A short list of extremely good things:
1. This episode of Hyouka.
2. Episode director Naoko Yamada.
3. Finally seeing payoff in Mayaka and Satoshi’s relationship.
Note: list not exhaustive.
I told myself I wouldn’t start anymore of these posts complaining about how tough it can be to write about Hyouka thanks to its general excellence, but indulge me once more because this one’s a doozy—probably my single favorite episode of the show, and filled with what’s frankly an intimidating number of clever visual tricks and techniques.
It was an absolute delight to watch this episode.
If there’s one thing standing out most at this point in Hyouka‘s Kanya festival arc, it’s how many plates the show’s spinning simultaneously without dropping. This is (once again) the show benefiting greatly from splitting the cast up from each other—it gives the show a lot more structural flexibility, but it also means that the moments when they come together are all the more rewarding.
(The above gallery has comments on each shot)
Since the beginning of this arc, Hyouka‘s been teasing that one of the sources of Mayaka’s unrest has been (among manga club stuff and the anthology) being too busy to hang out with Satoshi. It’s pretty understandable, right? The boy she likes is in his element here: tons of stuff for him to get excited about and make him happy, and being able to spend time with Satoshi during the festival would mean really meeting him in his element, doing the things he likes. In other words, it’s the perfect time for her to connect with him.
This is all the more compelling a dilemma for Mayaka because (although she doesn’t see this) it seems Satoshi is searching for something more out of this festival than fun and games. Over the course of the series, it’s become very obvious that Satoshi is not as dissimilar from Oreki as his external temperament might imply—he’s just responded differently to their shared situation. Where Oreki has become bored with the world because of a lack of things that interest him and given up, Satoshi continues to through himself into things seeking new, fun, and interesting stuff to experience.
Lest you think I’m pulling this out of nowhere, here’s my evidence (see above). At first, I thought having Satoshi’s wave in his meeting with the Executive Committee President (4, 5) mirror Oreki’s standard wave (1) was just a cute thing, but when you look at the immediate surrounding context of the scene, the parallels I’m talking about come clear. The second shot in the above gallery alerts us to Satoshi’s emotional state; as we’ve seen before, that lighting set up (particularly on his face) is indicative of a Satoshi who’s not particularly happy. But as soon as he hears the news about the new theft and note, he gets Chitanda Curiosity Eyes and his whole face is lit up. And he responds with the Oreki wave, and thus the parallel is complete.
So that’s one thing, but Satoshi seems to be plenty happy about the rest of the stuff going on with the festival, right? Does he really need other sources of stimulation? Well, we see his reaction to the dude who keeps trying to compete with him and his thrill at seeing Chitanda bust out an unexpectedly (I feel it important to not that none of us watching from the audience should be surprised that Chitanda rocks at cooking) dominant set of cooking skills. Yes, I think it’s fair to say Satoshi finds his greatest excitement in other people—but he’s often too busy flitting around to different stuff to really focus on them unless they grab his attention.
And that’s why this episode is so important for my favorite character of Hyouka, the hard-working, authentic, genuinely loving Mayaka. The cooking contest is her one chance during the Kanya Festival to really do something with Satoshi. It’s her chance to grab his ever-shifting attention for a moment and draw it to herself. These two are really different people—Mayaka’s focused and driven, Satoshi’s scattered and lacks motivation, but they have powerful moments of connection (like in the match cut above using a dissolve transition, which parallels their identical states of mind).
In all honesty, “shipping” seems a pretty paltry term to describe my feelings about Mayaka and Satoshi as a couple. Besides my adoration for Mayaka leading me to desire her romantic happiness, these two characters seem a really good match for each other to me. They understand each other—even if they fight or upset each other or blow each other off—and I think there’s a ton of potential for the two of them to really work as a couple. I think both might have to give up a little bit to be together, but that just comes with the business of relationships with other people (and I don’t mean just romantic ones).
And so, Mayaka shows up and succeeds in a thrilling way, inducing the sequence of shots you see in the above tweet, 20 seconds of anime that I could watch eternally because of the overwhelming affection and warmth that just explodes between these two characters. In a few seconds, we see who Mayaka did all this before (even running around in embarrassing cosplay), her surprise and thanks for the moment, and Satoshi’s beautiful smile that proves her affections are, at the very least, somewhat returned.
Ah, man. I love that. This scene is a gift.
But, of course, this business of the important connections we make with other people isn’t just limited to Mayaka and Satoshi, although the definite focus of the episode (and will likely always continue to outweigh Oreki and Chitanda in my personal likes). While Chitanda spends most of the episode being silly, much of what she’s doing serves as a kind of light comedic support for the other members of the Classic Club. That’s expected of Chitanda. The real headliner is Oreki’s role in all of this, and the way he just. can’t. quite. keep himself disengaged (the use of light-dark contrast in those first four shots does a marvelous job of capturing his growing irritation).
So, in the end, we really got one heckuva an episode out of Hyouka here. It was funny (and I’m sorry I didn’t talk more about Chitanda’s hilarious encounter with Irisu), emotional, and brilliantly executed.
You might even say this episode of Hyouka was strong. How strong?