Review for Hyouka - Part 1 - Collector's Edition
Studio KyoAni is practically a guarantee of quality. They do outstanding work on their productions, gorgeous animations with high production values, which are invariably entertaining. Just look at their track record getting shows and movies licensed for overseas release. With just one or two exceptions, everything since Full Metal Panic: Fumoffu, all the way to Sound Euphonium has been licensed and localised for English language release. One of those exceptions was Hyouka, a show that was produced back in 2012, in between Nichijou and Love, Chunibyou and Other Delusions. Unsurprisingly, it was the hit of the season, and generated a lot of fan buzz. What is surprising is that it has taken this long to be licensed and released in the West, with Funimation’s release of Part 1 preceding All the Anime’s by just a couple of months. Once again, I’m late to the party, and only now seeing what all the fuss is about.
All that Hotaro Oreki wanted was a grey school life. Other people may want rosy existences, to make memories, to excel, to fall in love, but Hotaro just wants it grey, as easy a life as possible, maximum return for minimum effort. Of course that means avoiding the extra-curricular activities offered by the after school clubs. Then he gets a letter from his sister. She’s heard that the Classic Literature Club is due to close, because of a lack of members. She has fond memories of the club, and wants it to stay open, and if Hotaro will sign up as the only member, he won’t even have to turn up. Not debating his sister is the path of least resistance, but Hotaro wasn’t expecting there to be another member of the Classic Lit Club.
A girl named Eru Chitanda is also a member, and now that there are two members, the Classic Lit Club will actually have to show something for its existence. It also turns out that while Hotaro has a pandering for the easy life, for some strange reason, he has a hard time refusing Eru’s requests. Eru likes solving mysteries, and there are more than a few in Kamiyama High School. She also has a personal mystery involving the Classic Lit Club that needs resolving. The thing about wanting an easy life, looking for the easy way out, is that Hotaro’s actually got a talent for finding logical solutions to mysteries...
The first eleven episodes of Hyouka plus the OVA are presented across two Blu-rays from All the Anime.
1. The Return of the Time-Honored Classic Lit Club
2. The Prestigious Classic Lit Club’s Activities
3. The Circumstances of the Classic Lit Club’s Scion
4. The Classic Lit Club’s Glorious Days of Yore
5. The Truth About the Historic Classic Lit Club
6. Committing a Cardinal Sin
7. Upon Seeing the True Nature
8. Let’s Go to the Screening
9. The Case of the Furuoka Deserted Village Murder
10. Blind Spot to All
11. Credit Roll of Fools
11.5. What Should Be Had
Hyouka gets an impeccable 1.78:1 widescreen 1080p transfer. The image is clear and sharp, colours are strong and consistent, there is no visible compression or banding, and the animation is smooth throughout. That’s a very good thing given that this is a KyoAni production, and the animation is where they really excel. The character designs are appealing, the world design is detailed, and they apply their usual tricks to make Hyouka look alive, warm and as real as an animation can look. Having said all that, Hyouka is still one of the best KyoAni shows that I have seen in terms of animation. This is one series where you’ll want to watch it twice, once for the story, once to just revel in how the characters move, even the background characters.
The images in this review were kindly supplied by All the Anime.
This is one of those shows that get a whole load of stipulations attached to them pre-release. That means we only get stereo audio, Dolby TrueHD 2.0 English and Japanese, with subtitles and signs locked during playback. There’s no 5.1 Funimation upmix, but on the bright side, we’re spared their commentaries as well. I was more than happy with the Japanese audio, the cast really suited to their roles, the stereo placement giving the show some space, and a theatrical quality music score really driving the emotion of the piece well. I gave the dub a quick try and was impressed at a quality effort from Funimation. I may have to give it a try the next time I watch the show. The subtitles are accurately timed and are free of typos, except for one in episode 6; ‘fist’ should have been ‘first’.
The discs boot to static menus.
Disc 1 autoplays a trailer for Gosick Part 1. Once more I yell an incoherent plea to the anime world... “A UK BD release of Gosick and Nichijou would be mega appreciated”.
