A rose-colored life and thorns of youth: Praising Hyouka

Houtarou Oreki, a high school freshman who believed in conserving his energy, finds himself in the classic club, a club on the verge of dissolution. There he meets Eru Chitanda, a heroine with a hearty curiosity, and his old friends from middle school, Mayaka Ibara and Satoshi Fukube. Together at Kamiyama High School the four of them investigate various incidents in this youthful academy mystery. ~ from ANN

Hyouka is surely one of the most memorable series that came out this year. Many people with different tastes embraced it and I think this speaks for how good it was. One may claim that popularity doesn’t equal quality, but here Kyoto Animation amazed us at many levels. I can’t say it’s a flawless series or that everyone will like it. Yet if you get excited with mundane questions and ‘mysteries’, and if you’ve got a little bit of patience to see the characters develop slowly, then you’ll cherish Hyouka for sure.

It isn’t very easy for me to talk about a series which was heavily discussed and for which you can find a review almost in every other anime blog. Nevertheless, I hope my fondness of the series will make up for this fact, and in case you haven’t watched the series, I wish my enthousiasm will convince you to try it. 

At first, I was quite reserved, since the last ‘moe’ slice-of-life I watched was Ikoku Meiro no Croisee, and I wasn’t exactly overjoyed at the depiction of the main female protagonist and her relationship with the male protagonist. It did have some good episodes, but as a whole it was a tad disappointing. Then, KyoAni is rumored to produce ‘cute girls do cute things’ series, which didn’t help much. The description though, as well as the fact it was based on a novel, gave me the push to check it out.

The first two episodes weren’t anything promicing. The protagonist was a bit different from what I usually encountered, but this wasn’t a reason to stay with the series, since Houtarou is or better was a person with an expression screaming ‘I’m bored’. Kimi to Boku had almost all its cast with such character design and I dropped the series after an episode or two. The yuri-ish ED that appeared in the second episode is another story. Yes, I had such a shallow reason to give it another chance. I love lingeries, I loved the delicateness of the animation, and decided to watch episode 3, too. And that’s where things started getting interesting. By episode 4 I was sold and after episode 5 I wrote a post on Hyouka’s first arc and history.

One of the things that really made the series unique is its possibilities. I wrote on historiography and so did Pontifus, who also got inspired to talk about the author’s death; Vucub Caquix linked the series with his reading of a Harlan Ellison’s sci-fi story, Snippet Tee focused on the ‘mathematical’-visual aspect of the show, AJ the Fourth analysed the mystery tropes found in the characters, and Canne extracted life tips from the series.

A rose-colored life and thorns of youth: a Hyouka review

Another reason Hyouka shone so brightly was how it talked about the bittersweetness of youth. Yasuhiro Takemoto, the director of the series, when interviewed, had this to say:

“Thorns of Youth”. This is what I wanted to depict. When we’re in school, that special time in our lives, we experience many things. Fun things and interesting things, of course, but also events that prick at our hearts, and I believe that all of these become very bright, precious memories to us. I wanted to depict how such thorns leave their scabs, causing our hearts to grow stronger and mature.

The themes it touched were not just teenage romance and friendship -and even at these it did a great job-, what with the tender lines between these two, the fears, the doubts and the pain coming from them. It also discussed reaching out to your dreams and looking up to people but being limited by your abilities; struggling to find who you are and how to be happy with yourself; trying to find balances; overestimating yourself, doing foolish mistakes and feeling crushed and enraged afterwards; facing the cheap, poisonous comments of classmates; thinking of the future and being aware that your family has a big say in it… and of course, the joys and excitement of participating in school clubs.

And it’s not just the topics it touches, but how it does so. The budding and akward feelings of Oreki towards Chitanda, for example, are portrayed with such care and realism, that I had hard time not squealing with delight. The blushes, the gestures, the gazes, the focus of the camera on certain parts of Chitanda’s body without ever turning her into an object, were magnifiscent. Although I have a long way as an anime fan, I dare say that KyoAni gave us here the classiest fanservice in anime history ever. Despite the fact that there is a swimsuit episode, some cosplay photos, some kimono-with-bare-neck highlights and an onsen episode with female- and male-oriented fanservice, all of them are elegantly executed and are framed within the doki-dokis of the first romance. It’s a teenage boy becoming all the more aware of the physical beauty of a teenage girl who has captivated his heart.

A rose-colored life and thorns of youth: a Hyouka review

Everything speaks for how much attention to the details Hyouka was given. It’s not just the variety in animation styles we get, especially in the data-analysing and problem-solving scenes. It’s not only the luscious landscapes, the cozy and picturesque cafe, the luxurious library, the most lively and colorful school festival that anime have ever seen, and the elaborate depiction of a hina matsuri with people, either. It’s the little things in the cinematography, like the use of lighting to divide space and denote emotional distance between characters (most seen with Houtarou x Satoshi, Houtarou x Irisu) or simply stress the notion of rose-colored school life and romance (see Houtarou x Chitanda), and the use of objects to underline given information or add characterization.

