Hyouka in (Hyper-)Focus: A Record of My First Attempt at Anime Analysis

Once upon a time,

I picked up a show called Hyouka. It was summer, and since I had copious amounts of free time, I decided I might as well pick up another show or two. KyoAni‘s reputation was one of the only things I knew about animation studios at the time (I’ve become a bit more snobbish about studios, directors, source material, etc. since then), and so I decided to watch the first few episodes of their currently airing show. Although it started off a bit slow, it blew me away. It is the show that first really, truly made me feel desperate to discuss it with others. And since those were a bit hard to come by in real life, I eventually fled onto Facebook, and later the anisphere (as you can see, it was the inspiration for this blog!).

Just think of this expression, except sprawled out on a bed blankly staring at a computer screen.

Just think of this expression, except sprawled out on a bed blankly staring at a computer screen.

I’m hoping to fashion some decent blog post about my thoughts (synthesized with several other bloggers) on the show once Sakurasou finishes up, so I can not only analyze the two separately but also compare their effectiveness at getting across their underlying messages surrounding talent and life. Until then, however, I thought I might as well upload the first real ‘rant’ I ever jotted down, which was an in-depth look at the Cultural Festival arc inspired by Episode 17. It has been edited only to fit in with the layout of a blog post. The pictures I also added in, with captions worded deliberately to be both concise and (possibly) provocative. Although I don’t necessarily agree with everything I’ve jotted down (I might’ve been over-interpreting things at the time, to be honest), it is a decently coherent piece of work.

Living with talent is never easy, no matter how attractive he/she is.

Living with talent is never easy, no matter how attractive your talented friend might be.

Hyouka in (Hyper-)Focus

Intrduction:

Hyouka episode 17 brought up an interesting point about the use and concept expectations. My jumble of thoughts are below, hopefully relatively coherently written.

Overview:

So this episode (and actually the entire “Cultural Festival” arc) made the case that the concept of having “expectations” are only brought up when there is an extreme difference in skill level between you and someone else (he is much better than you), and so you sort of “give up”, and simply place them on a pedestal and expect them to succeed/follow your predictions. In essence you depersonalize them so you don’t try to compete because you know you won’t win. It’s interesting to see how this idea permeates this entire arc. Let’s begin with Chitanda…

Curiosity usually seen as a positive thing, but when you're incapable of satisfying it on your own, it sometimes can be a cause of undue suffering.

Curiosity usually seen as a positive thing, but when you’re incapable of satisfying it on your own, it sometimes can be a cause of undue suffering.

Chitanda:

So this arc has Chitanda running around trying to do things, and she seems slightly frustrated that she is sort of well, easily distracted and caught up in the moment. And that because of this she doesn’t feel she’s very useful. She wants to be someone who can do things, or at least make others do things since she can’t seem to do them herself. The implicit thought here is that she’s useless – Mayaka is gone doing manga stuff (more on her later), Satoshi is known for being a “database” (more on him later), and Houtarou is extremely good at figuring things out (he’ll be later, and sort of pervade this entire post).

So then she meets Irisu in an attempt to sell books – who better to get advice from on this critical issue than her, the student Empress who effortlessly is able to get people to do what she wants. What does Irisu tell her? Irisu’s advice to Chitanda is that, in order to get other people to do something, she should tell them she has “expectations”, try to ask a member of the opposite sex, and also to try and do it when both of them are alone. After Chitanda tries to do this (especially after the school-wide announcement), we see multiple shots of Irisu having a guilty conscience, which implies she sees the term as it’s been defined above, and so essentially is indirectly telling Chitanda that she’s useless and/or not able/shouldn’t compete with anyone, and this is the impression she should give to everyone else; essentially that she needs other people to do things because she can’t do them herself. The other bits of advice also make sense in this context – both conditions create possible sexual (well, what other term fits?) tension between the to-be lackey and Chitanda, which she can exploit (probably because Irisu thought she needs the boost/needs to use her charms in this way because there’s not much else good about her). And I think at some level Chitanda is starting to think the same way herself: her relationship with Houtarou, especially the scenes with the pictures and at the OVA in the pool, increasingly shows her becoming aware of her femininity, and her dark reaction after the brief scene where Houtarou tries to avoid getting her involved (because she probably would “get in the way”) supports the idea that she is starting to believe she is useless/lose self-confidence in herself. Actually, this dark reaction happens several times throughout the arc in similar situations (usually near some scene where they’ve been throwing around “expectations”), which is uncharacteristic of the past happy-go-lucky Chitanda. She’s changing.

