(Postponing my KnK post in favor of this one, since it’s actually somewhat timely. A rare occurence in this blog!)
You can’t really say that Hyouka isn’t essentially a mystery show, and that being the case having mysteries that are a little hit and miss (or more often than not peculiarly.. inconsequential..) is probably a valid complaint point. However, just as it is possible for an anti-fan of sorts of the mecha genre (me) to have an essentially mecha show (Eva) for an all time favorite, it is possible to watch and relish Hyouka for some of its more peripheral and meta aspects. Mystery stories and shows may be dime a dozen nowadays, but Hyouka does some pretty fun things with its storytelling that serves to differentiate and distinguish it, even if only subtly.
For example, mystery stories in particular tend to favor what I call a “author is god” paradigm, wherein the entire story is a closed loop of sorts with every loose-end pre tied up in the author’s mind. The principal investigator acts like the author’s “prophet” in the story, following the woven maze of clues to piece together and proclaim the entirety of the author’s grand design with flourish. It would’ve been nice enough if Hyouka merely departed from this tradition, but Hyouka actually took this to a higher meta plane where we cannot quite know for sure. Probably the first strong hint at the fallibility of our “prophet” Houtaro is near the end of the drama club arc, where, in a breathless, dramatic instant, the entirety of Houtaro’s beautifully crafted resolution was brought crashing down by Mayaka’s question about the rope. Of course, Houtaro did proceed to tie up that loose end, but the uncanny feeling has been planted: that a resolution of such grandeur can be constructed that is utterly false. What if that one guy had neglected to mention the rope? Even better: what if someone had neglected to mention something else that would have torn down Houtaro’s new theory? And yet we’ll never know. Hyouka goes so far as to dedicate an episode explicitly to this issue, when Houtaro and Chitanda played a game so Houtaro could demonstrate to Chitanda that you could construct a grand theory out of anything. The exercise meandered off into a maze of investigative argument, so that even Houtaro by the end forgot that he was supposed to prove his unreliability. And then at the end of the episode came that brief flash on the newspaper headlines: his theory was spot on. So we never find out! Hyouka entices us with just enough hints that its universe might be open-ended and cannot be fully bounded by Houtaro’s genius, and yet continues to keep up the illusion of Houtaro the prophet by never actually showing him fail. It’s almost a tease. Fun stuff.
For me, I always ask, “Am I entertained by the show?” at the end… and I was. It just turned out the big mystery I wanted had nothing to do with an actual mystery but rather the mysterious love of two teenagers.
– My namesake on Hyouka
Interestingly enough, as Hyouka wore on, it became clearer and clearer that it was at least secondarily a romance story. Houtaro and Chitanda make an interesting, developing, and toward the end – pretty heartfelt pair. It’s also pretty cool how the narrative tended to use other plot elements to proxy-address the dynamic between the two. The primary dynamic between the two in the beginning is Chitanda blustering Houtaro with Kininarimasu questions until Houtaro, moved by feminine closeness and bright purple eyes, relents and addresses to his capacity. Speaking of feminine closeness and bright purple eyes, I think Kyoani did a phenomenal job with this adaptation – and not just for the astronomically pretty production values but more importantly the subtle techniques – camera work, expression animating – to quietly bring out nuances of the character relationships. Chitanda’s enchanting purple eyes and her jumping, in-your-face girlishness was very vividly brought to life, and you sort of get why healthy young male Oreki finds himself unable to refuse her. It gets to a point where you wonder if Houtaro is being manipulated – used, wittingly or not, by Chitanda to support and expand her views. And then we get an arc – the drama club one – that explicitly addresses the idea of Houtaro being manipulated (by Irisu). Also, when you start to wonder if Chitanda might be growing too reliant on Houtaro’s soothing theorycraft, the aforementioned episode on Houtaro’s fallibility is brought forth. It feels like Hyouka really gets what’s going on with its main pair, and uses external plot elements to explore the nuances of the relationship. Even the portrayal of Mayaka and Satoshi’s relationship was used as a reflection on Chitanda and Houtaro’s surfacing romance – Chitanda growing uncharacteristically flustered and emotional over losing Mayaka’s chocolate is clearly a proxy-hint that Chitanda understood the romantic feelings involved and is thus likely experiencing it herself. The brief anecdote over Satoshi’s reluctance to accept Mayaka’s advances also served as a convenient mirror of Houtaro’s hesitation at the final episode to, effectively, confess.
And though the final episode left us hanging at the edge Houtaro’s tantalizing fantasy, it still felt pretty good somehow. All of the uncanny doubts about the healthiness of Chitanda and Houtaro’s relationship seem to have melted away into insignificance in the light of their growing mutual romance. The final episode is Chitanda giving a part of herself into the relationship, showing Houtaro her world, and cementing the transition of her relationship towards Houtaro from reliance to trust. And Houtaro’s first response, though it never came out of his mouth, was to offer to help protect that world she showed him. The combination created a brief glimpse of the warm and mature romance that the two are slowly moving towards. Kyoani’s shimmering show of cherry-pink radiance in that last episode came across as supremely fitting. Chitanda and Houtaro have come a long way, and stand now upon the threshold of something beautiful. The end is the beginning.
I wonder if we’ll ever get to see where it leads.