Disc 2 autoplays a trailer for Kumamiko – Girl Meets Bear
You get the textless credits here, albeit textless with player locked subtitles plastered over the image. There are also Funimation trailers for The Boy and the Beast, The Disappearance of Haruhi Suzumiya, And You Thought There is Never a Girl Online, and Steins;Gate the Movie. I haven't seen the final retail product to comment on the physical extras or packaging.
This is the KyoAni effect in action. Take what on the surface appears like a mundane, even mediocre premise, give it lashings and lashings of gorgeous animation, spend some serious time and money on character development and quality writing, give it a music soundtrack that is subtle, yet emotionally evocative, and you wind up with one of the best shows of the year. Let’s not mince words here, the show is about a boy who solves mysteries, but they’re hardly the most immediate or significant problems, and with Hotaro the walking manifestation of Occam’s Razor, cutting to the simplest, and usually most mundane of solutions, you might wind up thinking he’s the guy who reveals the magicians’ secrets, a killjoy even.
It’s the characterisations that really make this show so special. Hotaro’s looking for an easy life; he wants his years in school to be grey, with no frills or excitement. He wants to do as little as is required, but it turns out that he has a couple of weaknesses. His best friend Satoshi Fukube often teases him about it. Satoshi looks on the surface to be the antithesis of his friend, bubbly, energetic, and involved, but there’s a pessimistic side to him as well. One of Hotaro’s weaknesses is his sister, who he can’t refuse when she asks him to join the Classic Literature Club. The other weakness turns out to be another girl, Eru Chitanda, who Hotaro meets when he walks into a clubroom that he expected to be empty. Eru loves mysteries, and when she learns that Hotaro has a talent for solving them, she’s in his personal space, convincing him to get involved, and with her sparkly eyes, she’s another girl that Hotaro can’t say no to. Satoshi joins the club as well, and one of their earlier mysteries leads them to the school library, where they encounter their fourth member, library assistant Mayaka Ibara. She’s a caustic girl, quick with the sharp comment and harsh criticism, and she and Hotaro have an abrasive history, but she also has a gentler side as well.
The initial mysteries that Hotaro is faced with are simple, trivial affairs. He first captures Eru’s attention when he figures out how she got into the supposedly locked clubroom ahead of him, and as most anime schools have 7 mysteries associated with them, he also makes short work of a supernatural enigma. It gets to the point where the lazy Hotaro makes up a mystery to distract Eru from the one she has found, that would involve him walking to the other side of the school.
This is all a prelude to the first major arc in the story, which relates to the history of the Classic Literature Club itself, as well as one of Eru’s ancestors, a personal mystery for her which is the reason why she was so interested in Hotaro to begin with. This is an intriguing story, which while it has as mundane an explanation as all the rest, has greater emotional impact because of how important the mystery is to the characters. Hotaro also has to put some work in to solve a mystery some 45 years old, and there are a few false starts and red herrings before he figures it out. There are a couple more episode long mysteries, and what anime would be without a hot springs episode?
That’s before we get to the second major arc in this collection, the mystery of the unfinished movie. By this point, news of Hotaro’s talent is spreading, and he’s called upon by a representative of another class for help. Class 2-F is making a movie for the culture festival, only the scriptwriter falls ill without finishing it. They have half a movie in the can, a mystery with no ending and it falls to Hotaro to not only come up with the solution, but to come up with the solution that the scriptwriter would have written. It’s here that Hotaro’s Achilles heel is revealed, and the importance of his club-mates becomes apparent. Once again, this longer story arc is engaging because it is more complex and harder to anticipate the solution. This takes us to the end of the collection, leaving Hotaro on something of a downer.
Thankfully for him we have the bonus, 11.5 episode, which helps him get his mojo back, and it services the fans too, set at a swimming pool, with the protagonists in swimsuits for the duration.
The real world mundanity of Hyouka might seem like a turn-off to some. On paper it feels like Gosick, but without the drama. But the drama is there, it’s in how well the characters are written, and how they interact. Hyouka is a show that you watch for the characters first and foremost, and with Studio KyoAni at their peak powers when it comes to the animation, the nuances that you can pick up by simply watching the characters elevate this show to something special indeed. You’re going to hate waiting for part 2.