I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: Simplicity is Bliss.
Most mystery shows focus on something grand and dark. A series of murders, a missing person, a stolen jewel worth ludicrous amounts of cash, or something else along those lines. There’s nothing wrong with that, but it can get pretty samey and predictable.
Y’know. The exact opposite of what you want your mystery to be.
Then comes along Hyouka, a beautifully animated high school mystery series with a few extra hints of teenage romance. This series asks the question: what if we made a mystery series where each mystery isn’t actually that big? What if it were things like “Why did this mundane announcement happen?” or “What was that silhouette the girls saw in the next door window?”.
Sure, you’ve got some bigger mysteries, like the history of Hyouka arc and the student film arc, but none of them are as big as something like most Sherlock Holmes stories, where they need to solve a different horrific murder. It’s a simple story that is highly grounded in reality.
Hyouka also has the most relatable main character in any story that I’ve ever fucking seen: Hotaro. He’s a lazy teenage boy with no genuine passions, no confidence in his own abilities, and no drive to do anything with his life in order to conserve energy (he may or may not also be depressed, but that goes into spoilers). He’s very skilled in solving mysteries, but since it consumes so much energy, he tries as hard as he can to avoid it.
But when a pretty girl asks him to do it, he can’t help but give her a hand. Speaking of which…
He joins his school’s Classic Literature Club by demand of his older sister (who’s in India or some crazy shit like that), where he meets Chitanda, an air-headed but highly friendly girl who somehow got locked in the club-room before Hotaro showed up with the key. She is curious as to how this happened, and pressures Hotaro to solve the case with her.
She gets curious about a lot of things.
These two are also joined by their two friends: the database Satoshi (he calls himself that a lot, by the way) and manga-loving Mayaka, who has a long running crush on Satoshi. Together, they solve any mysteries that pop up in their lives.
Y’know. Because that’s what a Classic Literature Club is supposed to do.
This cast of characters is reasonably likable and relatable. With one issue: in the first few episodes, and a few times throughout the entire run, the characters will go into an exposition monologue to explain a personality trait of themselves or someone’s relationship with someone else. For example, the first episode (which is the worst case of this, by the way) starts with Satoshi talking to Hotaro and simply stating ‘Yep, you’re Hotaro, the infamous energy-conserving lazy boy’.
Thank you show for simply telling me this instead of showing it to me. I love it when you do that.
Still, occasional terrible dialogue aside, this show has another thing going for it that isn’t simple but engaging mysteries: animation quality.
Jesus Christ this is one of the prettiest shows I’ve ever seen. Every movement is smooth, all the backgrounds are beautiful to look at, the character designs are simple and charming, and the eyes. Good god the eyes! Look at this!
This is some of the best god damn animation that I’ve ever seen!
And that doesn’t even touch the moments where the animation style changes completely. There are moments where it becomes an animated marker drawing on a whiteboard, a paper-crafts section, and many more. It happens very often, and it’s always a visual treat to behold.
Is it a flawless show? Definitely not. Aside from the occasional snippet of terrible expository dialogue, the show also suffers from some pacing issues, especially in the school-festival arc (which spends three fucking episodes out of five dragging it’s feet with different activities before the characters even decide to look into the mystery at all) and there is only one memorable character in the entire cast of supporting characters, which makes the world feel pretty lifeless outside of these four characters.
Still, I can’t deny that this show has got me invested. The emotional moments hit me like a truck, the mysteries themselves always get me by the balls and keep me going until it’s over and solved, again: that animation is god damn gorgeous! It’s got far more good going for it than it does bad.
If you want to watch something sweet, grounded, pretty and engaging, this one is definitely worth checking out. And with a second season coming… eventually… it’s totally worth the watch.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get back to staring deep into Chitanda’s violet eyes in the GIF above.
They’re fucking entrancing, man…