But back to the previous train of thought. So after Irisu realizes that Chitanda actually does go around trying (and sometimes succeeding) to do things, her guilty conscience gets the better of her and she apologizes to Chitanda, with the consolation that she is useful in quickly getting to the heart of issues, both a weakness and a strength, rather than trying to order people around. Chitanda also accepts this, although her response seems to be somewhat regretful because she realizes she can’t hold the same aura/leadership role as Irisu. This also goes back to why Chitanda asked Irisu in the first place how to be good at getting other people to do things – because she’s slightly jealous and wants to be more like Irisu. So her quest sort of ends in disappointment. But it’s meant to have a point: that you shouldn’t try to be someone you’re not, that everyone has a unique set of skills, you shouldn’t be jealous of other people who can do things better than you (but that being jealous is not a crime – it’s human nature), and last of all that you shouldn’t impose your will/ideals on someone else who meets the above criteria on how they should use their skills. So that’s that. Onto the next part.

Being knowledgeable is a good thing, but when you're unable to connect  together those facts that you've so carefully filed away, it can slowly eat at you.

Being knowledgeable is a good thing, but when you’re unable to connect together those facts that you’ve so carefully filed away, it can slowly eat at you.

Satoshi:

Let’s next deal with Satoshi. Satoshi has two main things going on: the contest between him and Tani and the whole comparing himself to Houtarou thing. So Satoshi’s been proud of always being better than Houtarou at things – he’s taken pleasure in being superior (there’s also nothing wrong with this – it’s just human nature). But now that Houtarou has his own thing, Satoshi’s gotten jealous. So he has this innate desire to beat Houtarou – to catch this “Juumonji” character before Houtarou even has a chance. But it’s interesting how Satoshi goes about this – he doesn’t “investigate”, but instead takes physical action to catch the culprit, something that Houtarou doesn’t do. Already you get the feeling he’s conceded defeat. And I think he realizes it too. There are too many scenes which show Satoshi looking unsettled or troubled while on the case for it to be coincidence.

Then there’s his reaction to Houtarou’s investigating. He’s angry – angry that Houtarou even thinks it’s possible, and worse yet, that he might succeed. Because he can’t compete with that – it’s out of his league. What makes it worse is that Satoshi has even read many more mystery novels than Houtarou (this is even mentioned explicitly in this arc as well as the last one), and yet still can’t solve one in real life. His frustration must be intense. And what makes this even worse is the amount of effort that’s involved – how effortlessly Houtarou seems to beat him. He’s running around and Houtarou solves the whole mystery essentially second-hand, most of the while sitting back in the Classic Club room selling anthologies. But even though he’s jealous, he has a lot of respect for Houtarou’s ability.

This all culminates with his reaction when Houtarou finally meets the culprit and unveils all the evidence. The entire scene shows him being crushed (also Houtarou being brilliant, but that’s not as important here). Furthermore, his explicit usage of the word “expectations” in that scene, and his subsequent explanation to Mayaka afterwards when Tani drops by, further stresses this. And this brings us to Tani…

Tani and Satoshi have an interesting dynamic, and I argue Tani is used as an antithesis for what the arc portrays “expectations” to be. Not only does Satoshi say this explicitly (that Tani throws the word around without understanding what it really means), Tani himself as a character sort of portrays this. He uses the word (or implies it) several times during the arc, especially comparing himself to Satoshi as to who will succeed at whatever activity they’re competing at. His attitude is also portrayed as smug and a little bit stuck up, leading me to believe he uses the term because (maybe unconsciously) he believes himself far superior to Satoshi. This obviously isn’t true, and Satoshi’s reaction to this at the end of the arc as well as his seeming dislike for Tani during the show kind of hints at this as well.

Satoshi’s quest again ends in disappointment as he can’t beat Houtarou, just like Chitanda vs. Irisu. This is a recurring theme here, and I’d argue the ideas are the same as I stated with Chitanda. And things come full circle as he once again talks about how “databases can’t draw conclusions,” which shows him at least somewhat coming to terms with this difference (I wouldn’t go so far as to say he accepts/is happy with it just yet). And of course we see Mayaka and him getting closer through their ordeals (the classic edge of the shirt grab!). Which brings me to Mayaka…

Feeling passionate about something brings much meaning, joy, and fulfillment to your life, but it also causes conflict, suffering, and an incurable longing for something more.

Feeling passionate about something brings much meaning, joy, and fulfillment to your life, but it also causes conflict, suffering, and an incurable longing for something more.

