Well, actually, I won’t apologize.
Hyouka’s first episode was a disaster, albeit a well-animated one. The dialogue was extremely boring, the characters seemed bland and uninspired, and the first mystery presented felt hollow and uninteresting. It was a problem that persisted throughout the episode and it made me believe that a person can actually die from boredom. In fact, I dropped Hyouka after the first episode, and then proceeded to write a badly done RAEG post about it.
I picked up the show again, partly because I just can’t resist the KyoAni fan inside of me, and partly because friends kept bugging me to continue watching it. So I did, and I’m happy about it.
Hyouka improved. A LOT. Now, I think Hyouka is one of the six best anime of the season (meaning shows that I am still watching). It kept the good parts of the first episode and then improved on everything else. It started with this line from episode 2: “What’s important is not what really happened, it’s whether the explanation can appease Chitanda’s curiosity.” It hit me.
This is not necessarily a mystery show in a sense that some kid can quickly come up with the truth behind something faster than the audience can follow; there’s something more to it than just some meddling kids with no dog. Part of why I didn’t like the first episode’s mystery is because I believed that we were supposed to take Houtarou’s explanations as fact all of the time. The second episode stated that that wasn’t the case, while still being completely logical and sensible to its approach in the solving of the mysteries.
A good piece of mystery fiction relies a lot on creating the whole scenario beforehand and then covering up some vital details to make the whole thing ambiguous yet interesting. The audience should not feel cheated once the mystery is solved, meaning that the audience should be able to arrive at the same logical conclusion without flipping the chessboard. The conclusion does not necessarily have to be the whole truth, but something that human cognitive functions can agree with.
Also, a good mystery doesn’t just drop clues out of nowhere. They have to be presented in a manner that doesn’t stretch the limits of a normal person’s willingness to suspend his/her disbelief, preferably not having to rely on it whatsoever. I doubt a lot of people are interested in the clues themselves. They have to seamlessly and logically fit into the system. The presenting of clues should be done in a way that they come naturally, not in a contrived manner. Hyouka succeeds at this aspect, especially with the first big mystery of Eru’s uncle’s disappearance.
To quote Eru: “I’m not interested in the parts. I’m interested with how it works as a whole.” A good mystery is elaborate, but not needlessly so. It can present and build up on its initial setup, and let the missing pieces of the puzzle come together as a normal person can follow.
In a sense, a mystery is like a gearbox. We see the cause of its movement and the effects of its activation, but we cannot see what happens under the cover. A bad mystery story will simply open that cover so we can see the gears inside, while a good mystery story will make one rely on what he has on hand and use his brain to try and guess what’s happening under the cover without opening it. There is a possibility that we may not know what really happened, but as long as we can connect the facts that we have on hand logically, the truth does not really matter.