I Guess It’s Better Than Key Anime: Eight Episodes Into Hyouka

I felt something familiar when I turned on Hyouka for the first time. Perhaps it was the snide narrator mixed with the Kyoto Animation production that brought to mind nostalgic memories of Haruhi. Or maybe it was the SHAFT-like manner in which information was presented that conjured up flashbacks of Bakemonogatari. That said, these comparisons could have just popped into my mind because all three of these works are based off of light novels, and after about eight episodes Hyouka has more or less come into its own. But between its great production values and flowery writing, it has a few issues that keep it from being as good as those two shows.

Both Haruhi and Bakemonogatari elevate themselves above being average high school stories by having some kind of out of left field twist. In Bakemonogatari it’s ghosts, in Haruhi it’s weird science fiction nonsense. Both of these works are good at slipping in these elements subtly enough so that they disturb the normality of things just enough to keep the atmosphere kind of off balance and interesting, without overpowering anything. What makes these shows good is when that off-balance atmosphere is thrown complete, and the show busts out what’s really happening behind the scenes.

My issue with Hyouka is that the actual content seems to fall short, despite all the work put into production, and presentation. Similarly, while the writing is very well put together, what’s actually going on just feels kind of empty.

When you boil it right now, it’s just another story of glorified high school life, written for junior high school students looking towards high school with eager eyes, or otaku who’d like to do it all over again. In both Haruhi and Bakemonogatari, the main focus is more on the weird supernatural and science fiction elements, while the school setting doesn’t figure too much into it. Hell, most of the cast of Bakemonogatari aren’t even in high school yet.

In Hyouka, these kids being high schoolers and the high school itself are the prominent focus, and for all the effort put into trying to make things interesting with cool presentation and verbose writing, it doesn’t feel as if the show’s cliched and narrow focus on high school life really measures up. To be fair, they have made the setting as interesting as possible between all the history dispensed in the show’s first arc, and in the way in which the show likes to explore around the school. The fact that the show does lavish so much love and detail onto its setting may well be an element that makes it a Good Show, but despite how detailed a lot of it is, it doesn’t particularly push any of my buttons all the way.

But more than the setting, the show’s biggest issue lies in the characters. The group of four the show centers around simply aren’t that interesting. They’re Anime Characters. The characters in Haruhi are Anime Characters, too, but their twist is that they are aggressively Anime Characters, and Haruhi is an excellent driving force that coaxes the most out of the rest of them. The Bakemonogatari characters are Anime Characters as well, but given the depth and length of the conversations in the show, we learn a lot more about their thoughts and feelings on random bullshit things than anime characters in most other shows, making the characters in Bakemonogatari feel more like real people.

At first I thought Oreki’s attitude towards life was kind of an interesting take on the typical unconcerned light novel protagonist, but now he’s more or less just turned into a typical unconcerned light novel protagonist. And while Chitanda is kind of a catalyst for things in the show, her personality doesn’t really have the same power as Haruhi’s. There is a lot of talking in the show, a lot of it is spent on the history of the school and decoding the mysteries, as opposed to making the characters out to be anything more than archetypes.

Which brings me my last issue with Hyouka… its mysteries. Let’s be honest: Most anime mysteries suck balls. This is a fact. That said, Hyouka’s mysteries don’t bother me so much. Aside from the silly “lowercase a looks like lowercase d” solution in that one episode, the way the mysteries have come together thus far has been entertaining, even if at times the answer is kind of obvious. My issue is that all the mysteries are kind of a bit too softball. I realize the show takes place in high school, but Edogawa Conan is an elementary school kid who solves gruesome murders, so I think Hyouka could stand to up the ante a bit.

In short, my big issue with Hyouka is that despite how well put together a lot of it is, the main content just falls short. It has its moments of brilliance, but if you squint your eyes a little, you realize not much is there.

At least the ending animation is pretty.

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3 Responses to I Guess It’s Better Than Key Anime: Eight Episodes Into Hyouka

  1. exo says:

    Sir, I respect you, and I’m honestly surprised and mildly disappointed you haven’t mentioned a few things about Hyouka, despite having watched 8 episodes.

    The charm point and driving message behind Hyouka is that there is always something more to life’s little things – that there’s a story behind the tiny, inane events that happen to us. Something more, but often never ground-breaking. As such, finding out the circumstances behind these events often have very little weight on our decisions for the future. If we had gone on with our lives ignoring them – without any sense of curiosity, as it were, it’s likely that we would be completely and utterly fine. This is, what I think anyway, the show’s main theme. It’s trying to convey the inevitable passage of time – that all these little things become nothing in the end – little facts that mean little to the majority. (And yet, perhaps what is timeless, is a person’s feelings. 10 years later, this simple light novel is still touching a modest person or two, like me.)

    Nothing will happen. And yet, by being curious, maybe we are moved, little by little. A simple question of “Why did I get mad at my teacher,” once answered, gives us insight into ourselves and how we can live our life. The entire choice of Houtarou to solve the mystery of the founder’s life made him wonder if perhaps the way he’s living his life – simply – is indeed, alright.

    The question of Hyouka is how these experiences will change the cast. It tries to raise a magnifying glass to the act of living, to ties with people you don’t agree with, and the little things in life we take for granted, and get you to do the same. I suppose, in a sense, it’s failed in that respect. Audiences today always need something more, myself often included. A comparison to the monogatari and Haruhi series is an example. But that is not the theme! That ‘something more’ is supposed to be there all along.

    Either one is completely missing the point, or Hyouka simply was not able to convey the point properly, or perhaps, perhaps, there is pre-existing bias. I do not know. I am not one to polarize or think badly of others, but it is a fact.

    On cliches – I disagree. It does not present what could be called ‘a cliched, narrow’ view of highschool.

    If you’re looking for the ugliness in people, look at the people who said nothing to defend the founder of Hyouka, who was expelled against his will. Look at the students in the homemade video – some bored, some actor-hopefuls – it’s likely they will all lead normal lives. And on cliches, sir, somewhere, sometime, someone has lived that idealized, cliched life (and fuck that lucky bastard/bitch). To me, Hyouka does not need more than what it has anyway. It stands out to me – it’s an idealized world, yes – perhaps on the level of shows where there are nothing but cute girls doing cute things (something I am a fan of, worry not) – but there is a distinct desire to drive at (I will not say deeper, service has its depth) things other than service.

    I can relate. As can a few others, I’m sure. And so, I cannot decide what drives me to like this show, whether it’s good points are truly there for me to enjoy, or because I find it relatable. There could be a bias – to watch a portrayal of a simple, yet potentially defining period of life for four highschoolers through their eyes, to smile and remember fondly my own memories, I consider myself lucky.

    Just the perspective of a person who enjoys Hyouka, every week, and who thinks you’re a cool dude.

    • wah says:

      Thanks for the well thought out comment.

      Yeah, I suppose there was indeed something to Hyouka that I noticed but couldn’t really put my finger on, and it’s exactly what you outlined in your post about the mundane nature of the mysteries. While I criticized them for being too mundane, I think the show would do better if the characters were more… you know… interesting. Like, they’re alright, but like I said in the post, there’s something missing.

      I don’t think the portrayal of high school is cliched… I think the fact that they’re focusing on high school is cliched. I’m just sick of school settings. I just wish the school wasn’t that important.

      • exo says:

        Well that’s a perfectly reasonable er reason to not like school settings. Something else would be nice, huh? I agree.

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