Hyouka Review: Close to Home Mysteries

Title: Hyouka (lit: Ice Cream)
Genre/Themes: Mystery, school, drama
Number of Episodes: 22
Original Creator: Honobu Yonezawa (novel, first volume published in 2001)
Animation Studio: Kyoto Animation
Director: Yasuhiro Takemoto

Plot Summary
Oreki Houtarou enters his first year in high school with only one thing in mind; preserving his life motto: “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. If I have to do it, make it quick.” Unfortunately though, Oreki’s sister has asked him to join the Classics Club, which is on the verge of being disbanded due to having zero members. He meets Chitanda Eru, who was already in the club room. For some reason, Oreki finds himself unable to reject Chitanda’s requests to satisfy her curiosity by solving various mysteries, including the personal affair that prompted her to go to the Classics Club. So Oreki finds himself being dragged into the club by Chitanda along with his two other middle school friends, Satoshi Fukube and Ibara Mayaka.

I’m skipping the ‘General Comments’ section this time as I don’t have anything to say that doesn’t fit into the other paragraphs. Except for that you should ignore the ‘Classics Club’ part and just replace it with ‘Mystery Club’. What the characters are doing is anything but related to ‘classics’.

While Oreki might believe people like him who don’t want a ‘rose-colored high school life’ are rare, the anime world is filled to the brim with characters like him. More often than not are they accompanied by an overactive female protagonist who gets all the attention. Although Hyouka has a charming female protagonist, the spotlight is still mainly pointed to Oreki, who is the person solving all the mysteries. Even the two other characters, Satoshi and Ibara get a fair share of screentime as well.

Being on screen is one thing, being an interesting character is another. Amazingly, all four characters are very enjoyable to watch in my opinion. Oreki inevitably gets some character development as he slowly takes more initiative. Satoshi and Ibara are shown to have inner conflicts and/or own problems as well, raising their roles above the ‘just a support character’. The only character who seems to stay practically the same is Chitanda, although I doubt fans of cute characters find that much of a problem.

Hyouka‘s mysteries mostly originate from in and around the school grounds and are quite ‘ordinary’ stuff. The first mystery for example, involves how Chitanda got locked in the clubroom whereupon Oreki entered the same room by unlocking the door with the key. You might think something like that can’t be that interesting and you may be right. To make things worse, the mysteries aren’t that spectacular or creative. Even for a person like me who hasn’t read/watched a lot of mystery genre, it didn’t impress. However, solving mysteries is less than half of what this show offers; the other big part is watching the character interactions.

There’s no overarching plot that involves all the smaller mysteries. There’re a few longer arcs that span several episodes, but their stories are limited in such a way that it wouldn’t be hard at all for an outside to grasp what’s going on. Except for the relationships and the role of each character. These longer arcs have a single mystery at their centers and slowly build up to a climax where Oreki, after a lot of complaining, takes a few minutes to think before revealing what he thinks happened.

And all well ends well, for the characters that is. But what about the viewers? Well the problem with Hyouka‘s story is that it doesn’t really captivate you. The drama is kind of ordinary and you never feel anything for the ‘culprits’ since they’re never on screen for a long time. A good example of this is the culture festival arc. It was much more enjoyable to watch the events around it (cooking contest) than watching the mystery unfold (some thievery). The mystery felt more like some kind of side-event that the characters decided to solve even though it barely had anything to do with them. The same could be said about most other story arcs; making a big fuss about nothing.

Score and Visuals
Can I just say ‘bland’ for both of them and be done with it? Probably not, so I’ll say this. I can barely remember anything of the BGM. It might be because Hyouka is a show where there is a lot of talking, which doesn’t leave room for dramatic music to be played, not that the plot has a lot of suspense in the first place. The voice acting is so-so, nothing less, nothing more.

Let’s move on to the visuals which are just as uninteresting as the audio. The only stylish parts are the animations at when they’re trying to figure out what happened. That is accompanied by a sudden change in the art style that describes and animates the characters’ thought processes. Other than that though…Let’s say the background art seems to have come straight from K-ON! (being in a school helps too). The same could but said for the characters, but without all the moe-goodness. Maybe for Chitanda…maybe.

You want a down to earth mystery show with high school detectives in a high school club with some high school drama mixed in? Then you might want to watch Hyouka. Are you looking for some simple enjoyment? Well, think twice before watching is my warning. It can get a bit too down to earth. Are you looking for something that will really impress you? Then you are better off looking somewhere else.

Rating: 6.6/10

About Lloyd

Game (Programming) and Anime fanatic
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11 Responses to Hyouka Review: Close to Home Mysteries

  1. aurajanuary says:

    Hi there!

    I’m a huge fan of your blog and love to read your reviews. In fact, when I want to know whether or not to watch a show, I typically check your opinion as a first referral.

    I am in the midst of watching Hyouka right now and completely agree with your points on the characters and the plot. Each of the characters is so subtle and the way their personalities are expressed in the script is quite clever. The plot itself is a bit of a yawn-fest and I find myself thoroughly disappointed.

