Well, it tried, I'll give it that.
Hyouka, also known as "Hyou-ka: You Can't Escape" (a title that basically means nothing) is the latest series by acclaimed studio Kyoto Animation, who, despite their huge fanbase, generally produce work of more style than substance. Hyouka unfortunately follows this trend, though superficially it doesn't fit in with the rest of KyoAni's back catalogue very much. Hyouka is generally very dry in tone... which pairs up somewhat poorly with KyoAni's signature over-the-top style.
Hyouka is a mystery series, revolving around four high school students in the Classic Literature Club (an aimless club that happens to end up solving mysteries a lot). The students in question are main character Oreki Houtaro, whom I am about 99% certain has some form of autism. He has zero interest in socialising, fun, or... well, anything. He deliberately tries to live life as uninterestingly as possible. This is hampered a bit by him being insanely gifted at solving mysteries. This gift goes untapped until he meets Chitanda Eru, a plucky, cheerful girl with an insatiable curiosity who refuses to let the even the smallest of mysteries go unsolved. They are joined by Satoshi Fukube, a cheerful happy-go-lucky human database simply full of useless facts who is seemingly Oreki's only friend prior to the series, and Mayaka Ibara, a library assistant who's known Oreki since childhood, who is probably the most level-headed member of the cast.
Now, remember how I said Eru refused to let even the smallest of mysteries go unsolved? Well... that's the big problem Hyouka has. The mysteries really are the smallest of mysteries. Each and every one revolves around a very trivial subject, and just about all of them could have gone unsolved without any real problems. Something so down to earth could in theory have been a good idea, but unfortunately Hyouka doesn't really deliver. As a result, Hyouka is, in a word... dull. With the exceptions of one or two mysteries, Hyouka totally fails to be entertaining.
But that isn't to say they didn't go the extra mile to make Hyouka more interesting. KyoAni's huge animation budget is flexed quite a bit. Random quirks in the presentation show up every now and then when Oreki is explaining his theories, sometimes in rather trippy fashion. The unusual techniques in the directing aren't limited to these, though. Hyouka plays around with angles and closeups a lot, to try and make every scene more dramatic.
It doesn't work.
While they occasionally spice up a scene a little bit, they really don't do much to save Hyouka from being very, very bland. And often, the harder they try, the worse it gets. It's most "dramatic" moments end up being, if anything, idiotic for how hard they're trying to sell something so insignificant.
Directing techniques aren't the only thing in Hyouka intended to spice things up, though. Character-driven subplots are also involved. All of Hyouka's cast members are likeable, if nothing special... though Oreki's disinterest with everything can be irksome, and Chitanda can be more saccharine than cute sometimes. Romantic subplots flare up between the characters, as well as some mild feelings of envy from Fukube towards Oreki, and these would all help a lot more if it wasn't for the fact that all of this goes absolutely nowhere and amounts to nothing. Just like the directing techniques, it's an attempt to spice it up that at best is a mild amusement, usually falls flat, and at worst, is simply idiotic.
With all that having been said, Hyouka is not bad. But it certainly is not good either. At the end of the day it is simply very average. But there are really much better wastes of your time out there than Hyouka.
Final Words: For the biggest of mystery enthusiasts and diehard KyoAni fans only.
For Fans Of: UN-GO, Gosick
There is something genuinely shocking to me about how highly I think of this anime. I stumbled upon it believing it would be fun for a couple of laughs. Yet, I feel like I have actually stumbled onto one of my favorite animes this year.
The story begins with Houtarou, a boy with no other purpose in life but to conserve energy. He eventually ends up joining the "Classics club", and meeting Chitanda, a girl so fascinated with all of life’s mysteries that Houtarou ends up having to find an answer to all of her curiosities. At first, I thought this story would be a watered down Sherlock Holmes. It's a bunch of high school kids solving small time mysteries. Yet, as the episodes go along I found myself drawn into these little mysteries. They don't have to over sell themselves. These high school kids aren't trying to find a murderer or save the world from certain destruction. They’re solving mysteries in their school, their community, their families etc. These feel like realistic every day mysteries that most people often ignore, accepting that these little inconsistencies are just part of life. This show has brought out the charm in the mundane.
