Hyouka, a show which blends mystery with an interesting slice of life story, and manages to do it really, really well. Coming from Kyoto Animation you could argue that it was always headed towards big things, but this is different from what we normally see from Kyoto, this is more interesting and holds more depth, and makes for a far more interesting and intriguing series.
The plot focuses around Hotaro Oreki who lives by the motto of "If I don't have to do something, I won't, but if I have to I'll do it quickly." This motto goes for every aspect of his life, leaving him with very little drive or interest in actually doing anything with his life until he joins his schools Classics Club, after some encouragement from his older sister, and meets Eru Chitanda. Eru is, without a doubt, a very interesting character who shines throughout the series; she's the type of character who is forever curious about every little thing, and it just so happens that Hotaro finds himself unable to refuse Eru when she looks into his eyes and states she's curious about something. Hotaro and Eru aren't the only members of the Classics Club, we also have Satoshi Fukube who is a close and childhood friend of Hotaro and claims himself to be a "database" of, sometimes useless, knowledge. We also have Mayaka Ibara who is also a childhood friend of Hotaro and Satoshi. It makes for an interesting group of characters and considering they all get a fair amount of character development throughout the series and a chance to stand in the spotlight, they feel like characters you can really grow close to and enjoy watching. The series is mostly a slice of life, but because of Eru being endlessly curious, the group end up solving a lot of mysteries, which is a refreshing idea for the slice of life genre. Fair enough, none of the mysteries are over the top and most are simple things, but this is where the characters really shine and bring out the best in the show, plus simple sometimes isn't a bad thing. Hotaro is a gruff and lazy character to begin with, but as you watch him get dragged into things by Eru and co and watch how he grows as a person you really come to like him and realise he is by no means a bad person, and the same can be said for the rest of the cast. While you may not start off being very fond of them, that can quickly change over time because there is far more to them than meets the eye and each has far more depth to them than you'd likely expect.
The pacing of the show is done rather well, most mysteries are solved within an episode or two with the biggest exception being the Cultural Festival which is spread out over five or six episodes, which actually makes for a very interesting arc. Again though, not being stuck on the same mysteries does help the show because it keeps it fresh and interesting. It's also a show that relies on its script a heck of lot, both for when Hotaro is solving a case and explaining it to the other members of the Classics Club and for when he's narrating the story, but that is by no means a bad thing either. It's the type of series that will have you thinking deeply about things, but it can also remember not to take itself too seriously and throws enough comedy into the mix to make sure you always find yourself with a smile on your face at some point during an episode (even if this is at the expense of poor Hotaro). It's down to earth and feels like you're watching the day to day lives of see characters, which isn't a bad thing because it works really well for the idea of the story and for the characters themselves, it's actually a very strong show for its genre. Being only 22 episodes feels like a shame, but at the same time it probably does help the series. 12 episodes wouldn't have felt like enough, and more than 22 may have hindered the series more than helped even though we are left wanting just a little more. 22 was enough to fully explore any deeper aspects of the story and leave us with a pleasing ending, so I can't really complain about it
Where the animation comes into things the series is always very pleasing on the end, with some especially pretty animation near the end. Character designs aren't amazing, but they are different from the normal designs Kyoto Animation throw out, and are all interesting in their own right. The series also has a nice way of working us through the mysteries as Hotaro is explaining things with some rather interesting animation, which is always refreshing to see and really helps you understand the mystery at hand and just what has gone on.
As far as the shows soundtrack goes, it doesn't actually have a large amount of music because it chooses to reuse a lot of it over and over, however maybe more music would have hindered the show and the music we do have works perfectly fine. The fact the show reuses a lot of its tracks isn't noticeable enough to become a bother, and the tracks are generally nice enough where you're happy to be hearing them again. It's also worth noting that the series has two very impressive opening themes, which are very catchy and will have you tipping along to them after the first couple of listens.
Overall it's a strong show and certainly one of my favourites. Any fan of mystery stores and the slice of life genre will enjoy the series, either for the mysteries it presents to the viewer, or because of our loveable cast of characters. A solid show which is well worth your time.