This review is number eighty three and it’s very long. After writing this review, I feel my brain overheating so no long introductions. Spring 2012 lineup. Hyouka. Kyoto Animation. Twenty two episodes long. Mystery. Outstanding. Let’s read on.
Hyouka is about Houtarou Oreki who believes that nothing is really worth doing. He’s a laid back guy who prefers to be alone and not be bothered. One day, his sister sends him a letter asking him to join the school’s “Classics Club” she once was in. The club will be abolished if there is no member in it. Houtarou agreed with the simple fact that he’ll be the only person in the club. To his surprise though, a girl named Eru Chitanda is waiting in the clubroom asking to join the club. His best friend, Satoshi Fukube and a middle school classmate, Mayaka Ibara soon joins as well. The four of them spends time in the club solving everyday mysteries. Houtarou doesn’t want a “rose colored” school life that most people want. He just wants to be alone but it looks like this club will give him what he doesn’t want.
Taking the Pants Off
Hyouka is the anime that Kyoto Animation released this year and obviously, there is much fanfare over this. It’s not really surprising because KyoAni is pretty famous because they do what they do best. Moe? I guess. I’m not really a KyoAni fan but I do get the appeal. The key animation of every anime they release is always top notch and the visual appeal is outstanding. Hyouka meets the same standards but it seems the studio has decided to break out of adapting four panel manga now and started putting some story in their anime. I can’t help but wonder if PA Works had anything to do with it though. I’m just guessing but PA Works is on the heels of KyoAni at the moment and they recently did a mystery anime. Hyouka is mystery too? That’s purely coincidence, right? It’s not like PA Works is known for their visual presentation as well. I’m just merely speculating but I am glad KyoAni went back to basics while still incorporating the elements that make their anime famous.
You can see Hyouka’s potential in the first five episodes. The first two is the introduction of characters, setting up the status quo and introducing the anime’s appeal. The third, fourth and fifth is the first major arc involving a mystery. I’ve heard the response to this anime while it was being aired and it’s mostly mixed. The general complaint is the use of the “mystery” element. I’ve been around the block a few times though and I always hear complains about Mystery anime mostly because there seems to be specific trend a mystery anime should follow. From my experience, the appeal of a mystery anime is answering three major questions. They are who, why and how. Who is the killer? Why did the kill the victim? How did he kill the victim? The mystery in Hyouka is very restricted not really answering the questions. From a purist standard then I agree that it is missing major elements. From a different point of view though, the brilliance of Hyouka is the perfect marriage of the Mystery genre with the School genre. The mystery in Hyouka is restricted because there are no dead bodies, there are no ingenious methods to killing a person and it lacks that ever so exciting process of elimination. Instead, it incorporates School elements into the mix. One example would be the mystery in the second episode. A book is borrowed by five different people within the same week but returns it at same day they borrowed it. Why did they borrow at lunch break only to return it after school? We never met the five people who borrowed the book and ask them directly. Instead, Chitanda would say “I’m curious” then pressure Oreki into solving it. They go through a process of deductions introducing a theory, rejecting it but building a new theory from that. After careful consideration and a thorough walk through of the situation, Oreki reveals the answer. That’s as far as the mystery aspect of Hyouka is.
The mystery in the anime is mostly ordinary everyday stuff that common people would come across with. From a purist standpoint, it is a bit unsatisfying knowing that so much time is dedicated to something as stupid as knowing why a book is borrowed and returned the same day. The fact that most of Oreki’s answers are just mere theory doesn’t really make much sense. They wasted one episode on someone borrowing a book and they built a mystery around it instead of just asking away. From another point of view though, it’s so unbelievably brilliant mainly because all the aspects of a mystery is there and there is some critical deductions to the mystery. The viewer’s is often part of the team solving the mystery because they are hand in hand with the characters as they solve the mystery. All the facts are considered and all the bases are covered. It’s all the good things about a mystery without a dead body. Oreki don’t just blurt “Aha! I solved the mystery!” but he discusses it with the other characters and all clues are considered. The answer to the mysteries is also very satisfying because the viewer’s could’ve come up with the same conclusion if they actually tried. That’s the beauty of Hyouka. It’s a simple concept that stemmed from an unbelievably complex one. A dumb it down type of mystery, I guess, with a very detailed presentation.
