I remember how I was back in July, my rosy-cheeked, shiny-eyed self untainted by the overwhelming sludge of mediocrity that was the summer season. It was a time when Hyouka was more contemptible and exploitative than Violence Jack, and Jinrui was sitting high on the pantheon of greatest things in all history ever; admittedly, beginning the season in a drunken haze probably didn’t help to ease this strange disconnect.
But then Yuru Yuri Two Eighth-Notes and Muv-Luv Alternative: Total Eclipse aired, and I gained some perspective on things. No longer was I a rosy-eyed, shiny-cheeked youth, but a grizzled blogger who had seen it all, man. It was at that point when all hope seemed lost that something weird happened: Hyouka somehow got better, and Jinrui slowly descended in quality from godlike to merely pretty good. What made this strange is these two results were caused by the same change in focus: from plot to character development.
I wrote before on how Hyouka bugged the ever-loving hell out of me by padding mundane excuses for mysteries with obtuse deduction and an unfailing adhesion to detective stereotypes; it almost came across as a horrible self-aware parody with the number of times that Satoshi would say something akin to “I’m the database, I can’t draw conclusions on my own” with a smug, self-satisfied grin on his face. Satoshi’s impish self awareness, to me, was the show’s way of saying that it didn’t have a single original idea in its head, and it somehow relished in that fact like someone would an actual achievement. Also, I often perceived the continuous presence of Chitanda as spite toward my very existence, but that’s another tale for another day.
Jinrui, on the other hand, couldn’t have left a better first impression if it offered jelly doughnuts and a new season of ARIA with each episode. Everything left such a strong, if not too subtle impression, and it found a way to deftly weave sentient skinned chickens into the plot without it coming across as awkward; hell, even the usage of Ave Maria was masterful, entirely appropriate silliness. There’s very little that Jinrui did wrong in the first four episodes or so, and it didn’t even share Hyouka’s tendency to drag itself out.
It was at about the time when Jinrui’s manga arc concluded, which was also when Hyouka’s wonderful school festival arc was well underway, that the two decided to go in a similar direction, but in different ways; Hyouka decided to flesh out the characters that we’d become comfortable with into more identifiable people with interesting quirks and weaknesses, and Jinrui went the shitty route of adding goofy one-note space probes, in a sense blowing its load way too early.
Over time, it shifted focus away from the outrageous events that resulted from the fairies’ involvement, instead opting to shed more light on Watashi and associates, in an effort to breathe more life into everybody’s favorite UN mediator. Naturally, this worked out pretty awfully. When it went on these tangents, which became more of a regular occurrence, the show suffered for it. It still had several great moments after the initial high wore off, but it never achieved the same transcendent level of brilliance that it had in its beginning stages.
Hyouka’s greater success in this regard isn’t because it’s more character-driven, or even because Houtaro and Chitanda are more grounded compared to Jinrui’s eclectic roster. Eventually, it learned to weave character development into the plot, rather than keeping the two separate, something that Jinrui couldn’t do all that well outside of the Time Paradog episode. In particular, Hyouka did a fantastic job developing Satoshi from an ever-grinning dispenser of information to a sympathetic character, insecure enough to be jealous of Houtarou’s superior deductive reasoning, yet distant enough to keep everyone else from getting too close. Even more impressive, it didn’t compromise anything that made him so likable in the first place. Though it can be attributed to being given more of a runtime, Hyouka did what Jinrui couldn’t: It made its characters memorable, and actually feel like they were subjected to some kind of growth. While I still think Jinrui was the better series overall, I’ll happily concede that Hyouka’s characters were leagues above Jinrui.
Eventually, the novelty of a pink-haired moeblob smarming and quipping will wear off, as fun a novelty as it is. Diamonds, and the ambiguously gay Satoshi, are forever.