As I was watching this episode of Hyouka, a beautiful, ephemeral ending with all its implied beginnings, I couldn’t help but recall the lyrics to “Once Upon a Time” from the musical All American (my favorite version of the song, sung by Bobby Darin).
Once upon a time a girl with moonlight in her eyes // Put her hand in mine and said she loved me so // But that was once upon a time very long ago
Of course, there’s no explicit confession of love in Hyouka‘s finale. Instead, there are quiet moments of understanding, fascination, admiration, and affection that grow until they become sweeping and huge and romantic—but no less understated for it all. The mystical grows out of the mundane. But, to get there, one must take a step forward.
The Oreki Houtarou of Hyouka‘s premiere was such a person who would not such a step, so it’s striking to note how quickly he agrees to Chitanda’s request to hold an umbrella for her. On the surface, it’s a simple request, but it’s also notable in how “dramatically” (remember, this is also a mundanity, the mundanity of established relationship) it differs from the other things she’s asked Oreki to do for her. This is not a mystery. This is not something that only Oreki can do. But she asks him nonetheless, because she can and because they’re friends and because she wants to show him something more of herself. It’s a request from one friend to another, or maybe from one person to someone who’s a little more than a friend. 
And, again, Oreki agrees without hesitation. He doesn’t grumble, he doesn’t drag his feet, and he doesn’t snark. He just says, “Okay, I’ll do it.” Who is this Oreki? He’s not the boy we knew at the start of this story—he’s different. He’s changed. Later on in the episode Oreki panics over his energy conservation policy being shattered, but it’s too late—he is already doing something for someone else. He has already violated his principles Whether he knows it or not, a rose-colored life is waiting for him, right?
But the rose-colored life (what this actually means—and it does mean something different than it meant at the beginning of Hyouka—we’ll talk about later) isn’t just something you can wander into unaware. As I said before, one must take a step towards it. And the path (as we saw last week with Satoshi) isn’t always going to be simple, easy, or comfortable. The awkwardness of moving forward is present once again, although for Oreki in this case it’s less a matter of overcoming his own internal blocks and more that he’s simply, glaringly, an outsider in this world—and the cinematography shows it. Whether he’s show diminished riding into the countryside (1), pushed to the side of the screen by the more important sign (2), entering into a slightly canted shot (3), looking on from far away (4 & 5), or coming into the shot from off screen (6), it’s clear Oreki doesn’t belong. And yet, he’s still here for a reason. He’s still connected through Chitanda.
At least, he thinks he is. As I see it, Oreki never fully apprehends the distance that exists alongside this connection until he’s called in to see Chitanda to solve the bridge problem. He’s physically divided from her by a sheet (a separation that looms visually bigger and bigger as he talks), but more than that, he’s still distanced from his close friend by the ceremony and formality of the way she speaks to him. There’s a level of artifice and stiffness and propriety that’s never intruded into the way they relate to each other before. Unlike in episode 20, where the pressures of Chitanda’s status controlled their circumstances while still bringing them together, here those same pressures are pushing them apart.
And yet—appropriately for an episode full of these kinds of back and forths—those same pressures also bring Oreki to Chitanda. There’s a profound symbology to Oreki taking on a ceremonial costume to accompany Chitanda through the procession; he truly does enter her world at this point through the medium of traditional garb.  And yet (again!), as Koizumi’s son says, “It doesn’t really suit you.” Oreki is still an outsider. It’s not simply an issue of physical appearance, but a pointed comment on his fundamental incompatibility with this world. The realm of tradition and status isn’t one he can enter and leave on a whim—it demands commitment and stability. It requires making a bond with a specific place, with a specific people. ZeroReq011’s essay, “Hyouka: A Dying Land” elaborates beautifully on the nuances of what this really means vis-a-vis Chitanda’s character specifically.
And yet (once more), Oreki is given a chance to enter—not in a superficial, mundane way, but in a mystical way that exposes via Chitanda all the beauties that could be his. Oreki is dressed, prepared to walk with her, and then she exits the building and everything changes. The ghosted animation used in episode 20 returns, but things aren’t quite the same. In fact, the episode goes so far as to directly parallel Chitanda’s entrance this episode with her entrance in episode 20 by focusing on the same accessories (hands and hair), contrasting Chitanda “showing off” against Chitanda as the Empress. But this are different now, the soft tones of episode 20 replaced with the harsh, over-saturated colors of performance and the gentle shot framing substituting out for powerful, steady compositions. It’s no less mystical or enchanting, but it’s clear that this Chitanda displays an external power that episode 20’s Chitanda did not.