A rose-colored life and thorns of youth: a Hyouka review

Let’s take for example episode 3:

  • Pink carnations are said to have blossomed from Virgin Mary’s tears for her son, when he was carrying the cross. Thus they represent a mother’s/woman’s love and are linked to grief. We are shown that the table where Chitanda and Oreki sit and discuss has two pink carnations on it and the camera focuses on them when Chitanda says that her uncle has gone missing in India and they’ll do him a funeral soon. Chitanda loved her uncle and wants to mourn properly for him, thus the carnations.
  • The clock’s pendulum changes shape. A remarkable way to highlight the atmosphere and expectations of Oreki who thought that Chitanda was going to confess her feelings towards him. The fact that the clock bears pink shades in the start of the episode (which continues from the end of the previous one) isn’t coincidental. The pendulum changes back from heart-shape to the usual circle-shape after Chitanda explains what her ‘confession’ is. A request for Oreki to help her remember what her uncle told her that made her cry.
  • The last screenshot comes from Oreki’s room, while he’s reading the letter his sister sent him. His sister asks him what happened to him joining the Classics Club and when that line is read, Magritte’s painting ‘The Blank Check’ appears on screen. A very interesting choice. This surrealistic painting plays with perspectives and to what is visible and invisible. Isn’t this what Oreki does after joining the Club and started solving ‘mysteries’? And of course, the name of the painting plays a great role. A blank check is used metaphorically for an agreement made which is open-ended or vague and therefore is subject to abuse. Oreki agreed to his sister’s request to join the Club and Tomoe plays around with him, pushing him to be more active and experience more things.

The books we see Houtarou reading during the series, as well as the fact he usually reads newspaper than watches TV (something we learned in episode 11.5), talk about him a lot. Though he protests he doesn’t do things he doesn’t need to and thus gives off a lazy vibe, he’s far more than that. If he was your average bored boy, you’d expect him not being interested in reading, much more reading serious stuff. The first book is “Summer’s Nuisance” by Setsuko Shinoda, a female novelist. The second is “Night Flight” by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry. The third and fourth ones are “Discourse of depravity” by Ango Sakaguchi, a male novelist.

In a similar manner we take a peek into the main characters’ rooms. Oreki’s is minimalistic in gray and green tones with lots of books. Satoshi’s is simply fabulous with many things hung here and there, talking about his fashion sense and hobbies. Mayaka’s is the shoujo otaku’s room and Chitanda’s is a traditional japanese one with personal purple touches and cute cushions.

The openings, the endings and the background music are part of the series’ flirt with detail. The endings are there more for the kawaii factor, but the openings have their lyrics refer to the series and there’s a mixture of sorrow with carefreeness and playfulness. The background music features some classic pieces that give a fitting air to the series which revolves around a Classic Literature Club.

I could probably go on but there’s no need to. You can already picture what a great and fun series Hyouka is to watch. Just give it a shot and let it enchant you with its little tricks.

Further readings:
Hyouka and Mystery by Eternal
12 days of Christmas:Searching for wonder amidst the everyday in Hyouka

1. Spoilers alert: The flaws of the series lied in certain coincidences and solutions of the mysteries, but for me it was harder not to get annoyed by Chitanda’s moeness, and Satoshi’s coupling with Mayaka disappointed me. Chitanda managed to get other sides to herself especially through the last episode of the festival arc and that of the series, but honestly she could have been handled more mature. As for Satoshi, I was expecting him to say to Houtarou that he isn’t interested in girls… Satoshi is too queer to just end up with Mayaka no matter how much I like both of them. Plus coupling four friends per two is a bit too much.
2. Many thanks to Monsieur LaMoe for helping me with the japanese titles of the books Houtarou reads. He also noted that “Discourse of depravity” is a social commentary, denying the values upheld during WWII, affirming ‘fall as low as it goes’, became a huge hit in post-war Japan.

3 thoughts on “A rose-colored life and thorns of youth: Praising Hyouka

  1. Wow. This just put everything I loved about Hyouka into concrete words. Thank you.
    It also made me realize something too: it’s almost fitting that high school life is called rose-colored life. Because every rose has its thorn.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Pingback: A Database of Curiosities: A Hyouka Literature Review | Fantastic Memes

  3. "Classiest fanservice."That's a good way to put it. It never occurred to me that any fanservice took place (except ED) since everything adds to the plot or develops the characters.Also wow. You actually noticed the change in the pendulum!The ED is ❤ Very sexy.

    Liked by 1 person

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