Anyone who’s been to my Twitter is probably aware about how highly in regard I hold Hyouka. Indeed, I’m quite the promoter when it comes to this high school mystery series, and I’ve been on record retweeting stills of certain characters from this show, liking a bunch of photogenic posts associated with it, promoting this series to unsuspecting users looking for a new anime series to watch, or posting images of a certain character I refer to as mai waifu when asked about who their favorite female anime character is. Until last July, when I resumed watching episodic series by tuning into New Game, Hyouka was the last new one I completed back in October of 2020, right after Your Lie In April, before I went on a string of movies. Now that I’ve finally lifted my personal ban (for lack of a better word) on reviewing episodic series, now is high time to return to those roots and investigate what some consider one of the most underappreciated anime of the previous decade.
You won’t believe what the series’ title actually means when translated to English: “frozen dessert”, literally. So what does this show have to do with this tasty dessert? I’ll spill it out for you: ABSOLUTELY. FREAKING. NOTHING. Its beginnings derive all the way back to 2001, when a 23-year old aspiring author, Honobu Yonezawa, published Hyouka in novel form on his writing blog, which ended up becoming the first book of a series known as the Classic Literature Club trilogy. The show was eventually picked up by Kyoto Animation; fresh off the production of hit series The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, K-On and Nichijou in chronological order, staff picked up his novel series and turned it into anime using their strong experience in creating visual sequences, and what resulted was a 23-episode series which premiered from April to September of 2012.
Reaction to this series has been mostly mixed, but it seems these days it’s one of those KyoAni works which have been largely forgotten by the public – understandably, since around the same time it aired, everyone’s favorite/hated VR gaming tale, Sword Art Online, would come out and take the entire world by storm. However, it did manage to garner a live-action film in 2017, titled Hyouka: Forbidden Secrets by Kadokawa Pictures, whose parent company was responsible for publishing the novel – a feat which other KyoAni works have yet to achieve, even the most notorious ones.
Houtarou Oreki, a freshman student at Kamiyama High School, is not your average anime protagonist. He doesn’t have any superpowers and isn’t a popular lad. At the same time however, he’s not some depressed loner nor does he exhibit hints of personal issues that he needs to solve. Rather, he’s a sullen kid who just loves to laze around and live an ordinary, morose life; it’s become engraved as his motto, “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t do it. If I have to do it, I’ll get it done as quickly as possible”. At the urging of his absent sister Tomoe, whose visage rarely makes an appearance on-screen, he joins the Classical Literature club, of which the former was a significant member of, despite having no interest in literature and only doing it to keep it going for another year. That’s when he stumbles upon
best waifu, kindly keep your hands off her Eru Chitanda, another freshman girl from a rich household with a penchant for curiosity and figuring out the “why” rather than “how” of things. In their first encounter, he helps her to deduce how he was able to get the keys to the club room despite it being locked, much to her insistence and his feigned annoyance.
The duo are later joined by Fukube Satoshi, Oreki’s extremely enthusiastic, and highly informative best friend, and Mayaka Ibara, a closet manga nerd with an extremely short temper, who together engage with our lead couple in this extracurricular endeavor. (All they’re missing is a large brown Great Dane who speaks in broken English, has a penchant for dog treats, and yells “Scooby-Dooby-Doo” when a mystery is solved) As members of the revived Classic Literature Club, they take it upon themselves to do what any typical school group would do, and solve random strange occurrences happening throughout their environs. This is typically achieved by someone mentioning a situation, Chitanda getting extremely curious, and begging Oreki to solve it for her, which he relents to despite his lack of energy. Some of the major investigations include:
- Investigating the reason behind Chitanda’s uncle, Jun Sekitani, and his role during a school riot 45 years ago (note: one month after the Maple Leafs won their last Stanley Cup to-date), in episodes 3-4
- Working with Irisu Fuyumi, Chitanda’s friend, on deciphering the true culprit of a poorly-written murder-mystery flick from episodes 8-11
- Catching the culprit of what appears to be a staged series of slight robberies during the school festival set in episodes 12-17
Along the way, a friendship begins to develop between the quartet, as in addition to their club activities they participate in multiple events such as a cooking competition, quiz bowl, and various Japanese winter and spring festivals. And thanks to Chitanda, Oreki also begins to develop a life, obtain some new interests, and even finds himself slowly falling in love with this random girl who jumped into his life.