The animation snuck up on me with the realization of how brilliant it is. The settings and characters are average normal places and people. On the surface they may not seem like much. However, the amazing amount of detail put into the animation is astounding. I rarely see animation where the animators bother to have a character change gears on his bike, let alone let the audience see the inner mechanisms of the bike reacting to the gear shift. In another episode, the lighting changed slightly due to the setting of the sun. Yet it changed everything about the scene. The characters all of a sudden seemed to glow with an inner light and it changed the focus of the whole scene. I am an art major and I have done some animating before. It has made me realize that simple things like light changes can actually be a pretty major undertaking as well as animating the small details that most people don't notice. Ultimately, most animators let the little things go by the way side because it’s too much effort to animate that little change in the sun, the boy changing his pencil lead, that little reflection off the window etc. However, this anime has taken great care to animate the small actions that most take for granted. Once again, even in the animation the creators are elevating the mundane to something almost glamorous.
The voice acting is pretty wonderful in my opinion. Each character feels distinctive to me without feeling overworked. Anime, for me, is usually like taking the amp on real life and cranking it up to 10. This anime doesn't do that. It scales everything back and settles you into this world. I feel like the voices do that really well as well as the music. It doesn't call a lot of unnecessary attention to itself and really blends well with the scene as a whole.
The characters really grew on me. In the beginning, the characters appeared very one dimensional and stayed that way for the first few episodes. I had resigned myself to the characters being mediocre until they started to change. Their personalities begin to alter in small ways that some may not notice. However, I pay special attention to characterization so it really stuck out to me. Now that I have finished the series, I actually went back and watched the first episode over again just to see how much the protagonist had grown. Ultimately, this is a story of a boy who is coming to understand that he has a gift. He has denied any sort of skill whatsoever so seeing him learn more about his own talent is actually pretty fascinating. This is one of my favorite aspects of the series; its choice of main character. Houtarou is very introverted and chooses not to talk to other characters about himself. Yet, he is likeable enough that other characters end up talking more, which makes potentially boring characters more interesting. However, since he is the main character, we also have access to his inner thoughts, giving us a deeper understanding of his character than the people around him. Chitanda's character needed some work. She spends a vast majority of the series feeling more like a plot device to cause drama within the story. She is the one who, a majority of the time, forces the other characters to solve the mystery by harassing them into it. She actually does get a lot more depth to her character, but only in the last episode. If they had started bringing out these plot threads in the 6th or 7th episode I would have probably loved her character. As it is, I dealt with over 20 episodes of this character and the addition of actual depth came far too late. I am incredibly fascinated with the relationship between Houtarou and Satoshi. The creators did an excellent job of developing a straining friendship and what it actually feels like. Ultimately, I don't love Satoshi's character by himself. The only part of his character that comes out in other scenes tends to be that he is an encyclopedia of facts and that he is outgoing and generally pretty positive. But as soon as he is put in a scene with Houtarou, it becomes truely fascinating. Houtarou simultaneously brings out the best and worst of this character, which made me absolutely love any interaction between them.
I will admit that this is not a typical anime and I can see how some people would call it boring. There are no fight scenes. There is no melodrama. There aren't any villains... or heros for that matter. What this anime does have is an appreciation for real life. It reminds me of the days when a gust of wind will blow by and I will stop walking out of sheer joy to feel it across my face. Like I said before, this anime appreciates normal life and focuses on everything we stopped paying attention to because we saw it every day. This anime is perfectly summed up by Chitanda's catch phrase "I am curious!"
In the late 2000s there was this weird explosion of a subgenre most didn’t care about. Anime with loli detectives begun to sprout like mushrooms all over the place as if all of a sudden they were the coolest brand new trend that every animation studio just HAD to be part of it. Here is the list:
J.C. Staff: Tantei Opera Milky Holmes, Heaven's Memo Pad
Bones: Un-Go, Gosick
Silver Link: Tasogare Otome x Amnesia
There was no indication for making anyone to assume such a thing would work, and not even one of them ended up being above average. After a few months of ridiculous hype most in the fandom didn’t care about them either. It’s as if a representative of every studio gathered around the same table and made a bet on who’s going to create the most unmemorable show.
The last one who entered the competition was Kyoto Animation with Hyouka, and the thing we all know about that studio is that it attracts ronery virgins and pedos who are totally not into real girls with their K-On moe style. And yeah, these people are really watching Kyoani shows for the theme exploration and not for the cute girls doing cute whatever.
