Hyouka–Anime Early Impressions

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Hyouka (“shave ice/snow cone”) got started late and I’m still not sure what I think of it. Usually after 3 episodes I have a pretty good idea (though I’m often disappointed when a good start trails off into a weak ending.) In this case I’m not at all sure where this is going. So far it seems like a combination of school detective story and slice-of-life, built around an epic face-off between the embodiments of willful negativity and genki moe.

Some have compared this to Kyoto Animation’s first big hit The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya. The comparison might work if you can imagine Haruhi as a demure pure-hearted ojou-sama who gets her way through innocent naive enthusiasm. Also imagine a Kyon who is even more depressed than the original and you are well on your way.

First the good news. When they really want to Kyoto Animation can do better animation than anyone else on a television budget. (I’m not saying that they are better than Studio Ghibli, but Studio Ghibli only does movies.) This time they really want to. My first thought was “this would be worth watching for the animation alone!” But realistically animation alone can’t carry a TV series; the writing and acting are even more important.

The “hero” of the story is Houtarou Oreki (Yuuichi Nakamura) who has just started high school. He is anti-social and lazy, though he prefers to call it “energy conservation.” He wants to get through life while expending the least amount of energy.

Naturally he doesn’t want to get involved in any clubs. However he has just received a letter from his big sister who is traveling abroad. She has fond memories of the Classic Literature Club but has heard that it is likely to vanish due to lack of interest. She tells him to join the club and keep it going. Remembering that his sister is an expert in martial arts he decides that he had better at least go to the club room and check it out.

His childhood friend Satoshi Fukube (Daisuke Sakaguchi) is a very different personality type. He’s cheerful and outgoing with a phenomenal memory, an endless source of trivial information and valuable gossip. When he hears about the letter he volunteers to accompany Houtarou to the club room.

There they meet Eru Chitanda (Satomi Satou) the daughter of one of the town’s leading families. She is sweet, polite and innocent and overflowing with enthusiasm. She is determined (for reasons that she would rather not explain) to revive the Classic Literature Club.

Naturally she want Houtarou to join the club and help her. She becomes even more determined when she realizes that he has remarkable powers of observation and deduction. In fact he’s a veritable Sherlock Holmes, if you can imagine a Sherlock Holmes who only solved mysteries of outstanding triviality and unimportance. If there’s one thing Eru can’t resist it’s a good mystery. Or a bad one for that matter.

Eru terrifies Houtarou because she seems to be able to make him do things he doesn’t want to do. All she has to do is look at him with those enormous shiny eyes and implore him with a voice trembling with innocent excitement and he ends up expending wasteful energy right and left.

Mayaka Ibara (Ai Kayano) is a sarcastic girl who knows Houtarou and Satoshi from middle school. She dislikes Houtarou for his lazyness but is secretly in love with Satoshi.

Somehow she ends up joining the club too.

Naturally they get to solve at least one mystery in every episode. Did I mention that the mysteries are trivial and unimportant? So far the darkest and most chilling revelation is that an older student is smoking cigarets in school.

On the other hand there may be a progression of ever more serious cases. Maybe by the end of the series they will be dealing with gruesome murders and dismembered corpses. I rather doubt it. It doesn’t seem like that sort of show. But with anime you can never be sure.

In any case there seems to be some sort of ongoing mystery involving the past history of the club and Eru’s missing uncle.

I would be remiss if I didn’t mention the ED, a strange yuri moe musical number featuring Eru and Mayaka as sleepy goddesses in pajamas. Polaris falls from the sky causing the clock of the world to stop. They return it to its proper place, time starts again and they fall asleep holding hands. This is sort of adorable and sort of disturbing given that it seems to have nothing to do with their actual characters in the story.

This is probably just an extension of the popular EDs for K-ON! which were music videos in which the characters played roles that had little to do with their actual personalities. However the characters in K-ON! were members of an amateur rock band so it was easy to imagine them making a music video. When the characters are amateur detectives it just seems odder.