“Never do anything yourself that others can do for you.” —Agatha Christie
Kyoto Animation’s adaptation of the Hyouka (literally “ice cream”) novel was released in 2012, following one Houtarou Oreki’s reluctant agreement to join his high school’s Classic Literature club at his older sister’s request to prevent the club from being disbanded. Though he initially finds their activities to be an unnecessary use of his time, together with Eru Chitanda, Satoshi Fukube and Mayaka Ibara, he nonetheless lends his natural capacity for deducing the solution to problems the club encounters, ranging from the mysteries behind Eru’s uncle, events associated with the school’s Kanya festival or the infamous “Juumonji” case during the Kanya festival itself. Each mystery is down-to-earth and realistic, being set in a self-contained arc that flows reasonably well into the the subsequent arc, with much of the anime being about the cultural festival itself. Judging from the mundane, everyday nature of the mysteries in Hyouka, one must surmise that the original Hyouka novel would have been remarkably dull on sheer virtue of the mysteries: instead, the Hyouka novel is more focussed around solid character dynamics, especially in regards to Houtarou’s character how he changes after meeting Eru, and how this change underlies the central message in Hyouka.
- Hyouka is littered with references to famous mystery writers, such as Sir Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie. The quote at the top of the page is actually quite telling and may have inspired Houtarou’s personality. From left to right, we have Satoshi, Houtarou, Eru and Mayaka.
- Eru’s lack of personal space means she gets in Houtarou’s face quite often whenever she’s curious, and one of the earliest mysteries Houtarou solves is what the Kanya festival incident had been during her uncle’s time at high school. Armed with only several clues, Houtarou and company manages to solve the mystery behind how the Kanya festival came to reach its current state, which is a reasonably impressive accomplishment.
- While there are several main arcs in Hyouka, the overarching theme is the school’s culture festival; preparation for it forms the basis for several stories. A few of the episodes are self-contained, such as the Classic Literature Club’s trip to a hot springs. Despite the ghost stories that circulate and subsequent claims that a ghost is seen, Houtarou manages to give the mystery another one of his now-signature analysis, reducing it to a problem between Mayaka’s siblings. This ultimately helps them work things out.
- Fuyumi Irisu is a second year student known for her looks and mannerisms. When her class is faced with a challenge in finishing their amateur film for the culture festival, she expertly manipulates Houtarou to help them construct a suitable ending for the film, and although Houtarou is successful, he feels that the vision is not consistent with what the movie’s scriptwriter would have wanted. He concludes that the scriptwriter’s ideas were probably unsatisfactory and discarded by the class.
- Satoshi’s presence in Hyouka is a curious one: despite being outwardly cheerful, he feels second-rate compared to Houtarou for the latter’s exceptional deductive powers, but is also quick to refer to himself as a human database. Consistent with what a database is, Satoshi typically provides information for Houtarou and the others, and does not do anything with the data itself. Patterns in large databases are usually analysed by means of data mining techniques (such as frequent pattern analysis, association rules mining and clustering, to name a few).
- As a member of the manga club, Mayaka expresses interest in drawing and helps them out during the cultural festival, but gets into an altercation with another member who claims that masterpieces do not exist. In an attempt to disprove that, she attempts to bring her copy of A Corpse by Evening, a manga that was written by an alumni and holds a degree of significance during the “Juumonji” incident.
- Hyouka was released back in Spring 2012, which was MCAT season. I watched none of the anime from this season until recently, and did not participate in any of the discussions: to put things in perspective, I picked up the show last summer during May, and then only began watching it now. Admittedly, watching completed shows is easier primarily because if an episode ends on a cliffhanger, I can simply load the next one and continue on without the week-long wait.
- Mayaka demonstrates exemplary resourcefulness in the culture festival’s cooking competition: despite running out of ingredients, Houtarou’s trade-offs ultimately culminate his receiving a bag of flour that allows Mayaka to finish a simple dish, leading the Classic Literature club to victory. “Juumonji” strikes again here, and although the thief’s ultimate role and motives are anticlimatic, the anticipation was executed properly to keep viewers engaged and longing to know how Houtarou would solve this one.
- It turns out that “Juumonji” is actually a senior student who had been involved with A Corpse By Evening. Rather than attempting to catch “Juumonji” by means of brute force, he makes use of the manga’s preface, plus the culture festival’s logistics, to prune the possible suspects to a very manageable group. Then, instead of releasing “Juumonji”‘s identity to the school, Houtarou then proceeds to extort a concession from him: in keeping this secret, the remaining volumes of Hyouka are to be sold online.
- Houtarou’s methods suggest that by the time of the culture festival, he’s become sufficiently invested into the Classic Literature club (or, at the very least, towards helping Eru) that he’s willing to forego a short term victory (catching “Juumonji” to solve a mystery) in favour of a long term gain (selling all 200 copies of Hyouka). While Houtarou’s general indifference suggests that he is lazy, he expends efforts into doing something if it means saving trouble in the long run, which is something I do relate to.
Houtarou is presented as a pragmatic individual who prefers not to put more effort into doing anything than is necessary, and where required, finish the task at hand such that he may resume inactivity as quickly as is possible. This ‘energy conserving’ way of life belies his natural talent for deducing the answers to a given problem. Although he considers this to be trivial, dismissing it as luck, others constantly regard this ability as something special. Eru constantly praises him for it, Satoshi envies him and Fuyumi Irisu, a second-year student, makes use of it to solve a problem surrounding a film intended for the culture festival. Through Houtarou, Hyouka illustrates that friendship is a powerful catalyst that can help individuals recognise and use their talents, as in Houtarou’s case: while he initially refused to do anything considered extraneous, Eru’s enthusiasm (and his early desires to play along to spare himself a future of further effort) eventually does lead Houtarou to take an initiative and help out his friends in the way that he can. His decision to solve the mystery behind Mayaka’s Valentine’s Chocolates is a major example of how his outlook on life has changed, and through Eru’s encouragement, he begins to exert effort with the knowledge that it is for his friends’ sake.
