Notes on Hyouka as an Exploration of Detective Fiction

This is a repost of Notes on Hyouka as an Exploration of Detective Fiction as published on Altair & Vega on July 5, 2012. As the post’s original author, I have reposted it here for preservation purposes since that blog is no longer fully functioning. It has not been edited or revised in any way. 

Notes on the Characters as Stand-ins For Detective Fiction Archetypes:

Alluded to elsewhere, Hyouka first and foremost establishes its characters as detective fiction archetypes, rather than stand-alone characters. There are not-so-subtle hints in the first three episodes: one character’s catchphrase is, “I’m curious!” while another character flat-out states, “I am the database.” This comes to a wonderful reveal in the fourth episode when the four main characters set about solving their first mystery together. They meet, each presenting their theories. In turn, these theories encapsulate each of their roles, and which archetype, or piece of detective fiction, they represent within the series. Their individual reactions to the theories of their compatriots also further define their roles.

The first to present a theory is Eru Chitanda, who is pure, undiluted curiosity. Representing only the desire to learn what happened, her theory is very simple and easily disregarded by her counterparts. It’s also worth noting that hers is a very emotional theory, tied up in the fact that she represents the emotional investment, curiosity, of the detective. She presents the easiest outcome for herself to accept because she is emotionally invested; the mystery involves her uncle.

Next is Mayaka Ibara, who represents the audience viewpoint, or the ordinary counterpart to the extraordinary detective; Dr. John H Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Ibara is crucial because she’s intelligent, but not as intelligent as others: as a librarian she can gather information, but may not be able to piece it together. However, being the most ordinary of the group, she will also occasionally see things that the others, bound by their respective viewpoints, are unable to see. Ibara’s theory is limited by the amount of material she researches, and her own inability to correctly deduce what happened. Occasionally, she may have a breakthrough, as she is not unintelligent, but for the most part her theories, like the one she presents in Episode Four, will fall short.

Third to share their theory is Satoshi Fukube, the self-described database. What he offers is research and facts with little to no deduction or conclusion as to how they relate to each other. Fukube is far better at supporting or refuting others’ theories than presenting his own. This is due to the strengths and weaknesses of his position: excellent memory and a wealth of knowledge, with less of an ability to deduce an outcome than all of the other participants, respectively.

Lastly, there is Houtarou Oreki, the deductive reasoning component. Oreki is portrayed as the most exemplary of the four main cast members, and with good reason. In addition to being the primary lead, he also represents the key piece of what makes the detective: deduction. One is far more likely to come across a Chitanda, an Ibara, or a Fukube, than one is to happen upon a person with extraordinary deductive prowess like Houtarou.

That being said, Oreki too has an obvious blind spot: the information that he is provided with, along with his own ability to keep track of it. Deductive reasoning relies on given statements that are to be taken as valid. If the statements are invalid then, presumably, Oreki would rule them out through his thinking process. However, if he is presented with an untrue statement or, as the series presents in Episode 10, neglects to keep track of all of the facts, it renders his conclusions unsound. In addition to this, he doesn’t naturally consider the emotions of the participants involved without someone like Chitanda to remind him. In this way, Hyouka suggests that all pieces are necessary to solve a mystery.

Together, Chitanda, Fukube, and Oreki make up the necessary components of the detective, with Ibara as our personal stand-in to the proceedings.

Notes on Knox’s 10 Commandments and Hyouka:

Episode Eight of Hyouka introduces Ronald Knox’s 10 Commandments as a guideline for writing detective fiction. They are as follows:

-The culprit must be introduced early on in the narrative, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader is privy to.

-All supernatural instances must be ruled out.

-No more than one secret room or passageway is allowed.

-No previously undiscovered poisons or scientific developments that would take a large amount of time to explain.

-No Chinamen.

-No accidents can aid in the solving of the story; neither can a sudden intuition.

-The detective themselves must not be the culprit.

-The detective must declare any/all clues that they discover.

-The sidekick of the detective must not conceal their thoughts. They also must be slightly below the intelligence of the average reader.

-No twins, unless the story has sufficiently made a case for their existence.

All of these are fairly self-explanatory (with the exception of five, which is an archaic and incredibly racist character archetype). These rules are introduced as guidelines for a fictional script within the series. However, if one chooses to apply them to the series, one discovers that the mysteries presented within also follow these rules.

Notes On Why We Love Mysteries:

In Episodes Nine through 11, the Hyouka team is called upon to complete an unfinished mystery movie script for another class’s cultural festival project. Mirroring Episode Four, three students from Class 2-F present their theories as to what the original scriptwriter, a meek girl named Hongou, would have wanted. Previously, Hyouka had addressed the key components of detective fiction. In these episodes, the series chooses to explore why an audience is drawn to such stories.

