Anime Review: “Hyouka: Part 1” – Animation Scoop

Anime Review: “Hyouka: Part 1”

Hotaro Oreki (voice by Adam Gibbs) might hold the record for teen-age angst. He talks about living a life that “conserves energy” by following the motto, “If I don’t have to do something, I won’t; but if I have to, I’ll do it quickly.” His cheerful best friend Takeo Katsuta (Aaron Dismuke) comments that Oreki creates his very own little black cloud over Kamiyama High. A self-styled “human database” (and chatterbox), Katsuta regards himself as just a normal guy with no outstanding qualities or attributes. He accepts that belief with good humor.

Oreki is terrified he may also be ordinary, but it’s clear to everyone else he’s anything but. Although he has no compelling interest in the subject, his older sister Tomoe bullies him into joining the Classic Literature Club, which always needs members. Although he already belongs to several other groups, Katsuta can’t resist tagging along. The president of the Literature Club is pretty Eru Chitanda (Madeline Morris), who fixates on seemingly unsolvable questions—which Oreki has to solve using a combination of observation and deduction. His, “Yeah, whatever” attitude galls the fourth member of the club, Mayaka Inbara (Jill Harris), who berates him constantly.

Unlike many other Japanese and American teen mystery-adventures, Hyouka maintains a believable scale. There are no murders, no vampires and no “You mean Mr. Gladstone the bank president was really The Phantom all along? Yoicks!” Oreki figures out the simple explanation for the weird noise in the club meeting room, what became of some missing documents, and why a different student checks out an unusual book from the library for two hours every Friday. A vacation visit to an onsen (hot spring) becomes a test of whether an old ghost story can be coming true, rather than a fan-service peep show.

For the annual cultural festival—a key event in every anime high school series–Chitanda decides the club should compile an anthology as their project (rather than putting on a play or running a maid café). But as they research previous club anthologies they can’t figure out why one issue was titled “Hyouka” (literally “frozen desert”) and what befell its editor, who is Chitanda’s long-lost uncle. Oreki expends a lot of energy delving into the history of student activism at Kamiyama High and solving the word play that gives the series its title.

But the filmmakers keep even this multi-episode inquiry within credible limits. Oreki figures out what happened to Chitanda’s uncle when he was a student, but the missing man doesn’t make an improbable and timely return from Southeast Asia. Even the smartest student detective can achieve only so much, a lesson that’s brought home when Oreki realizes that Fuyumi Irisu (Alexis Tipton), a student from another class, has used him and the other club members to complete a project for her.

Director Yasuhiro Takemoto lends visual interest to the cases Oreki and his friends tackle by introducing different graphic styles. If the solution involves words or word play, animated kanji character appear. When Oreki realizes how Irisu has played him, he sees the Literature Club as a set of marionettes jerkily dancing as their strings are manipulated.

Hyouka (2012) is based on the first of six mystery novels in the “Classic Literature Club” series by Honobu Nishiya, which have also been adapted to manga. (Neither version has been translated into English.) A Japanese live action film is set for release in November. Although the characters and situations can be easily presented in live action, the animated series will be a tough act to top. Gibbs and the other voice actors keep their characters sympathetic, even when they’re in the self-dramatizing throes of teen-age ennui, and Takemoto’s visual imagination makes Hyouka a winner.

Hyouka: Part 1
Kadokawa/Funimation: $44.99 4 discs DVD/Blu-ray

Charles Solomon

Charles Solomon

Internationally known animation historian and critic, Charles Solomon has written over 15 books books including Enchanted Drawings: The History Of Animation, The Art of Disney's Frozen, and The Making of Peanuts Animation. Solomon's "The Art of Toy Story 3" will be published by Chronicle this spring.
Charles Solomon
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