Mayaka:

Right, so Mayaka’s arc is cool because you actually get to learn a lot more about her. Unlike Chitanda and Satoshi, who you learn about (and learn how they interact with others) in the first two arcs, you never really learn too much about Mayaka and her relationship with the Manga Society. Which is good here, because it’s an extremely interesting dynamic.

Throughout the arc you learn that Mayaka’s extremely passionate about both reading and drawing/writing manga, and that she has a reputation that has alienated a good portion of the club – essentially, she’s somewhat of an outcast. This is nice and probably relatable to a few viewers, which helps for impact. She also wants to create her own manga, and she’s frustrated that she can’t match the excellence of other copies even though she’s so passionate about it and has read so much. In this sense you see how she’s a lot like Satoshi (and hence why at the end of the arc when she says that she understands Satoshi’s reaction you should believe her; also, why they’re good together).

Right, so here’s where things get a bit complicated (and poorly written), because both plots are interlinked pretty closely in this case. So the manga she aspires to write like (“A Corpse by Evening”) turns out to be written by the close friend of someone in the club who vocally disagrees with her views and somewhat verbally abuses her. And both the author and the artist were “first-timers”. This is incredibly frustrating to both of them, so it turns out that this club bully actually feels the same way, but is so incredibly frustrated that they aren’t able to openly admit it. In fact, I can’t find a better way to explain this section than the scenes with Mayaka and Ayako (I think that’s her name) on the roof after the festival, as well as between Houtarou and Jirou [Tanabe] when Houtarou asked about his motivation. Either way, her quest ends up with her understanding Ayako, but ultimately in disappointment again (her status in the Manga Society, Ayako’s relationship with Anjou, or her ability to write/draw better). On a sidenote, Jirou’s quest to get Kugeyama (the Student Council President) to understand his feelings does seem to succeed at the end, so maybe not all is lost with him. Maybe that’s a lesson that you should talk to people about this type of thing instead of holding it in? It might also tie in with the idea that Irisu throws out earlier in the season about not being too humble about your talents; I see it as the flip side of this point concerning the people affected.

All in all, I really enjoyed seeing her character and circumstances fleshed out here, and the similarities between her and Satoshi (and exactly why she likes him) become a lot more clear.

In order to live with talent, you must first accept it, then understand how others will perceive it. Only by realizing those two and acting accordingly can you avoid alienating and/or hurting others around you.

In order to live with talent, you must first accept it, then understand how others will perceive it. Only by realizing those two things and acting accordingly can you avoid alienating and/or hurting others around you.

Houtarou:

Right, so here’s the big one: Houtarou. What is the driving force behind all of the stuff happening above? Him. And in fact, the show’s centered around him. I’ll outline this now.

The first arc is all about introducing Houtarou – his character, his interactions with the others, and of course, his detective ability. And it originally shows him how his lazy behavior makes him dependent on Satoshi, Chitanda, and Mayaka for help in solving mysteries (even though he demonstrates he ideally should be able to solve them without any of them. The second arc (the movie one) is all about his character development – his talents get noticed, he gets used, and his character flaw (his laziness) introduces a tragic conflict which he has to resolve. All this leads to him changing and casting off his previously lazy nature (the recovery can be partially seen in the OVA). And so I say this third arc was all about how his new character is affecting others (Mayaka I guess is a separate case, but she’s still being affected indirectly). And we see it marvelously.

There’s some other stuff that Houtarou does which seems to imply that he is the key here. All the endeavors of each of the characters throughout the cultural festival ultimately fail without Houtarou’s help – the Classics Club only win the cooking competition with his bag of flour, Mayaka only gets “A Corpse by Evening” through Houtarou (well, technically his sister, but she seems in some ways to be the catalyst of Houtarou’s development, so that’s fine), and Satoshi is unable to solve the mystery (and participate in it!) without Houtarou’s involvement. There are probably more examples. So this is sort of in reverse from the last two arcs, where Houtarou requires their aid to succeed, and shows he’s really become his own character. Also, the way his memory of the exchanges of the random items is also quite cool, and also demonstrates the factor of luck in life in general. I believe the general message was that “you make your own luck”, or that you need to be ready to capitalize once you get lucky. Houtarou does this: using the lucky bag of flour for the cooking competition, the knowledge of the water gun and his random knowledge about the science club’s exhibition, by chance reading the acknowledgement pages of “A Corpse by Evening”, trading items, randomly browsing the official Cultural Festival website, and much more. It’s a comment that it’s good to observe your surroundings and obtain as much information (of all sorts) in order to be ready to act once the time is right (much like Sherlock would!).

