The future is a terrifying thing.
Hyouka has been accused at times of being overly juvenile. Focused as it is on the lives, feelings, and concerns of high schoolers—jealousy, heartbreak, pettiness, bravery, thoughtlessness, fear—for some (and even some in the comments sections of this series of posts I’ve been writing!) it treads too deeply into the forest of adolescence and loses its relevance. While I understand people hold this sentiment, I must admit I find it to be, at least as far as my own experience goes, fundamentally incorrect. I’ll admit—I’m only twenty-three years old at the time of this writing and I have a lot of of the world yet to see. I’m not all that distant from the experiences of high school life. However, in my short time out there in the “real world,” it seems apparent to me that adults are really nothing more than children, forced by circumstances to pretend they’re not. We never come to place where we cannot grow anymore—to think otherwise is foolish.
I say this all not with the intent of berating those who doubt Hyouka‘s applicability to people beyond the grasp of high school youth. As I’ve said, I have much to learn. But to see this episode of Hyouka as anything other then unequivocal proof that it understands not just teenage life, but the experience of being human… I’m simply not capable of that right now.
And so begins Hyouka‘s twenty-first episode, with a flashback to a time even more mired in the trappings of childishness—and yet still no less real in its depiction of the pain we can cause each other. Middle school Mayaka is angry because she’s been hurt by middle school Satoshi’s sad joke of an excuse for rejecting her Valentine’s Day chocolate, and she carries this passion into the current iteration of herself. Oreki’s vivid imagination (and indeed, the explicit tie between the humorously overwrought scene of the femme fatale Mayaka capturing Satoshi and his outward reaction confirm for certain that all along these imagistic scenes have been drawn from Oreki’s mind) paints the picture of how driven Makaya really is.
Mayaka is a simple person. She’s forward in the expression of her emotions, unafraid of being herself, and knows exactly what she wants. It’s not the kind of “adult” confidence that might insulate her from outside pressures (we saw as much in the Kanya Festival arc); it’s simply her strength of character and personhood. Mayaka’s personal cinematographic language supports this: it’s straightforward, unsubtle, and clear. Why doesn’t Mayaka ever really get a full character focus episode? Because she simply doesn’t need one. Mayaka more or less lets everyone know what they need to know about her. It’s daring, and admirable. This isn’t really to say Mayaka isn’t a complex and full character—she is. Rather, it’s merely to say she shares her complexities with the people around her. It’s her being vulnerable—and that kind of vulnerability, sadly, can sometimes get you hurt.
By way of contrast, the boy who Mayaka loves is a true enigma. Even his truth-tellings are riddled with complexities and layers. And furthermore—as two parallel shots show—he’s no longer the same person he used to be. It’s not really stated whether or not Mayaka fell in love with Satoshi before or after his change, but I’d place my bets on the latter.
As Hyouka has so cleverly done before, it sets the stage for all of this to play out by turning its gaze elsewhere—to our other de facto couple. After Mayaka playfully (note the bunnies!) primes the Chitanda pump and Tomoe does likewise with Oreki, the budding romance between the two shifts into focus in yet another of one of Hyouka‘s trademark conversations between person and person, between shot and shot. In this sequence, the dominant visual theme (distance) is established and we see many returns of visual tells from throughout many of the prior episodes. Commentary is in the gallery captions:
The profile shot and its use of negative space (as seen in shots 13 and 14) will reappear throughout the episode, implying distance again and again. We see it as Mayaka delivers her chocolate to the club room, combining the complex composition of the background (a tangled up situation, for sure) with the other characteristics of the shot; and with Satoshi as Oreki wishes him good luck. Satoshi and Oreki’s conversation also introduces the main visual motif of the episode: windows.
While it’s somewhat difficult to pin down in definitively concrete terms the exact “meaning” of the windows in this episode, I think they can be generally understood as a couple of things: A) representations of distance, B) symbols of “inside versus outside” in emotional terms, and C) as things that let in light (that is, truth). Transparency. A critical symbol for an episode based around the central conceit of Satoshi coming clean—letting the light that has shone on him only in halves to finally illuminate fully his secrets.
Of course, these kinds of things don’t happen just at a distance, though glass. This is something that involves all four members of the Classics Club. Chitanda has involved herself with Mayaka at Mayaka’s request, Satoshi is involved whether he likes it or not, and Oreki ultimately makes the choice to involve himself because of Chitanda.
Why can’t Oreki just step aside—knowing as he does that this is really something between Satoshi and Mayaka? Because of Chitanda. Because of the immediacy and urgency and personal investment that she brings into the situation. Because he’s close to her, because she’s hurting, and because he is no longer the sort of person that can ignore that. As Chitanda steps in front of him to block his way—and, notice, there are not longer any sort of mystical-magical elements to her plea like there were early on in the show—the immediacy and force behind her request make obvious through the abruptness of the cut from close-up to long shot. This is not the same sort of insistent, charming, intimate pushiness we’re used to seeing from her. It’s something different.
Oreki notices, and moves—surprising even those who know him best.
