’s enjoying it means that she’s already winning the war.
As to the mystery itself, it was quite impressive the way the writing managed to make a single stream of consciousness last for the entire episode. It was all building up to a punchline, of course – Houtarou set off on the whole exercise to prove he could pull a theory out of his ass to match any situation, and it turned out that his theory was exactly right, and he forget that was his reason in the first place. Now obviously once he gets started, Houtarou doesn’t want to be wrong – so he ends up trying even if he never meant to. It wasn’t a bad mystery – my first reaction was certainly “shoplifting” and I managed to get to “counterfeit” before Houtarou said it. There are a few holes for me – I still don’t buy Houtarou’s certainty that Student X didn’t use a smaller bill, and I think he was certain only because the plot required it. But as with so much of the writing in Hyouka, it was elegant in the way it all fit together in the end – again, I can’t think of another show that would have attempted something like this.
Now last week I admitted that my views on Hyouka have evolved, and that I’d like a little more plot now – and that’s still true. I still can’t rank an episode like this, clever as it was, alongside the best of the series (most of which fell inside the Kanya Festa arc). I still find Satoshi the best character and he and Mayaka the more interesting couple, and I think their absence leaves the episode a little poorer. But I have to give the series credit for staying true to itself and believing in its own charms, and for doing what only it can do instead of what other series are already doing. I’d like to get something a little meatier to chew on in the last few eps, but if all we’re getting is snacks like this one, at least they’re tasty.