An Ode to a Stationary Girl, Eru Chitanda

Chitanda Eru, Hyouka

“I’m Nobody! Who are you?

Are you – Nobody – too?

Then there’s a pair of us!

Don’t tell! They’d advertise – you know!”

-Emily Dickinson

In an arrangement of extraordinary characters, like the cast of Hyouka, it’s easy to dismiss Eru Chitanda. This isn’t to say it’s particularly easy to overlook her – the series makes it a point to display her as the impetus for nearly all of the mysteries that the main cast is tasked with solving – however, it’s easy to push her aside once she has served her purpose as a catalyst.

A catalyst need not be a dynamic character. Their main purpose is to inspire other characters within the series to act, which doesn’t require them to undergo any sort of development. It’s often easier for the audience if they are static, as this allows for the changes that occur to the main protagonist to stand out all the more when the characters are placed side-by-side. For the majority of the Hyouka, this is what Eru appears to be.

When we are first introduced to Eru, she is very much a modern yamato nadeshiko. The daughter of a prominent family in town, Eru consistently receives high marks in school, and the series makes an effort, through both framing and the way she moves within the series, to show an innate grace. Satoshi Fukube frames her character for the audience during their introduction, acting impressed at Eru’s mere presence before launching into an explanation of the four most wealthy and well-known families of their town. Throughout Hyouka, her position as a representative of her family is reiterated constantly.

“Even if I go to a university, I’ll have to return to this place. No matter what road I take, my final destination will be this place. Right here . . . I’m not disappointed or sad that I have to return here. I have a job to fulfill as the daughter of the Chitanda family. I’ve thought about how to do that all my life.”

-Eru Chitanda, Hyouka, episode 22.

The argument can subsequently be made that Eru’s presence somewhat glorifies Japanese small-town values, but her resolve and resignation at the end of episode 22 say otherwise. Eru has an obligation to fulfill as the heiress of the Chitanda family, and it’s one that she accepts wholeheartedly, but not enthusiastically. She says that she isn’t saddened by her inability to leave the town of her birth; however, Hyouka makes it a point to display that she’s not happy about it either. Her uncle’s legacy that there may come a time where she would want to say something but would be unable to somewhat frames her actions within the series. Eru’s position simply is what it is, and she accepts it continuing to be a dutiful daughter in the eyes of both Houtarou and the viewing audience.

“I don’t think that this place is the most beautiful. I also don’t think that this place is full of potential.”

-Eru Chitanda, Hyouka, episode 22.

Eru manages to escape from her duties, albeit briefly, through her participation in the Classics Club, and her insatiable curiosity. Her innate thirst for knowledge about how or why things happen is a key character trait that lies outside of her yamato nadeshiko archetype. She loses her poise when she becomes emotionally invested in even the most mundane of occurrences, and is all the more interesting for it. Eru is the one in the group of four who recognizes others’ emotions above all (first with her uncle, then with Hongou in the movie arc, and again in episode 22 with Konari’s son), and her emotional investment frames why we, or the characters within the series, should care. As Cuchlann says here at Super Fanicom BS-X, Hyouka reiterates that mysteries can be completely circular entities without meaning other than the ones that are assigned to mystery within the context of the mystery itself. Representing the emotional component of the series, Eru plays the largest role in assigning each mystery meaning, even beyond her own, “I’m curious!” catchphrase, as she shows herself to genuinely care about others. Although the protagonist of Hyouka, Houtarou Oreki, may be unable to understand why Eru cares so much, her excitement is enough to propel him forward, allowing him to slowly recognize things about himself and the world around him that he otherwise would not have been able, or cared, to see.