Leading off, Junya Nakajou presents his theory; the most bare-bones, direct, and simple solution of the group. Nakajou could care less about the details in the script, camera work, or acting. As he states above, he represents the mystery-reading population that loves it for the high tension and drama. In Nakajou’s ending, the most important thing would be a tearful confession scene as the culprit is cornered and forced to admit his crime. His actual resolution, a locked-room mystery where the culprit entered and exited through the window, is the least complex to think up. When questioned by Ibara, Nakajou presumes that Hongou was unable to write a more complicated trick. The truth in this statement is that Nakajou himself cannot think of a more complex resolution. He is only focusing on the drama and desiring the ending that will least tax his, and the audience’s, mind.

The props master, Tomohiro Haba, is the next to present, giving a more complex but concise answer than his brutish predecessor. From the moment he enters the room, Haba goes out of his way to establish himself as intellectually superior to Hongou, and the main Hyouka cast that he is presenting his theory to. As props master, Haba is privy to details that his classmates, like Nakajou, may not have known. He uses these, along with a fully-prepared floor map, as part of his presentation. Patronizing Hongou, he says that she could only manage reading the amateurish, entry-level mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In spite of offering a more complex resolution than Nakajou, Haba makes it known that he believes that his version of what Hongou would have wanted is simplistic and easily solved. Haba represents the audience that wants to feel intellectually superior through reading mystery novels.

Misaki Sawaguchi, the publicity manager, is the last to offer a theory. Her personality is jubilant and bubbly, reflecting her role of spreading the word about the movie. Sawaguchi equates mystery with horror, representing one with little to no knowledge of the literary tradition of the mystery genre. Opting for the lowest-common denominator, she is the opposite of Haba, the would-be intellectual. The resolution she presents is one that she herself admits is lame, but has the most shock value, especially since it is the most gory of the three. Her concerns are more over the promotion of the movie and entertaining an audience. Sawaguchi represents the majority, who are only tangentially familiar with the mystery genre, and want only to be entertained through shock value.

Different though their theories may be, the three would-be detectives of Class 2-F have one major thing in common with each other: the ability to gloss over those details that weaken or outright refute their theories. Nakajou ignores a detail involving tracks made in the tall grass, saying that Hougou must have forgotten, since she visited earlier in Spring when there would have been short grass, making an escape route less detectable. He again, unknowingly, is bringing Hongou’s thought process to his own level. Haba ignores the amount of blood that Hongou requested be used as a prop. Like Nakajou, he presumes Hongou’s meaning although, instead of equating his own thoughts with Hongou’s as Nakajou did, Haba presumes his assumptions to be correct. He overrides Hongou’s decision, saying that she outright requested the wrong amount, making a mistake. Lastly, Sawaguchi ignores any and all details that conflict with her own version of the ending. Of the three, she makes it the least about what Hongou would have wanted, and more about what she presumes her audience to want from the story. She also goes as far as to suggest a ghostly culprit, directly contradicting Knox’s 10 Commandments which had previously been established, along with Sherlock Holmes, as the guidelines for Hongou’s script.

The reasons why the main Hyouka cast are drawn to mystery are also brought to light, furthering their characterization both as archetypes and as characters in their own right. Chitanda is drawn to the motivation of the scriptwriter, not caring as much about the story itself, but the emotions of the person behind the story. Fukube is drawn in by the details, mirroring his role of information-provider in the solving of mysteries. Ibara is the first to tell Houtarou of a mistake he made, but is presumably still unable to solve the mystery herself.

And what of the series’s rising deductive star, Houtarou? Lacking the typical catalyst of Chitanda’s curiosity to prod him into solving the mystery, Fuyumi Irisu from Class 2-F plays to his confidence in order to manipulate him. Reiterating what his friend Fukube had said earlier that day, Irisu tells Houtarou that he is special, allowing the last key component that makes the detective fall into place: the ego. In order to go about solving mysteries, gathering clues, making deductive connections, one first must have a sense of pride and self-confidence in order to presume that they are the right person for the task. This too has a downside, as overconfidence can easily be the downfall of a detective, especially in Houtarou’s case where he is lacking in the other key components. It is this hubris that makes him grasp to validate his incorrect conclusion in Episode 11, even in the face of contradictory evidence presented by Ibara, Fukube, and Chitanda. It’s similar, but not equivalent, to how the three Class 2-F presenters each ignored important evidence in order to support their own versions of the movie ending. No one likes to be wrong, after all.

Now, a bit of a review to tie these somewhat loosely-related ends together. Firstly, Hyouka makes a case for what is needed to create a good mystery story and a solid detective, or detective team. Secondly, the series alludes to established rules and guidelines for writing detective fiction, from the straightforward mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, to Knox’s 10 Commandments which came out of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. In Episode 11, the series also references Agatha Christie and use of narrative tricks, continuing its trend of slowly delving into more complexly-constructed mystery stories as it progresses its own story. As the main four learn more about mysteries, what is needed to solve them, and how to solve them, so do we the audience. Thirdly, it also offers suggestions as to why the mystery genre is so beloved, and different reasons why one would choose to read, or watch, a mystery.

As for other conclusions to draw from Hyouka, I’ve rambled along far too much as it is. I am only a database and as such, am hampered by my lack of deductive reasoning. Feel free to leave your deductions in the comments section.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.