The mystery then takes focus for a while—featuring the delightful reappearance of an irate Sawakiguchi and her incredibly powerful hair—but then Chitanda leaves the room and all that’s left is the detective and the culprit. As Oreki will later reveal, he solidified his initial suspicion of Satoshi long before the confrontation with the Astronomy Club. Everything after that, until Chitanda leaves, is just a performance for her benefit and her benefit alone. In other words, Chitanda—and Chitanda alone—is Oreki’s priority at this point. He doesn’t have the patience or the breadth of care to coddle Satoshi’s acting; his sole concern is Chitanda and her feelings. This will lead him to echo the same close-up/long shot sequence that Chitanda used to block him in the library. It was in that moment that his concern for Chitanda brought him into this mystery; and it is in this moment that this concern causes him to keep her from doing something she will regret.
And it is all this that will cause him to snap at Satoshi’s idle chatter. It’s a mere seven shots, but it’s harsh, unfriendly—and it shuts Satoshi up. (1) It begins with a fairly even-keel shot of Satoshi in the middle of the screen and an unremarkable medium close-up, trying to preserve a sense of normalcy. (2) But Oreki cuts through the casual noise with an unbalanced close-up that emphasizes his frustration. (3) And Satoshi is shocked, arrested, chastised. His easygoing act has been torn to shreds. The close-up parallels Oreki’s, but its as if Satoshi has been forced into it. (4) As Oreki speaks, we see the distance between them. (5) And the profile shot with the negative space reappears—cold, as Oreki effectively tells Satoshi to shut up. (6) And Satoshi can only acquiesce, shuttered into a corner of the screen. (7) We see Oreki, but Satoshi is all but blocked off. The abruptness of the cuts mirrors Oreki’s potent fury; and all falls silent.
So, as Mayaka shows up and departs, Oreki shows once again how much he’s grown. He stands before Chitanda, refuses to let her leave even as she feels the agony of what she thinks she’s done, represented by Mayaka’s empty chair. But if Oreki returning the blocking favor shows that he cares, it’s what he says to get Chitanda to really let go that demonstrates his growth.
This is broad-faced honesty. A critical understanding of himself in relationship to someone he cares about. And so, as he concocts a lie to resolve the problem, he asks Chitanda to trust him. He cannot tell her everything, but he shows that he cares—and requests that she let him show her that it’s true. And she trusts him. So she goes.
With Chitanda now gone, the windows motif returns—after all, the truth is about to be revealed. And once again, we find ourselves on a bridge, on a path between one shore and another. It’s an apt metaphor for this encounter (and a bridge will play an important role in the show’s finale, as well), as Satoshi truly is dwelling in the in-between. As he says, “I think I’ll have an answer soon.” He cannot dwell in-between for much longer—the world, and other people, aren’t so convenient.
To make that move, Satoshi spills out everything. The emptiness he feels knowing he’ll never be the best at anything (the emptiness of the sky above him). The cold feeling of his past life (the snowball). The exuberance, yet uneasiness, of his current life (a joyful shot, but upside down). The attractiveness he sees in Mayaka (a romanticized close-up of his eye). The vastness of his fears (a giant empty sky in which he is small), and the closeness of them (the close-up of the bag with the chocolates). The sky becomes a metaphor for Satoshi’s uncertainness of the huge scope of an unknown future.
And that is not a worry exclusive to adolescents. The fear of the future, the fear of the unknown… show me a human who has mastered these and I will insist they are either a saint or insane. We flail against the terror of the thing we cannot control—the flow of time and what it brings—digging in our heels, worrying over the opportunity cost of our lives, seeking to manage every instant of our lives. Perhaps it is the youth who, by virtue of their age, instinctively understand they cannot control the future (and thus fear it) who are more real than the adults. The paralysis of this… it is natural.
That Oreki is the one to whom Satoshi spills this all out… it’s a humiliating experience for Satoshi for sure. But he knows he’s in the wrong, so he takes threats of punches and all in stride—until Oreki says something unfair, speaking out of his own emotion. Oreki, backed by the structure of the bridge as if supported by his talent, accuses Satoshi of the incidental hurt he caused Chitanda, while behind Satoshi stretches the empty blackness of the river (a substitute for the sky). There’s a lot that’s similar between these two, but Satoshi is always feeling the difference. What he says is a petty, catty dig, but it’s also fair. Oreki’s demanding things of Satoshi that Satoshi can’t give, holding Satoshi accountable to the same standard of talent he himself has ignored for almost all of the series.
And sure, Oreki is lashing out because of his own pain vis-a-vis Chitanda—but that really only grants Satoshi permission to respond in kind, just with more resignation. “I’d rather be punched,” Satoshi responds to the idea of Chitanda hearing all this from Oreki, as they two of them split the screen evenly, emphasizing their similarities once again.
But in the end, Satoshi does what Oreki hasn’t yet done—even if he does so under duress. He makes a choice. He does the hard thing. He does the right thing. It’s a lonely long shot, Satoshi barely visible amidst falling snow and darkness, but when you make these kinds of decisions, no one can help you. You’re out on your own, and you do what you have to do, even if you don’t like it. To put it into Oreki’s final words of the episode…
Final Notes: There is still much I could say about this episode. Meaningful shots and sequences, little bits of character work that I glossed over, and more. This episode is absurdly, unfairly packed with stuff. It’s likely among the single densest episodes I’ve ever tried to write about. I’m sincerely sorry I couldn’t tackle it all here, but to even attempt to do so would be a fool’s errand. I hope you’ve enjoyed what I’ve put together here about this wonderful, bittersweet show. It wasn’t easy. It was kind of painful to write about—but I think I’ve maybe, just a bit, done it justice.