Anime Review: Hyouka

Hyouka is a Japanese anime series, which was produced by Kyoto Animation, an animation studio and light novel publisher noted for producing The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, A Silent Voice and Violet Evergarden. It was directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto (noted as the director of various anime including Full Metal Panic! The Second Raid, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, The SoulTaker and Violet Evergarden) with overall series composition by Shoji Gatoh (noted for his work on Full Metal Panic, Amagi Brilliant Park and Cop Craft) and character design by Futoshi Nishiya (noted for his work on Inuyasha, Full Metal Panic, Haruhi Suzumiya, Amagi Brilliant Park and Sound! Euphonium). 

Before we move on, I would like to note that sadly, Yasuhiro Takemoto and Futoshi Nishiya, both passed away in an arson attack on the Kyoto Animation building on July 18th 2019. Their contributions to anime and manga will not be forgotten.

So Hyouka is a 22 episode long anime, based upon the mystery novel of the same name, which is part of the Classic Literature Club series, by author Honobu Yonezawa. In March 2012, Hyouka was adapted into a manga, by Taskohna (noted for their works on Kandachime and Fate/stay night) which was serialised in Japanese Publisher, Kadokawa Shoten’s monthly magazine, Shōnen Ace

Okay, so now that we have all the background information out of the way, let’s move on to what I thought about Hyouka. Firstly, I think the balance between the mystery and slice of life elements was really well executed. I recently watched Rampo Kitan – Game of Laplace, which is also a mystery show but while it had comedic elements, it was very dark, whereas Hyouka, finds this nice balance between intriguing mysteries, the overall deductive process and capabilities of protagonist, Houtarou Oreki and also just a nice casual, easy energy to it. There’s no extreme stakes, or extreme violence or murder. In fact, other than the mystery involving Eru Chitanda’s Uncle which obviously has some emotional significance to Eru and as such is dealt with using the appropriate level of sincerity. Most of the mysteries are rather innocent or inconsequential.

I think being able to deal with more mundane elements, as is common in a slice of life anime, and yet still present stories, with an interesting and engaging mystery at the centre of it must have been quite difficult and yet it really worked in this case. I do not feel that there was a weak episode in the entire 22 episode run. I also like that there were self-contained episodes but also some overarching elements tying together the full series. 

The real highlight of the show, in my opinion at least, are the characters. I love that to some extent, all of the people around Oreki act as a foil to his way of life. It’s made clear that they threaten his belief in ‘energy conservatism’ and that while his motto may be ‘If I don’t have to do something, I won’t, but if I have to, I’ll do it quickly’, that those around him have expectations and he cannot simply ignore them. I think we see the growth of his character throughout the series, he goes from trying to avoid things, to begrudgingly joining the literature club to appease his sister, to eventually actively choosing to do things. I think this growth is in no small part due to the people around him, rubbing off on him.

We have Eru Chitanda, who is sweet and innocent, intelligent but also relentless when it comes to satisfying her curiosity, and Oreki feels obligated to use his gifts to solve the enigma of the day for her. Satoshi Fukube, who is cheerful and energetic, and who possesses an incredible memory, but lacks Oreki’s raw deductive capabilities. Mayaka Ibara, who is responsible and polite, but is also capable of being stubborn, and like the other members of the classic literature club, is intelligent, but she also cannot match Oreki’s esoteric thought process which allows him to solve mysteries from seemingly inconsequential information and data points. Even from inside his own home, Oreki’s sister Tomoe is very active and energetic, and ambitious, as well as occasionally being pushy, it was her not-so subtle prompting that had Oreki join the club in the first place, to prevent it from being dissolved. Everyone Oreki interacts with, helps to drive him, and motivates him away from his lethargic route through life, and instead helps to channel his capabilities towards doing something good.

Now I’ve talked a lot about how people interact with Oreki, but I like that the characters aren’t just anime tropes dressed up to direct the plot in a specific direction, I felt like I got to know real people, and each of them had traits and points of view which impacted how they viewed the events of the episode, and it was realistic and believable. I think this is exceedingly rare in media, and so I was particularly impressed by how well Hyouka managed to do it.

Moving away from the characters, I think the story was really well done. They had a few long standing elements which are woven through the entire series, but it’s not so episodic as to be unwelcoming if you were just to jump in on a random episode. I like that even though it’s a mystery, it’s not really just about that, it’s a vessel for portraying different ways of living and different perspectives. 

I think what else I liked is that Hyouka was largely serious in tone, but didn’t take itself too seriously. It’s not afraid of fun, but it’s not a comedy. It deals with weighty issues, it deals with real life, and people’s expectations and it’s just really strong in both narrative and execution.

I usually talk about this sooner, but the animation was superb, befitting a slice of life, it focuses on the mundane and familiar, the comfortable and recognisable, but shows the simple pleasures and beauty present in those elements. The series relied upon its visuals to tell an even deeper story, and to develop a deeper emotional resonance which truly made Hyouka a stand out anime. 

Overall though, Hyouka is a richly designed anime that is somehow both easy going and light, and full of incredible depth and observations. We see genuine growth across the board, not just Oreki but each character takes something, or learns something from the mysteries. I’ve seen other people angry at this being classified as a mystery because it’s not murder, I mean the most actively criminal thing they investigated involved some minor thefts, but I think a mystery, is just when you don’t know something and you need to unravel what it means, and in that regard Hyouka fits that mold. So if you don’t like stories which are slow to unfold, or if you want big, proper mysteries, then perhaps this show isn’t for you but I strongly feel that it is worth watching. One last thing before I give my rating, a lot of people, even those who enjoyed the anime overall didn’t like the finale, which is perceived to have been a little anticlimactic, but honestly while I can see what they mean I think I like that more, life doesn’t always work out the way it would in a cohesive narrative, sometimes it’s messy, or doesn’t make sense and sometimes like in this case, things don’t quite pay off the same way we would like, and because of that I think I like it better than the alternative. So with all that said and done I think Hyouka earns a 4.5/5

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