Hyouka started off way too slow, but that ended up ironically being its biggest strength. That, and a ton of other things, but your mileage does indeed vary.
Hyouka reminds me of Mawaru Penguindrum in a variety of ways: going from hating a character (Chitanda/Ringo) to absolutely adoring them, the fantastically creative animation, the restrained but powerful soundtrack and never knowing what’ll happen next but while Penguindrum was a fast paced ride of emotions, Hyouka was restrained to the very end almost mirroring Houtarou’s energy conservation policy. Hyouka does things that are a bit outside the norm of a LN: the pacing isn’t necessarily all over the place, but…it’s not predictable either. It sounds confusing, but if you’ve seen Hyouka you’ll know how hard it is to get an idea of what’s going to happen next and that’s something any mystery series definitely should have. The thing is, Hyouka isn’t really a mystery series either…nor slice of life.
“What is it?”
That’s the question that always swirls in my mind when trying to describe Hyouka: it never conforms to one specific style of storytelling (compare the Kanya Festival arc versus Chitanda and Houtarou trapped in a shed), it never just sticks to the mysteries (indeed, my biggest complaint with this show was the assumption it was going to be a mystery show) but yet the constant references to Sherlock Holmes and other famous mystery writers are persistent. The characters started off a bit one sided, but eventually were given ample time for development. You never can pin down what Hyouka will do next, or how it will do it. Indeed, the biggest mystery in this show is the show itself. My answer to the question posed above: It is what it is.
If there’s something that will make me vividly remember Hyouka it won’t be the characters, it won’t be the animation, nor the music, nor the mysteries but the sheer fiery independent streak this show exudes, never conforming to the whim of others and still find room to throw a few bones to the shippers out there. But don’t get me wrong, that was a “what if” scenario, because Hyouka not only followed its own path but brought so many other things to look forward to than just pretty animation: It had a heart. A heart full of intriguing characters, a heart with an eye for artistic beauty, a heart with a sense of restraint in music and a heart that always opened itself to our viewing pleasure.
There’s a lot to like about Hyouka, but what kept it from being a real classic? The first half was a tad too slow, something that couldn’t be easily fixed and Chitanda for the longest time really annoyed me, as noted by the above picture. But what truly kept this show from being at least a 90 was that mindbogglingly awful “Why didn’t she ask EBA?” arc, or rather the one with the amateur movie murder. I just can’t bring myself to say anything good about that arc: It was way too long and could have been kept to two episodes and the cast got so emotional over a silly poorly made horror movie that it made me question if they were the same Houtarou, Chitanda, Mayaka and Satoshi I knew of. That arc really just did not sit well with me and I even contemplated dropping this show, but one bump in the extremely smooth road shouldn’t deter anyone from pressing on forward for a show they truly enjoy.
Overall, I’m truly saddened to see this show go: because while 2012 isn’t quite over, It’s been a pretty mixed bag: nothing has really wowed me except for the fourth (..and not final) season of Natsume Yuujinchou, Tsuritama, Jinrui and of course Hyouka. Just four series out of the almost three dozen series I’ve seen. From blatantly awful (SAO, Another), to laughably bad (GC), the Valley of Meh (Sankarea, Persona 4, Symphogear, Tari Tari among many many others) and lastly the ones that really stood out from the aforementioned but not quite enough to be great (Ano Natsu, Jormungand, Nichibros). I’ve been a bit disappointed with 2012 to be honest, but thankfully there’s still a handful of really standout series and Hyouka earned its right to be called one of those standouts.
Animation – 10/10 Always at it’s best, especially when Houtarou’s recreating the case and there’s usually some really nice visuals there. But the background art puts P.A. Works to shame (and that’s the only thing they’re good at) and the attention to detail (winter, and everyone’s nose is red..duh! It’s cold) puts this show on a completely different level from any other show. Already ready to give Hyouka “Best in Animation – 2012”.
Story – 11/15 – Where is EBA? arc really puts this show down: that arc was over the top (in a bad way) and really it wasn’t good at all, the next arc (Kanya Festival) was hands down not only an improvement but the best arc in the series and the finale was both a visual treat and lots of Eru x Houtarou moments.
Characters – 20/25 – Would have liked a little more Satoshi/Mayaka (more of the former), but good to know they weren’t forgotten. Chitanda grew on me, but she still remains the weakest link of the group in my opinion.
Sound – 8/10 – Love both OPs and EDs (OP 2 visuals + song, ED 1 song, ED 2 visuals), BGM was nice and sets the mood. Voice acting was solid.
Enjoyment – 36/40: Hyouka started off way too slow, but that ended up ironically being its biggest strength. I never once felt this was a light novel, because unlike most LN’s it truly went on its own pace and direction, while most LN’s are pretty formulaic and predictable. Particularly the Kanya Festival arc, how it started off being an indepth look at culture festivals turned into the best mystery for Houtarou to solve. Hyouka surprised me in the sense that it actually had something to offer viewers besides gorgeous graphics and really great music, there was always a plot lurking around, poking its head from below and when the plot emerged, a lot of interesting things happened. Yet in the end, Hyouka’s light mysteries and close knit cast blossomed amidst the even more breathtaking animation.
Overall Score – 85/100 (B)