Only by accepting your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the people around you, can you move forward as one.

Only by accepting your own strengths and weaknesses, as well as those of the people around you, can you move forward as one.

Thoughts:

Do I agree with the interpretation of “expectations” here? Mostly. Whenever we do it on a personal level, we depersonalize the receiving member, and it always seems to do with something we can’t/won’t do ourselves and probably won’t try. Whether this is “giving up” or simply “passing interest but not enough to really get involved in [laziness],” they both have similar rings to them about knowing you’re not going to compete with the opposing party. The only exception I’d say is involved in the full-on depersonalization, e.g. “You failed to meet my expectations.” Here, the individual isn’t seen as above you but rather below you, and you make yourself superior by contrast. You still sort of “give up,” but more because you feel you’ve won rather than because you lost. I feel Tani represents this view. As for “expectations” in a business sense, not really – expectations are defined and serve a different purpose there. Same with societal interactions (expectations for dress code, etc.). But interpersonally, I think it’s true. And I didn’t really realize this before, which is cool, and made the show much better for me.

Conclusion:

Well, that concludes that rant. It was good to get my thoughts organized without the external monologue I usually hold with myself afterwards, where I take random walks and shout/lecture/debate myself over the philosophical underpinnings of whatever has reached in and disturbed the dark recesses of my brain.

End of Rant

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2 responses to “Hyouka in (Hyper-)Focus: A Record of My First Attempt at Anime Analysis

  1. Very interesting! I’ve been watching anime for a long time, but there’s a lot out there, so I don’t think I’ve seen any Hyouka. Maybe we can remedy that at some point.

    Reading a lot of mystery fiction does not necessarily qualify you for being a detective. I know, because that’s the position I’m in. In general, I’m not bad at solving problems when the genre is defined. But the detective’s problem is usually more open-ended; in fact, one often has to be sure that a “crime” has been committed first. (One already has a whole slew of clues when one is consciously reading a detective novel, because you know there is a “crime” and that the detective will probably solve it, and so on). And as far as the extremely open-ended problem of life in general, I don’t think anyone is universally equipped for that.

    You mention Sherlock at one point. If you know the Sherlock literature as I do (very well), you know that essentially Sherlock fills the Satoshi niche and his brother Mycroft fills the Houtarou. Both are quite good at deductions given the data, but Mycroft is better at it. However, Mycroft has no interest or desire to go actively seeking clues, and indeed tends to be depicted as fat. One of the Baker Street Irregulars, the society of writers who like to pretend that Sherlock actually existed, likes to speculate that Sherlock had an illegitimate child with Irene Adler, who turned out to be Nero Wolfe, another fictional detective. Wolfe clearly takes after Mycroft, rather than Sherlock, because his MO is to stay in his New York brownstone and sends his Archie Goodwin after clues.

    • I don’t think I’ve seen any Hyouka

      It’s definitely a very interesting show – not quite a mystery anime but not quite slice-of-life either.

      Reading a lot of mystery fiction does not necessarily qualify you for being a detective.

      I think this is the situation that most people are in, so it’s not just you ;). You touch upon the point of the detective’s problem, and Houtarou also discusses this a bit in the show, especially since the problems he tries to solve are so open-ended most of the time. As he sees it, the detective is much more of a “theory-crafter” than anything else, very much like a scientist, who just comes up with the best explanation that encompasses the most facts. This a bit in contrast to some beliefs about detective work and science, which shows them as more discovering the Truth. As for dealing with the open-ended problem of life, the show doesn’t purport to answer all of them. It mainly points out that you are responsible for making your own life interesting.

      If you know the Sherlock literature

      Yea – I’m not a big mystery buff in general, but I’ve read through most of Sherlock’s stories. Making comparisons to big characters is inevitable but always imperfect, but in this case I’d say Satoshi is more of a very astute Watson while Houtarou is a Mycroft-esque personality slowly morphing into that of a Holmes, with the ability more similar to the latter. Satoshi’s issue is that although he loves to seek out clues and solve mysteries, he’s ultimately incapable of connecting the dots. Houtarou’s is that while he can connect the dots, he is shown to make mistakes and be “outsmarted” (and by a girl too!). He, at least originally, is also too lazy to do all the groundwork. Much of Hyouka intentionally tries to pay homage to the mystery genre (something I could tell was happening but largely missed unless they explicitly pointed it out), so if you get a chance to see it you’ll probably get more out of that angle.

      Baker Street Irregulars

      That was an awesome tidbit. Thanks!

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