Blurbs: HYOUKA (2012)
Hyouka is another in a long line of Kyoto Animation shows that is impeccably animated, and reflects a certain storytelling sensibility that I always have to adjust to. It’s a slice of life series wherein nothing much happens. There’s a school club that meets after school everyday and we spend time hanging out and getting to know them.
But what sets Hyouka apart is the mystery aspect. You see, what the club actually spends most of its time doing is solving a series of painfully banal and strange little mysteries that pop up around them. Some of the mysteries stretch several episodes, but some are just one-offs. There are long stretches of the show where you sit at the table and listen to their theories about the mystery (this is livened up by incredibly beautiful cutaways to an “imagined” space that’s more interesting than their club room).
The longer arcs on the show also lead to pretty nuanced character development (think about Oreki’s development during the student film arc, or about Fukube’s doubts about himself in the school festival arc). The stories themselves are banal, almost matter of fact, but even though nothing too out of the ordinary, nothing fantastic, ever happens, Hyouka retains a mysterious, elusive quality. I would love to dismiss it as “nothing happens” nonsense (and sometimes I felt that way), but it stuck in my mind too much. Something wouldn’t let me get away. You can’t escape, as it were.
So although I’ve sort of complained about the fact that the mysteries and situations of Hyouka are banal to the point of you sort of asking “what is the point of this? why would anyone exert any intellect on trying to figure this dumb crap out?” I cannot dismiss it. And here’s where I lay out why I think this show is mysterious and elusive and actually kind of special: it’s a series that is filled with possibility. Not once during those 22 episodes did I have any idea what kind of show I was watching. It’s a show I felt could go anywhere, do anything; that it wasn’t tied down to a simple formula (although it may have been). Like Chitanda’s character, it possessed an intellectual curiosity (though in Chitanda’s case, it may have just been an instinctual one) which then got filtered through a deep knowledge of western mystery novels, slice of life tropes, moe checklists, beautifully detailed animation, etc. Hyouka is a series where the sensibility is key; the mixture of those elements could’ve turned out awful, but because they’re done in this particular way (slow, thoughtful, relaxed), they become more than the sum of their parts.
Again, it helps that it’s aesthetically perfect; sequences made me tear up just in the way they were conceived and executed (a complete mastery of high school slice of life tropes, and just plain beauty). The final sequence of the final episodes is a master class: the pinks, the swell of the strings in the soundtrack, the precise editing and the knowledge and wisdom to leave us facing an uncertain future. The future’s a mystery, too.
How to Find It
This show is not currently licensed in North America. You’ll have to search for other means.