Disinterested Hotaro Oreki doesn’t like to do things that he sees as a waste of his time and energy. It is only when he is forced by his older sister to join the Classic Literature club at school that his outlook on life begins to change. It is at this small club where he meets the enigmatic, kind-hearted, and hopelessly clumsy, Eru Chitanda. With classmates and fellow club members Satoshi and Mayaka, the four unravel various mysteries from the school’s past, including some related to Eru herself.
Hyouka aired with 22 episodes between April and September 2012. Produced by Kyoto Animation (Haruhi Suzumiya, Sound! Euphonium, A Silent Voice) and directed by Yasuhiro Takemoto (The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid, Amagi Brilliant Park), Hyouka is the adaptation of the first novel in the Classic Literature Club novel series by Honobu Yonezawa. I had been waiting so long for this to get a release, as its arrival in the West had been in a long limbo due to licensing issues. When it came out, no anime streaming service was successful in acquiring the rights to simulcast it, which was very unusual especially since it’s a show by the highly-acclaimed studio Kyoto Animation. But it’s here finally, and oh, is it worth the wait…
The show begins with our main protagonist Hotaro telling his long-term friend and self-confessed ‘human database’ Satoshi that his older sister, who is backpacking in India, has forced him to join the soon-to-be-disbanded Classic Literature Club, where he comes across the kind-hearted club president Eru Chitanda, the only child of a highly-respected farming family in town. In time Satoshi decides to join, as does Art Club member Mayaka, who is currently feeling disillusioned with the company and atmosphere there. As the four of them plan to compile and write an anthology for the upcoming Cultural Festival, Eru tells Hotaro about her uncle, who she has looked up to as a young girl. He was a former student at Kamiyama High School and member of the Classic Literature Club, and his current whereabouts are unknown. After using his detective skills, he learns that Eru’s uncle was in fact forced to leave the school after an incident at their Cultural Festival. With this information, the club decide to search for the anthology the past club used and use it as influence to write their new one.
As opposed to past Kyoto Animation shows that do 12 or 13 singular episodic stories that last for 25 minutes, Hyouka operates on one sole story, with several smaller side-stories that are not just connected to the main story but actually complement it. As the club build their anthology for the Cultural Festival, they learn more about Eru’s uncle, why he had to leave the school, and as the first half of the show approaches (this release contains 11 of the show’s 22 episodes plus a bonus episode), a new mystery arrives for them to solve. This tactic of staying loyal to the adaptation and sticking with one main story pays off, and while the Kyoto Animation fans who have grown up watching shows like Haruhi Suzumiya, K-on! and Lucky Star (that largely operate on singular episodic stories) may find a show like Hyouka a little hard to follow, it’s most certainly worth checking out regardless.
The reason I say that some Kyoto Animation regulars may find Hyouka tough to follow is that, due to the rather complex and detailed plot and script, the show requires the viewer’s complete attention. But this is a show that most definitely grows on you. All four of the main characters are extremely likeable. Eru’s charm and kind-heartedness is very infectious, Hotaro’s frankness and bluntness is very refreshing to see (compared to past male Kyoani characters), while both Satoshi and Mayaka are a perfect match in terms of positivity, playfulness and sound reasoning. You would think that with the history that Kyoto Animation have with their characters that they would make at least one character impossibly stupid and easy to make fun of, but none of the characters in Hyouka have any of those traits, and I think that could be why this is one Kyoani show that is lesser-known than some of the others.
The show’s English dub pales a little in comparison with the original Japanese sub, though. You can actually feel Satomi Sato’s (Eru) passion, as opposed to her English counterpart (Madeleine Morris) who sounds much more generic. The same can be said almost about Dallas Reid (Satoshi’s English VA); while they do mirror the playfulness that their Japanese counterpart (Daisuke Sakaguchi) employs, it doesn’t quite sound as natural. I will, however, applaud Jill Harris (Mayaka), who actually gets her character just right, nailing both Mayaka’s cynicism towards Hotaro and shyness towards Satoshi perfectly. In my opinion, even if you’re an English dub devotee, the Japanese sub is worth it. Along with the voice acting, the show’s soundtrack complements both the art style and the characters. The show even decides to bring in existing classical pieces to enhance the mood; for instance, episode 1 has two pieces from Bach (Cello Suite No. 1 in G Major & Suite No. 3 in D Major), as well as Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata. The first opening theme (which is featured in this release) is “Reason of Kindness” by ChouCho, and the first ending theme is “Promise of Slumber” by Satomi Sato & Ai Kayano.
Hyouka sees Kyoto Animation maturing. Taking a break from most of the classic studio traits that they are famous for (comedic characters, frivolous antics, upbeat soundtrack), the staff choose to be faithful to the adaptation and not only present the characters as intellectual and largely sensible people, but the school (and town) as sombre, but not depressing. The studio decides to contrast art styles (conventional anime, watercolour, charcoal, greyscale, CGI, etc.) to show us both the real world of Kamiyama High School and the insides of both Hotaro and Eru’s imagination, even using surrealism to get points across.
This is a benchmark show for Kyoto Animation that paves the way for their more recent and mature work (A Silent Voice, Sound! Euphonium,Violet Evergarden). It shatters any preexisting illusions you may have about the studio (who seem to have a habit of making school comedies that seem to blur into one) and shows that they are a capable studio who can make something ‘smart’. It has been a mystery on why this show was not picked up by Western anime streaming sites/distributors sooner, but I suppose it no longer matters. It’s here now, and we love it.
It’s not often when I praise a show so much, but I urge you to watch this…please. You will not regret it. Some viewers may find some episodes tough to follow, as the show does demand your full attention, but once you’re on the Hyouka train, you won’t want to get off.