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.
There are people in my industry that give me hope for the future. I’ve told them as such. As it continues to grind forward into the future, they are the ones keeping others in check. They are brave, frequently eschewing or challenging existing systems or a general status quo. I’m fortunate to know them because, quite frankly, I’m a bit of a coward.
In an interview about Sarazanmai, director Kunihiko Ikuhara mentions the future, and specifically how it’s always marketed as something good. “The future is sparkling,” he paraphrases a commodified message. Everything in post-war Japan is “an improvement” and whatever lies in the future is certainly better than the past. You can see this in the upcoming preparations for the 2020 Summer Olympic Games in Tokyo — which not-so-coincidentally are featured in the skyline frequently in Sarazanmai.
If there is hope for the future, it’s not in commodified messages or Ama-Kappa-zon boxes of desire. The challenge of Sarazanmai is the same one that my friends are rising to face in my industry: wading through oceans of societal bullshit and infrastructure while fighting it with genuine passion.
The future isn’t always sparkling, but even Sarazanmai — a series that argues heavily against looking towards the future with a blanket rosy outlook from the marketing machine — has hope. A better future is possible, it’s just not the one that’s been marketed or promised.
First, the story of Reo Niiboshi and Mabu Akutsu, the two who perpetuated the system.
“To me, you are still nothing more than a little boy who is just like a hundred thousand other little boys. And I have no need of you. And you, on your part, have no need of me. To you I am nothing more than a fox like a hundred thousand other foxes. But if you tame me, then we shall need each other. To me, you will be unique in all the world. To you, I shall be unique in all the world….”
-The fox to the little prince, The Little Prince, Antoine de Saint-Exupéry
I return to The Little Prince a lot as a literary reference or frame through which to view other media. Its lessons are so simple and plainly said, yet remarkably difficult to achieve in life. Similarly, Kunihiko Ikuhara (who is also a fan of The Little Prince) uses seemingly-complex visual metaphors or specific visual and auditory languages to tell what are ultimately simple, but no less powerful, emotional narratives.
The shift between child to adult — and simple but important things adults may miss due to societal constraints or expectations — is the most-discussed lesson of The Little Prince, yet the one I was always interested in was that of connections. Or as the fox says to the little prince, “taming.”* What makes life bearable and meaningful is often found in relationships with others or connections, as Sarazanmai would say, and this is the most powerful force in existence, divine even.
Sarazanmai‘s eighth episode breaks the pattern of episodes prior. There is no “Kawausoiya” and no trio singing on the otherworldly version of Azumabashi trying to capture a kappa zombie’s shirikodama.
Yet, Azumabashi bridge — the location of Sarazanmai‘s field of desires — still plays a large and similar role in this episode. It connects people.
Not too long ago, I read a Final Fantasy XV fanfiction one-shot of Noctis Lucis Caelum and Ignis Scientia. You don’t have to necessarily know who these characters are specifically for this meandering exercise, but know that they have been inseparable from a very young age (think six years-old or so) through their early twenties due to circumstances of their upbringing. These are two people who should know each other very well, if not intimately, having spent the majority of their lives together. At the very least, there is no one that they know better than the other. The story’s premise was that confusion — or some other status effect brought on by a fight gone horribly wrong — caused Ignis to not recognize that Noctis is, well, Noctis.
Instead, Ignis believes that Noctis is an imposter. In Noctis’ efforts to escort Ignis back to the rest of their group hilarity, as they say, ensues while Ignis is convinced the fake-but-actually-real Noctis is leading him into a trap. The story was charming, but also had an odd dark humor that I don’t know if the author intended. Some of Ignis’ genuine confusion could have been also read as heartbreaking. The story played with a lot of our deepest insecurities — primarily what happens if someone we love fails to recognize us for who we are. It actively hurts them both.
What makes others unrecognizable to us? What makes us unrecognizable to them? Is it a slow process over time or caused by a sudden catalyst? Is it due to societal pressures or natural personality shifts?
Can we return to a time where we felt like they recognized us?
Spoilers for the Sarazanmai companion manga, Reo and Mabu ~ Together They’re Sarazanmai.