「あきましておめでとう」 (Aki Mashi te Omedeto)
“Happy New Opening”
It’s been said that the New Year brings with it the coming of a new beginning and the opportunity to start anew. For some, it’s a time to make resolutions and affirm to themselves that they’re going to work harder and build on developments from the past year. For a select group of people though, it’s the complete opposite. Yup, because when you’re Houtarou, it’s the time of the year where one instead affirms that they’re going to expend as little energy as they possibly can. But as he found out the hard way though, things don’t always end up the way you want them to. Sometimes, a new beginning just forces itself upon you.
Indeed, things turn sour quite fast as Houtarou draws a bad fortune and a series of coincidences ultimately leave him and Chitanda trapped in the shrine’s storage shed. Some quick thinking ends up saving them from their dire predicament, but the message is clear: this won’t just be another year. Because if there’s one thing that this episode hammers in, it’s that due to various circumstances, Houtarou is no longer the person he was at the start of this series. Led by Chitanda and the everyday mysteries he’s consistently been solving as a result of her presence, he’s at a point where there’s no longer any way to completely revert to his old self. Despite how much he outwardly prays and wants to lead a “low-energy life,” his gradual extra use of energy makes it all but impossible to revert back to how he was before.
In many ways it really is “new opening” to say the least—both literally because of the New Year and Satoshi’s rescue with the opening of the shed door, and figuratively in the feeling that this New Year seems to hint at the beginnings of something potentially more between our main characters. And as such, it results in yet another superb week of Hyouka, as the characters just continue powering this series to some great heights, and the series continues proving the viability of creating something great without being super complex, flashy, or unrealistic.
Full-length images: 03.
「手作りチョコレート事件」 (Tezukuri Chokoreto Jiken)
“The Chocolate Files”
Going through life in general, people tend to have a tendency to assume things based on what they know. On one hand, it’s a natural mechanism—one formed from the fear of the unknown and a need to fill in intangible voids with something more concrete. On the flip side though, what ultimately results from taking things too much at face value is that the person you think you know quite well, you don’t really know at all. In arguably the most emotional episode of Hyouka (and what many would consider the final climax of the series), we get to see first hand just how true this is.
As it turns out, Satoshi’s outer demeanor holds within some personal demons—ones shielded by an assumption that a person with his personality wouldn’t have any doubts or weaknesses, and is immune to moments and reactions that one would categorize as stupid. As a result, Houtarou realizes that he doesn’t really know him well at all—and it just emphasizes not only that it something probably pushed along further by Houtarou’s apathy through the years, but the inaction on Satoshi’s part to properly prevent these misconceptions and settle on a proper decision regarding Mayaka.
To say the least, the results just weren’t pretty. Seeing Chitanda like that and Satoshi suddenly acting the way he did… phew* Really made me want to throw some things out the window. In the end though, spurred on once again by Chitanda, Houtarou takes some active steps to assist in rectifying the situation, and seems to successfully resolve it. Needless to say, the gradual maturation of Houtarou continues, as he realizes that there’s a limit to the things you can turn a blind eye towards—especially when it involves someone you particularly care about.
Ultimately, there’s just so much more going on in Hyouka’s background aside from the mysteries. In many ways, it’s a tale of maturation—of realizing the faults and misconceptions one holds, the acceptance of them and the responsibilities that come with the circumstances one is put into. In the case of Houtarou, it’s about the gradual realization that living an apathetic life—despite it being something that he would be content with—doesn’t mean that there isn’t anything else that could provide more for him. That and the fact that Chitanda chose him out of everyone else to interact with, as well as his obvious intelligence, mean that he has a responsibility to both respond to Chitanda and at times, utilize his intelligence when a situation arises. Houtarou aside, it’s something that ultimately applies to Satoshi in particular as well, as the fact that Mayaka loves him (and he knows that she does), means that he’s responsible for at least providing a proper answer.
There’s just an abundance of subtle commentary and development in general, and it’s something that’s emphasized even further by Houtarou’s consumption of the chocolate his sister gives him at the end. Despite the obvious fact that it clearly can’t be that great compared to a handmade one and that he didn’t care for it much at the beginning of this episode, he ends up eating it anyway, and noticeably smiles at the end. It’s just a symbolic gesture that seems to allude to how sometimes, things that seem bad—such as exerting more energy in Houtarou’s case—doesn’t always mean they will be.
Full-length images: 17.
「遠まわりする雛」 (To Mawari Suru Hina)
“Dolls in the Distance”
The grand finale is finally here and for the most part, the episode delivers in way both befitting the series and one that only Hyouka could pull off.
See, for most series, a trend that’s particularly noticeable is last episode ends up being the the one used by quite a few series to resolve many overarching plot lines, or to give the series that extra kick so it’d have some climactic send off. Hyouka on the other hand, merely continues marching along with the attitude and atmosphere it’s had since the beginning. Unlike many other series, there aren’t a multitude of plot lines that need resolution. Rather, there are only a few, and Hyouka wraps them up nicely with a bow tie—and a mystery that keeps the series true to its roots.