Where Chitanda is bathed in bright colors, Oreki stands awash in near-monochrome, awed. How pale and unsuited he seems in the presence of this girl. And when she casts her eyes upon him, they are controlled and commanding rather than large and engaging. He must not look away. He must follow.
Oreki is conscious of his helplessness before Chitanda, before this Other. His breathless thoughts tumble out, sounding like fear and like wonder and like love. It is not a rose-colored life that stands before him here, because reds dominate, breaking into frame after frame—the minions, the umbrella he carries, Chitanda’s costume.
It is as if the soft excitement of the rose-colored life has been swept away by the intensity and heat of this moment. Not pink, but red, but not but, instead and. And then they come upon the tree and red blends with cherry blossoms. Blues rush away like water, resistance melts into the river, and Oreki can’t see anything but her and it’s fear, it’s enchantment. It’s the Other. It’s liking and distraction and engagement. It’s everything all at once and it build, and builds, and builds, sweeping under the tree into a life of literal rose-color and curiosity and escaping is impossible, the calm blue of the sky hidden from view and what can you do what can you do but watch listen see experience be until it overwhelms you and takes you away from everything you once knew and why weren’t you here before now what have you been missing you have to know you have to see you have to have until forever and
You’re called back to the world of mundane brown. To reality, with the mystical colors fading into the background. I cannot say more than that. This is something that cannot be broken apart into single shots because it is all one and the same thing. The same long moment.
I do like that it’s Satoshi and Mayaka together that represent this calling back to reality. After all, the two of them have been dealing with the dull mundanities of life as best they can, neither of them being as inclined towards the mystical (whether by tradition or by mystery) as Oreki and Chitanda. They represent the real world, and it’s not so bad. In the real world you can speak candidly and offer sincere gratitude without ambiguity. And yet, the lines of definition between the mundane and the mystical aren’t really so clear. As Oreki runs into Irisu after the procession, she offers what’s effectively an apology for the film arc, chalking it up to “having a job to do”—that is, “responsibility”—a sentiment informing behavior that Chitanda later echoes.
But don’t forget that it’s Chitanda’s responsibility (her commitment that distances her from Oreki) that pulled Oreki in to the experience of the procession.
Here Oreki finds the answer to his question during the parade, and we’re reminded by familiar shots of Oreki and Chitanda together of the casual closeness that’s developed between them. This is their “real world” friendship, in one sense of the real world. But perhaps, one might reflect, this idyllic playfulness is just as mystical and unreal as the parade. And yet, as I said before, perhaps we ought not to make these divisions so eagerly.
Hyouka‘s final scene seems to support that.
It’s a beautiful scene, shot through with contradictions just as the entire episode has been. Mundane and mystical, past and future mingle together. Before Oreki and Chitanda lies the brightness of the future; behind them, the dimness of the past. Chitanda is an emblem of fantasy for Oreki (cascading and wonderful rose), but she’s also the close shot reality of stasis. She announces her intentions, and Oreki has a chance to choose. Just as with Mayaka and Satoshi, everything has been laid bare: Oreki plays out one answer in his mind, but ultimately suspends the decision. He takes neither the rose-colored life with Chitanda or the rose-colored life of the future.
But it’s alright. Before him, before Chitanda stretch the rest of their lives. Together or apart, they can walk forward on that path. The poignancy is the sense of loss that accompanies either decision, but you can only live one life—the life you choose. One possibility gives way to another, just as the petal sweeps by one version of Chitanda to reveal another. All futures are open until you make a decision and Oreki is peering out from the precise, experiencing it all at once (half dark, half light). He knows the fear of decision, can feel the sweetness, taste the bitterness, see the glow, live in the dark. The moment, which passes by so quickly, can be said to last forever.
So, what is a “rose-colored” life? Smile, for it is merely life itself.
 Also note that Chitanda asks the question in two different ways: 1) “…would you hold the umbrella for me?” and 2) “Would you be able to help us out?” One is a personal request, and one is a request on behalf of something larger than herself. All of this is tied up in who Chitanda is and what she wants to show to Oreki. Chitanda is not just Chitanda—she is also her family, the town, the land… and her responsibilities to each of those.
 Only dressed this way can Oreki transcend his normal reality and accompany Chitanda as she currently is. In religions throughout the world, the pattern donning of a certain costume for religious ceremonies repeats over and over again. Think of the robes of Catholic priests, the use of body paint in Aboriginal tribes, the garments of Buddhist monks, etc. Costume is a way humanity compartmentalizes itself away from normal life (the mundane) and into the realm of the divine (the mystical). It sets aside a time as “different.” And this is what Oreki experiences.