The series’ primary and most obvious character narrative is concerned with drawing Houtarou out of his shell, and for that, Hyouka relies heavily on Eru as both a catalyst, and an emotional frame. However, returning to the progression of Eru herself, does this additionally mean that she develops within the series as well? Although the series doesn’t require that she develops, it does show, through the book-ending of her introduction (as the daughter of the Chitanda family) and the series’ conclusion (of Eru wanting Houtarou to see the place that she will inevitably oversee) that Eru is able to accept her birthright far more easily thanks to her involvement in the Classics Club, and her relationship with Houtarou.

hyouka, eru chitanda, cherry blossoms

More on characterization in Hyouka:

The Niece of Manga at Gar Gar Stegosaurus: Day has an excellent character study of Mayaka Ibara.

9 comments

  1. Emily, your numerous thoughts on Hyouka have always been a catalyst for my interest in the show. I’ve always been indifferent about mystery stories in the way that Super Famicom explains, but in the same sense that Chitanda assigns meaning to the mysteries that the cast solves, you accomplish the same feat in the discussion of the series itself. I can truly feel your enthusiasm for the show, and it compels me to watch it despite my indifference. After all, it was one of your previous posts that made me watch the show in the first place. It’s a post like this that reminds me that I never once regretted that decision. I can’t thank you enough for being the Eru to my Oreki, even for matters unrelated to Hyouka itself.

    1. I love detective fiction as well as character narratives, so Hyouka was an easy series for me to love. It makes me happy to hear that you seemingly learned to love a few things about it as well, and this happiness is amplified by the fact that I was the catalyst for this.

      I only hope that I can continue to somehow inspire you. ^ ^ Thanks for the comment.

  2. I feel like I should preface that I didn’t really like Hyouka, largely because I didn’t care for Houtaro’s narrative, or really most of the narratives. And, like you suggest, I very easily pushed Eru aside as simply a catalyst instead of some interesting character. As a result, I didn’t really notice how those last few episodes tied her previous actions and character together.

    Eru is from a wealthy family and, if I recall correctly, academically gifted. She has all the socioeconomic power you could get as a teenage girl in a small Japanese town. But her privileged blood also doubles as a prison (Croisee in a Foreign Labyrinth has a more romanticized version of this). I think for most, it feels distant because most aren’t born into that kind of wealth and power, let alone expectation. The kind of obligation that Eru has feels really antiquated.

    The series kind of intentionally muted her character, as if much like her family obligations. At the end, we get to see her sense of resignation, teenage angst, and family duty – and then all of that is overshadowed by the tints of romance between her and Houtaro in that final scene.

    1. I loved Hyouka for the reasons I mention in the comment above (the character narratives, focus on mystery/detective fiction); however, I can definitely see why one would not like it, especially if they don’t find themselves caring about any of the characters.

      Eru’s familial obligations are most certainly antiquated, and the series does not present this as a desirable situation (instead, very much as you say, it appears to be a prison of sorts). I believe her character to have been intentionally muted in favor of Houtarou – the series is his narrative, like it or not – receiving more screentime, along with Satoshi and Ibara.

      Interestingly enough, I think that the series leaves Satoshi still questioning himself, which places him well behind the acceptance we see from Eru in terms of their respective feelings and self-awareness. This is in spite of how much the series focused on Satoshi’s narrative. Perhaps the disconnect between Eru’s reality and most viewers’ every day lives, which you described, is one of the reasons why Eru was not a focus, although it also has a lot to do with her role as a catalyst. Her emotional narrative relies not so much on drastic changes, but a quiet ability to accept her position and move on, which doesn’t require a lot of exposition. I like her narrative for how subtle it is, regardless of whether I can relate to it or not.

      That being said, I can completely understand why one wouldn’t resonate, or notice, Chitanda. Additionally, it’s because I also bought in to Houtarou’s narrative that I accepted the romance at the end.

      Thanks for the comment. ^ ^

  3. A great post! I’ve often had my own conflict over Chitanda’s purpose, or rather her presence, in the entirety of Hyouka and you do give out some really valid points about her characterization. I think it’s important to establish that emotional resonance doesn’t lessen the narrative of a character and can often be a very good reason for their development. Chitanda’s insight, or rather her enthusiasm – as you said – wasn’t as much of an actual contributor to the mysteries as a catalyst, and ultimately, it’s because of her that Houtarou begins to see the world in a more colorful way.

