Spring 2012 has been, in my humble opinion, an excellent season for anime. It wasn’t too long ago that I’d lost faith as an anime fan because the quality of the shows being broadcast just wasn’t as great as it used to be. If I was lucky, I could find maybe one or two shows that I would want to follow during a season. But in Spring 2012, I have found as many as six series that I really like.
So, I’m running a mini-series of posts on The Japanese Learner about my favorite shows of the season. I hope that these will help you find more anime to watch. Immersion is one of the most important aspects of Japanese learning and it’s also so much easier to study when you can enjoy the material, too.
This week I’m writing about Hyouka (氷菓), a slice-of-life mystery series surrounding a high school’s classic literature club.
Houtarou Oreki is a young boy who lives by a single motto: don’t do anything you don’t need to and rush though the things you must do. It’s odd, then, that an “energy conserver” like Houtarou should find himself at a school renowned for its wide variety of extracurricular activities. At his older sister’s behest, he fills out an application to join a club, even though it is against his nature. According to the letter she sent him from India, the Classic Literature club has no members and is facing closure if it doesn’t add new heads soon.
Being the only one in the club, he figures he can at least enjoy having a club room all to himself. He borrows the key from the faculty office and then heads over to let himself into the room… and there’s a girl, looking out the window. This is odd, since the door was definitely locked when he got to the room, but those thoughts wash completely away when their eyes meet. She has beautiful eyes and an intense gaze that penetrates right to his soul.
She’s Eru Chitanda, and she has joined the club for her own personal reasons. But, more importantly, she’s puzzled that the door was locked when Houtarou walked in, because it was unlocked when she walked in and he has the only key. She absolutely must know the answer to this riddle and she insists that Houtarou help her figure it out.
With his incredible skills of deduction, Houtarou needs few clues to piece the whole story together and Eru is very impressed. Unfortunately for him, it doesn’t end there. Her curiosity about nearly everything is absolutely insatiable and when she looks into his eyes and tells him “I’m curious,” he just can’t seem to say no. And this is how Houtarou finds himself, his best friend Satoshi, and Eru solving a series of mysteries surrounding the Classic Literature club.
What makes Hyouka stand out for me is that it is visually stunning. Kyoto Animation, who you may remember as the studio that worked on The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, has outdone themselves here. The visual quality of Hyouka’s animation is top notch. When Eru’s passion is ignited, her eyes shine like precious stones, really driving home the incredible impression that she makes on Houtarou with her gaze. And when Eru walks up to Houtarou for the first time, takes his hand, and insists that she’s curious, we see her hair grow out to ridiculous length and wrap around him, pulling him uncomfortably close to her as she stares deep into his soul. The execution is fantastic and in my view really helps the audience to identify with Houtarou, who just wants to live his life in peace but can’t bring himself to refuse Eru’s earnest pleas for his help. In a way, he’s similar to Kyon, and KyoAni’s experience in depicting this kind of character definitely shows.
As of this writing, three episodes have aired, but this is already one of the most promising shows of the season. However, it also has some very strong competitors.
If you like school stories and you like mystery, give Hyouka a try. And tune in next week for a write-up of another excellent Spring 2012 anime series!