That is what you’ll basically expect from this anime. The Mystery is actually well done. It was paced nicely, no information about the mysteries is withheld from the viewers and the conclusion will surprise you at times. Hyouka is a marriage of Mystery and School. KyoAni made this and if you track their glorious history then you don’t really have to question the School elements of this anime. KyoAni has done nothing but School anime going all the way back to Kanon and Full Metal Panic. It’s always a marriage of School with another genre though. Kanon is School w/ Drama. FMP is School with Military. K-On is *sigh* School with Slice of Life. KyoAni always nails its School aspects. One of the beauties of a School anime is presenting the different side of being stuck in school to study. It presents characters mingling with friends, hanging out with friends, being in clubs and depicting a wonderful school life outside studying. Majority of School anime is dialogue driven and Hyouka is the same. Some episodes are just about the characters being in the Classics club talking about this mystery. It doesn’t get boring though because of the perfect marriage I mentioned. How can you doubt KyoAni though?
The first half of the anime is about introducing the characters. There is a significant character development in the second half so the first half firmly sets the status quo. Houtarou Oreki is the “I don’t care” type of character who prefers to be by his lonesome. He’s a bit laidback who worries over nothing. Contrast to his personality is Eri Chitanda who is curious. She’s always curious that the simple hinting of mystery will get her riled up. When a mystery is presented, she would turn to Oreki, putting her face uncomfortably close to his until he caves into the pressure and agrees just to get her off him. These two characters remind me of Haruhi and Kyon’s relationship but replace Haruhi with Mugi from K-On. Imagine Kyon, who has a fondness for Haruhi, be persuaded by Mugi’s moe charm. You’ll get Eri and Houtarou. You might say they’re archetypes but it’s that familiarity that makes it easier to enjoy the anime. The awkward feeling out process isn’t that long here because the characters look and feel familiar so you get to focus more on the mystery. The other characters are Satoshi Fukube, who is Oreki’s best friend and Mayaka Ibara, classmates of Oreki and ibara back in middle school. These two mainly have a specific role in the first half mostly offering their opinion on the mysteries. Satoshi calls himself a “database” recalling information and jotting down notes he thinks will help solve the mystery. Mayaka just honestly completes the group and the most notable thing about her is that she likes Satoshi confessing to him once and being rejected. I have my doubts about Satoshi though because he is suspiciously flamboyant.
The second half is where there is significant character development and the School genre was also significantly strong. The school festival might be the anime’s largest arc because it dedicated some time for the characters to discover the wonders of the school festival. This where we also discover that Mayaka is a huge manga fan, Satoshi is a huge mystery buff, Eru is the missing sixth member of K-On (I’m joking, she’s just moe resembling characteristics of K-on characters. That’s all) and Oreki is slowly becoming a caring and dependable guy. Some of the major developments happened in the school festival too and it was just fun to see the characters do their individual thing. The second half also featured some Romance which I find very cute. The last time I saw a KyoAni anime that had a guy in it was back in 2006 so I was glad the studio went of their beaten path and took on something new but familiar. Hyouka is a nice anime that belong among KyoAni’s best. The feeling you’re re-watching The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya coupled with the visual appeal of K-On is what made this anime for me. Hyouka is a new creature to come out of KyoAni’s doors and I hope they don’t stop here. What else can you mix with the School Genre? Gore? I’d like to see KyoAni take on gore. In the meantime, enjoy KyoAni’s attempt at School and Mystery. It’s really good.
