Hyouka: Thoughts and Impressions

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.*

Hirunaka no Ryuusei: your most realistic take on love

I am constantly behind on my attempts to write anime reviews simply because I keep reading these amazing shoujo manga which I really have to write about immediately. I actually fear that I may not recover from the story and its characters if I don’t actually do so, hence here I am.

I have been hearing about HnR for quite some time already; yet I had always put it somewhere behind on my priority list because the more manga pages I see online, the nagging feeling that this is a really good manga starts to arise. And what that means is that its probably going to be one of those manga that I won’t be able to recover from at least a while; that’s why I was always planning to wait till my school term is over till I actually indulge in such good reads.

But one day, I was feeling so drained after a few consecutive weeks of never ending projects, presentations and midterms, so I decided that #yolo I would read whatever I want, and I am pretty sure I am craving some good shoujo manga, and it was a mid term break for me anyway. So here I am.

*Please note that from here on, there will be certain spoilers about the manga. Though they probably won’t consist of anything too major if you are an avid browser of shoujo manga forums, Pinterest, tumblr, and the like.*

I am pretty sure there those who have read enough shoujo manga, both good and bad, know that there are many tropes and cliches that shoujo manga stories always seem to fall back into. I am not sure how much this holds true for the rest of you, but I have always felt frustrated not only at the lack of creativity of how the romance in such manga progress, but also the crevasse between the world of shoujo manga and real life, in my opinion, the distance which could be easily reduced with a simple realisation on the part of the mangaka. For a genre that focuses so much on romance development during youth, I am often surprised to find a lack of any manga that closely resembles what most girls in real life would choose to do.

However, Hirunaka no Ryuusei represents what I hope to be the start of a whole new dimension to current shoujo manga. It has taken the whole of romance development to a newer, down-to-earth level that is like a breath of fresh air. I admit that romances like Strobe Edge and Heroine Shikkaku are realistic in their own right; but it felt that they were toeing around the line, beyond which would bring shoujo manga to a whole new level, and yet they fall short of that and retreat back into the safe zone. I have always felt a tingly bit of frustration at that outcome though it is admittedly outweighed by the process.

Hirunaka no Ryuusei starts off pretty mildly. We have Suzume, a country girl who moves to Tokyo alone to stay with her uncle and start school over there. She meets Shishio Satsuki, a regular visitor of her uncle’s cafe, who happens to be her homeroom teacher. As she goes to school, she makes her very first friend, Mamura Daiki and basically blackmails him into doing so after finding out his secret: that he’s pretty shy around girls and blushes madly whenever a girl touches him. With such a seemingly simplistic plot as backdrop, we are brought, subtly and unknowingly, into the a world with one of the most realistic dealings of romance that this genre has probably ever experienced, as a love triangle forms between Mamura, Suzume and Shishio.

The love between Shishio and Suzume was through a slow process, without any official pronouncement or declaration of going out with one another, they gradually fall into the routine of a relationship with one another. The love was never passionate, nor did it feel that both of their feelings actually got through to each other at some point. As the audience, I have always felt slightly melancholic as I see Suzume struggle to reach out to her sensei, only to have him reflexively avoid facing her feelings outright and telling her what he truly feels about her, that he reciprocates his feelings as well. However, though Shishio can be said to be really immature and insensitive in handling his relationship with her, for example, not being entirely honest with Suzume and using one of what I perceive to be the worst and most hurtful reasons for breaking up with her, I feel that it is really mostly due to being in a really difficult position. All the secrecy that surrounds their relationship due to it being a taboo relationship opens up many opportunities for understanding. Even Suzume comes to realise, while still being in love in Shishio, that having to hide their relationship all the time and not having anybody to talk and confide in, is tiring and painful in itself. Shishio, meanwhile, remains troubled about their relationship all the time as he questions what he is doing about the taboo nature of the relationship.Though never intending to hurt her, his hesitation and struggles showed in his inconsistency of his treatment towards her; sometimes hiding his feelings really well but at other times, throwing away his mask; making Suzume confused, and unhappy to an extent.  As noted by Mamura and Shishio, in trying to deal with all these, Suzume became somebody unlike herself.Their moments of happiness were short-lived, and ultimately their relationship at least at that point in time, was so brittle and had such a weak foundation, ultimately leading to an inevitable breakup.

Mamura, on the other hand, faced none of the problems with a taboo relationship. Though shy with girls at first, he quickly comes to the realisation that he has fallen hard for Suzume. Of course, Suzume was unable to return his feelings at first; but being sensitive to her at all times, he manages to turn up and comfort her in times of need. Unconsciously, he had become her rock where she turns to for a sense of solace and comfort. As Suzume notes, she feels like she could talk to Mamura with no problems at all, unlike when she was with Shishio where during their long periods silence she catches herself wondering what he was thinking about. Except for the occasional periods of time when she knows Mamura likes her but she was unable to reciprocate the feelings he has, as well as periods of shyness and embarrassment, she has always been able to talk with him casually and normally.

So how should Suzume choose when there comes to a climax in the manga where both Shishio and Mamura have pretty much made their feelings known to her? How does she choose?

Suzume loved the both of them, but in different ways, and at different times. In ultimately choosing Mamura, she has made it clear to herself that she wanted to cherish Mamura in the way he had supported her all this while. She was acting on her feelings at that point, and she was no longer tied by her feelings in the past. Mamura had, all this while, from an existence that was previously in the fringe edges of her heart, become an existence of so much importance that he envelops her entire heart. Here is where readers are totally thrown off guard; simply because in most shoujo manga, even after realising that one should reciprocate the feelings that the ‘nice’ guy had for her, the ultimate outcome would be choosing the first guy that one ever loved.

Perhaps the idea of choosing the first guy would make sense if we believe that one can only truly fall in love once, and be faithful to that love; our feelings to anybody else couldn’t have been ‘true love’.  However, this rarely every happens in real life; we fall in love multiple times, and most people aren’t lucky enough to just fall in love and end up with the person we first loved for the rest of their lifetime. One may say, its precisely because its like that in real life which is why we indulge in mediums like shoujo manga to satisfy our imagination and dreams that a ‘one true love’ could exist. However, this does not detract from HnR’s arguably bold step in taking a stand on this matter in the other way. In rationalising Shishio and Mamura as both first and second loves, the mangaka’s message is clear to us:  that it is okay to fall in love twice, and its okay for us to pick the guy who was there for you all the time, and that timing matters in a relationship and once it is gone,  it is gone forever.

And in fact, its what she should have done. Its what every girl in her position should do, for herself, for the guy she loves, and the guys who love her.

I personally have very mixed feelings about this manga; mainly because I have always proclaimed myself to be an avid ‘underdog’ supporter. But when I came to the end of this manga, I couldn’t help but ache for Shishio’s sadness and acceptance of that outcome, even though I was also really happy for Suzume and Mamura. I suppose this is where the strength of the story lies; because technically Shishio couldn’t very well be blamed for his actions and his slowness in getting his feelings through to Suzume. As I have mentioned, it was all a matter of timing for them.

Perhaps going into the manga already knowing who Suzume picked in the end had been a mistake from the start, since it actually changed my perspective throughout the manga. This is the first time I genuinely felt for a teacher-student relationship and felt heartbreak at Shishio’s plight throughout the manga; while also rooting for the other two as well. I daresay Yamamori sensei had done an excellent job with this story which I will never forget, and I hope it opens up the gates to more realistic shoujo manga in the future.

*All images in this post do not belong to me and are owned by their respective owners.*

Please feel free to comment if you have any thoughts on this! 🙂