Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Reading manga is probably my favorite hobby and it originally stemmed from my love of anime, however, as the "moe"- fad began to over shadow anime more and more, I came to distance myself from watching anime little by little, until it was several years since I had seriously followed a particular show. The past year or two, I have ventured back in to the realm of Japanese animation to watch shows like Chuunibyo Demo Koi ga Shitai! and Maoyuu, but the shows had to have a particular slant that I found interesting to draw me in- I was hyper critical about the anime I watched and easily dismissive of  shows that I thought had too much "moe."

This attitude has changed over the past month or so following the release of Studio Trigger's new series, Kill la Kill, which has essentially brought me back to watching anime on a regular basis. It was my joy to find that since I had been away, the production house behind Chuunibyo, Kyoto Animation, had created a hefty backlog of shows for me to watch; one of them being the slice-of-life/ mystery series, Hyouka.

Hyouka is a 22-episode television anime based on a series of light novels by Honobu Yonezawa and directed by the esteemed Yasuhiro Takemoto. It follows the adventures and daily lives of Kamiyama High School's four-member Classic Literature Club as they solve local (yet, still intriguing) mysteries and grow from adolescence into adulthood.

The lead protagonist, Hotaro Oreki, leads a gray-colored life devoid of ambition, enthusiasm and passion, interacting only with his positive and knowledgeable friend Satoshi Fukube and living by the motto, "If I don't have to do something, I won't, but if I have to do it, I'll do it quickly." His energy-saving life comes to an end when, at the behest of his globe-trotting older sister, he joins the school's Classic Literature Club to keep it from being dismantled and he meets Eru Chitanda, a kind and affluent young woman investigating the club for information on her lost uncle's past. Hotaro and Eru are joined by Satoshi and Mayaka Ibara, a friend and classmate who has known the boys since middle school, and decide to solve the mystery Eru's uncle left behind.

As is the standard for Kyoto Animation's projects, the animation in this show pretty much blows away even the best work from other studios on a consistent basis and is filled with lovely secondary animations, great use of special effects, and some really creative and unique experimental techniques. The characters are instantly likable and are well layered, having their own well  thought out quirks and struggles. Thankfully, even the fan service is limited, understated, and non-intrusive, and is usually used as a way to illustrate Hotaro's growing interest in Chitanda and the world around him. Director Takemoto is in fine form here easily equaling his work with the Haruhi Suzumiya and Full Metal Panic! series. I also appreciate the use of some familiar classical pieces in the soundtrack (though I can't remember their names).

Mr. Yonezawa has been hailed as one of the break-outs in Japan's new generation of mystery writers, and his stories in Hyouka make ample reference to the work of Agatha Christie and Arthur Conan Doyle, even mentioning Sherlock Holmes by name and giving a brief explaination of the term "Sherlockian."  Hotaro's relationship with his sister can even be considered a reversal of Sherlock's relationship with Mycroft, and the second ending theme's animation features the characters dressed up as Sherlock Holmes, James Moriarty, Arsene Lupin, and Hercule Poirot. While the mysteries in Hyouka are nothing earth-shattering or even life-threatening, several of the main enigmas have poignant, personal struggles attached to them, and even the one's that are merely quaint, low drama events are still presented in a highly enjoyable and involving way- even in the instance where Hotaro tries to "fake" a case on the fly and the whole episode happens entirely in one room. I do think that a high level understanding of Japanese would make the mysteries much more intriguing, but even with my elementary-level knowledge, I was able to follow along with some of the word play tricks used in the show.

Naturally, as the main character, Hotaro is group's primary deductive resource, gifted with the ability to rearrange events to decipher the cause of a situation; he's normally reluctantly spurred into action by Eru or Satoshi, though as the series goes on, he needs less and less prodding to motivate him. He was also my favorite character since I can relate to his personality type and worldview, and it was fun to watch him grow as a character, though he never does a full 180 degree change.

Satoshi is normally the type of character who gets on my nerves, but I was glad that his character never got into the overly positive and energetic realm, and his primary struggles are definitely very identifiable with. Eru Chitanda, as the story's female protagonist, does come off initially as the cute, air-headed type, but the later stories in the series do show us that despite her seemingly care-free attitude is a woman with sobering knowledge of what life has in store for her and the truth that her lifestyle was chosen for her before she was even born. I do wish this melancholy had been present or foreshadowed earlier on throughout the series, but I think the way it is finally presented does give her situation more gravity. Mayaka is another character I would probably hate in a lesser series, since her early antagonism with Hotaro is never really explained, but she is a sweet enough character that this trait is easily smoothed over by her strengths and played up mostly as a friendly rivalry. I did have some trouble really understanding her primary struggle in regard to manga and storytelling, and I think that foreshadowing in this area, too, would have helped make her an even deeper character.

With the series having run in 2012, it is doubtful that there are plans to make any type of continuation for the series, though I seriously think it warrants it. When arriving at the final episodes, I was very sad to see the series come to an end, but am glad that I can always rewatch it at my leisure- as I'm sure I will do often. If you have not had the pleasure of watching Hyouka yet, I can't recommend it enough- especially if you're looking for a series that stands out from the normally loud, high drama, hyper-active hijinks of many other high school anime and is content to tell a down-to-earth story in a beautiful way. I've only just finished this show, but am sure that it is in my personal Top Five anime and is a good reason to keep the habit alive.

Thanks to Kyoto Animation for the Illustrations.

No comments: