HYOUKA: Part One
DVD + Blu-ray
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A worthy addition to any animation fan’s collection, Hyouka is a stunning masterwork that spins a charming tale of high school romance and mystery. After disenchanted student Hotaro Oreki joins his school’s Classic Literature Club, he meets Eru Chitanda, a kind-hearted and inquisitive girl with boundless curiosity and a knack for getting him caught up in all sorts of trouble.
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I heard good things about Hyouka for years, but held out watching it, waiting for a domestic release. Finally, I accepted that it would never be released here and watched crummy low quality videos. Then two years later it gets a DVD release. Sigh, I should have been more patient.
This show is kind of like a slice of life and mystery combined in one, and it is much more fun than that might sound. The mysteries are mostly very low key (no big thefts or murders), but somehow you get drawn in and excited to learn the answer. Some of the mysteries are surprisingly complex, but not in a way that makes them feel contrived. Oreki is good at solving mysteries, but he doesn’t get everything right on the first try and sometimes has to make placeholder guesses until the full answer comes to light. I really enjoyed that aspect of the series and it is the one thing that really struck me about the show. I love mysteries, but tend to gravitate towards murder mysteries, so was impressed at how much a show about little mysteries could hook me.
I also really enjoyed the characters, especially Oreki, who does develop as a character as the show progresses. Though there is one point at the end I found very disappointing, proving he still has more growth a head of him (nothing bad happened, you just get trolled about something good happening and then it is taken away from you)
I am happy to see this little gem getting a DVD release after all this time. Now I can finally rewatch it without cringing!
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 Classic Literature Club. What it does differently, though, is it throws in a 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 well-to-do 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.
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.
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.
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.
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 it's their loss. What Hyouka sets out to do, it does. It endeavors to be excellent, simply excellent and accomplishes exactly that.
If I had to make any statements in addendum to the above, I'd say that this English release is everything I hoped for. The dub is charming, and features some talent that I haven't heard from before. They handle some tricky Japanese-English word play deftly and with grace, which is refreshing. If I had to make any complaints, it's simply with the half-season format. You're only getting half of the show in this set, and while it ends in a somewhat satisfying place in the story, it's still no small bummer that it happens to be the case. All that said, I'm thankful it's even being released in English after all of this time, so I'll take my lumps as they come in that regard.
Pick this up today, you owe it to yourself.