    I am surprised that you did not have more to say on the visuals and audio. While there isn’t anything fancy happening with the animation, there is excellent use of color and rarely a corner cut. As to the music, while I am unimpressed but the continued reuse of the same “Suiten fuer Violincello,” the whole OST uses a lot of lovely classical-style pieces (I’m a fan of that sort of thing, so I could be biased). But most interestingly – your comment on it looking like K-On, is actually on the mark. Fun fact: The character designer and director, and some of the other staff I’m sure, worked on K-On as well. I would not be surprised if this person designed the art for the light novels and it simply carried over into the anime.

    Keep up the amazing reviews!

    • Lloyd says:

      Aww you flatter me. I think my random ramblings don’t really deserve that much credit (also see the last big paragraph of my other comment below). I also watch relatively few shows each season, so I wonder how much use you had for my blog.

      Good thing you commented on that paragraph of mine and I think I’m going to be honest here and say that that paragraph always has given me problems. I usually watch each episode of an anime just once. I found that when watching once, I can only concentrate on the plot and characters, resulting in a weak impression of the visuals and soundtrack.

      The visuals are not too hard to comment on, but things are still so relative as to what one might find interesting enough to be mentioned in the first place. Most people know Kyoto Animation won’t fail them on the visual part. This isn’t a shounen show either with lots of action and thus chances to cut corners with lousy camera angles or still shots (read: Sword Art Online). My comment on K-ON! should have given people a relatively good idea, though I should have added some shots go far above K-ON!’s quality.

      As for music, things get even more subjective. I know Hyouka uses a lot of classical music instead of synthetic sounding tunes many other anime use. However, I am not a classical fan so I don’t know a lot about it. Nor do I have any idea what a good classical piece is. Their use in anime is even harder for me to judge. I think I should’ve at least mentioned that classical pieces were used in Hyouka in my review though.

      • aurajanuary says:

        That’s true, you haven’t reviewed all that many anime. However, you are very selective in what you watch and so if you have decided to put the effort into a review, the show left at least a decent initial impression and will receive a thoughtful response. Don’t sell yourself short!

        Anyway, I have that problem with soundtracks, too. I’m a writer so I get more caught up in the plot than anything else (with Sakamichi no Apollon being a rare exception – if you haven’t watched it, you should). Only rarely do a recall an anime’s BGM and that’s usually because it’s so garish and ostentatious that it gets stuck in my brain. If you know you’re going to review a show you’re currently watching, you might want to try opening up the wordpress page and creating a draft with some small things that stuck with you so you can recall them later. You can always delete the draft, but then you can at least go back to it should you decide to go through with the review.

      • Lloyd says:

        Sakamichi no Apollon. Kids on the Slope huh. It is on my to-watch list. Autumn season is probably going to be pretty busy for me, so it will have to wait till at least after that.

        Taking notes is actually a pretty good idea. I have also tried to take screenshots while watching, so not only don’t I have to specially rewatch episodes to get the screenshots needed for my reviews, but also having an easier time finding good and representative scenes.
        The problem is though that I still watch an anime with enjoying it in mind, not reviewing. I barely ever stop or rewind. So I also don’t like stopping just to take a screenshot. I really should in the future.

        And…you’re a writer? Not blogs, but a real writer? What kind of things do you write if I may ask?

      • aurajanuary says:

        Well, I’m a writer, but my first story is still on the track to publication, so not quite an author. The in-between phase is rather unsettling, and with each draft, the printing feels a little farther away.

        I mainly write reality based fiction, with the occasional (and frankly horrible) fantasy. I keep trying to write fantasy and people keep preferred the story about a mom with cancer or the girl with the friend who pretends he’s a dragon. It’s not fair. :)

      • Lloyd says:

        Interesting. Thanks for sharing.

        I’m more of a technical person myself and am envious of people who are doing the more creative stuff like writing and drawing.

  2. meganesuki says:

    Hey there Lloyd! It’s me again ^_^ Remember me from your GC Review?

    I have to say, I am disappointed with this one though. Did you honestly not find the show to your liking? I believe there is a depth to the characters, something rare in most currently airing anime. Each character gets ample screen time. They are all interesting in their own way, be it Satoshi, who hangs around Oreki even when he is clearly a loner, or Ibara, I love her reaction when Oreki solves a riddle/mystery. Clearly, the best characters are the protagonists, Oreki and Eru.

    This show sets itself apart from other shows in that they don’t have any fanservice (god knows, the anime community can’t get enough,) which i appreciate. It is also not among the common genres like Shounen, Mecha, and a dozen other genres. That’s what I believe makes it special, that it cannot be classified under any specific Genre.

    True, the story seems to be going at a very slow pace, but it focuses a lot on individual detail. I can’t really comment on the whole story yet, as i haven’t seen all of it [Finished half before my exams started :( ] But I can say it gives a lot of food for thought. It gets you involved in the mysteries, however small they be, and you end up trying to figure it out before the plot is revealed.

