I’m no authority or even a studied person on what constitutes Japanese-ness, so take this more like a reactionary response than any level-headed discussion about cultural attitudes or the way how Japanese people behave in stereotypical social situations. I think I might have taken a course in undergrad to this extent, but that was it. I got an A playing weeaboo music for the class project and comfortably being the only person in that class that wasn’t also taking a Japanese language course. Easy A was easy. At any rate I forgot a lot of the course, despite walking away with some wide brushes about how Japan is like an onion or the way people communicate (such as BICS and CALP) and the way it affects how we interact socially. I also learned (more like forgot amirite) about passive aggression, in a textbook context.
The truth is, I think deep inside I have a hard time liking that full blown, stereotypical Japanese mentality. There’s always just a little bit of it that rubs me the wrong way. To turn it around, I understand its pragmatic approach to life and its sense of aesthetics, but I smirk when I read things like this Hideki Anno quote, or sigh when I read about Hideki Matsui’s porn collection. I mean, seriously, sometimes it is in good fun, but at the same time it is not a reality I would like to imagine myself in, for example, working for a Japanese company or just dealing with the everyday in Japan, like sorting trash (okay I guess that isn’t so bad, I do it already). Culture is great and all, but so is progress.
I think Hyouka ultimately is about this sort of throw-back, classical way of looking at the world. To engage the anime on the level of its animation, or character development, or even the way it dissects classical detective fiction, these are all great ways to enjoy the work. But ultimately a lot of the themes and core issues Hyouka dealt with, 17 episodes later, are just very Plain Jane Japanese problems. The sense of aesthetics from its inaka-y locales down to the way how Irisu taught Chitanda how to manipulate men are all very, well, traditional Japanese. It conforms to all sorts of stuff. The feeling that you are going to the township library to look up an old newspaper excerpt to understand how your 7th grade teacher feels about helicopters almost speaks of a sort of mannerism that, almost, no longer exists today, the sort of feeling that exist more for inaka societies and absent in that fast-paced, urban way of life. There’s a sort of charm in that, of course, but it also seems just really quaint.
For entertainment, being quaint is okay. It’s not even that part of the show I dislike per se. At worst, it’s just dull. The thing I dislike the most about the way this Japanese-ness perpetrates Hyouka is its use of passive aggressiveness as the central complex for its emotional motivation for far majority of these human mysteries. And invariably so, every Hyouka mystery revolves around decoding the motivation of a specific individual, and almost every time it is because that individual has some unspoken or bottled-up problem. It’s because they are passively aggressive. In the Movie Club arc, this “issue” was at its apex, at least in terms of both how retarded and how creepy it can be. It doesn’t come across in the same way as, say, Higurashi, but in a way the true cause of the script writer change is almost akin like someone being “taken home” and the victim’s best friend is actually helping to cover it up. It makes for a fitting mystery but also an extremely dull motivation, at least when nobody actually dies or when it doesn’t cause some homeroom drama. To put it to perspective, it’s hard to imagine how enjoyable Higurashi can be without its supernatural elements, or simply imagine…Ookamikakushi.
Despite my general hesitation towards that specific pitch of the Japanese mindset, Hyouka still has something for me to like beyond the animation. Think back to the first story arc, we’ll recall that the ultimate punch line is in English. The way a native-English (or non-Japanese, at least) speaker react to that revelation is entirely different than a Japanese kid in the 古典部. In other words, I can’t help but to laugh. It’s that sort of half-baked grafting of foreign (or perhaps, progressive, like … Niece of Time w) notions which gives Hyouka the balance that it needs, although it can be easily argued that it still isn’t enough. I thought the manga club “let’s troll Mayaka” session during the school festival arc was the show’s highlight, complete with the right costume play for the right characters, enough to say something. It’s like you have this pre-arranged semi-team-bully thing going on but what is being tested is the strength of an individual, because they don’t want to get their way, or rather, get her to go their way. In a way it also sums up the impact of certain foreign schools of thoughts (see: repeated references to Holmes and Christie books) affect traditional group-think, shedding light to something rather traditional.
PS. Watching Hyouka every week helps me understand all the people who hated on Guilty Crown and still watched it every week. I think this might be the first show in a very, very long time where after the episode ends every week I exclaim some variety of “man this is the dullest anime ever,” “man this is so boring,” “LOL that is the stupidest motivation,” or some variety thereof.
PPS. I think the SNK cosplay by Mayaka’s senpai is very meaningful, in contrast of the vocaloid outfits. I’m not sure if it’s just me thinking there’s something more to her outfit choice or what, but it has to be on purpose. In a way I guess that is a little similar to the Joshiraku episode 4 scene, in which the selection of cosplay is trying to say something.
PPS. Hyouka is the sort of show where the “gap humor” is great when you summarize each episode/story arc in one simple sentence. And invariably you can always do it.
PPPS. Hyouka feels like 10 years too early compared to say, Un-Go.