Diffusing Hyouka

I have to hand it to Kyoto Animation for creating another great TV anime with very solid themes and consistently wondrous visuals. It is as classic as it is ornate and detailed, the only thing holding it back perhaps being the format of a TV show and an adaptation of Hyouka.

In some ways, my biggest problem regarding Kyoto Animation since back in their FMP days was the way they adopted light novels. It’s entirely too stiff. In Hyouka, things are not much better, but at least it is relatively resistant–perhaps even compatible–to a rigid adaptation. The direction is purposefully bipolar at times, to demonstrate the gap between reality and fancy. After all this is a story about a bunch of kids who continue to support the “classics club” and imagination is a core power in any story about that kind of achievements. That’s where Kyoani flexed its muscles–the power of anime.

I think that little translation about “classics club” back in episode 1 was a harbinger of things to come, in retrospect. Between that and how Hyouka is just really quaint, the show was doomed from the start to achieve any kind of deeper qualities, even if it’s not its fault completely.

But being quaint is okay. The show piled on thick for shippers and people who somehow think Hyouka has this great character development going on. I’m not really saying it isn’t–it’s just that it is possibly the least Japanese part of the story. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a Japanese movie (live action or anime) where they actually have the character or actor speak out loud (even if it is in their mind) about their feelings. I mean verbalizing your feelings is so not Japanese as merguez and falafel are so not Japanese. They could be delicious nonetheless.

Of course, you can get both of them in Japan. It’s partly why we can sum up the musical influences in Hyouka with just a youtube link. It just feels, again, quaint, if fitting.

To end, the last episode was a great little thing that reminded me of K-ON’s finale, except for some reason it took a turn for the dramatic, once that mystery yields itself to the background interaction between Chitanda and Oreki. The detective act was all a shell game for youthful exurbrances; kids play because that’s what they do, not because there’s some deeper meaning in the games they play. Even Oreki’s lowest-energy-state of non-play is just a game. Even Chitanda’s phone calls to get permission to reroute the procession, all the acting she and Irisu go through, are more like a game than anything with actual significance. Ultimately that paints Hyouka as a story about dull detective stories, and not so much a dull detective story of its own.

Looking back, it bothers me slightly that I suffered through this mainly due to superficial reasons–the Kyoani animation muscles–but I guess I don’t regret it. At the very least, it’s coffee table-top material, and you can’t have too many of that in the realm of TV animation entertaining enough for adults.

Except, of course, when it isn’t. In that case Hyouka can double also as a sleep aid.

PS. Ibara is by far the best. She also ranks second on my Kayanon ranking. Second has to be Kouchi Ayako with a tight lead over Irisu. Speaking of manga club members, the vocaloid cosplay group is full of interesting voice actors. Only if I was M enough to enjoy fake bullying.

7 Responses to “Diffusing Hyouka”

  • moridin84

    Heh, of the group Ibara probably my least favorite. Oreki the most.

    Of course, that’s probably because I kinda emphasis with him and his lazy, unmotivated attitude as well as his fear of ‘expectations’ (both achieving and disappointing them).

    “coffee table-top material”

    What’s that mean?

  • DiGiKerot

    I’m not sure how you’re defining “stiff” here – I’m assuming you’re talking about how closely it adheres to the source material. If that’s the case, FMP is actually a pretty bad example – The Second Raid is, from what I remember, actually a pretty darn loose adaptation of the novels it covers, taking lots of liberties with the source material and making numerous changes.

    Also, yeah, Ibara is the best.

    • omo

      Truth is, I haven’t really decided how to describe “stiff” in detail. It doesn’t have anything specifically to do with how close it sticks to the material. Coincidentally I thought Second Raid was their worst adaptation ever, but throughout most of their works there’s this feeling that they simply take the least complicated and most simple method to get the idea across. Except in most of the time, the end result is laborious and because it’s so by-the-book directionally, borderline boring.

  • Stef

    This is the most structured and thought out post I’ve seen in a while here.

    Just wanted to commend it. I can’t comment on the anime itself. “Got it”, in short.

  • teruyo

    It’s funny you say that this anime features characters who talk about their feelings out loud. I don’t disagree that this happens, or that in a quintessentially Japanese work the characters wouldn’t do that. I think it’s funny because even though the Hyouka characters say what’s on their mind openly, some viewers STILL misunderstand their motives and intentions. I don’t know if this is just a result of poor direction or a bad script or if the average anime fan has just been trained to expect fist fights and love confessions under cherry blossom trees as forms of conflict resolution. If Satoshi for example had continued to bottle in his rage instead of explicitly confronting Houtarou and explaining his behavior, would that have made for a more compelling anime?

    Anyway, regardless of how the characters act or behave, the themes of the Kanya arc still stand out to me and make Hyouka unique. The theme of “sometimes other people are better than you and there’s nothing you can do about it” is definitely a Japanese one but it has universal applicability, and the way the script repeated this theme across multiple story lines and character relationships was — I thought — something exceptional.

    At the end of the day, you either like Hyouka or you don’t. It’s not something like Cowboy Bebop or TTGL where everyone loves it unconditionally. A lot of people watched this anime expecting it to be something, and when it failed to achieve that they walked away unsatisfied or disappointed. But others, from start to finish, were as reverent as Oreki was during Chitanda’s procession and consider this anime to be the magnum opus of Kyoani’s oeuvre. I think this mixed reaction is kind of interesting in of itself. It’s a lot like the reaction to K-On!!, but for a show of a completely different genre and style, and that one studio was capable of doing this is impressive in my mind.

    • omo

      I suppose I can agree with you on that very last point. The comparison to K-ON is pretty apt, if I may say so myself, having compared the two. But to me as much as I may enjoy both works, their flaws are as plain as day to see and it’s just a matter of having the will to look at a work critically and rationally.

      But we aren’t in the business of doing that, and if we get nothing out of it, why would we? I happen to think we do get something out of it.

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