Tuesday, 31 July 2012


I'm quite late to the party here, but for the last week I've been marathoning SMUGFACES: THE ANIMATION Hyouka.

Look at that smug.
I'd been put off watching for a long while after many people reacting negatively to the first few episodes, so it's a pleasant surprise that picking it up now I find it to be a good show - nay, not just good: excellent. Outstanding. It's one of those series which showcases just what KyoAni can do with animation when they put their mind to something - whilst most of their shows feature fluid animation, this really really needs to be seen in motion to fully appreciate just how visually interesting it is. Remember how beautifully animated and abstract the Gosick OP was? Well, this is like that but fused with the fluidity and framework of KyoAni: abstract set pieces and surrealist imagery are employed to punctuate the show and re-engage the viewer, it's quite possibly the most visually interesting thing KyoAni have done to date; it's also (so far) one of their best series.

Did I mention smug?
Thematically, Hyouka is a mystery series; yet one which takes an unusual approach to the genre by applying a detective character to explain or coax everyday occurrences. "Why is that guy reluctant to let us look in his room for our book?", "How should this incomplete movie end?" - neither of which sound terribly interesting on paper, yet the challenge to solve the mysteries is particularly gripping. For a show which centres on low-key problems it presents a highly credible method of detective methodology: never are there any asspull solutions, potential scenarios are all discussed until a final theory is deliberated and acted upon thus allowing the viewer to figure things out with the characters. As I said before, this style of realism places this at odds with the "whodunnit" style of mystery (one episode even has the characters attempting to solve a whodunnit mystery with a realistic approach), it has more in common with (for instance) Law & Order but without the death or gore.

Since the approach to solving mysteries is realistic, it makes sense that the characters are too: they often have disjointed discussions which get interrupted or follow a non-linear route. I can't think of any books, films or television shows which have presented characters so realistically; nearly always a writer will present a clean and linear pathway for characters, with interruptions occurring at the least convenient time (often predictably so too). It helps a great deal that the characters themselves are interesting, humourous and (at least in the case of some female characters) endearingly sweet.

Chitanda is moe. Even when drunk.
The centremost character of Hyouka is Houtarou Oreki: an unenergetic and average student who goes out of his way to avoid doing things, and therefore finds a club where he can goof off and not do any work. Believing this club will be empty and devoid of other members, he is quickly disappointed to discover that it has another member - the highly energetic and inquisitive Eru Chitanda. Chitanda's persistent character quickly irritates Oreki, who begrudgingly decides that it's better to satiate her curiosity than to endure her incessant prattling. Thirdly we're introduced to Oreki's friend Satoshi, who serves to further irritate Oreki to the point of action (though Satoshi is more deliberate in this regard), his lighter and more outgoing personality also offering a nice counter-balance to Oreki's own slothness. There are a whole host of other characters too who pop up and disappear from time to time, but to elaborate further on these would be to spoil plot points and character development.

Considering I had low expectations for this series prior to watching, this has turned out to be a pleasant surprise. In fact it's a series I love so much that I don't want it to end, and it's been a long time since I've felt that quite so strongly when watching a series. Be sure to check it out!

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