Category Archives: Hyouka

Formatting Your Opinion to Fit the Masses

Joshirakunzer II

It’s the feeling of being included, of your own preferences being validated by others who share the same ideas and flavors that you choose. It’s why we seek the approval of others and sometimes it’s also why we reject others and their ideas. I think in our annual quest to hit F5 while waiting for that mysterious Momotato Daioh update which never seems to change from its heartwarming 2009-feel, it’s really the thing we’re looking for, that lost time when the our perceived world was just a tad smaller and a tad more homogeneous.

It is also why I keep watching that blasted 2ch saimoe nonsense. It’s also why I enjoy this video. I think we all can agree or disagree with 2ch’s selection to some degree, but if a top 10 (or 50) list can be a story of something, this is one uplifting story personally. It’s got even the signature 2ch “taste” to it–one that I do not personally share, but somehow I think it adds to the charm of the whole thing.

As a matter of personal compatibility, to no one’s surprise, I match pretty well with 2ch’s. The first match (Tsuritama) comes at #30, and all but 2 shows on my top 12 for 2012 are on it (as Fate/Zero and Chihayafuru are disqualified AFAIK because the poll didn’t count shows started in 2011). You can pick out trends–Horizon S2, for example, scored nowhere nearly as well as S1. And I picked that example not only because it is an easy one to spot, but it also reflects my own opinion. On the other hand, you can clearly see a bias for shows that are more recent, although that is no justification for Girls und Panzer. (Frankly, I’m not sure anything can, even if I can understand it well.)

To make it simple, here are the list ranked from bottom to top. Ones with * are in my picks for 2012.

50. Natsume Yuujincho
49. Ixion Saga
48. Tasogare Otome x Amnesia
47. Oniai
46. High School DxD
45. Black Rock Shooter TV
44. Ano Natsu de Matteru
42. Haiyore! Nyaruko-san!
41. Utakoi
40. Kokoro Connect
39. To-love-ru Darkness
38. Kuroko’s Basketball
37. Dog Days S2
36. Zetsuen no Tempest
35. Tonari no Kaibutsu
34. Busou Shinki
33. Ginga e Kickoff!!
32. Natsuiro Kiseki
31. Uchuu Kyoudai
30. Tsuritama*
29. Smile Precure!
28. Horizon S2
27. InuxKami SS
26. Shinsekai Yori
25. Danshikousei no Nichijou*
24. Sengoku Collection*
23. Senki Zesshou Symphogear
22. Hidamari Sketch S4
21. Accel World
20. Little Busters!
19. Jormungand
18. Oda Nobuna no Yabou
17. Yuru Yuri S2
16. Nisemonogatari*
15. Kill Me Baby
14. Another
13. Nazo no Kanojo X
12. Psycho-Pass
11. Mouretsu Pirates*
10. Sakamichi no Apollon
09. Sword Art Online
08. Joshiraku*
07. Chuunibyou demo Koi ga Shitai!
06. Saki Achiga-hen episode of side-A
05. Jinrui wa Suitai Shimashita*
04. Jojo’s Bizarre Adventure
02. Tari Tari*
02. Hyouka*
01. Girls und Panzer*


1. You know how people complain about how moe is ruining anime? Here is a pretty good test to see where you stand on that issue. Just how many of these anime are so-called “moe anime”? How do these internet arguments align with facts? How do you appraise the current situation? Why are some shows ranked the way they are?

1a. How many noitaminA shows are on the list? Is it dead yet? Is it drifting from its roots? Does this data support those claims? Are there any other claims one might want to make in regards to noitaminA? (How about: It’s just wasn’t very good in 2012?)

2. How do you align with 2ch’s tastes? Which blogger aligns with 2ch better than others? Does it even mean anything? How does 4chan rank to this?

3. How many of them sell well on home video? How do sales and popularity align? How does 2ch’s popularity rank and match with perceived popularity by other metrics (such as sales but also ratings, when available)?

4. JPMeyer’s theory on ethnic-specific affinity probably plays a role. It seems a straightforward case as applied to Tari Tari. But does this apply to Hyouka too? I think so.

Bonus: Clearly, Jinrui wa Suiitai Shimashita is the best comedy this year, by most metrics, not just this one. But what is the worst? This is a top 50 list so we don’t really know, but surely it cannot be Kill Me Baby?

