I don’t really like slice of life anime. They tend to bore me. I’ve already got my real life, after all. Hyouka disabused me of this notion. It is full to the brim with an enrapturing charm that sucked me in with each episode.
Kyoto Animation’s handprint is evident - the main character, Hōtarō Oreki, immediately reminded me of Haruhi Suzumiya’s protagonist, Kyon. He narrates and chronicles the adventures of the Classics Club with sharp and entertaining wit, propelling us forward in each story. There are numerous parallels between the two, but rather than a fantasy plot, Hyouka isn't driven by anything specific - rather like real life. Dialogue is emphasized to the extreme; conversations are allowed to meander around from topic to topic, and, while well-written, can work against the pacing.
Oreki's group stumbles upon simple, everyday mysteries, figuring out everything from how a room was locked seemingly without a key to the motivations and outcome of a student protest 45 years in the past. Oreki’s slow, ponderous brand of sherlockian analysis eventually puts the clues together to solve the mystery, which are provided by the other members of the club, who act the part of investigators. While the solutions to these problems aren’t necessarily all that important, I found that Chitanda’s curiosity, in particular, was as infectious as her buoyant personality.
While these mysteries shuttle the story along, the real plot lies in the transformation of the characters. A lazy Oreki is time and again dragged out by his friends, and slowly, he begins to grow out of his apathy. Fukube and Ibara, the other two members of the Classics Club, also have excellent development. This changes are subtle, which is a good thing. Hyouka never overplays its hand.
I scored it low because the plot was too slow. It could have all been done in half the time, and there was a lack of any urgency or driving force behind any of the mysteries. That’s slice of life - not everyone’s cup of tea.
The art style reminded me of Suzumiya as well. Detailed backgrounds rest quietly behind crisp, smoothly animated characters. The opening themes are particularly well-done and really carry the message of the show through the visuals. I’ll have trouble going back and watching older works after this.
The first and second opening themes are both great, though the first was truly excellent. I enjoyed the frequent use of Bach’s Cello Suite No.1 Prelude; it fit perfectly as Oreki’s theme song.
While the rest of the tracks weren’t inspired by the divine, they were set perfectly with each scene. I’ve rarely watched anything, anime or otherwise, that has matched its visuals to its music so well. This plays a vital role in drawing the viewer into each mystery, bringing the plot off the screne and delving beyond the surface of the characters. Stunning work.
I loved Oreki. He’s lazy, but endearing. His sarcasm is caustic without being mean. A hundred tiny habits combine to make him one of the most well-rounded characters I’ve seen in any anime. His relationship with his best friend, Fukube, is deep and honed to a fine edge. I could watch them banter for hours.
Oreki’s development is superbly crafted. What changes is not his skill, strength, nor any specific improvement in moral fiber. What he gains is introspection - insight into his own character. It is what he finds within himself that pushes him to do things differently, a bit there, a little here. It’s so slow that he doesn’t notice himself until the final episode, but when he does, it’s something else. You can feel the maturity that he's been able to grasp, and it’s extremely gratifying.
Chitanda, on the other hand, had a few problems. She’s just a bit too naïve, bordering on a stereotype. She’s often serves as more of a plot device than anything, wringing her hands over some strange contradiction to get Oreki out of his chair and into a mystery. I’m nitpicking this a bit, but it’s the little things that stop it at a 9.
Fantastic art, wonderful music, and compelling characters make Hyouka a winner, but not without hitting a few speedbumps. Despite its great characters, there were at times a sense that their fictional playground was too small, almost as if they belonged at a college rather than a high school. The pacing stuttered with unneeded sections and conversations that stretched on a bit too long. Ultimately, I never got the sense that our detective, Oreki, was truly challenged. There are no unsolved mysteries in Hyouka, and that steals a bit of its mystery away. However, above these minor issues rests an excellent series that I plan on rewatching in the future.