Spring comes once again, and life moves on…
|Well, Hyouka is over an done with. …It’s funny. This show completely missed my high expectations, but by the end, it became my favourite thing to blog about. It gave me so much to talk about for a slice of life show. Anyways, I have lvlln here with me to talk about how Hyouka turned out.|
|Many thanks to Kara for letting me butt in for the finale. Hyouka was a show I watched with fascination, one that I thought about writing about all season. With it finally wrapping up, I knew I needed to get something in. I’ll miss this show.|
lvlln// Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, they say, and no show has exemplified that better to me than Kyoto Animation’s first big hit. Like many people, I love The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya , but apparently for the wrong reasons. I would classify Melancholy as a romance first and science fiction, mystery, and even comedy second. I thought the genius of the show was in how it used its sub-genres to tell its central romantic story. The larger science fiction mystery story was strong enough to hold up the show on its own, and god knows it was funny enough, but all of those were merely support for the underlying drama. That is, Kyoto Animation snuck the budding relationship between Haruhi and Kyon in while we were too busy watching them having fun.
But this is about Hyouka, another mystery light novel adaptation by Kyoto Animation (in fact their only light novel adaptation since their works in the Haruhi franchise). It was this fact that piqued my interest: Kyoto Animation has always had the best visuals in the business, but since Melancholy they hadn’t put out a show with the writing and characters to equal it. Another light novel, instead of visual novels or 4-koma, might have the quality story needed to make their next great show. So I had enormous expectations of Hyouka from day 1.
Karakuri// To tell you the truth, I wasn’t even really aware that Hyouka was animated by the same people as Haruhi Suzumiya until I started paying attention to what people like lvlln started saying things about both of them. Even after having that pointed out for me, I still didn’t quite see the parallels until they were laid out in a rather obvious fashion. Even after that though, I still think of Hyouka as it’s own entity. Where I loved Haruhi for it’s action/sci-fi, Kyon’s wit, and the questions about god and whether or not Haruhi’s gift qualified her as a higher power, I loved Hyouka for being more down to earth. It was fantastically realistic and while I hated that at the beginning, it grew on me. What other show would spend 20+ minutes on something like if a teacher like helicopters or not? It could take the most simple ideas and expand on them endlessly to make the most mundane things into something worth noticing.
I’m so glad that Hyouka went full out with the scenery porn this episode
lvlln// How happy I felt when the 1st episode flung the parallels right into my face! Here was Oreki Hotarou, the cynical, lazy (ahem, “energy saving”), disenchanted boy, and here was Eru Chitanda, the “manic pixie dream girl” with the unique ability to pull Oreki into her web of curiosity. One can’t expect the parallels to be perfect, but damn, were they close. The addition of Satoshi Fukube, the slightly effeminate sidekick forced to play second fiddle, was just a bonus. I could see clearly: just like Melancholy, this would be a romantic coming of age story in which the boy gets dragged out of his shell by the girl who doesn’t understand the word “no.” And just like the science fiction of Haruhi, the mystery of this show would primarily be used as tools to bring the leads together. This framed how I watched the rest of the show.
Karakuri// Needless to say, since Hyouka focused so much on everyday things, and myself being a huge fan of excitement and plot twists, I found the first couple of episodes falling drastically below my expectations. Nothing exciting ever happened. I was disappointed. Somewhere in that though, the characters became the highlight for me. Since the show was so focused on realism (or maybe it was the side effect of this anime lacking a straightforward plot), the depth of the four main characters stood out to me where I had pegged them as cliches in the first few episodes. By the end, I could sympathize with Satoshi for being caught between two decisions and cheer on Houtarou for coming out of his gray, energy-saving life style. I consider this a pretty big accomplishment considering that I couldn’t have cared less in the first episode. Hell, the character cliches weren’t even cliches that I liked. To be absolutely honest, I hated Mayaka at the start of this anime, but she won me over with her strength of character and blatant sarcasm. Long story short, I’m glad I stuck with this even though I was extremely close to giving up completely on it.
lvlln// I think it’s safe to say that I was off by quite a bit. The mysteries that made up this show did advance the relationship between Oreki and Eru, but not consistently and not in the ways I had expected. Like Melanchly, Hyouka was very much focused on the growth of the male lead, showing him grow less and less cynical as he developed a trust for others. At the beginning, romance wasn’t even a possibility for Oreki who wouldn’t accept such expenditure of energy. The bulk of the show was him getting out of his selfish rut, at first being unwillingly dragged to solving Eru’s mysteries, then finding satisfaction in it, eventually going out of his way to solve them. He had grown to love his friends at the classics club. It was only after the culture festival arc that the show really started consistently teasing us with this future couple. I had been disappointed to see Satoshi and Mayaka get the highlight in the penultimate, Valentine’s Day themed episode, even if Oreki’s actions – going out of his way to save Mayaka’s feelings, threatening to hit Satoshi – were an excellent example of how far he’d come from his energy saving ways. But perhaps the show was saving the really good stuff for the main couple. It was with this expectation that I entered the final episode of Hyouka.
