It is with some sort of hesitation that I sit down to write about my impressions with regards to Hyouka. Hyouka is undoubtedly enjoyed by many of both genders alike since it does not fit squarely into the genre of shounen or shoujo individually, and the subject matters of school, mystery and slice-of-life is a combination that would be interesting to some. (Despite the familiar high school set-up however, I would say this anime does not strictly feature romance and merely hints of it.)
The greatest strength of Hyouka lies in its narrative structure. Adapted from a series of novels, the story is told in a couple of mystery arcs. Though they differ in length, each arc never fails to showcase the subtlety of the tendency of seemingly simple, everyday events that can spiral into a major revelation of a character’s past, that keep you on the edge of your seat. Those expecting darker, gruesome murder mysteries will be completely thrown off course here because of the slice-of-life slant to the mysteries. Having said that, Hyouka does an excellent job at keeping its audience in suspense, complete with the ominous atmosphere at times aided by excellent background music and themes with some based on a careful selection and remix of classical music pieces. I have to admit that watching at 12-1am in the morning at times does create shivers through my spine though there is nothing remotely scary about the story (i.e. no ghosts, zombies or anything to do with horror).
What I also liked about the exposition is that in solving the mystery, characters often engage in thoughtful discourse to slowly and logically peel back its layers, evident especially in the first arc where they actually sit down to discuss the various possibilities of how the ‘truth’ could turn out to be. Even in discussion, character development is infused where exclamations and reaction are non-generic such that it is clear that all that discussion serves dual purposes as a way to advance the plot and also to showcase the sides to a character.
Hyouka features a rather small core cast of main characters, and where the success of this series is mostly contingent on. Oreki Houtarou, our main detective, adopts a outlook towards life which I personally identify with, which is that of a rather lazy, energy conservationist who does not interfere with anything that requires a disproportionate amount of energy. However, he meets the beautiful Eru Chitanda, who is practically the nemesis to his personal ethos. Being naturally curious, she spurs him on to solve mysteries and take steps which he wouldn’t have. We could say that there would be no Hyouka without Chitanda (since Oreki, in accordance with his personality, wouldn’t bother using his brain in normal circumstances), and to that she is the focal driving point of the story. We also have Satoru, Oreki’s best friend, who self-proclaims himself to be the ‘encyclopedia’ or the ‘database’ of the group, able to give information but not draw conclusions from it. He presents comedic relief to the group at times but it is revealed that he suffers from an inferiority complex in this respect as he compares himself to Oreki. Mayaka is the manga loving girl with a tsundere-ish side but not lacking in sensibleness.
Though I acknowledge that Chitanda’s personality can be said to be necessary to push Oreki to use his brain and develop the answers to the puzzles, I personally cannot help but be miffed or irritated by her behaviour at times. Perhaps its merely a personal preference of mine, but I found myself thinking especially during the School Festival arc that if she wasn’t bothering Oreki so much, she would have been a much more likable, lively and spontaneous character (all which are good traits in itself).
Nevertheless, Hyouka’s charm lies in the narrative structure and plot development, and it is not popular across audiences for no reason. The mysteries are also well written and worth your time if you are a fan of more down-to-earth mysteries or just a well told story in general. Even if you have misgivings about certain aspects of the characters like me, it remains an excellently paced and fulfilling viewing experience replete with a quaint Japanese small town charm.
*All images belong to their respective owners and do not belong to me.*