Beyond the Boundary: I am totally watching this for the ghost hunting
Sound Euphonium: I am totally watching this for the music
Dragon Maid: I am totally watching this for the dragons
Violet Evergarden: I am totally watching this for people suffering from PTSD
There is a third type of people attracted to these type of shows and those would be the sasugafags, people who only care about pretty colors and disregard everything else. Why do you think Demon Slayer won the anime of the decade award? For its amazing plot? It was the animation. Kyoani shows are known for that and they overall look much more detailed, lively, fluent, and cute than their contemporaries. Voice acting and music pieces are also good for what they aim to accomplish (making you feel fluffy inside). But in case you are looking for something out of the ordinary in terms of plot or themes, you are not going to find it here, because moe shows are comfort food for tired people who want to fall asleep after another day of exams, deadlines, school bullies, demanding teachers, nagging supervisors, gang shootouts, and insane otakus burning down your studio. You only get more of the same high schools and generic looking moe chicks that would you get everywhere else, and that’s the only thing you care about.
And now that the basics are out of the way, let’s talk about really unimportant things, such as the detective aspect… in a detective show. You heard right, it’s completely unimportant although that what the show is supposed to be about, since the mystery cases are some of the dullest, first world nonsense you can imagine. Their seriousness is of the same level as “Why did the chicken cross the road” and the answers will always be something like “Because it saw a worm on the other side.” The only thing they do for making you give a damn is having the waifubait of the show looking at the camera with those huge starry eyes of hers and saying as if she’s talking to you “I really wanna know”. Even if there isn’t much to know, since it’s just a chicken crossing the road. The animators are just luring you in with moe and let the horny males to imagine she is asking them to answer where do babies come from. She is willing to use her body as a test subject, guys, show here how it’s done.
Most of the duration is obviously spent on the slice of life aspect of the show, where you get to know the characters. It’s supposed to be motivational for making the viewer being more active with his life, since the main character is bored and uncaring and doesn’t want to do anything with his life. Until the dream pixie girl appears and spurs him to be part of activity clubs, and mysteries, and stuff no sane person wouldn’t be bored of after a couple of hours. The catch here is that the main waifubait is thrilled with how smart he is and can figure out the answers to bottom of the barrel mysteries, so she is constantly begging him to give her explanations. And after a lot of internal monologue that amounts to “You can’t say no when a cute girl is asking you to do favors for her”. Talk about patting a certain type of people on the back in a too obvious way.
Are you an anti-social person, with a rosy but otherwise boring life? Someone who deep inside feels you are charismatic and cute girls should be very interested in you, even if you act like an uncaring person that would normally make everybody to be fed up with you? Then Hyouka is the show for you!
Obviously the only thing that remains after the nonsense mysteries and the waifu begging you to do her favors, is what you learn about the characters as the episodes gradually flesh them out more and more by having a lot of internal monologues that dig deep into their psyches. The thing is there is very little psyche to dig into, as most of the show is just about carefree moments and the characters can be summed up in three lines at the most. You are not going to remember much once it’s over, especially if you watched Oregairu that does the exact same thing in a more memorable way.
So ultimately, the show suffers from the same problem most moe anime suffer from. They don’t focus on something other than being cute, and as a result that is the only thing the audience remembers. There is not much of a plot, hardly any gripping mysteries, and the characterization is fairly basic. The moment the next moe show comes your way, it won’t be hard to get over Hyouka. With that said, as far as loli detective shows are concerned, a subgenre nobody ever cared about, it’s the best of the lot. There is no magic or fringe technology that would make the solution to a mystery nonsensical. The missions are not murder cases solved in 10 minutes and treated like nothing much has happened. The mysteries are also a light excuse for the characters to do something, open up to one another, and it gives them a goal other than studying for school and growing old without doing anything with their lives. It does it in very subtle and eventually superficial ways, yet it’s still more than what the other loli detective shows were doing. Thus Hyouka is the best of the worst in a fad that came, left, and nobody gave a damn.
This anime is absolutely amazing I love this title so much, probably its one of the best anime what I've watched in my boring life. Anime from Kyoto Animations so in anime we can see how amazing are the animations. Oreki for me was the best character, I like him so much, Chitanda was amazing too I love her! Music in anime is amazing too, in good moments etc. Story isn't maybe the best but its good too.
Watch this anime, it's amazing!
Hyouka is yet another anime about a teen detective, and no, it is not one of the absolute best. It starts off very well, but loses steam around the middle. It's not like there's a real problem with the show, but it just ends up becoming less suspenseful and more easy-going yet without any sharp humor or drama. The attempt to make it a more open-ended series (and perhaps thinking sequels) in this case is a bit too obvious, and makes the show feel a bit pointless.
