I went into Hyouka not really expecting much else besides a slice-of-life school anime with a casual focus on mystery, and I suppose I got just that. There’s nothing particularly standout from the show, it’s a slow paced slice of life anime that follows the Classics club (Koten-bu) and their daily lives solving relatively small mysteries that they encounter along the way. I wouldn’t even call them mysteries, they are more of simple problems that arise during their lives as high school students.
Oreki Houtarou is an interesting character, he’s a poor-man’s Hachiman (Oregairu) and shares his knack at snarly comments with Kyon (The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya). The opening line of the show is stated by him stating something along the lines of “When you thing ‘high school life’, the word ‘rose colored’ comes to mind. It’s natural to think that way since society expects high school life to be rose colored.” He goes on the explain how he’d rather live a “gray” life rather than a rose colored one because he is not interested in the pursuit of romance, athletic skills or the typical experiences of life in an anime high school. But like Watashi taught us in The Tatami Galaxy, there is no such thing as a rose-colored campus life, all experiences are various shades of color. Seeking out a rose colored existence is futile since it doesn’t exist, so live life to the fullest the way it is now because without it there would be no color at all.
Right off the bat we have formed an opinion of him that most likely will split the audience in half. There are those who either like the cynical and unreliable narrator and those who dislike hearing the constant pessimism and general angst of Oreki. I am part of the former so Hyouka started off on a good foot for me.
Then we arrive at Oreki’s foil and the heart of this series- Chitanda Eru. Chitanda is the “good girl” with perfect grades, optimistic about her life and from a wealthy and influential family in the town. She is generally a upbeat character which balances Oreki’s downer attitude and the general presence of her character seems to uplift the group. She’s also really cute.
It was Chitanda’s character that made me realize the importance of each character in the main group of the Classics Club, because without her, there would be no progression and Oreki would not have developed. Unlike Oreki, Chitanda was more excited about life’s literal mysteries, directly expressed through her exclamations of “I’m curious!” and would want to seek out answers with the help of the rest of the gang. Oreki was the brains of the operation that allowed them to solve the actual mysteries.
Satoshi and Mayaka were a great duo when they were both together on-screen, but each possessed qualities that helped the group. For example, Satoshi was important not only for his “database” ability, which is essentially a glorified term that is used to describe his wide-range of useless knowledge. He says that “it is not the job of the database to reach conclusions”, and that is why Oreki is critical because he is the person who is able to piece together the information provided Satoshi to reach an answer. He was also shown to be a close friend to Oreki despite their somewhat strange relationship. Mayaka on the other hand, is more of a voice of reason and she has a strong sense of responsibility.
Now to the mysteries. These were more often simple and overlooked questions that had been left unanswered in the history of the school or town, which some critics claim to be lackluster, but that is more or less the point. While Hyouka does have the elements of a mystery series, it is foremost a character driven piece like many anime that Kyoto Animation has been producing. The mysteries are not supposed to be the selling point to the series, it is more about Oreki opening up and changing as character. He sought a gray life in the beginning but ended up being dragged along to discover the intricacies of life that made experiencing it much more interesting. The mysteries allowed him to grow a further understanding of what he would be missing if he would have stayed a wallflower during his time at high school. This development was aided by the rest of the group which all grew together. This was what I liked the most, the absence of static characters because everyone was able to develop just like people do in high school.
As for the superficial aspects of the series, the art and animation is absolutely stunning even by Kyoto Animation standards. I ended up with a screenshot folder with some of my favorite caps during my viewing, and they are being used in this post. The color pallet of soft-earthy colors like browns and greens were able to enhance my viewing pleasure since there was and established “comfiness” to the entire atmosphere. Even the setting of the town was important to that story, and the high school was one of the best I’ve seen in anime thus far. The background art really helped enhance the setting as well.
Over the course of the series I was able to get an understanding of the layout of the school and really make it feel familiar to me, so when the gang retreated to the club room on the 4th floor, it felt like it was such a natural place for them to be. There is also a visible passage of time which is apparent with the changing of the seasons and the change of the school uniforms that the characters wear.
For me, it wasn’t a singular thing about Hyouka that really made me like the show. Like I mentioned before, Hyouka may not be trying to do anything different or standout, but it was a brilliant character driven slice of life elements that created a great anime that found it’s way in my top ten. It was everything I was looking for at the time when I watched this, and it was satisfying viewing it.