I Apologize for Bashing Hyouka (On Good Mystery Writing)

Hmph! You think I’d apologize to you? Baka, baka!

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.

Eru Chitanda: Angel.

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.

It’s interesting how big of a deal this issue of A and D has turned into.

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.

CAN YOU HANDLE THE CUTENESS OVERLOAD?

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.

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11 Responses to I Apologize for Bashing Hyouka (On Good Mystery Writing)

  1. du5k says:

    I admit that the mystery part of Hyouka is pretty good, but I just don’t feel that it gels well with the rest of the elements in the show. They ought to at least make the characters more likeable, or the mystery of Hyouka more interesting. For now I only feel how much they wanted to exploit Houtarou’s ability, episode after episode.

    • @fkeroge says:

      Well, I think I can see a promise for development in the characters in future episodes. Just look at the latest ep. It seemed pointless, but its not. That episode provided us with more information about our characters’s personalities, instead of just solving a mystery.

  2. Smiley says:

    I for one am not particularly impressed by the mystery solving in Hyouka. It just feels like they completely blow the most mundane things way out of proportion. Granted, Chitanda’s seemingly insatiable curiosity is probably the defining point of her personality and the driving force of the story, but it seems to me that the show has devolved into Houtarou being her bitch.

    The arc about Chitanda’s uncle was interesting enough, but I seriously couldn’t care less about why she got upset at a math teacher. At times it really feels like they’re solving mysteries for the sake of solving mysteries, not to actually uncover something meaningful. Or perhaps this just means I don’t appreciate true mystery solving?

    • @fkeroge says:

      I don’t think “blowing the most mundane things out of proportion” is necessarily a bad thing. We also did these sorts of “mystery solving” while I was in high school, and they were really fun days now that I think about it.

      Besides, I don’t think that the minor mysteries that they solve in their free time are completely useless or irrelevant. KyoAni has always been good at presenting important details subtly. For example, the latest one with the math teacher provided us with some more important interactions and character development. If you really want to push it, I’d say that most of the time, the dialogue in Hyouka is just about as pointless as it is in the -monogatari series. It’s just that the show uses dialogue to flesh out the characters instead of events.

      • Smiley says:

        Yes, the “mystery solving meetings” have revealed quite a bit about the characters, but it certainly would have been nice if KyoAni did it in a more engaging manner. The dialogue in -monogatari was actually quite witty and amusing for the most part, whereas the more minor mysteries in Hyouka seem a little dry and forced thusfar.

        I think if they just stayed away from stuff like the math teacher incident and focused on more “meaningful” mysteries, I would be a little less critical.

  3. Persocom says:

    I had a similar feeling watching the first episode or two of Gosick. I thought it was going to be just a bunch of dumb, easy to solve mysteries, but after sticking with it my opinions changed. A lot of times that I watch only one or two episodes of something and come back to it, I wonder why I had ignored it in the first place. Sure, it would be great if everything had our devoted attention from the beginning but it doesn’t work out that way most of the time. Rage posts are understandable, it’s easy to have high expectations and then feel let down, especially if it’s a group like KyoAni whom we expect to be the best of the best. I found the main character of Hyouka boring the first episode too, but I kept watching anyway and so far I’m liking it. I’m an episode or two behind right now though, so I can’t really give a fully formed opinion yet.

    • @fkeroge says:

      I wasn’t able to finish Gosick (I survived until episode 13) because of everyone in the show being insufferable twits, and the way Victorique solves mysteries doesn’t sit well with me. But I guess I can understand why people would find it enjoyable.

  4. Jay says:

    I keep saying KININARIMASU everythime I see those cute Chitandas.

  5. chikorita157 says:

    While I enjoy the show, the mystery so far is a mixed bag since it’s not too deep besides the one regarding her uncle. They get solved without any difficulty. Still, I think it’s somewhat early to judge, but I think it could get better as the show goes on. Heck, Nichijou didn’t get better until probably around the second half. Since they are working with 21 episodes, thats plenty to show something interesting.

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