In Hyouka the balance between nonsensical and serious tends to steer away from the deeper issues when being serious, which is quite a good way to keep a fresh take on the theme. The characters do get to develop, but not too much. The plot doesn't really go somewhere specific, but rather keeps to a more self-contained nature (each arc does not change much for any of the others). The art is good, and has moments of greatness (the first and last episodes specifically).
Still, with all of the good things to say about Hyouka, it really doesn't do as much as it could to stand out. The characters get a bit repetitive with how they go about things. The plot refuses to be adventerous for the most part, and whlie the first main arc is actually wonderfully done, the rest just don't live up to that high a standard. There are moments where the character driven side does shine, but in the end doesn't really get too important, nor constitutes anything that actually changes the dynamics in the group much.
Perhaps this will change if Hyouka gets a second season. This is a good place to start. But it just feels like it is a beginning, rather than a complete package. There are two "big" arcs that are actually quite good, but when you compare it to other teen-detective shows, it just feels like a far too conservative implementation. There is no sense of adventure, nothing truly uplifting nor something deep, and in the end it feels too much of a "nothing ventured nothing gained" type of show. It has all the makings of something good, but none of the exceptional.
Writing (Story and Characters):
Technically proficient yet unevenly paced and structured is the summary of the writing in Hyouka. There are no major faults in anything, but it just doesn't feel engrossing after a while. There is the border between elegent and bland, and unfortunately, the writing is on the bland side. People love a good mystery, and we get some mysteries. There are plenty of uses of artistic tools such as Chekov's Gun (items introduced will be important later on) which are staples of mystery writing, but there are too many spots where they leave the important part out (that the viewer is presented with all the information needed to draw a conclusion) in order to "show off". These shortcuts remove a lot of the bite of a good mystery.
Some of the plots are carefully crafted. The first big arc is a huge success, and manages to be interesting. Still, as mentioned in the prior paragraph, there are shortcuts used that remove the focal point from the mystery and put more pressure on the cast to hold things up. The story therefore is supposedly semi-episodic, but the underlying arc is the character driven one which fails to excite. Since the character driven part is weak, those shortcuts end up costing the story too much. Not that the story is bad by any means, but without a spotless mystery side, it just isn't great.
Whereas the mystery aspect was a mixed bag, Hyouka has some major issues in the character department. Erring on the side of caution, the characters don't really develop much. Their backstories are not interesting nor deeply explored, and their personalities (while not one dimensional) are not complicated. It is a good thing to not make mistakes in characterization, nor having contradictory elements in each member of the cast, but they end up as a rather dull bunch.
Do the story and characters combine rather well? Yes. The aloof protagonist, curious girl, proudly shallow guy, and assertive girl make for a good mystery solving gang. It's rather formulaic that way; everything fits. But unfortunately, the fact that everything has few errors does not cover up for the fact that there are quite simply better shows that have done this already.
Art (Animation and Sound):
Right from the first episode you can see that the artwork is gorgeous. It gives a life to the series that the writing doesn't. There are uses of clever artistic ideas in certain scenes that add a lot of taste to otherwise dull scenarios. Hyouka is one case where the art elevates the writing well beyond what it should have been.
Visually, Hyouka is stunning at times, and at the very least good in the rest. The character designs are crisp and rather original for the school life premise, the backgrounds are detailed and at times downright magnificent, and the movement is for the most part very natural. What truly gives the series life is the moments where the visuals are unorthodox; use of original camera angles and close ups, creative visuals to represent thoughts, and so on. It might not rock your world (OK, the first episode might, as the hair-forest visual is downright gorgeous), but it has to be said that this show has excellently done animation.
Sound is not quite as good. The voice acting is competent, though the main lead gets repetitive with how forcefully aloof he is. The soundtrack is spectacular (Bach's Cello Concerto #1 is awesome), though the opening and ending themes are painfully generic. The sound effects are rather well used, though not aggressive enough to stand out. Overall, very technically proficient, but in the end lacking a wow-factor.
Video and audio combine well to give a coherent representation of the themes behind Hyouka's writing and not just the script itself. This definitely gives the series an added boost to lift it out of the complete blandness it could have suffered from. Perhaps some more creative license taken with the audio would have helped push things over the top, but alas, we will never know. Still, the artwork in general is very good.
I really wish I could like Hyouka more than I actually do. It is too bland, and does something other shows have done better. The spectacular moments in the animation may make it seem better than it is, and at least the first half of the series is good... but in the end, it's just too much and ends feeling decidedly lacking in something memorable.