WHAT I LIKED
- Chitanda is the greatest thing to ever come out from this series. Anytime she gets Oreki to do her bidding just by saying “I’m curious” it’s a good moment. I’m surprised some people find this annoying because I find her literally to be everything that went right with this swries.
- The writing of the series was done well. The mysteries were done as fittingly as they could with the “ordinary life” sequence, and didn’t need to resort to extraordinary tactics such as the typical “murder mystery” or “lost treasure” scenario that’s been done too many times. Instead, where they thrived was the intriguing scenarios, the build-up to them was laid out well, and their conclusions were for the most part, sensible and logical. It’s clear that the book’s original author put a lot of thought and effort to making sure that nothing would be left behind from this.
- On top of that, the creativity and variety of the various shenanigans they uncover always kept me going back to wonder what else they’re going to uncover. The good thing is, each of the scenarios are different, which is a good way to have them test their abilities even more and more, while adapting to the ever-changing constraints. It reminds me of those old point-and-click games where you had to find items in the background that could be used to open doors, solve puzzles, and the like; Hyouka falls no short of that excitement.
- There are times when it could be smart too. For one thing there’s the occasional references to works by British authors Arthur Conan Doyle and Agatha Christie (who Traditionalist Catholics in England and Wales remember for spurring Pope Paul VI to permit celebrations of the Tridentine Mass there) that are integral parts for solving the respective movie and festival issues, but also times where characters either discussed concepts behind objectivity/subjectivity of literature (episode 13), and the Seven Deadly Sins (episode 6)
- I don’t speak about visuals often, but Hyouka‘s animation was a huge step up from the typical style of previous shows such as Lucky Star, K-On, The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya and others before it – a brief look at it compared to the others can confirm. In contrast to these series, which had a more flashy, shounen-influenced look towards them, this one felt more relaxed, fluid and less colorfully intensive.
WHAT I DIDN’T LIKE
- Oreki barely gets a coherent backstory to him – why he’s so sullen, lacks motivation, and doesn’t find enjoyment in life could have been better enhanced if the writers had given him something to work about with. In contrast, Mayaka and Fukube’s relationship with each other is explored in some sense, shedding light as to why she’s triggered whenever he does something wrong.
- The show lacks humor or other sets of emotions to it, so if you’re looking for a few laughs here and there from this flick, don’t bother. Venture further only if you like cute anime girls and a series that can make your brain work.
- The swimming pool episode, which makes up the OVA that comes after episode 11, was boring and had nothing good going for it. It’s worth skipping.
Our story mainly centers around the four main Classical Literature Club members – Oreki,
best waifu, also she is real Chitanda, Fukube, and Mayaka. As a unit, the characters work well with each other, and contain enough good qualities that assemble a properly functioning squadron of amateur detectives. They support each other, always keep each other in check, and are very open to their feelings to one another. Their approachability and openness is something that keeps the group together, and pulls them through some tough moments. During the cook-off episode, this is where it best shines. Despite Oreki’s duty to guard the anthologies and Mayaka’s conflicting duties with the manga club, they still manage to pull off a victory thanks to Mayaka’s quick thinking and the convenient communication between Oreki and Fukube to get extra ingredients, and overall wonderfully parlays the positive qualities mentioned above which get them going.
Some glimpse of their relationships with each other, such as the prominent one between Oreki and Chitanda, Fukube and Mayaka, and even the latter with members of her not-so-accepting manga club are also included to enhance the show’s value; with regards to the first, of which I’m convinced is canonical, sees the two mutually understand each other to the point that they entertain each other in a delightfully cute manner.
