Hyouka has always meant a lot to me for myriad personal reasons. It aired at a time when I still didn’t know who I was or what I wanted from life, and ended up inspiring me in more than a few ways. This year, after the Kyoto Animation fire, I reposted one of my posts on the series from my previous blog, and then decided to rewatch it. My Hyouka rewatch wasn’t part of reviewing “favorite of the decade” series, but a simple return to my personal favorite of Kyoto Animation’s works.
I was, and still am, struck by its melancholy.
Hyouka is an oddly divisive series. People don’t argue about it frequently, but the reaction to Hyouka generally falls in one of two categories: “personal favorite”, or “so-boring-I-stopped-watching.” Like all Kyoto Animation series, Hyouka is gorgeous. Even the show’s detractors will agree that its visuals are outstanding, particularly when used cleverly to showcase the series’ chosen deductive mastermind Houtarou Oreki. At its core, Hyouka is about solving mysteries. It’s the perception of what mysteries the series is actually interested in solving that makes Hyouka so intriguing.
If you want a show that’s interested solely in its own plot-level mysteries, like the secret of the Literature Club and Chitanda’s uncle, or the mystery of Class 2-F’s movie, the in-series mysteries will disappoint you. Yet, if you’re interested in the mysteries of character and emotional narratives, Hyouka will likely become a personal favorite of yours as well as mine.
The truly mysterious and terrifying in Hyouka comes once the mysteries are solved from a plot standpoint. Thanks to the club’s sleuthing and Houtarou’s deductive skills, she learns that her uncle took the fall for a protest movement that accidentally burned down a school building. Despite not being the true leader of the movement, he was expelled. The visuals that aid in a retelling from someone who was there (the school librarian) are horrifying, as is the moment when you realize that a simple “ice cream” pun is a reference to Harlan Ellison’s I Have No Mouth and I Must Scream. All of Hyouka’s mysteries, once ended, produce further questions of humanity, character, and emotion. It’s slow, contemplative, and visually arresting.
Hyouka ends on a particularly melancholy note, with Chitanda showing Houtarou how she has accepted the burden of her family name and what is required of her. It’s not happy, but dutiful in a way that suggest she’ll eventually find her own happiness within that duty with musings on what that means for both her and Houtarou.
It’s no coincidence that most, if not all, of the characters’ individual emotional narratives remain relatively unsolved, albeit in a different place than when the series began. They all grow, but there’s no “solving” people.