- Whenever Eru is curious and declares thus (“気になります”), her eyes take on an unearthly shine, and very little can dissuade her from trying to learn the truth. Throughout the entire series, Houtarou finds himself being pulled towards her challenges and ultimately concedes that it’s probably easier to do a good job and satisfy her curiosity, rather than attempt to worm his way out of things.
- After the hectic culture festival, Hyouka slows back down to a much more relaxed pacing. On any given day, the Classic Literature club spends its time reading various books, a calming activity. By this point in time, I’ve finally finished Tom Clancy’s Command Authority and find it to be a thrilling novel, although compared to Threat Vector, I found myself following less of the technical aspects in banking (Threat Vector featured cyber-warfare, and I have a reasonable background in computer systems).
- One of the most curious aspects in Command Authority was the eerie similarity between the events of the novel and what had happened in the Ukraine back during February. While the novel had Russia withdrawing their forces, the Russian intervention in Ukraine is still ongoing (even if the media is not discussing it in great detail at present). Back in the blissful, conflict-free world that Kyoto Animation has created for Hyouka, a copy of the Hyouka novel is commemorated in a glass display, far from any of the issues that the real world faces.
- During a particularly quiet day, Houtarou and Eru engage in a simulated discussion concerning a sudden, unexpected PA announcement. Houtarou’s theory encompasses the use of counterfeit currency, and despite him reaffirming to Eru repeatedly that it’s a simulation, that he can form theories from almost anything, the next morning, he finds out that his theory of a student spending counterfeit currency turned out to be correct.
- Getting “凶” (or “misfortune” in Japanese) is a commonly-joked about theme in anime, in which characters remark that they did not know bad fortunes existed. Shortly after drawing one, Houtarou and Eru become trapped in a small shack and are forced to devise various ways to escape without damaging the building (the brief images depicting Houtarou escaping by force all have a hilarious subtle element, depicting Eru with a horrified expression as Houtarou is desecrating shrine property).
- Admittedly, Mayaka looks quite pleasant in a Miko outfit. After several failed attempts to escape, Houtarou finally makes use of a trick that he and Satoshi had seen in a movie earlier during the day. After being extricated, Houtarou bids everyone “Sappy New Year”.
- Despite Satoshi and Mayaka sharing feelings for one another, Satoshi declines to reciprocate on the basis that he may become too possessive. While anime fans (although, given the demographics, no doubt all of which are completely untrained in this field) consider Satoshi’s actions to be objectionable, his mindset is not entirely unjustified, and generally speaking, people tend to fear their inner daemons that are capable of terrifying acts that defy reason.
- The finale sees an ever-increasing number of hints that Houtarou has developed feelings for Eru, and throughout the series, it becomes clear that Eru sees Houtarou as someone she can rely on. Thus, even though their trust and feelings for one another are unspoken, by the end of the series, Houtarou has matured and helps Eru because of a sense of responsibility to be there for her when she needs someone to speak with or assist, rather than his previous paradigms.
- Hyouka left many fans wondering whether or not the budding romances would ever become anything, and while the anime chooses to leave this ambiguous, the novels state that Satoshi and Mayaka do begin dating in their second year of high school. On the other hand, Houtarou and Eru seem to remain close friends: I might just have to acquire the novel to fully comprehend everything that happens in the series, given that, the quality of the anime adaptation notwithstanding, there is still quite a bit of material that remains unexplored.
- I won’t rule out the possibility of a sequel or continuation for Hyouka, given that some series do get continuations years after their original run. For instance, Durarara! began airing in 2011 and is going to see a second season come January 2015. For the present, though, there’s been next to no news on the series, so I think I can presently close the books on Hyouka. The next anime I will take on is Bokura wa minna kawaisou, which has proven to be a riot after six episodes.
On the whole, Hyouka‘s strengths lie with the characters and their growth, rather than the mysteries that Houtarou is tasked with solving. With Kyoto Animation at the helm of production and animation, the setting provides a beautiful setting that enhances the credibility of the character dynamics. Besides everyday mysteries, the familiar setting in Hyouka allows the story to deal with things such as romance and the future: in particular, these two elements were subtly present throughout the anime but only became major topics as the series draws to a close. Mayaka and Satoshi, for instance, seem quite close but only reveal their feelings (or nature thereof) for one another near the end. Similarly, the growing feelings between Houtarou and Eru are only subtle (such as blushing when the other in close proximity), culminating with a heart-to-heart talk on their respective views for their futures and how, despite their developing feelings for one another, their divergent paths may not permit a relationship . Its presence in the background, rather than forcible attempts to have it take centre stage, makes Hyouka enjoyable to watch: as with reality, romance isn’t always at the forefront of things, and instead, is a part of the scenery that is sometimes noticed. As it stands, despite its seemingly complex premise, Hyouka is by no means difficult to understand and is ultimately an entertaining series to watch for being able to keep the viewer’s interest in what is to happen next, thus being suited for fans of the slice-of-life genre and are looking for a different take on it (here, with a side of mystery).