Hyouka is a great *school* anime

Satoshi in his planet costume wearing a top hat

It took me 17 episodes and an incredible cultural festival arc to realize Hyouka’s true worth. It’s not easy because Hyouka doesn’t have any obvious hooks. The mysteries, while engaging enough, aren’t too attractive on paper. The show looks fantastic and is impeccably directed, but it isn’t really a sakuga-fest every week. It’s not an easy recommendation.

In Hyouka, the school is more than just a setting. It’s more than a backdrop for the characters to act in, it’s an environment. Six episodes of the cultural festival arc proved this. Every background character is doing something, and you can feel the bustling activity that’s associated with such an event. Never have I seen a more lifelike cultural festival, and it succeeds in conveying a sense of the school’s size and scale. There are a lot of clubs, each engaged in worthwhile activities of their own, each beset with their own set of challenges.

The school matters for the characters. Other shows could switch out whatever school their characters are in and it would make no difference; in Hyouka, such a loss would be too great that it would be another show entirely. The rural environment allows Houtarou to pursue his sedate lifestyle. There isn’t anyone with big, wild fantasies like playing in Koushien or becoming rock stars. The people in school generally have normal, grounded aspirations. This doesn’t mean that the school and its inhabitants are boring. Just that none of them are incredibly outrageous.

Just students passing by

The world doesn’t revolve around the Classics Club. Most shows revolving on clubs tend to do this–why, because it’s easier to place the focus on the main characters. But in Hyouka, the Classics Club is just one club among many others. The people they come into contact with don’t just disappear after their arcs are done, they still appear and the protagonists have to maintain relations with them. Nowhere in the arc did they have special treatment–Houtarou and his friends had to work hard in order to complete their goal of selling their anthology.

When I think about it, the main point of Hyouka, along with its well-crafted mysteries, is that everyone has their own story, if only you would acknowledge it. And none of them are simple or easy to tell.

The Karuta Club egging Chitanda on to play

I sure hope the Karuta Club did well with their booth!

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5 Responses to Hyouka is a great *school* anime

  1. Martin says:

    You’ve neatly summed up what I loved about this arc of the show. My criticisms of Hyouka overall – namely, for it being an uneventful and ‘tame’ high school show at a time when high school shows are so commonplace – seem a bit unfair when it does what it sets out to do so well.

    The production values really help of course, but the simplicity makes it easy to overlook the attention to detail. I thought KyoAni did a nice job with K-On! in that sense, but in Hyouka they’re less ‘cartoonish’ and have a higher personality-to-archehtype ratio. I often found myself noticing what background characters were doing in a scene, much like a live-action drama series. To me Hyouka doesn’t feel like a comic strip animated; it feels like a story whose characters are full of life. Is that because it’s based on a light novel rather than a 4-koma? I don’t know. All I know is, it works!

    • schneider says:

      I’m told that it’s an actual novel instead of a light novel, which may explain the deeper level of characterization and lack of marketability. Thanks for reading!

  2. sadakups says:

    If there’s anything that I would give the show credit for is Oreki himself. The guy has mad deduction skills that Shinichi Kudou will be proud of. Except that he’s that bored in the show itself that he’s like, “Man, I should have a show of my own.”

  3. Mushyrulez says:

    I think many critics’ gripes with slice-of-life anime aren’t that they’re too grounded and boring, but that the setting doesn’t feel real. Things like K-On!! don’t feel real at all. Hyouka doesn’t really, either, but…

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