    That said, I do sit uncomfortably with the fact that Chitanda (as you’ve mentioned) doesn’t really change. And that’s fine! Sometimes character development isn’t necessary for a character arc to be really interesting. And the last episode of Hyouka is probably one of my favorites in the show because we get to see Chitanda’s point of view on a subject that isn’t related to mysteries. But what I do have an issue with is the fact that it was up until the last episode that we didn’t see any sort of perspective from Chitanda. We understood her reasons for delving into the mystery genre, her ties to her Uncle and the Classics Club and her unending enthusiasm, but when you have an episode where Chitanda is literally confused about “why she’s angry at a teacher” because she can’t figure it out – an episode that almost goes against the idea that Chitanda serves as an emotional touchstone for the entire show – I feel like her character construction is a bit of a mess. I don’t need Chitanda to be smart or to even contribute information to the mysteries – her emotional insight is important enough – but when she consistently takes a backseat when the rest of the team gets their tidbits of development (see: the Kanya Festival arc) it’s a little frustrating.

    It does beg the question though: how would we develop her? I would have loved to see the idea that Hyouka is ultimately about Chitanda as we peel off layer after layer of her seemingly large naivety until we get to the finale that was Chitanda revealing her maturity and perspective on the larger aspects of life, rather than a stagnant Chitanda who perpetuates mystery but is ultimately boxed in because her potential is confined to the stories Hyouka chooses to tell rather than her own.

    1. I honestly don’t think that Chitanda *needs* to be developed beyond what she was in the series, although it definitely would have been nice to see a bit more from her perspective. I did appreciate how her interactions with the Classics Club allowed her to accept her position in life, revealing a maturity that had been previously unknown to the viewer.

      Her perspective throughout the entire series is not immediately obvious because she becomes everyone’s helper and never complains about this assumed role. Much like the fact that she is basically chained to the town due to family obligations, she is forced into a specific role in the Classics Club. The other characters in the series, particularly within the Kanya Festival arc, pile their various odd jobs onto Chitanda without thinking of her feelings, and she readily offers her assistance, only later realizing how exhausted she is. Chitanda, for me, is a tragic character, trapped by circumstance and where she naturally fits within the universe of the series.

      “…rather than a stagnant Chitanda who perpetuates mystery but is ultimately boxed in because her potential is confined to the stories Hyouka chooses to tell rather than her own.”

      I do agree that her potential is confined both by her station in life and the role that Hyouka assigns to her.

    2. I can see where Natasha is going with regards to Chitanda’s role in the story here. The main detractor in my opinion is the mystery genre itself. For something as highly detailed as a mystery, it’s very easy from both a writer’s and reader’s perspective to have tunnel vision on the primary storyline and not focus on other elements that make the genre more broadly appealing. The character and mystery elements have to be thoroughly separated from each other within the show in order for that onion effect to work for static characters like Chitanda. What I feel really could help this is perhaps making the work a bit more serial and standalone, taking structural elements from procedurals and the like, having character moments before/after the mystery takes place in a given episode. The downside of this is that it essentially guts all of the great stuff that the show offers from an arc-presentation standpoint. When the pillars of story design are established, certain sacrifices have to be made in order navigate those pillars effectively, otherwise it becomes a huge crowded mess like Dokidoki.

      That said, a particular example that really does this balance well while still following the arc format is Ghostwriter. Ghostwriter, despite its ridiculously dated production and poorly constructed (to tailor to younger audiences such as myself when I was at the age at which I watched this show) mysteries, did a really fine job at weaving character arcs in between the story. What made the show capable of doing this was due to the rigid 4- and 5-act structure that it took with the episodes involved. Despite the predictability of the structure itself, it allowed the writiers to put in character moments (such as between Hector and Tina in A Crime of Two Cities) that are completely separate from the mystery itself. In the example that I just cited, the novelty of having the crime take place in London, effectively separating Jamal (the acting agent in London in this arc) from the rest of the cast, allows the other characters to take a back seat and simply do other things while the action and pacing of the mystery gets to breathe.

