What does a newcomer make of Kyoto Animation's acclaimed mystery series?
While I’m no stranger to Kyoto Animation, even considering myself a fan of their collective works, one of their shows has always eluded my grasp. Acclaimed by just about every anime fan I know, I’ve carried a burning desire to watch Hyouka for years. Fortunately, its recent addition to Crunchyroll's catalogue gave me the perfect opportunity to finally do so!
So I set aside a single weekend where, across the two days, I threw myself into binging all twenty-two episodes. With six years worth of hype behind it, though, has Hyouka matured like a fine wine? And how does it compare to Kyoto Animation anime past and present? You could say, I’m curious!
Hyouka is far from the studio’s first foray into the slice-of-life genre, yet the Classic Literature Club’s activities engaged my attention in a way not even K-On!’s musical performances could (and they’re a mainstay on my Spotify playlist!). That’s because this time, I wasn't just watching someone shine on a stage out of reach; I was walking alongside Oreki and Chitanda as they piece together the mysteries of their school life.
Mystery stories are a guilty pleasure of mine, and I found a lot of charm in the niche Hyouka carved for itself. With the cast in the height of their youth, where school life is all that really matters, their mysteries are less Murder on the Orient Express and more exercises in innocent curiosity. When introducing the story of Chitanda’s uncle going missing in India, the series could have spun into an exciting, international manhunt – but it didn’t. I admired how Hyouka avoided the more obvious theatrics in favor of more intimate mystery; wanting to remember a forgotten memory in time for the final goodbye.
For me, that is where Hyouka truly excels. Not in the complexity of its mysteries, but in the people behind them. For example, even when multiple episodes were dedicated to a Cultural Festival thief, the caper’s hijinks became a platform to highlight insecurities that helped me better understand and sympathize with the once-assumed happy-go-lucky Satoshi Fukube.
Fukube wasn’t the only character to benefit from the School Festival arc either. Hyouka exceeded my expectations by doing what few series do: establishing a school life for characters beyond the club room or initial social circle. Away from Oreki and the series regulars, Mayaka Ibara had her own duties as part of the Manga Club, a situation that saw her become the lead in her own corner of Hyouka’s world.
Other series may have used her minimal involvement in the overarching storyline as an excuse to write her out completely, but I love how Hyouka seized on the opportunity to instead show us another side of Ibara, away from the Classic Literature Club – even if it meant seeing my favorite character on the receiving end of a tormenting mentor.
At the heart of Hyouka, however, is the budding relationship between the self-proclaimed “energy conservationist” Hotaro Oreki and the bubbly, enthusiastic girl he meets in the clubroom one fateful afternoon: Eru Chitanda. If their personalities were described as colors, Oreki would be a stale gray and Chitana a rosy pink. Initially finding her curiosity an annoyance, Chitanda’s gradual awakening of Oreki’s social desire really is a work of expert craftsmanship, as it advances at a pace unnoticeable from one episode to the next, yet unmistakable when comparing start to finish.
Once-in-a-lifetime meetings, where a person’s more sullen outlook is slowly transformed by a radiant new light, should be no stranger to fans of Kyoto Animation or the romance genre at large. You may find a warming familiarity in Oreki and Chitanda’s relationship, as it has a lot in common with one you may already know: Yuta and Rikka’s in Love, Chunibyo & Other Delusions. Chunibyo’s Yuta and Hyouka’s Oreki have a lot in common, so if you enjoyed one, you’ll likely be fond of the other.
Upon entering high school, both had hopes of spending the next three years with their heads down, avoiding unwanted attention. However, both young men were denying a valuable part of themselves – for Yuta, it was the imagination that sparked middle school delusions of grandeur, and for Oreki, the acknowledgement of his deductive ability.
While Rikka and Chitanda have their own individual charm, with the former captivated by flights of magical fancy and the latter driven by an adoring curiosity, they share common ground in their ability to draw out the best in others. In both series, I delighted in watching these relationships grow from mild irritation into blossoming inspiration, and in Chunibyo’s case, becoming one of the cutest couples in modern anime.
Taking my first dive into an anime many have loved for six years, I was admittedly anxious over how the animation would hold up, especially given Kyoto Animation’s reputation for beauty. Fortunately, those doubts were completely unwarranted and Hyouka’s spectacular visuals would no doubt be celebrated even if the series were released today. The scattering of cherry blossoms evokes a tender, emotional majesty not unlike the stellar A Silent Voice, while a focus on realistic detail in even rarely visited locales like a cosy coffee shop really helps Hyouka feel like a comfy slice-of-life.
If you’re like I was and have yet to dive into the mysteries of Hyouka, you won’t regret satisfying your curiosity by giving it a try now!
Are you also a Hyouka newcomer, or a long-time fan? Let us know what you think of the series in the comments below!