- Titles: Hyouka: Forbidden Secrets
- Genre: Slice of Life, School, Cute Kids doing Cute Things, drama
- Episodes: 22
- Studio: Kyoto Animation
The classic literature club is in danger! It hasn’t been attracting new members for a while and if no one signs up this year it might shut down! And since it was Oreki’s sister’s club, she strong-arms him into joining. However, it turns out he won’t be the only member after all. Eru Chitanda also wants in, mostly because her favourite uncle use to be part of the cub. And his old friend Fukube is always happy to join anything that he can use to put off studying. And where Fukube goes, Mayaka will follow. Before you know it the Classic Litterature Club is starting to look like a real club. And what does this club do? Well, solve small-time mysteries around the school of course. What else? And isn’t it great that Oreki’s greatest skill happens to be deduction? Or energy conservation… One of these two.
You know, I put off watching Hyouka for years. I almost watched it a while ago when it was on Crunchyroll but it disappeared before I got to it. And I never made a big effort to find it or anything. For several reasons, I didn’t think it was for me. Let me tell you how it happened.
Before we get into all that, let’s just touch a bit about Kyoto Animation’s production here. I tend to judge studios on their production values (except for Shuka). The narrative or creative aspects of an anime, I tend to attribute to authors and directors. And I really like Kyoto Animation’s productions.
Those productions are beautiful. They do take some carefully measured chances with the camera works and perspectives, although they don’t ever do anything close to experimental. Kyoto Animation features tend to be recognizable, traditional and very solid productions that are luxurious to look at and obvious in the resources and time put into them.
Hyouka was no different. Apparently it aired in 2012, close to a decade now, and I was immediately smitten by just how gorgeous and rich it looked. The light in this show is breathtaking, the backgrounds are brimming with activity and details, the world is full of life and colour. It’s impressive to look at.
The voice cast was also doing a great job although they did occasionally insist a bit too much on the characters’ signature traits in their acting. I do believe that it may have made the characters come off as a bit more one-note than they would have otherwise. This is personal taste mind you. A lot of fans like that sort of clarity in execution.
The only element I didn’t enjoy was the soundtrack. I found that it was occasionally too present, getting in the way of the action. And I didn’t care for the choice of music. For me, it made the cinematic language clash slightly with the narrative tone in a way that was distracting rather than intriguing.
Story & Characters
Let me start by telling you why I thought Hyouka wasn’t for me. I had seen a few clips of it here and there and Eru was just way too squee for me. Squee isn’t an actual word but I’m not sure how else to describe it. She was that mix of eager, energetic, naive, impossibly earnest and fragile that I can find exhausting. It’s a pretty common anime archetype so I figured I knew what to expect just from a few short moments.
Oreki wasn’t that much better either. I have more patience for the glum stoic types that are above it all, but it’s hardly a personality type that will specifically attract me to a series. So even though they both had some scrumptious character designs, I just didn’t really think watching them fall in love for 22 episodes was going to work for me.
Oh yeah, I had also convinced myself that Hyouka was a romance. In my defence, I read more than a few posts shipping Oreki and Eru so I figured it was canon.
Second, Hyouka was billed everywhere as a mystery anime. Now I love mysteries. But… I have a weird pet peeve about stories where high school students suddenly turn into homicide detectives with no explanation and seem to have access to the same info and resources as the police with some type of weak or flimsy justification for it and no further explanation. I don’t mind it if there’s a magical explanation but if the series is trying to go for gritty realism, the fact that the police is calling on a random 14 year-old takes me out of it.
Finally, a lot of the people that directly recommended Hyouka to me tend to be people who’s anime tastes I do not share.
Taking all that into consideration, along with my years of anime-watching instincts, I just thought Hyouka would be at best one of those shows that I thought was alright and everybody else loved. And every time it would come up someone would enthusiastically say, oh Hyouka was great! and I would say…sure.
