Hyouka arc III (eps 12 – 17) ~ I’ll show you who the real database is
August 15, 2012
For me, Hyouka is the undisputed series of Summer 2012. I am enjoying a couple of other shows, but this is a series that really feels like it is raising the bar. It has been obvious from before the series aired that it would be visually excellent, and even that turned out to be an understatement, but what I really find impressive is the way Hyouka is succeeding with character development and its exploration of the Mystery genre. Add back in the unrivaled animation abilities of production company KyoAni, and you have one of the greatest shows of 2012 at the very least.
This post is mostly a reaction to the third arc of the series (episodes 12 – 17), but my interest here is less the events, and more the bigger picture.
In some ways the whole series has been building up to this arc. The very first arc involved a terrible secret related to the Kanya festival, and the Classics club’s attempt to produce an anthology to sell at the festival. The second arc was about the Classics club rescuing another group’s project for the same festival.
It should be obvious that Kyoto Animation would take advantage of the spectacle of the cultural festival to demonstrate their unparalleled animation skills, but equally impressive was their directorial style. In the screencap above, a lively dance performance is animated with the polish KyoAni is perhaps uniquely able to deliver. The excitement in the room, however is conveyed, as people in the audience start standing up — blocking the viewers perspective on stage. The effect is to give one a sense of really being in the room.
Honestly every episode of Hyouka has delivered at least one scene that screamed visual excellence, but this arc seemed to consist of one scene after another that was so far beyond what any other production company would do with similar material. This led to a great comment by Aftershok:
After watching Hyouka, every other anime feels like it was drawn by kindergarteners.
Hyouka’s first two arcs were mysteries that mostly took place in what seemed to be a very limited physical area. In fact, the first arc saw the Classics club traveling to Chitanda’s house, and had some notable scenes that took place outdoors, but most of the story has been the Classics club talking amongst themselves. The third arc really broke that open. The club members are split apart, and we watch as they interact with other people, without Classics club members to back them up. This does a great job at developing their characters.
“Character development” is often used in two different ways. Here I mean both. Character development can be used to mean “growth”, as in the character changes as a result of their experiences in the story. Often it is used to mean something simpler: a character is “developed” in the sense that their (unchanged) nature is revealed to the audience. The character who undergoes real growth is, of course Houtarou Oreki, whose nature has changed so much from the beginning of the series that both Satoshi Fukube and Mayaka Ibara have a good laugh at him during this arc. Eru Chitanda also grows a bit, as she learns something about herself in the course of this arc, but I was very glad to see Satoshi and Mayaka were filled out as characters.
It was particularly interesting seeing how Satoshi’s and Mayaka’s stories were thematically linked. The link is directly related to the mystery of the arc, so I won’t say much more than that several people have to feel the frustration of acknowledging their own limitations. Something that is particularly painful when others near to us demonstrate skills beyond ours, and then seem content to let those skills (that we secretly covet) go to waste.
One of the special treats of Hyouka has been the way it has engaged the Mystery genre. It has a very cerebral, and even literary approach. The first arc had a development phase in which each character in the Classics club presented some research and a theory that was discussed (and ultimately refuted) by the other members. The elevation of reasoning was (to me) a particularly interesting part of the show. The second arc included similar methodical reasoning, but it also included specific callouts to classic Mystery literature and also rules about Mystery writing (e.g. Father Knox’s Decalogue).
The third arc layers on more specific allusions to classics of the Mystery genre (in particular Agatha Christie), and also specific “rules” for solving a Mystery (the need for an association between the victims, or a slip-up by the criminal is discussed at one point).
I also want to point out, for anybody who has not kept up with the show: watching the first episode of this series will give you a warped perspective on its nature. The first episode covers two “mysteries”, but their purpose was really to introduce the setting and characters. Three mysteries are solved in the first two episodes, so it might seem that the show has very small mysteries that are resolved quickly, and is very episodic. This third arc took place over 5 episodes, however. There are a couple of mini-mysteries used as transitions, but the real arcs themselves are much more involved, and usually involve a reversal of some sort before they are completed.
Hyouka is one of the most refined Mystery genre series I have watched. It has peerless visual presentation. The characters are far from cliché. It is well worth watching, and will easily end up on a Best of 2012 list at the end of the year.