Even though people have a tendency to lump anything hyped with trash, sometimes a show impresses and never ceases to exceed expectations to the point that every bit of the hype is warranted. Haruhi is probably the most notable example, and KyoAni has been chasing that proverbial dragon ever since with widely varied results. They caught onto something interesting with Nichijou for awhile, and all was good until the dismal sales figures rolled in. To put in perspective how close to that dragon Hyouka is, if Nichijou was within arm’s reach of its tail, then Hyouka is 7,000 miles in the other direction with two broken legs and an inability to register movement as anything but panicked flailing. And KyoAni knows that no matter what, tasteless pap like it will still sell.
The best, and by extension worst, thing that can be said about Hyouka is that it looks stunning. I don’t just mean pretty, I mean that I gawked at how marvelously animated the intro sequence to episode five is and took several screenshots to gawk at later when nobody was looking. There is one thing that Hyouka does well, better than almost any other show that I’ve seen, and it’s slightly depressing given the fact that it’s equivalent to delicious frosting on a cake made of cigarette cartons and antifreeze containers.
Even when it’s in full “Hey, we don’t have any content so please enjoy our faffing about for five episodes!” mode, which it’s in all the time, Hyouka does a great job at making a scene pop with liveliness. There are many other shows, like Mysterious Girlfriend X, that leave backgrounds static for budget reasons. It’s not a blow to a show’s overall quality to have the backgrounds frozen or stilted, but it makes all the difference when some effort is put into making a scene look vibrant, to have rain actually make ripples in puddles, and this is one thing that Hyouka is more than aware of. KyoAni have always made it a staple of their shows, but it’s truly exceptional here.
It’s a very small thing, and it should be insignificant when compared to everything else given how I usually judge shows based on content instead of the aesthetics, but it can’t be overstated how much of a difference it’s made for me that Hyouka actually has compelling visuals to accompany the drabness. Both in their world and in the confines of the characters’ imaginations where the deductions to the “mysteries” are visualized for the audience to see, the animation is quite simply breathtaking.
Taking into account the wondrous visualizations in this episode, including everything involving rabbits, there were still two moments that stood out more, and they were much less essential to what passes for the plot. The first was that opening bit with the rain, helped in part by the musical accompaniment, which set the tone of the episode better than almost anything else I could think of. The second was the very end, when Houtarou and Chitanda were walking home from school. All around them students were socializing and walking together, not just striking poses and remaining unnaturally frozen in the background. A lot of effort was made into making the world feel alive, and that’s something that I can’t help but admire.
Damning with faint praise perfectly encompasses what I think of Hyouka. Five episodes in and it’s still painfully mediocre with almost no conceivable progress made in any regard. No effort has been made to make the characters relatable or likable in any way, and the mysteries themselves just get more contrived and pretentious the longer that the series plods along. It could be argued that it might improve after a few episodes, but shows like that usually show some semblance of charm in the introductory episodes, something that Hyouka couldn’t have less of if it actively tried to be repulsive. The only thing that it has to keep me watching is a beautiful visual sense, which speaks volumes for how shallow the overall experience is. It’s just a pretty face, and not even one with a brain behind it.