Sight and Sound
Come on. KyoAni making a subpar anime in terms of visual presentation? Never. I believe they recaptured another real place and turned it anime. If I’m not wrong, the light novel was based on the author’s home town. Anyways, the visual presentation in this anime is outstanding. The background is an obvious standout with movie quality scenes and the scenic shots are absolutely breath taking. The anime nicely captured the appeal of a rural town surrounded by mountains. The tress, grass and the cement roads are all nicely detailed with hardly noticeable touches that most studios wouldn’t even bother doing. The anime isn’t shy of enhancing some of the scenes using some visual styling like in the later parts of the anime where a sudden rush of wind suddenly makes Chitanda’s hair dance and sends cherry blossoms to sway in the air as Oreki gazes upon her. Its f*cking brilliant.
The anime also had a nice touch in presenting the stories a character would talk about. Some of the episodes involve a detailed story of the mystery and they are often told very artistically. It isn’t like the art of the anime. The storytelling is different ranging from Alfred Hitchcock inspired visual storytelling to just basic flash based animation. They are all unique and the theme often covers up some of the iffy details like the names and the faces of the characters. Since it’s just a basis of the mystery then names and faces aren’t that important. I like this part of the anime though because it’s a way for KyoAni to brag and you can’t help but be in awe. From heavy inked animation to moving paint to canvas animation, KyoAni has really outdone themselves which is amazing coming from a regular anime fan like me and not a KyoAni fanboy (yes, there are some).
The characters bear some similarity to the character design of K-On. They are a bit cute but since Hyouka is a bit serious, then the characters come off a bit serious too. Chitanda looks like Mugi from K-On without the trademark eyebrows. One thing you’ll notice about this anime is that body language is very important. Most anime often have just the lips of a character move but KyoAni is always anal about details especially body language. When a character is shouting, you can see her fist clenched up, her chest moving, her hair swaying along with her head and her facial expression is firm. It’s great attention to body language that really makes KyoAni amazing. The facial expressions are also a standout. Again, you can see that from Chitanda. Her face often starts out normal then her face brightens up and the transition is very smooth.
The anime also has an outstanding sountrack. During the talking about the mysteries, I often find my hair stand up because the music accompanying it is very mysterious and chilling. It’s often a simple piano arrangement that sets the atmosphere of the anime. When a mystery is being solved though, the music often builds up the suspense which makes the whole experience much more special.
There are two Ops. The first one is “Yasashisa no Riyuu” by Choucho. It’s a very nice solemn song reflecting the character development of Oreki. Choucho’s voice is nice because it really demands your attention. The opening sequence is also a great stand out. It opens with a black and white shot of Oreki then it pans out as rippling effects slowly colors the scene and the CG transition of the school is very smooth. CG is often stiff but KyoAni did a great job blending it with their digital painted scenes. The opening sequence featured all the characters and it perfectly captured the mood of the anime.
The second opening is “Mikansei Stride” by Saori Kodama. She has a much mature voice than Choucho and it’s a bit deep but it’s a pretty solid OP song. The song also reflects character development. It features Oreki trapped in another world and some of the side characters are introduced. At first, I thought the cast got larger but they are mostly just side characters and they don’t have that much screentime. It features Oreki being trapped in the world of “reflections” being pulled out by Chitanda and the rest of the Classics Club member.
There are also two ending songs. The first one is “Madoromi no Yakusoku” by Satomi Satou & Ai Kayano. They voiced Chitanda and Mayaka in the anime. That is a great bonus and the ED actually reminds me of the ones in K-On. Their voice is certainly “Sweet” but the song sounds a bit generic. They’re voice is still a standout though. The ED features the two girls in a starry sky shooting off the Polaris star. It’s cute and KyoAni’s amazing animation made it much more special. The second ED song is generally the same with both seiyuus singing the song and it features a cute ending sequence of the two girls cosplaying as Sherlock Holmes and Watson hunting down the two boys.
9/10 “A perfect marriage of School and Mystery told through KyoAni’s eyes.”
I’ve never seen a bad KyoAni anime and I don’t think I ever will. This anime is outstanding and it’s not that hard to like. The story, the genre execution, the characters, the music and the visuals are all great. The only thing preventing this anime for getting a ten is the Mystery. It’s not for everyone but almost everything else is. I highly recommend it.