Individually, their roles are mostly set in stone: Oreki is the head detective, who gathers all the information and draws conclusions from them, regardless of how convoluted they appear; Chitanda is his Dr. Watson, often accompanying him on his journeys and motivating him to not take shortcuts; Fukube acts as the data specialist, even calling himself a “database” given his vast knowledge of information but lack of ability to connect the dots, and Mayaka at times becomes the “devil’s advocate” who presents alternate situations and examples. But all in all, they’re likable, rational, and have a penchant for creativity in their own ways that one just can’t forget even after the series completed.
I wouldn’t consider the music of this show as one of the bright spots. That’s not to say it was bad, but given the series’ atmosphere it felt way too upbeat, and was lacking in the intimidating factor. I can sort of understand that they wanted to reflect the show’s setting and its largely innocent nature, but balancing them with thriller-like themes would have been nice as well. In fact, I can’t imagine myself enjoying these tunes on an ordinary day nor seeing how it’s any more unique than other slice-of-life shows I’ve seen. As to the opening and ending theme songs, with the exception of the second ending song, which I ranked as one of my favorite of that type, they also fell flat. Catchy, and accompanied with some nice visuals of the main characters and setting, but again, not that interesting. The second ending song, Kimi Ni Matsuwaru Mystery, on the other hand, is an absolute gem to listen to, and I like how they interluded it with the female leads chasing after their wannabe-boyfriends. It’s cute and heartwarming.
Favorite character: Houtarou Oreki is basically me in character form. Innovative – check. Very relaxed – definitely. Is in love with a cute Asian girl – you bet. Problem solver – his work and mine literally involve that. Wants to find the quickest way out of things – admittedly, there are times where I’ve faced this predicament.
Favorite mystery: Definitely the “murder mystery movie” one instigated by Irisu has the markings of this indicator. The first time I watched it, I came up with the same conclusion as Oreki did, only to recoil in shock as it unraveled the twist that only Shyamalan could have written if he was a good writer. Overall, it was well-crafted, genuinely thrilling, the involvement of other students and their theories was a bonus to keeping our heads circling around the story, and not to mention, the “movie within a movie” concept is a creative way to formulate a mystery around.
Favorite scene: Officially, the answer is any scene involving Chitanda. She’s a real gem to be around; her extroverted intuitions, cheerful personality and air of humble intelligence only add to the show’s quality in my eyes, and basically radicalized me to prefer girls who are much like her IRL. If I were to pick an individual scene that I enjoyed though, probably the cook-off competition during the Kamiyama High Festival arc gets this spot – actually, that whole festival arc, with its numerous clubs and the enthusiastic summer crowd was really fun to witness.
Favorite dialogue: Oreki and Chitanda in episode 19 end up trying to figure out the rationale behind a certain school announcement made at the end of the day, and during one of the conversations this happens where Chitanda gets triggered interiorly by Oreki’s lack of explanation:
Oreki: Typically, school announcements are made twice, just for security. However, this one was made once probably because the administrators were in a rush. It’s clear why this predicament happened.
Chitanda: And what’s that?
Oreki: Because this announcement was made after school.
Chitanda: Oreki, please don’t try to shortcut your way through these solutions.
Oreki: Oh yes “shortcut” that’s the greatest word ever…
Chitanda: *shaking him* Oreki~This is proof that best waifu is all you need to make your life interesting
There are reasons why I consider Hyouka to be an underrated masterpiece (Chitanda being one of them). Its unexpected take on the high school setting, decision to filter out action in favor of intellectualism, and the connection between the characters made it an enjoyable flick to appreciate on my end. Sure, it could be emotionally stagnant at times, and Oreki’s presence made this even more glaring, but other than very minor inconveniences, there’s really nothing bad that can be said about it. I love this series, and I think it deserves a fair shot by anyone who’s looking for another series to watch, one that’s especially a different tone to the slice-of-life tales they’re used to where absolutely nothing of importance happens.