When people complain about Hyouka and how it’s a poor mystery anime, I think people need to step back and actually ask themselves one question: How many mystery anime have we seen that are actually good? Off the top of my head, Un-Go is great, but not because of the mysteries. I’m currently working through Mouryou no Hako and it’s a good mystery series (although it has some other problems). Higurashi…um…not really. Other than that, they’ve all been consistently terrible, from Gosick to Dusk Maiden of Amnesia to some Shonen Jump thing I can’t be arsed to remember the name of. And then Hyouka came along and suddenly everyone is thinking it’s the worst mystery series around. Um…how?
While there are definitely many different rules a mystery story has to follow, there are two very important ones to keep in mind:
1) Be brain teasers that the audience could solve based on what’s shown to them before the reveal, but don’t make the answer too obvious.
2) Have an undercurrent of tension or stakes within the mysteries themselves.
Hyouka definitely gets the first one right. In fact, it’s the only mystery anime I’ve seen that gets every single rule down when it comes to solving the mysteries themselves, except for the good episodes of Detective Conan. Everything is always laid out logically so that the audience can figure out what’s going on whilst following the protagonist’s thought process. People actually do research in this series and no solution is quick and easy. Whilst it’s true that it’s always up to the main protagonist to solve the mystery in the end, the others do contribute and allow progression to the detective’s revelation. And when the mystery is solved, it’s the kind of solution where you think back and go, “yeah the clues were right there in front of me”. I think only two mysteries were stupidly obvious, and that was the swimsuit episode and the Valentines’ Day one (although in the latter’s case, the mystery wasn’t supposed to be the focus). Everything else though? I figured some of them out, but it required a lot of thinking.
Also, the dialogue is smart and witty and the animation set pieces used in order to add life to the exposition are beautifully integrated so that you don’t fall asleep during the massive amounts of words being spoken in order to discover what’s going on. It’s basically Bakemonogatari if actual animation was used and the dialogue actually had a point. There are a few strange things you have to buy in order for the mysteries to work, but Haruhi got away with far worse, so I don’t see the problem. This makes it so that not only is the mystery solving logical and realistic, it’s actually interesting.
Honestly speaking, can you think of any mystery anime that does this? I sure can’t, because like I said, even the mystery anime I do like don’t really focus on the mysteries so much. They prefer to use it as a backdrop for other things like marriage (looking at you, SAO) or whatever the fuck Gosick used with the actual mysteries themselves are of the simple “come and go”. Scooby-Doo had a better focus on its mysteries than most of you guys. Pick up the slack!
The second point is where a lot of people seem to rebel against the show. Instead of murders or kidnappings or the like, the mysteries revolve around finding a book or deciphering a message from years ago that is really only personal to one character to figuring out why one of the characters became angry, which people seem to regard as being stupid. I’m really hoping these are the same people who don’t like Shaft stuff aside from Madoka and Arakawa, because I’ve never seen those series get bitched on for being utterly pointless (although Salami-san has been getting flak and I never hear anyone talk about Soredemo). But nevertheless, a bunch of people complained about how KyoAni threw so much money at something so bland to the point that is was basically Sacred Seven all over again. Or to summarize it in non-pop culture terms, they didn’t like the mysteries because they saw no reason to care about them.
I’m not one to say that people don’t get it, so I won’t. Instead, I’m going to say they’re flat-out wrong. Hyouka actually does have stakes and a hook when it comes to its mysteries. It’s just very subtle about it, which is probably a surprise considering KyoAni isn’t exactly known for subtlety, especially when it handles the particular subject matter its stakes revolve around. However, once I discovered what that hook was, everything made sense and I was suddenly fully involved with the series to the point it surpassed nearly every anime of 2012.
I’m talking about romance of course. Simply put, Hyouka is the greatest romance anime to ever come out of KyoAni.
Every single mystery has had one goal in mind: to break Houtarou from his lonely ways and fall in love with the girl who acts as the catalyst for this, Chitanda Eru. Mayaka and Satoshi also get a few episodes to themselves, but every single mystery from what I can remember has always had two goals in mind: 1) Houtarou making Chitanda happy 2) Houtarou realizing his potential to the point that he gets out of his lazy shell. Interlinked between those two goals is the growing attraction our young boy has towards the moeblob that nobody can say no to, which becomes clearer and clearer with each mystery solved. Okay, it’s a bit of a one-sided relationship in that regard (especially when compared to the more interesting couple of the series), but I’ve seen worse. Granted, I’ve seen better to, but shut up. I’m trying to make a point.
Basically, everything Hyouka has done regarding its seemingly pointless mysteries and such is to build a foundation for a romance. And considering we have a whole genre of anime dedicated to romance, I fail to see how romance is not a suitable stake to ground your mysteries on. Do we not want to see the male getting together with the female every time we watch Eureka Seven? Do we not want the main character in True Tears to get together with one girl whilst crying in rage that he went with another? Did we not want to kill the fans after they decided who would be the chosen girl of Ichigo 100%? And do I even need to explain the Makoto Shinkai movies? What makes Hyouka’s romance so different that it’s not a suitable base for everything that goes on? Please, I’m dying to know.
Now yes, the problem with having such character-dependent stakes is that you have to actually care about the characters in order to get into the mystery and consequently the show. I don’t see why you shouldn’t care about them though. Chitanda aside, all of the characters are very likable fun people who have personalities and depth to them. I particularly loved the two male characters because they seemed like Tomoya Okazaki and Youhei Sunohara from Clannad with their flaws toned down and their strengths emphasized (this is partly due to the fact that they share the same VAs). Mayaka is one of the best portrayals of a teenage girl I’ve ever seen in anime. And the rest of the cast is awesome too. Whoever says KyoAni only specialize in moe is wrong here, because the only real moeblob in this show is Chitanda (okay she’s the main female and has a lot of screen time, but still…). The other females? The males themselves? Nope, not really.
In the end, Hyouka fulfills practically all of the requirements needed to be a successful mystery series. In fact, it’s clear from watching this anime that the people behind this anime love mysteries, hence the multiple tributes that are weaved in with more subtlety than the literary fiction Psycho-Pass keeps namedropping. So why do people say it’s a terrible one, as well as a terrible series in general? It’s not like its Jormungand, where the people behind it clearly hated the action genre. It’s a love letter to mysteries and, as I’ve stated many times, the best thing KyoAni has ever made as well as the best non-Maison Ikkoku romance series ever made. Not that Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya series that has not aged well at all.
Yeah, where’s my Hyouka sequel, KyoAni? Preferably in movie form, considering you only have one volume left and fillers are the cancer that kills anime sequels.
- It also helps that when it comes to the issue of talent, Hyouka surpasses Sakurasou in every way. Seriously, not only does that anime deal with its issues with the subtlety of an elephant doing the monkey, but did it get worse in the second half?
- You have no idea how happy I was when I was informed that the anime Japan wanted to see a sequel to the most was Hyouka.
- Please ignore that stupid Ani-Elitist review I did of Hyouka. My writing ideas were shit back then.
- I definitely advise people when they revisit the series to please see it as a romance. It makes Hyouka much more interesting. Trust me.