Hyouka - Complete Review

Curiousity is the Mother of all Good Anime

Posted by: Shere @ 2013-02-20 17:45:05

It's no big secret that Kyoto Animation is rolling in money. They've released non-stop hits for half a decade and it's paying off in spades, since each series begets another more popular one and it just keeps snowballing. Haruhi became Lucky Star became Clannad became K-On!, and so on it goes. What that means for us is that they now have more money to start up things that aren't outright moe pandering, and with Hyouka we're getting the first taste of exactly that. They've actually self-sponsored Hyouka, their name turns up after the opening credits under the standard sponsors, it's something I've never seen before in all of my years watching this shit.

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Hyouka is, at its heart, a slice of life show based upon a series of novels. It follows the lives of a group of four high-schoolers who all belong to the school's Classics Club. What it does differently, though, is it throws in a big twist of mystery. The main character is one Oreki Houtarou, and his motto is that of energy conservation "If I don't have to do it, I won't. If I have to do it, I'll get it done quickly". He gets roped into joining a defunct club by his older sister, who has graduated, and upon arriving to the club he meets a strange girl named Chitanda Eru. She's the super-formal daughter of a rich family and her passion is curiosity; even the slightest of mysteries pique her interest. Luckily for her, and unfortunately for him, Houtarou is something of a savant when it comes to detective work.

Upon realizing Houtarou's knack for problem solving, Eru latches onto him and drags in two more members to make the club official. The story takes off from there as they work together to solve various mysteries, big and small.

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I'm careful about calling this show an outright mystery series. It's a show with mysteries in it, but they're often benign and are more presented as a vehicle through which the characters interact. It's fine that way, though, since there isn't a single bad character in the entire show. They're all very realistic, extremely well-rounded, and there isn't a single generic archetype in the entire bunch. They all have realistic wants, needs, fears, strengths, weaknesses, etc. How many times will I ever get to say that about any series, let alone about an anime series?

The mysteries are never all that far-fetched, either. They range in heft from trying to figure out why people keep signing out a specific library book, to giving Eru closure on a topic pertaining to her presumed-dead Uncle. The show obeys all of the laws of good mystery writing, and never leaves out crucial information or treats the viewer as though they're stupid. It is entirely possible to solve each mystery in the show at the same time Houtarou does, and the show often directly references Sherlock Holmes and Agatha Christie novels.

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I haven't even said a word about the production values, when they're easily on par with the writing. The visuals are absolutely stunning most of the time, undue amounts of attention are paid to everything, every last painstaking detail. For a show that could just as easily have been talking heads on static backgrounds they have gone above and beyond the call of duty to put on a spectacular visual experience. You will gleefully look forward to Houtarou postulating out his solution to each mystery because it's always accompanied by a quirky yet extremely helpful explanation animation to visually show how he reasoned his way through a given case. They make interesting use of camera angles, lighting, and backgrounds to keep things dynamic and there is an obscene fluidity in even basic things like talking or Eru's hair.

It may sound like I'm gushing, but it's because I'm just so used to shows doing "just enough" to get by. The effortless perfection on display in nearly every scene in Hyouka puts the even the isolated 'good' bits of animation found in tiny portions of most other things to absolute shame. You won't even notice it unless you look for it, because the animation in Hyouka what everything else should look like, but doesn't even aspire to.

The music is a selection of varied orchestral tracks, lots of Bach like "Suiten fur Violincello" and Orchestral Suite no. 3. It suits the show well for sure, and there's some original music in there too. The first opening and ending are lackluster but for the fact that the first ending has some creepily-realistic animation. It's the two main girls in lacy pajamas, rolling around on a bed, surrounded by a map of the constellations. The second set of Opening/Ending themes are much better, and the second ending has Sherlock Chitanda and Poirot Mayaka chasing their respective love interests/villains, which is basically the most adorable thing ever.

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If my positively beaming ramble hasn't told you my opinion of the show yet I'll spell it out for you: This is the best modern anime series I've seen since Steins;Gate. It ranks up there as one of my favorite shows of all time and running out of episodes to watch was a painful experience for me. There are a couple episodes in the show that were superfluous, or perhaps even subpar, but only in comparison to the rest of the episodes. The show covers four of the five existing novels, which have been written over the course of a decade, so new material is slow-going. It may be wishful thinking, but there is definitely room to continue the story and one can only pray we get a season two in a timely manner.

If you're at all a fan of anime, you owe it to yourself to watch this. It's not a spectacle like some shows, it won't wow you with action or hook you with weekly cliffhangers. There's no constant stream of fan-service, gratuitous or otherwise (though the first ending tries really hard). Some folks may find it boring because of all that, and I don't like those people. What Hyouka sets out to do, it does. It endeavors to be excellent, simply excellent and accomplishes exactly that.

Verdict: Watch this. Sometimes shows are great, and above that we have shows like Hyouka that make the ordinary shows look awful by comparison.