Hyouka, Episode 22 [END]

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

Hyouka

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. [1]

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.

Hyouka

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. [2] 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.

Hyouka

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.

Hyouka

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.

Hyouka


[1] 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.

[2] 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.

20 thoughts on “Hyouka, Episode 22 [END]

  1. Well, that was great! I happen to be a guy who’s always had just Orecki’s view of getting involved in the world, and after seeing the anime of Hyouka I’ve gone to great lengths to find the light novel, because this story is so moving to me.

    This is a rather un-Japanese story, for most of its length. The are always ones for STRIVING, at least in their popular culture. This hero goes entirely against their approved type—until he’s confronted with having to choose to change.

    It’s a very dramatic story, presented in a very subtle manner.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I don’t know if I’d quite characterize this as un-Japanese across the board; in fact, I’d say the show is pretty deeply intertwined with Japanese culture and tradition via Chitanda.

      But yes, Oreki is definitely a stand-out among most anime protagonists.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Great work as always, Bless.

    I’m not sure there’s much I can add to the great work you and others have done to unpack this specific episode, and indeed the series as a whole. I will say, however, I have never understood the issues some people have expressed with Hyouka’s finale.

    There’s a poignancy and melancholy in this episode that’s almost unmatched in any other anime series I’ve seen, and even Houtarou just imaging dedicating his life to another person demonstrated a lot of growth on his part.

    Moreover, rather than being a weakness, as many others have viewed it, the fact that he doesn’t follow through on his feelings felt to me a perfect encapsulation of the half measures and compromises we all put ourselves through.

    Anyway, I hope Kyoto Animation gets around to producing a second season of Hyouka if only to temporarily fill the hole its absence has left in my heart.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you!

      I’m with you on not getting people not liking the finale, although I suppose I’ve not really had the opportunity to talk with it about someone who feels that way. But yes, it’s a phenomenal episode, and I think it caps off the respective journeys of the characters.

      I, too, wouldn’t mind seeing an S2—but I do think this show stands well enough on its own that I’m satisfied with what we have.

      Like

  3. Welp, it’s official. I’ll need to carve out 11 hours of my life and rewatch this.

    Been at least 8 months since I finished watching Hyouka, and I remember myself feeling underwhelmed by the last 4-5 episodes…don’t remember why, though, since the density of atmosphere and human complexity is pretty obvious in each of them…I would certainly like to test out this slightly experienced brain of mine, hopeful during that short break period between seasons.

    This is a great series you have created, Bless. Still A LOT of entries I haven’t finished reading, but I’ll leave them as a Ep-by-ep epilogue for myself.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, if my posts are able to help you enjoy those last few episodes more, I’ll be plenty pleased. They are incredibly dense, though! Incredibly! It’s amazing.

      And thank you for the compliments—hope you enjoy the rest of the posts as you read through them. ^_^

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  4. Thanks so much for this.

    Hyouka is one of the most beautiful works of fiction I’ve ever experienced, in any medium. And, in my own opinion, it’s absolutely the best anime ever made.

    Whether or not you feel as strongly about it as I do, it’s really wonderful to read the thoughts of a Hyouka fellow traveler.

    Liked by 1 person

    • While I can’t profess to say that I think Hyouka‘s the best anime ever, it’s certainly one I’ll be happy to list as one of my own favorites. I essentially watched it twice over as I made these posts, and my appreciation and love for it only grew as I continued on.

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  5. Just here to say that I read and enjoyed all of your posts about Hyouka! It’s one of my favourite shows.

    Something you didn’t touch on much, but I found very interesting in the last episode: The scene at the constructing bridge. I found it very symbolic in a way that the show actually directly tells us what’s going to happening here in a thematic sense, (paraphrasing a bit here) “We’re starting construction on the bridge soon, so you can’t come back once you’ve crossed. Sure you wanna go?” “… Yes”. Oreki embraces his “brighter” future with Chitanda and enters her literal realm/life because he wants to be a part of her life. He crosses the bridge and knows that he can’t go back. His days of “energy conservation” are over and a “rose colored life” lies ahead of him.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thank you! I’m glad you liked them

      And ah, yes, that damn bridge. I curse because it reminds me of the other bridge in the show, the one at the school. It is most definitely symbolic—in a number of different ways, too, I think, some of the contradicting. As I said in the post proper, it’s an entirely complicated and contradictory episode—and yet, so is life itself.

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  6. So I just watched the last five episodes of Hyouka only this weekend and what struck me was how slowly the mystery element of the show disappears, becomes unnecessary throughout these last episodes. They don’t disappear completely, even in the final one we still have the mystery of why the bridge was closed, but they’re no longer the main focus. It feels completely natural and it makes this the best stretch of the series.

    What also struck me, in the last episode, seeing te preparations for the parade and all it entails, was how much it reminded me of growing up in an agricultural part of the Netherlands, with my father’s family all being fairly successful farmers and important people in their local communities, which we as a family were sort of outside of, dad being a civil servant instead. You have that same feeling of seeing big fishes in little pounds that Chitanda also alluded to.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Yup, the mystery is kind of an artifice that bleeds away as the characters grow closer and their relationships become clearer. We don’t—not really—need them any more as an audience. It’s very good series composition, in my opinion.

      And, oh, that’s such a neat perspective that you bring to this! Ahh that’s seriously fascinating to me—thank you for sharing, even though it was just a little bit!

