Ok, ok, for this review, I’ll try to limit my use of Sherlock-related puns, memes, and references as much as I can.
Rrrrright after this one, I promise!
In the world of anime, the mystery-genre have been dark in terms of tone (generally speaking). Stuff like Higurashi, Umineko, Death Note, and even Gosick (to an extent) all had varying sorts of dark and psychological undertones within their mystery aspects, which could include things like murder, homicide, arson, one’s moral compass, etc., etc. All of the aforementioned shows utilize the mysteries presented in varying shades and angles, which is the key to a good mystery show: the fact that it knows where it’s going and works within that subject to deliver cases that are both enthralling and thought-provoking to the viewer. In addition, the ability of a mystery show to take place at almost any setting, from the boring overused Japanese high-school, to a deserted mansion in the middle of a random forest, or even in space, is something to commend, as it is that flexibility that allows for mysteries to take in almost any shape and form.
However, what if the entire premise of a show under the mystery genre is predicated on the mundane, uneventful daily life of a group of high-school kids poking their noses around things they shouldn’t be poking at?
A mystery anime without any dark undertones? That’s absurd!
Well, fear not, young Watsons of the anime community, for I am on the case!
Which brings us to the topic of today, a review of a 22-episode mystery anime that capitalizes on common-day curiosity rather than the dark and dreary.
What’s up, everyone, my name is Ken, from thebuttonsmashers.com Anime Reviews, and today I present to you my immediate two-cents on what happens when Kyoto Animation takes its brand and brings a mystery novel to life with it: Hyouka
Story & Characters:
Houtarou Oreki is a lazy high-school student who lives by the energy-saving code, which means that he won’t do anything if he doesn’t have to. Having this outlook as a student, he tries his best to live his life as gray-colored as he can, in contrast to the traditional rose-colored high-school life that many others aspire. So far, his plan is going well, until he unwillingly joins the school’s Classics Literature club and meets Eru Chitanda, a wide-eyed and bright girl with a thirst for curious cases. The story follows Oreki, Chitanda and the rest of the club as they go around solving some of the more common-day mysteries that arise from everyday life.
Now I say that this show is part of the mystery genre, but in reality, it’s all about what you, the viewer, take of Hyouka upon viewing it. Perhaps it is a mystery show that focuses on the ordinary and mundane. Perhaps it’s just your traditional slice-of-life with mystery elements to it. Or, perhaps it is both of those things, a combination of two genres used interchangeably to move the plot along?
Honestly, I do think it is a combination, but I feel like the mystery aspect of the show isn’t to move along its various plot-lines, (although essentially the whole point of each of the show’s stories revolved around mystery) but rather as a form of character study and a means to develop those existing characters.
Each new case either unveils either a new character or builds upon an existing part of the cast, or even both in some regards. Every “arc”, as it were, provided an interesting insight into the characters’ perspectives, effectively showing us a form of story-telling that focuses on developing its characters rather than moving an existing plot, which sort of makes this show rather episodic in a sense that there is no over-arching storyline, and this is totally fine, as most of the arcs are brilliant in their own right and are a thrill to watch, if only for the characters and seeing their dynamic with each other and how they grow as people.
However, notice how I said that I enjoyed “most” of the arcs. Yes, unfortunately, the way it focuses on the mundane does not change the fact that some of these cases are indeed mundane. Hyouka is still a dialogue-heavy anime, even with all the visuals that accompany it (more on that later). You’ll still have to pay attention to story and the conversations and how the characters analyze each situation in order to get the inevitable conclusion, and this can be boring at times.
Also, it never ended. The show ended not with an on-going multi-episode story like all the other stories it did, but rather with a couple of one-off episodes, which were obviously weaker as no form of suspense really came out of them. Not to mention how the last episode itself did not really wrap up the story in a satisfying manner, as well as how it never really resolved that odd romantic sub-plot that they have going on there.
Despite this though, Hyouka provides a unique little story-telling style that is very character-focused and if you can invest time into being absolutely attentive and open-minded, I feel like one can easily get over the dialogue-heavy expositions and the lack of an actual climax.
And part of what helps with said dialogue-heavy moments is the animation and sountrack.
Animation & Soundtrack:
Speaking of expectations for a beloved animation studio, KyoAni actually exceeded all of my expectation in terms of how well-done and unique the animation for this show is. The usual KyoAni brand of light-mellow colors and moe-girls do exist, although in moderation (as opposed to stuff that they did in the past, i.e. K-On). However, what sets this show apart is its style of experimental animation, where different representations are used for different concepts and explanations within the series.
Hyouka’s animation is indeed, in a word, experimental. The style is different for each exposition scene, making for a nice change of view for each one, all of which are rather pretty and interesting from a directorial standpoint. The art itself for these explanations are very scenic and detailed, makes for interesting visuals a la monogatari, complementing the dialogue with unique representations each time.
But where the show’s animation really shines, in my opinion, is in its amazing backgrounds and set pieces. The detail and the quality is definitely ever-present in almost every scene in the show, with realistic-looking designs, great use of camera-angles, and beautiful lighting to complement the scenery. It’s really a spectacle, even with KyoAni’s standards of good animation.
The soundtrack is another thing that deserves praise, as it just works really well with the show. Various well-known compositions are used in a generous amount throughout Hyouka, something which I am thankful for, but it also very much succeeds in the quiet, simpler moments, where the woodwind and pianos come to shine, and it really is a great compliment to a show as beautifully animated as this.
Also, the opening and ending themes are all great, that’s all I have to say.
In the past, I’ve stated that people who watch Hyouka will have one of two opinions: they would either love it or they would shit on it. Recently, however, I’ve discovered a “middle ground” if you will: you like the show, but there are elements that you’d rather not include or watch through and vice versa; you don’t like the show, but there are elements that you enjoyed and think are clever from either a writing standpoint, an animation standpoint, or both.
Personally, I loved Hyouka. Its ability to incorporate mystery into the mundane slice-of-life genre is impressive in its own right. Even more impressive is how they did it brilliantly and in a way that makes viewers interested at how the mysteries will be solved, which is usually satisfying all things considered.
I suppose that this show is not for everyone, or even for the majority of the community (sadly), but with the right perspective, Hyouka is an intelligent and interesting show that highlights the mystery-genre in a way that we haven’t really seen before. It has a unique and effective mash of genres that would usually collapse and burn to hellfire at the wrong hands, and I believe that this is a show that should be experienced if interesting character studies, brilliant animation, and intriguing plot are what you seek.
I hereby award Hyouka with an overall score of 85 glistening KyoAni eyes out of 100, and my own personal “Maaay-be” recommendation. It’s an interesting take on the mystery/slice-of-life genre, and you would be hard-pressed to have an experience similar to this. However, I do understand that how the show focuses on the mundane can be, well, mundane to some people, so I recommend that you give it a try, at least. But, overall, this is certainly a highlight in KyoAni’s resume and easily one of their best.
As per usual, leave a comment down below pertaining to your thoughts on this review, on the show itself, or if you would like me to review anything. And, speaking of liking, give the review a thumbs-up if you enjoyed it and follow me on twitter @tbs_ken for updates and general shitposting, if you feel like doing so.