How to Enjoy Chuunibyou Media

Mary sue is a loaded term, which is why when appropriate, chuunibyou seems like a much better alternative when describing TV anime; “chuunibyou” is sufficiently new and foreign enough that most people aren’t quite sure what it is yet. To the point, both terms address fundamental complaints in terms of realism and suspension of disbelief.

Of course, when we deal with anime, certain things are going to be taken as is. Realism in this context has to do with the way the audience engages the material. For instance, most of us attack late-night TV anime as character and drama pieces. We care about character development, and often times you see people try to approach even gag 4koma adaptations from that angle, resulting in a mismatch and the resulting 3rd party chagrin. When I watch Full Metal Alchemist: Brotherhood I watch for what’s happening to who and what plot is being unraveled and realized, and how are the good guys going about to do their thing as far as the hook goes. I don’t really care about the type of ammunition being used in the frozen environs versus the desert, or the type of socks the military issue to soldiers in those environments–but somehow I am suppose to care about the automail people wear, because it’s kind of an plot device. I guess I’m not suppose to sweat the small stuff.

With that in mind, let’s look at choir drama Tari Tari. In a recent episode, a petty thief was subdued by the power of costume play and hot-powered vocals. The marathon bike chase scene where the costumers chased, on foot, the biking thief that leads into the vocal performance probably did not help either the pursuers and the criminal. Still, we are suppose to believe that the guy on the bicycle is some how even more tired than the high school 3rd years in their tokusatsu outfits. When the second bar of the song kicked in, we are to believe the thief was mesmerized by Wien’s brave visage in front of the setting sun, in some way. Perhaps we can swallow that Sawa’s mother somehow had these outfits, that happens to fit these one-size-fits-all Japanese bodies (along with their one-size-fits-all character designs, maybe), along with the opportunity to make some money on the side. This is drama, we can chalk all that stuff up to coincidence, right? Just like how there’s a thief who’s pocketing something in public, during a public event, right? What’s Japan’s crime rate again?

I suppose it is much better to care about petty things like that, than where would Sawa ride Saburo around–there are not a lot of places around there to fit a fine animal like Saburo without running into people. It’s like the scenic shots across Enoshima, with the Choir And Sometimes Badminton Club running up and down the seaside mostly by themselves. It’s strange because it’s probably full of people if you ever visit Enoshima in real life. To Tari Tari’s credit, thankfully we don’t typically ask these kinds of questions, because we are preoccupied with Konatsu’s plight and the characterization of the group. That’s how we engage with Tari Tari.

But why would I ask these questions? Because I was thinking about it. This is the strange tension between going all Chitanda on something, versus checking your brain at the door and just enjoying something without asking too much questions. The former is great if you can get the audience engaged but you probably don’t want them to ask too many questions and poke through the thin veneer–a beautiful production may be reduced to its component gear-works. This is basically what has happened to SAO for me. This is why being too chuunibyou in the story is problematic. It makes the audience ask the wrong kind of questions.

A better example of this is actually Guilty Crown. In that case, the chuunibyou factor was not extreme, but it was enough, that when combined with its convoluted web of messy plot devices, conspiracies, and strange character dynamics, people have no choice but to engage with straight questions that GC’s flimsy web can’t handle. And once we see the underlying mechanics, we can’t help but to point out where it could’ve been better, because we all have seen it done better somewhere else.

On the flip side, you can see how a story like Hyouka can be very engaging without letting people know its ultimately chuunibyou underbelly. After all, it’s just a boy-meets-girl story where the boy feels like he holds all the cards, and the girl is at least kind enough to let him know about how she wants to approach the situation without outright manipulating him. The end result was a less-predictable life for the boy, a knock and a notch down from that specific, middle-school disease. [If you read my blog and you didn’t know Houtarou starts out in Hyouka with a Type A case of chuu2byou, well, now you know.] It’s very Japanese too in how the men have all the face, because the women are great people who save them.

As an aside, this is partly why I have a hard time watching shows like FMA and mainstream shounen stuff, because precisely I think too much, and those shows ultimately reveal their underbellies if you batter it enough for long enough (most things do). From experience, outside of One Piece, it’s probably never pleasant. I think there are shows that also target this specifically, to their benefit: Simoun comes to mind as a great example. I also think of certain meta shows like Seitokai no Ichizon as a way to both celebrate that problem and bring to catharsis that sort of frustration.

Lastly, I don’t have to explain about shows where that do require checking your brain at the door, right?

PS. I think I just used chuunibyou two different ways in my post, I hope you didn’t get confused.

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.

Hyouka Is Really Japanese

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.