    Regarding the visuals: I favor simplistic artwork over extravagant, flashy artwork. It seems nice to have visuals such as these from time to time. But I really liked the animations that were displayed when Oreki’s thought processes were rolling.

    Audio: Ok, in this regard, I have to agree with you. The BGM was sparse to Non-existent, but it didn’t really seem to bother me that much.

    One more item i would like to add is that there is a subtle hidden meaning in the conversations between the characters. You have to be really good at Japanese to figure it out, as the translation kind of seems not to do it justice.

    I would recommend this show to any seasoned anime fan who doesn’t only stick to mindless fanservice or Shounen all the time. But that’s just my opinion.

    On another note, you seem to be posting reviews rather slowly. Do you wait for a show to complete, or do you review it midway? It would be nice to read more from you :)

    • Lloyd says:

      Hehe. I didn’t remember you by your name only, but when I read what you said, I did remember some points that were rather familiar.

      I am not too sure what you’re disappointed with though. Is it our difference in opinion or the review quality? If it’s the latter then I can only apologize. I’ll come back to that later.

      I apologize too if I gave the impression that I didn’t like the show. The truth is, I don’t find it a bad show, but it definitely isn’t good either. I agree that the characters will be the main reasons people will like Hyouka. However, the show also spends a lot of time making the mysteries unravel. You explained in various ways why you found them interesting, but I can’t agree on that and I feel there isn’t much room for a good discussion on this subject, so I’ll just leave it at a ‘difference of opinion’.

      When I first started watching Hyouka, I also thought the atmosphere was somewhat different than most other anime I watched. Being unique is one thing though, being good is another. If I may bring up Puella Magi Madoka Magica again, I doubt anyone would disagree that that show is the pinnacle of creativity of the past few years in the anime world, but I found its story incredibly trash. Hyouka does feel different, but 22 episodes long and it turned out a bit too…well, like I said in my review, too ‘down to earth’. It isn’t a slice-of-life show, so a little excitement isn’t out of place.

      Well, I don’t know about the quality of the translations, since my skills in understanding spoken Japanese is next to non-existent. It should be pretty obvious I used fan-translations to watch Hyouka, just like all the other anime I watch.

      If you look at the complete history of my blog you’ll see that when I just started, I did write episodic reviews of what was airing back then. I then turned to midway reviews and now I just wait till a show finishes before I write. The thing is I just write this blog for fun. It isn’t my lifeline and I doubt I’ll gain anything significant by putting more effort into it. Writing a review takes a good amount of time. To come back to my review quality again. The content of the review is completely based on my subjective feelings at the moment of writing, instead of opinion research of other people or something like that. So you could say my reviews are written ‘on a whim’.
      Also for the ratings I give each show. If you look through all the reviews I have written, you’ll see that most scores fall between 6.0 – 7.5. That area are the shows that I find ‘enjoyable, but necessarily good’. Hyouka’s score falls in this category of average scores and is thus, in my opinion, an average show.

      While I really do appreciate your enthusiasm in my articles, as things currently stand, I doubt I’ll start writing more than I already do.

      • meganesuki says:

        Oops! Sorry there, I did not notice that you had replied to my comment…
        Ok, maybe what we see here IS a difference of opinion. But is it really possible to review anything with a completely subjective frame of mind? I do believe that no matter how hard you try, a little bit of your(Not YOU per se) personal opinions tend to trickle into your review. This is sort of a grey area, so not much we can discuss.
        As you guessed correctly, my initial interpretation was that you did not like the show as much. I guess I was wrong on that regard. I have a flaw that makes me blindly like something so much that it makes me oblivious to certain things about it that would adversely affect my opinion about it. So I was kind of shocked to see anything remotely negative about it. For that, I apologise.
        But I do like the way you write your reviews, the format in which you review shows. I only wish you could do more regular shows, but I can understand that it takes a lot of time and effort, something which is incredibly hard to dedicate to when you’re working/studying. But I’ll still read any post you publish, so that i can see things from a different perspective. Thanks for that! :)

      • Lloyd says:

        I really appreciate your comments. Knowing that I can entertain or help my viewers and getting some acknowledgement for my work does make things seem more worthwhile. Although I didn’t start writing this blog for the latter. One of the reasons I started this blog was to get closer to the anime community. I think I somewhat succeeded in that. Haha.

        I don’t think I ever claimed my reviews were completely objective. If I did, not only was it a complete lie, but also not what I intended in the first place. Maybe my reviews seem objective is because I don’t let myself get carried away with exaggerated praising or loathing.

    • gwern says:

      > This show sets itself apart from other shows in that they don’t have any fanservice (god knows, the anime community can’t get enough,) which i appreciate.

      You’re kidding, right? The swimsuit episode? The photographs in school festival? Any episode with Chitanda cleavage?

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