      Hector and Tina are remarkably different characters within the main ghostwriter group, and the sequence during the drama workshop paints this remarkably well as the scene shifts back and forth between here and the workshop itself. While the mystery hits the shitter, Tina’s relationship with Hector is further strained because of their differences in perception of the dramatic arts. The actual emotional climax doesn’t just happen with the mystery being solved, but also between the characters in the side arc, who didn’t even directly involve themselves with the mystery to begin with!

      As an aside, the PreCure fan in me is obligated to point out what makes me love the above show the same why I love PreCure. Being directed at kids, primarily, Ghostwriter knows how to simplify emotional concepts without treating the audience like idiots. They are aware that there are kids out there who are going through rough times, dealing with their own things, and shows like these provide the emotional outlet for these kids to resonate with such real characters that the mystery is the fun reward that they get to indulge in, to coincide with their own emotional development as they continue to mature into an older demographic.

  4. Hi Emily, I just happend to find this blog of yours with so many awesome posts! Hyouka for me was an exceptional series and one of the reasons was the very last episode and Chitanda’s “farewell speech”. Just some thoughts:
    – When I first watched this episode it kind of touched me that Chitanda actually has a plan for her future. I think this is rare both in anime and also in real life, at least as I know it. Chitanda, who for the first 21 episodes appeared to me somewhat childish and naive turns out to be more mature than all the other characters (perhaps too mature for her own good, actually).
    – During the course of the series I could so well relate to Houtaro marvelling at Chitanda’s life – her home and family, the ceremony in traditional dress and her acceptance of an inherited role. Houtaro’s average life has become so much different from those ancient, traditional values and ways of life! For him, tragically, she must appear as someone removed from the present and perhaps out of his reach.
    – The farewell scene had this melancholic but not quite sad and unassuming mood (mono no aware?) which is one of the reasons why I love anime!
    Thanks for the link to the Mayaka blog post, as well!

    1. Hi! Thanks for stopping by here. ^ ^ I hope you’ll pop in every now and again.

      I also loved Hyouka as its focus on mystery/narrative construction is a bit like catnip to me. Perhaps this is why I didn’t see Chitanda as anything but a narrative device,curiosity incarnate, until the Kanya Festival Arc when bits of her true feelings begin to poke through her yamato nadeshiko mask. I’m unsure if she’s necessarily the most mature, but she’s certainly the most resigned to her fate, for better or for worse.

      I’m unsure if you have watched any of Yuyushiki, but there’s a an interesting parallel to Chitanda in the character of Yukari Hinata. Yukari also comes from a wealthy family where, as she describes it, she’ll be expected to strengthen the family through emotional ties while her brother strengthens it through business/monetary ties. She goes on to say that, because of this reason, she always had thought that people who were allowed to choose their own future were fascinating. Additionally, Yukari is very whimsical, flighty, and could be seen as immature, albeit not in the same way that Chitanda is. Both characters appear to have manifest their personal desires in other ways, perhaps as a direct response to their inability to choose their own futures.

      As for Houtarou, I think that he doesn’t see Chitanda as someone out of reach directly as a result of traditional values, but certainly someone out of his reach due to her own resignation to familial duty. Because she has accepted that she will be stuck in that position, which by her own admission is not necessarily a desirable one, it makes it hard for her to see anything but that in her own future. Presumably Houtarou is unable to offer his support verbally because he’s afraid of being rejected; however, if one thinks about it, it would be difficult for him to truly offer any support regardless.

      It is very bittersweet.

      Thanks for the comment. ^ ^ I always loved your comments.

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