But here’s the thing boys and girls. The true mystery of the situation is you will. Having watched Hyouka, I can now confirm that almost everything I said above is accurate. Eru is squee and it did get a bit much for me. Oreki is the gloomy archetype and it was fine but not my thing. There is a love story between the two. And although they don’t get involved in big-time murder investigations, they stick to figuring out the stories behind local gossip, which is much more realistic but much less interesting. They were a bit like youtube drama channels, investigating why that girl didn’t bring a lunch to school, rather than detectives.
In fact, Hyouka isn’t really for me. Separately, most of the elements are not things I enjoy and on paper, I would have a tough time getting through it. But I really liked it. And I’m not sure how it happened.
Somewhere along the way, I started realizing that I was enjoying myself a lot. And this, despite the fact that I started the series pretty much convinced that I wouldn’t. So what happened? Do you need to know?
For one thing, Oreki and Eru are important parts of the series, but unlike what all the screencaps and promotional art had led me to believe, they aren’t the only parts. It’s much more of an ensemble cast. And I quite liked both Fukube and Mayaka. What’s more, when taken as a group, all the personalities get evened out and I ended up liking both Oreki and Eru in turn.
There’s also a whole slew of supporting characters that come in and out depending on the mysteries. Most of them are surprisingly fleshed out and interesting characters and they are much more present than I thought they would be.
Although the narrative is concerned with little mysteries, and there are a lot of scenes of Oreki putting the pieces together and making deductions out loud, the structure is much more reminiscent of a school-based Slice of Life. The kids go visit Eru’s large house to figure out something together, they joke around, she makes snacks for everyone. The team participates in school competitions during the school festival, they get together to figure out how a student film should end when the author decides not to finish the story. As such, the mysteries themselves aren’t that relevant. You can easily just enjoy the events even if you don’t really care about the answers.
There were a few moments that were a bit too dramatic in my opinion. Like needlessly dramatic. Characters just suddenly erupting in emotions that don’t seem quite justified by the events. But the stellar pacing of the show made sure that I didn’t have time to get annoyed by these scenes and ended up pretty much forgetting about them immediately.
Instead, what stayed with me was a group of friends having fun together and learning bout the history of their school. Nicely written and beautifully animated friends!
So in the end, I really liked Hyouka. I would recommend it to anyone that’s in the mood for a cute school drama. And that’s a real surprise to me!
ED – November 11, 2021. I wrote this several months ago when I finished the anime. And over time, I have found that my feelings for Hyouka just became increasingly positive. I find that this review doesn’t really refelct how enthisiastic I am about the series now. I really liked it! In fact, just yeasterday I decided to seek out the manga to see if it recaptures the magic. I very rarely do that. Just thought I would let you know. For me, Hyouka was a grower!
You might like this anime if:
You enjoy Kyoto Animation. You like solving very low stakes mysteries and school settings. You think any of the characters in the screencaps are cute.
My favourite character:
Fukube. Except in one case, he was always good for some laughs and that’s how you win me over!
Chilled Black Tea Toddy (you can use this recipe and put it in the fridge before drinking for a more authentic experience)
- Every time Eru must know something – here we go
- Every time Oreki attempts and fails to conserve energy – take a sip
- Every time we hear from Tomoe (Oreki’s sister) – Yay!
- Every time anyone is impressed by the Chitanda name – take a sip
- Every time anyone sneezes – think of them
- Every time Oreki gets a phone call – take a sip
- Every time anyone says Hyouka – take a sip
- Every time Mayaka gets mad – take a sip
- Every time Fukube refers to himself as a database – take a sip
- Every time Eru has snacks – get yourself some snacks!
- Every time anyone’s asleep – stretch
- Every time Oreki blushes – aaawwwwww
- Every time Mayaka has manga club – wish you had manga club
- Every time Oreki flops in bed – take a sip
- Every time Fukube attempts to put off school work/studying – tsk tsk
- Every time Eru cooks – make sure your snacks are healthy
- Every time Fukube reminds us he’s on the executive commitee – take a sip
- Every time anyone other than Eru has to know – pay attention!
I save all my screencaps on my Pinterest and you can find more there if you are interested. But I still like to show you a few in the post. If you’re like me, screencaps are something that really helps you decide to watch an anime or not.