Hyouka Review – Volume 1: You can’t escape / The niece of time
Spoilers? Proceed at your own risk (covers episodes 1-5 of the anime). Be advised as well that I read a fan translation. It will never be as accurate as the original text. If I pointed out something that could be attributed to the way it was translated, kindly tell me. This might as well be called a review of the translation, aside from being a review of the novel itself.
Reading Hyouka was quite an experience. If I would have to describe it, it’s as if you’re listening to two people exchanging vague inside jokes with one another. You have to possess an understanding of Japanese history, specifically 1960′s to easily understand and follow some of the historical references.
The gist of the first volume revolves around Chitanda’s favor to Houtarou to find out Sekitani Jun’s past (Chitanda’s uncle), not that the characters know that it is deeply related to the the history of the Classics Club. In order to find out the details of the past, the four main characters searched for sources that would give them an idea on what truly happened. Because of that, I believe it’s safe to say that Hyouka is a mystery/detective light novel. As such, I was hoping that “subtlety” would be observed throughout by the author in order to effectively build up the mystery.
Like other light novels (says Wikipedia), literary minimalism as a writing style is observed by the novel. One of the discerning factors of literary minimalism is having characters who don’t think out loud and Houtarou is the perfect example of that. Showing, instead of telling a situation is also an apparent characteristic of the said style. The issue I raised about subtlety refers to this because Hyouka fails(?)/chooses to deliver a certain line in a telling fashion instead of showing it. I am citing here the line that bluntly said “database” in order for the readers to readily assume what role Satoshi’s going to play in the story. It’s quite a cheap shot in my opinion.
One of the things that also bugged me while reading the novel was that, Houtarou’s lazy (I hardly believe it’s for saving energy) personality is quite apparent in his narration. You can sense that he’s trying to shortcut some of the details when he’s telling the story (The deduction part is an exception). If not, he’ll begin explaining that he doesn’t want to do a certain task because of [insert explanation here] instead of just getting things done. Although it is suitable for his personality, I find it not engaging to read because of that. His energy-saving tone makes me want to save energy myself and stop reading the novel.
The letters and calls Houtarou receives from his sister serves as an oar if you consider Houtarou as the boat. It’s definitely an interesting aspect of the novel that moves the story forward. It might be seen as a deus ex machina but it effectively camouflages itself as a normal occurrence in Houtarou’s life.
I could also probably compare Another to Hyouka in its style of using clues and hints. Both used little involvement of things that would later be significant, albeit loosely connected and not fully utilized. For example, Another’s use of the “Why, Rei-chan” dialogue which the viewers thought to be of no meaning actually turned out to be a big clue to know who the extra one is. Quite similarly, Hyouka had the book that would later be used as a vital source of info involved in a case that pretty much turned out to be borderline filler content. Who would have thought?
Much of the exchange and deduction as for why Chitanda’s and Mayaka’s theories were debunked was explained clearer and better in the light novel. KyoAni’s animation actually just confused me instead of simplifying the explanation. There’s a lot of questioning the usage of word involved so I suggest reading this part to appreciate Houtarou’s deduction. KyoAni’s imagery can only do so much. I really enjoyed this part of the light novel since it’s better if you can also stare at the handouts that the four of them prepared. You can see for yourself the points they are talking about and why exactly they are arguing the clarity of a certain phrase.
Overall, the novel was too historical, which is why it was hard for me to appreciate it. Aside from that, Chitanda’s relation to the story was quite weak. It might be a memory she badly wants to remember but if she remembers it right, I think the reason she cited on why she cried is pretty shallow, and unconvincing. I don’t think a child could have understood the deeper meaning and hidden message that her uncle meant.
Interesting points for those who are watching the anime:
- The second part of the first episode was a filler.
- Sekitani Jun is missing for 7 years already. People that are missing for 7 years are legally declared dead. The Chitanda clan would soon attend his funeral. Chitanda wanted to know the truth so she would be able to send off her uncle properly.
- It was mentioned early on that Mayaka belongs to the Manga Studies Club. Despite this, she still joined the Classics Club to pursue Satoshi.
- The big ornate book borrowed for the art classes is actually the source which Houtarou used for his research. It’s the history book of the school. It pretty much holds the key hints about the whole incident.
- Unity and Salutations is the equivalent anthology series being published by the Manga Studies Club.
- Satoshi’s source is Kami High Monthly, the publication of the club they visited to look for the Classics Club anthologies.
- Kanya Festival is a nickname for Kamiyama Cultural Festival. The nickname’s origin is closely related to the incident.
- The meaning of the word Hyouka involves wordplay, but using its English meaning.
I invite you to read this article if you want to know more about literary minimalism.
image credits: pixiv user うら