Karakuri// Now that I look back on it, Hyouka had a great sense of control over it’s story telling. As far as I’m concerned, they always gave just enough information for each of the mysteries and explanations. Houtarou’s deductions and reasoning always made sense and he never over explained things. Even after all of the drama between Satoshi and Mayaka last episode, somehow it was enough for Mayaka just to say that things were ‘going’. We know that Satoshi was stuck and refused to move forward. We know that he phoned Mayaka and they had some sort of discussion. However, I don’t think we need to know how that discussion went. I’m quite satisfied to know that Satoshi is finally starting to get over himself and move somewhere else. I assume he’s starting something with Mayaka, since they were together during the festival, but I think I’d be happy either way. The same goes for Houtarou and Chitanda’s relationship. I don’t need to see him confess for real. Just knowing that Chitanda wants to show him her world (-insert cheesy Disney music here-) and that he wants to be part of it is enough for me. I honestly think that if they had gone further with the topic, the ending wouldn’t have worked for me the way it did.
lvlln// It was a wonderful finale, a beautiful send off to this show, even if it didn’t fully deliver. Hotarou was still struggling with his feelings, but by the end, he had come to realize that he wanted Eru. That imagined confession-but-not-quite at the end proved beyond a shadow of a doubt that something was brewing between the two, but there was no grand display of passion like in the Melancholy finale. I had been mistaken in thinking that this would be a romance – it was too innocent for that. Its focus was the classic coming of age formula that was in Melancholy: this was Hotarou’s story, of him coming to acknowledge the futility of the life philosophy he stated at the beginning. In the end, he accepted Eru’s invitation to carry the umbrella without a fuss, and he himself volunteered (in his imagination) to help Eru, just to be with her. We didn’t see any external affirmation of their relationship, but we already knew that they were going to be together.
Karakuri// This is just something personal to me, but I’m VERY picky about endings in just about everything story-related. Anime, books, television, you name it and 99% of the time, I really dislike the ending to just about everything for one reason or another. In saying that though, I’m surprised at myself in the fact that I actually adored the ending to Hyouka. It was just so perfect that I was actually crying a bit. Maybe it’s because Hyouka was character based rather than plot based, so there weren’t many extra threads left hanging by the end, but that doesn’t explain away everything. I was super interested (perhaps ‘curious’ would would better here) in how Mayaka and Satoshi would end up. Like I said above though, having Mayaka say that things are working was just enough for me. There’s hope there. Like a kind of purposeful metaphor, this series ended in spring, which is a symbol of beginnings. For me, I don’t need any more closure for this series. I don’t need to know how Chitanda and Houtarou progressed past that point. All Hyouka did was tell us that things are beginning for the characters, and they did that in such a lovely way that I can accept that conclusion without question.
Hyouka couldn’t live up to my expectations of matching Melancholy. It lacked the predecessor’s precise direction and focus, and the mysteries that took the main stage proved to be inconsistent. But it would certainly be unreasonable to expect another show that was an absolute joy every single episode like Melancholy. What we got instead was still a show with a clear direction and at least one extremely well realized character. And gorgeous work by Kyoto Animation. The animation used for break dancing during the culture festival or in the student film would be unthinkable from any other studio. The abstract art used heavily early on during Oreki’s deductions displayed that they could do the same things as Shaft, but even better. And the sweeping views of the countryside rivaled works by Makoto Shinkai. Actually, thanks to Tanaka Kouhei‘s majestic score, those scenes had me thinking of Diebuster, which is not a bad thing. Kyoto Animation was making a statement with this show; already known for having the best art in the business, it displayed just how big a gap there was between it and everyone else. In 2006, Kyoto Animation produced what I consider to be the best show of that year and one of the best in that decade. It’s been 6 years, but they’ve again produced the best show of the year, even if it comes nowhere near matching the magic of its first hit. God may be great, but I sure do enjoy having shaved ice in the summer.
This whole anime worked amazingly for me as a formula. It never settled too long on the dramatic parts and it was rare that they ever pushed a plot point to exhaustion. Things just fell naturally into place and then the storyline would let them settle while distracting us with mysteries. The mysteries themselves were fun (once I got over the fact that Hyouka wanted to focus more on figuring out why a teacher was angry and not on about people dying mysterious deaths every week) and the world itself was amazingly well established. Sure, the main characters were the main focus, but there was just so much other life going on in the background. That was the most interesting (not to mention longest) Cultural festival I’ve ever seen and I can honestly say that nothing overly exciting happened in it. The fact that Hyouka managed to have an entertaining hot springs episode without throwing a thousand cliches at us is amazing as well. Hell, even the side characters seemed like they had goals and ambitions themselves, rather than just being there for the purpose of moving the plot along. Overall, I think KyoAni did an amazing job combining the world/animation with the story and I don’t think that this would have worked nearly as well if any of these elements were missing. This was a miss that became a surprise hit for me.