Why Hyouka’s First Mystery is Brilliant
Hello & Welcome
To Replay Value The pilot episode is arguably the most important in a television series, especially for anime where it’s competing with dozens of other shows at the same time, because even if your conclusion is amazing it doesn’t matter if no one stuck around to watch it. Hyouka is special in that regard because it doesn’t even need the full pilot episode to make its case for why this show is so highly regarded – it just needs the first half. Today we’re going to talk about the genius of Hyouka’s first mystery.
The opening shot is that of a cherry blossom or sakura tree whose petals fall throughout the walking scene. This bright pink color blends nicely with the pastels we’ll see throughout most of this opening sequence and also mimics the “rose-colored life” we hear Oreki Hotaro our main character talk about in his monologue. The light and bright colors are symbolic of the theme “rose colored life” so it’s unsurprising that Hotaro himself is a much deeper black than those of his classmates – creating a contrast between the backgrounds and himself as to give him focus.
His discussion of how “not all high school students likely desire a rose-colored life”, is shown visually as the camera continues to zoom in on him, seemingly darker, over the course of these shots.
Hotaro almost has a “pasted” over feeling, like he’s walking against a green screen and these things are happening in the background – and the path he’s walking (from right to left) makes your eyes focus on the left as we transition to this shot, whose bright colors will inevitably bring your eyes back to the dark imposing figure – and as he solitarily walks to class, entering a darker shade, he leaves behind the bustle and color of the outside walk in, fitting as he describes students who don’t want a rose-colored life instead a “gray” life.
Hotaro and Satoshi basically talk us through this – and establish Hotaro’s motto of “If I don’t have to do it, I won’t.
If I have to do it, make it quick” as a pretty gray outlook. We cut to this shot of these two girls doing homework and chatting which puts the two boys in stark contrast – as their conversation is irregular and plants the seed of why their just sitting there talking in the first place. When Hotaro busts out the club entry form we get a hilarious reaction from Satoshi, but we also get this great shot. It looks like an ordinary set-up, but believe me when I say this is pretty well done.
There are three places where words appear on this sheet of paper. The following shot has Hotaro and Satoshi in the top right, so if you’re eyes end on the top word of the previous one, you’re directed to the right place because they’ll be the first people you see when your eye naturally moves to the light. If your eye is on either of the other two text positions, your eye will go to either the pair of girls in the bottom left, or the boy in the center – both groups are looking at Satoshi’s outburst, giving you a view-line right back to the two boys. It’s the kind of thing you won’t notice unless you’re looking for it, and
Hyouka is chock full of moments like this. The next sequence of Hotaro walking to the club room serves a similar multitude of purposes. It sets up the mystery of the episode in a way that would allow for you to answer it before Hotaro gives us the answer but without making it obvious, and it establishes Hotaro’s character at the same time.
The first shot is Hotaro walking opposite a sports team running – which is a pretty clear metaphor for him going against the common expectation for High School Students, and keeps him in shadow while they’re in the bright color. The following instance is him entering and then waiting outside the Staff room so that he doesn’t have to interact with anyone while he grabs the key to the room, which also helps establish that there’s only one public key. The following shot of these two girls on the phone, and after that Hotaro walks by a Janitor.
This sequence might seem like it was just an opportunity to give Hotaro sometime to narrate his thoughts and demeanor to the audience at large, but these shots serve double duty in that regard. Because from the moment Hotaro unlocks the door to the club room,
Kyotoani has already given you all the tools you’d need to answer the mystery before the mystery is even brought up…which is why it’s unlikely you’d put it together – but you can’t say it wasn’t possible to solve.
This next sequence is definitely an underrated one. Chitanda is standing in the light at the window, whereas Hotaro is walking from the shadows towards her. And whereas Hotaro had been thinking his whole way up to the room, he’s now dead silent – and the footsteps fall in slow-motion as he stares at her. Hotaro’s profile brightens up as he gets closer and closer to her.