      Like

  7. Just want to say I really appreciate all the pieces you’ve written about Hyouka. As someone who followed this series and the blogosphere during the time it aired, I have to say your episode analyses were far more detailed and sophisticated than any blogger who watched it in 2012! It’s actually a little difficult to explain. A lot of us came to appreciate the series a lot more on retrospect, but you seem to have gotten so many of the subtle details during your first watch. It frankly blew me away.

    Maybe, unlike the rest of us at the time, you went into this series knowing roughly what it was about and even had an idea of what sort of things to pay attention to…? Whatever the case, your articles showed an attention to detail that I’ve come to expect from you. This is exactly the kind of writing I remarked that I wanted to see when I first wrote my literature review on Hyouka in 2013: http://frogkun.com/2013/08/11/a-database-of-curiosities-a-hyouka-literature-review/

    You should really be proud of these pieces. I think they contain some of your finest writing to date. Thank you so much for this. You’ve affirmed to me that Hyouka is nothing less than a modern classic.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Heh, heh, I’ve read that post of yours a few times since I started watching the show.

      And thanks for all your compliments, Froggy. I respect you a lot as a writer (I know, I’ve said this before, bear with me), so it means a lot to hear your praise for them.

      It’s been my pleasure to write them, and I am so appreciative of you coming by to read them. 🙂

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  8. Thank you very much Bless.
    I really enjoyed all of your Hyouka-Posts. This series is fantastic and reading your Blog makes it even more impressive.
    When I started watching Hyouka, it was because everyone said “it’s beatiful” and since I love KyoAni, I couldn’t resist watching. It really is beatiful and the story is good, but after reading your Blog and seeing what KyoAni had done with all those shots you gave us, I really am impressed how good it is.

    Next time I want to read about “Hanasaku Iroha” from you 😛
    Keep up the good work!

    Liked by 1 person

    • You’re welcome! I’m very happy you enjoyed reading all of them! It really is a beautiful show, and it really was rewarding to write about and share with people.

      And HanaIro next, huh? Well, we’ll see about that… 😉

      Like

  9. Thank you so much for doing these reviews. Aside from being a pleasure to read, I’m just grateful that you inspired me to pick up and watch this wonderful series.

    As I mentioned a few posts back, Oreki and Chitanda in the shrine garden is one of my favorite scenes in the whole show. It’s a small thing, but I feel like it brings closure to the mystery-solving portion of the series in the most satisfying way possible – for the first time we get to see them solving a mystery together, not in detective and “client” roles, nor even detective and assistant roles like episode 18, but as two detectives. We (and they) know the steps of their ritual by now: Chitanda’s litany of questions, the invocation (“I’m curious!”), and Oreki’s solution. After Oreki’s spent most of this episode feeling misplaced and in thrall to Chitanda’s commanding Empress role, equilibrium is restored by enacting their familiar ritual again, but with the key difference that each person shares in the other’s usual role this time. Oreki’s obviously already been thinking about the puzzle before Chitanda even starts asking questions, and he’s also the one who recites the invocation. Then instead of Oreki working his mental magic alone, they collaborate on the answer. That’s not merely re-establishing their normal relationship, it’s putting it on the most equal footing it’s ever been, and I love the way each of them is able to follow their own path of reasoning using their differing strengths and experiences – Oreki’s deductive skills and Chitanda’s understanding of people – to end up with the same solution. Both of them thought they were on the right track, but it’s only when they put their two perspectives together that the conclusion becomes obvious. And isn’t that just a perfect metaphor for a great relationship, that together they’re able to go further and accomplish more (and have more fun doing it) than either one can alone.

    BTW, your comment that, “All futures are open until you make a decision” is more apt than you might realize. The root of the word “decide” comes from the Latin “de caedere” – which basically translates as “to cut off” or “to kill off.” Quite apt, since making a decision and committing to it generally always means cutting yourself off from one or more other options.

    @IgorBonifacic: There are two reasons I can think of why people might be disappointed with the ending. Either because they were hardcore shippers who were disappointed that the romance was left open-ended, or because ending the show with a series of one-off stories felt like an anti-climax after the Festival arc. The latter I can sort of understand, though I don’t personally agree with it, while the former I feel like are just missing the point of the show, and especially of the final arc.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for reading and for all your faithful commenting on the posts! It means more than you know.

      Lovely analysis of the shrine garden scene, too. I skipped over it a bit, but that one tweet I linked kind of sums it all up. Oreki wanted to see Chitanda, and he gets to do so. It’s a lovely scene, so comfortable and familiar and warm.

      And ah yes, the “killing of possibilities.” A scary way of thinking about things, but an accurate one for sure. We humans are always so fearful of death, in all its forms…

      Like

  10. I want to add another “Thank you” for these great pieces. I think it was the first time I looking forward to reading anime blog posts. Hyouka is already sitting indisputably on top of my favorite anime list (I’ve imported the BD singles, visited the town, and grabbed almost everything Hyouka-related from KyoAni shop) but your writing manage to make me like it even more! I really enjoyed reading them.

    I especially like your insights on the cinematography. One of the thing I like about Hyouka is that it’s a very good example of anime adaptation IMO. It takes the novel (I cringe a little every time someone says it’s from a light novel) and actually take the advantage of the visual animated medium. It told the story in a way which would not be possible in the original written form.

    Still, and I’m sure you’re aware, I couldn’t stop myself recommend checking out the 5th novel, Approximated Distance of the Two, which already has fan’s English translation. I think you’ll enjoy it.

    Like

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