Indeed, the mystery itself ends up forming the foundations of all the resolutions we wanted this episode—particularly what would happen between Mayaka and Satoshi (who seem to have gotten together or at least gotten over the events of last episode) and what would happen regarding Houtarou and low-energy lifestyle. As soon as the episode starts though, we’re already seeing that the answer to the latter is that—as Houtarou says himself—his old way of living is in mortal danger. And despite the fact he keeps telling himself how it’s a bad development, it’s starting to become quite obvious that he’s changed, and for the better. His instant acceptance of Chitanda’s request and his waiting for her at the end just highlighted the fact that he’s no longer the same whether he wants to admit it or not, and his experience during the festival a demonstration of the potential things he’s been missing out up until this point.
But as the saying goes, one does not simply change overnight. This quote leads us to the closing scenes of Hyouka, where undoubtedly many of us were hoping Houtarou would’ve actually said out the words he was thinking at the time. Sadly though, he doesn’t end up saying the words that would most likely cement a future relationship with Chitanda, and despite my expectations being dashed, I can’t help but think back up to the above quote and accept the ending we were given. Because while Houtarou has changed drastically over the course of the series, the fact remains that he’s still not at a point where he can fully accept that change. There’s still that doubt lingering over whether or not he should “take the plunge” and in that context, he did the best thing for the both of them by not saying those words and allowing that doubt to potentially shatter whatever relationship they may have started.
In the end, that’s pretty much what the dialogue was all about. It was a commentary on how timing is everything. With Houtarou unsure and the two starting to embark on different paths (science vs. art respectively), this wasn’t the right time for them to get together, despite their obvious feelings for each other.
And last but not least, it’s both a farewell and a promise to meet again someday. Chitanda’s whole dialogue about the town and its possibilities was pretty much pointing at how the town as it is doesn’t have the means to provide her with the things she desires or knowledge to make the difference she feels obligated to initiate. As such, it’s rather subtle farewell, a kind of “I have to go.” At the same time though, the fact that she says this now and the fact that she wanted to show Houtarou this before leaving, is pretty much her saying that “I want you to remember. This is the town I… no, we grew up in. Remember it and remember me.” Combining this with her assertion that she will one day return regardless of the fact the town wasn’t anything particularly special, and it’s as if she’s saying she’ll be back one day and that Houtarou would know where to find her if he wanted to down the road.
Of course, the open-ended nature of the episode makes one wonder how much of my suppositions were right, but the way I see it, the two will end up together at some point in the future. It’s just that for them, now’s not the right time—and I’m alright with that kind of ending. Ultimately, Hyouka’s a realistic series no matter how you look at it and this ending just keeps that fact intact.
Full-length images: 15.
Looking back, it could be said that Hyouka was one of those more polarizing series. To many, the concept of having mysteries revolving around every day occurrences was a breath of fresh air in a time where mystery oriented anime aren’t numerous in general, and tend to rely on supernatural elements to add an extra punch to everything. To others though, the mysteries were too boring as a result—the characters nothing particularly special. Still, while I can understand why those that held the latter view would feel the way they did, I have to say that I definitely a member of the former camp and loved this series through and through.
To me, Hyouka was one of those series that only come along once in a while. It was just different in how it portrayed things in as realistically as possible and in the way its characters blended with one another—their dynamic interactions bouncing off one another like the the friends they are and resonating with the viewers, who undoubtedly felt themselves drawn to them and feeling as if they were friends with them too. It was different in how the series just steadfastly stuck to its guns, never really changing in its overall atmosphere or attitude, never trying to hard to be something it wasn’t, and always finding someway to mix in a mystery that didn’t require any supernatural influence. And lastly, it was different in how it was able to weave everything so well—combining subtle commentary and character development with weekly mysteries in amazing ways few series could do.
Supported by the consistently superb animation of Kyoani, a great selection of classical pieces, and a unique style… there are just no words in the end to express how much I loved watching this series on a weekly basis. The dynamics between Chitanda and Houtarou was especially great as well (though Satoshi and Mayaka were up there too)—giving everyone the true definition of that “one true pairing” and characters whom we’ll be unable to forget for years to come. Because after all, how will one ever forget Chitanda and her constant cries of “kininarimasu”!?
Indeed, one might argue that the only way to truly appreciate the series would be to watch it. Some shows just defy the use of words to express the its subtle elements and Hyoukais one of them. To top it all off, Hyouka manages to do all of this and succeed without a grandiose plot, flashy action scenes, or super serious drama. Rather, it’s a perfect example how you don’t need any of those to make a great series and how much potential for greatness there is out there when people realize that this is possible.
Looking forward though, this will be one of those series I will undoubtedly make time to re-watch at some point in the future. Perhaps by then, Chitanda and Houtarou would’ve gotten together eh? Still, it’s just a pity that it doesn’t look like we’ll be getting anything more regarding this series, though one can always hold out hope for such a case. Regardless though, I hope many of you enjoyed the series as much as I did, as well as it’s coverage—albeit extremely late in terms of this post—here on Random Curiosity.
And don’t forget… “Little birds can remember.”