There’s nothing else happening in the audio at this point, until he stops moving and we hear the wind and some soft bird calls – which should give fans of Hyouka who remember the final line a bit of a smile. The contrast between Chitanda’s bright purple eyes and Hotaro’s pale green eyes is similarly striking, as is when they begin to see themselves in each others eyes. It’s almost a stereotypical love at first sight moment, which is hilarious since it’s one of things that Hotaro presumably wanted to avoid in order to maintain his motto. The trance is broken when Chitanda closes her eyes, and the OP plays which creates more distance between the solution and the mystery itself. Chitanda is the catalyst for Hotaro’s character development, so it’s really fun for me to rewatch their first actual meeting and see how Chitanda in some ways personifies the “rose-colored life” that Hotaro talks about. In that regard – This shot, as Chitanda basically introduces Hotaro to himself, is great.
It shows a lot of distance between the two – something that will shift as the mystery plays out, keeps Chitanda and her white outfit in the light, which contrasts super well with Oreki in black and in shadow. The amount of space causes your eyes to dart back and forth between the two, giving you time to absorb the beautiful background and foreground. The fact that they share the same music class, which has met once, is a great way to establish how brilliant Chitanda’s memory is – something even Oreki gives credit to – and to show off Oreki’s deductive reasoning skills to that it doesn’t come out of left field later in the first mystery.
As Chitanda closes the gap between the two, we see this shot after Hotaro asks why she joined the Classics Club. As she says that she has personal reasons, we can see part of a building blocked by Hotaro’s head, which is foreshadowing for those personal reasons and the first arc of the show. It also signifies some ways that Chitanda subverts that “rose-colored life” ideal that become more apparent later in the series. Hotaro leaving the club – walking away from Chitanda and the light, highlighted by the glare on this shelf – is stopped by her curiosity about how she’s supposed to lock up, which is furthered when the mystery actually appears and her eyes shine bright. Again, this duality and contrast between the two characters is expressed in the room as well, with the gradient that has been established – the window being light and the door being dark, being continued in shots like this.
And Chitanda, even after Hotaro is trying to leave, keeps closing the distance between the two of them as the mystery unveils itself. The mystery is how the door was locked when she was in here, when she didn’t have a key. This summons Satoshi who explicitly states Chitanda’s genius and provides his own role as the database – sharing that you can only lock rooms with a key.
As Hotaro tries to leave, yet again, Chitanda literally blocks him and slowly pushes him back into the room. While this is happening we’re treated to this abstract, “rose-colored lens” of what’s actually happening where Hotaro is enveloped in Chitanda’s curiosity in this bright pastel color dream. But in actuality she’s just been pushing him further and further into the room bringing him back towards the light. This is why Chitanda is the catalyst for Hotaro’s development – she is physically forcing him to step into a rose-colored life, and in the abstract version he’s wrapped up in her, unable to do anything except stare into her eyes like their first meeting. So when he agrees to take on the first mystery, he’s effectively submitting to Chitanda’s curiosity – which we’ll see him subvert, avoid, and accept before the show’s conclusion has played it’s final note.
Hotaro correctly deduces that it was the Janitor, who after doing all the rooms in a hallway went back and locked them all. And indeed we had answer from before the OP even played. That opening segment where Hotaro took out the only public key, where he passed the Janitor who was coming from that floor, and it being locked as he arrived. The Janitor was somewhat covered by the fact that there were plenty of other people in the hallways, and since Hotaro didn’t interact with him, it wasn’t a memorable moment. And after that we return to that view from the window, but this time showing the building that foreshadows the upcoming arc.
As the episode comes to an end we see the three of them in the entrance hall, and of course Hotaro is more in the shadow while Chitanda is in the light. We get another abstract shot, symbolically showing that Hotaro is captivated by her – doing things without any self-control because Chitanda asks it of him. And as the trio walks out we’re given the opposite to Hotaro entering the school – he’s walking with people, and he’s kept in the light – even if his internal monologue is complaining about how this goes against his motto. This ending shot, with the petals and the bright white background brings us naturally to the conclusion of where Hotaro is going over the next 21 episodes – towards a rose colored life. Hyouka does all of this in about 12 minutes and 30 seconds – properly showing and telling where our principle character is at the present, where he’s going and why he’s going to develop as a character. It also sets up a great future arc, introduces us to three of our main four characters, and has some brilliant direction along the way.
The mystery isn’t the most complex but it’s a great starter that organically brings you into the idea that Hotaro can make this great deductions to the point where by the ending…well we’ll get there eventually. Because I have lot more to talk about in regard to Hyouka, and this is truly only the beginning. .
As found on Youtube