Hello, and welcome to Hyouka Saturdays! For the next twenty-one weeks, I’ll be watching and writing up an episode of Kyoto Animation’s well-loved 2012 show, Hyouka. I’ve heard many good things and been told many times that it’s a show I would like, so I’m giving it a go.
Hope you all enjoy the ride! If you haven’t seen it before, feel free to watch along with me! I’d be glad to have company~
Right from the opening shot, Hyouka sets up an expectation: this is a place we’ve been before. Of course, that’s assuming you’ve watched anime before, as the sakura blossom is the de facto signal for a high school setting—presumably at the beginning of the school year. And as protagonist Oreki’s (or is Houtarou a better way of calling him?) monologue verifies seconds later, that’s exactly where we are.
As genuine and emotionally transparent as Hyouka the show seems (as opposed the the clearly oblique Oreki) so far, there’s also a certain feeling of gentle irony that pervades this premiere episode—this may be a place we’ve been before, with tropes we’ve seen before, but there’s also something special here that we only just begin to grasp by the end of the first episode. And this irony pops up elsewhere—showing up in places as obvious as the contrast between Oreki’s stated desire for a “gray” life and his correspondingly inability to resist the overwhelming color that Chitanda embodies and as subtle as Oreki’s silly introduction of Satoshi as a “‘fake’ man of the world,” when it’s clear that Oreki himself far better fits that silly label.
Still, these are little things in a show about little things. About the cheerfully prideful names high school kids give themselves. About the sullen ideologies they give themselves to uphold. About the curiosity over such a small incident as a locked door—and the way that curiosity suddenly eclipses the smallness of a sunset scene for a moment in a burst of color .
But I may be getting ahead of myself here. Sorry about that. It was an impressive first episode on a lot of fronts, but it may be best at this point to pause and simply reflect on my impressions of the characters themselves, starting with Oreki. Contrary to Oreki himself, I don’t believe his trademark characteristic to be “energy-conservation,” but rather “lack of awe.” There are plenty of stories about a colorless, dull boy being shown the color of the world by a girl, but I don’t exactly get the impression that’s Hyouka‘s goal. Although Chitanda’s highlight scenes are dominated by lush colors duplicated nowhere else in the show, these moments strike me as being more about awe—about something unknown, yet fascinating.
Oreki, as we see almost immediately, is a thoughtful, observant young man. He notices things, pays attention to them, thinks through things, considers the implications, feels bad about tricking Chitanda in order to preserve his peace, and understands a lot. Yet, in Chitanda, there appears to be something overwhelming and engaging—something he can’t just grasp by watching passively. And for someone concerned with preserving a peaceful, gray life, someone who may even wish he was different than he is, a person of mysteries like Chitanda represents more than just “bringing color into a gray life.” She represents a chance to engage, and change. Oreki may not consciously want this right now. But already his reactions to Chitanda obviously indicate there is a level of fascination there he can’t explain right now—it’s something a little bit magical.
Chitanda herself is more an enigma than she seems at first blush, a top student from a good family with bright eyes and moe looks and an inexplicable curiosity for rather mundane occurrences. The Classic Club’s first “mystery,” that of the locked door, is a delightfully little entrance into the world of mysteries—the key, if you will, through the door. At face value, she seems nothing more than a vaguely childish cute anime girl, but hints at her motivations (“personal reasons”) and her exaggerated interest in learning things suggest there’s a lot more to her than meets the eye . To me, she seems to exude a sense of semi-confident naivety, or perhaps more relevantly, a distinct sense of awe (in other words, the very thing Oreki currently lacks).
And then, there’s database Satoshi, who may very well be the most grounded and understanding of the three so far. He clearly understands Oreki better than Oreki understands himself, but that’s not uncommon with long-time friends (and also because others can often see into us more easily than we can into ourselves). Rather, Satoshi seems “wise” (at least as much as a high school kid can be) and possessing of an energetic, generous spirit that makes him a fun match alongside the gloomy Oreki. I get the sense that Satoshi is simply a guy who loves the things he can see right in front of him—that includes people, situations, and activities. He’s not all that complex, but his simplicity allows him to understand that Oreki’s nuances come from pretty basic places. I’m looking forward to seeing how their relationship continues to play out.
On top of all this, then, is Kyoto Animation’s stunning visual work, which includes such gorgeous tricks as visual echos, peaceful overhead shots, and snappy editing that can’t be done justice by mere screenshots. Hyouka appears deeply indebted to The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya in many ways, as it should (director Yasuhiro Takemoto directed The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya and co-directed the main series’ second season)—not least of which is the relaxed pace Hyouka takes through its conversations and story. It’s not a dull experience by any means, but it is a measured, contemplative one, even in its most dynamic moments.
To me, the speaks of confidence. And besides the usual Kyoto Animation strength (tiny bits of excellent, important character animation and stellar production values), Hyouka just feels graceful and elegant. Not in any kind of grand way, but in a way that speaks of care, love, and attention. It’s like a garden in a light rain shower. And it’s a delight so far.
 I’d like to note that the absolute wonderment of inflamed coloration that explodes when Chitanda pleads with Oreki to help her solve the mystery is foreshadowed by the first time she approached him, shortly after they meet in the club room for the first time. Although the episode is dominated by the dull colors of sunset and a rainy afternoon, when Chitanda steps towards Oreki and the camera cuts from her feet to a medium long shot backgrounded by the windows, the same green and yellow lights into which Oreki is later immersed in full appear through the panes.
 Sorry, I couldn’t help it.