Hyouka’s third episode opens with one of the most iconic scenes of the whole series, an intimate back-and-forth between Oreki and Chitanda that consumes the entire first half of the episode. Storyboarded and directed by Taichi Ishidate (who’d later get his first full series as director for Beyond the Boundary), it’s a stunning sequence, one that goes far above and beyond the original material through acuity of character acting and direction. The overt text of the scene is “Chitanda finally feels comfortable enough with Oreki to make a request of him regarding her missing uncle” – but the execution is a constant negotiation of comfort and misunderstanding and growing mutual engagement. It’s…
Eh, to hell with it. Let’s start at the top.
The scene opens with the meeting of the two bathed in a wholly new color palette. In contrast to the show’s usual yellow-brown tones, Chitanda’s mention of a “confession” has skewed the scene in pink, reflective of both her arresting eyes and romance in general. Close shots emphasize her vulnerability and anxiety, making us closely aware of what both her and Oreki must be feeling. Even the clock on the wall gets in on the act, its pendulum briefly assuming a heart-shape form as the tension builds.
Then Chitanda reveals her confession is platonic, and the color palette jumps back to normal.
That’s the scene’s visual storytelling at its most aggressive, but things get no less purposeful from there out. As Oreki listens to her explain the context of her request, he’s framed as if slinking towards the side of the scene, the asymmetrical framing emphasizing his usual style of avoiding confrontation. When he agrees to at least tentatively listen to her request, he looks back into the center of the frame, visually acknowledging Chitanda and extending an olive branch.
Chitanda then lays out her story, describing a beloved uncle who had disappeared years ago, but had long before been a member of the Classics club. When young Chitanda asked him about his time in the club, he’d refused to tell her anything. When her insistence finally forced his hand (an insistence we already know very well), she recalls only crying about what he’d said, and that he refused to comfort her afterwards. Now, with his ceremonial “death” approaching (a truth emphasized by the show’s continued cutting to clocks all around), she wants to find the words her uncle gave her, and hold them close to remember him by.
Chitanda comes across as being at her most vulnerable throughout this recollection, a feeling emphasized by both the picture-book visuals of her memories and the way present-time shots present her as tiny and forlorn in the frame. In contrast to Chitanda’s vulnerability, Oreki is presented as guarded, unwilling to engage with her life. Thinking over her story, he once again downplays his own deductive abilities. He claims that the past mysteries were just luck, and that he couldn’t help her more than anyone else could.
Chitanda is having none of this. A quick shot of her lip stiffening cuts to “then let me rely on that luck,” a line that simultaneously respects his self-image while recognizing it as a lie. You can’t rely on luck, and Chitanda knows what Oreki has isn’t luck. In episode two, Oreki characterized Chitanda as an airhead, but she’s clearly perfectly intelligent. Things stick in her mind, and she considers situations carefully before acting with conviction. Her behavior towards Oreki consistently implies that she can parse both his affectation and the person beneath it – she knows how much she can push, and though she generally respects his behavior, she’s also willing to speak directly to the person beneath it. Unlike Ibara’s direct chastening of Satoshi, Chitanda manages Oreki with a lighter touch, maneuvering around his persona in order to draw out the person beneath.
Of course, Oreki doesn’t want to be drawn out. Thinking over her words, he recognizes the significance this mystery must have for her, and doesn’t feel interested in harboring any part of that responsibility. Oreki doesn’t want to engage with Chitanda’s world in a way he can’t take back – he’s been having fun with their little interactions, but he wants to keep things casual. Committing to this mystery would be too against his theoretical nature, and too intimate of a gesture. Oreki denies that he is special as a person and denies that he is special to Chitanda, muttering about crowdsourcing the mystery in a shot that presents him as diminished as he can possibly make himself.
Chitanda’s earnest response to his words breaks that barrier. As Oreki attempts to make himself anonymous, a no one among other no ones, Chitanda makes him special. She mentions how uncomfortable she is talking about this, and that she wouldn’t want to share parts of her family history with just anyone. Oreki is already closer than he’d planned to be, and already in a position of responsibility regarding their friendship. And just like when he betrayed her feelings in regards to the club poster “mystery,” Oreki is shamed by his own actions. He can’t betray that existing trust.
This actual confession is a step forward for both of them, and the camera understands that. As so often happens in KyoAni shows, when the characters are feeling uncomfortable or intimate, the camera gives them space – it lets the two share a private moment, before the conversation slowly resumes. Oreki raises one more counterpoint, saying that Chitanda has plenty of time to solve this mystery – but Chitanda counters again, talking of her uncle’s approaching funeral as the show once again cuts to that overhanging clock. And so Oreki mulls it over, and he makes his choice. Honestly articulating his exact fear, he prefaces that he can’t take responsibility for her – but he agrees. Centered in the frame, he acknowledges Chitanda’s request and Chitanda herself. He agrees to help.
That scene offers the most thorough exploration so far of the dynamic shared by Oreki and Chitanda. The two are very different people, but they’re each able to make understanding concessions to the other, respecting both feelings and boundaries in spite of often gently butting heads. It’s a standout sequence that in another show might play out as some kind of heated argument, but here offers just as much emotional back-and-forth in the smallest of gestures between the two. Initially guarded fronts give way to each of them admitting a degree of weakness, and coming to a stronger friendship as a result.
The second half of the episode is dedicated to Oreki, Chitanda, and Ibara retrieving the missing anthologies. A tip from Oreki’s sister leads to him actually tracking down their supposed location, an act of persona-betrayal that even Ibara comments on. But in order to actually regain the anthologies, Oreki is forced to solve another small mystery, one that requires both the usual deduction and a direct confrontation. The overt narrative of this sequence is entertaining but self-explanatory, but there were a couple really nice visual tricks worth a mention.
First, Oreki’s big moment of putting the pieces together is represented through a very impressive backwards panning shot. It is incredibly difficult to present the illusion of “movement into (or out of) depth” in animation, because your perspective on all objects within the frame shifts as they move variant distances from the camera, requiring constant redrawing of not just moving objects (as you would while panning sideways against a still background), but every object whose relative position changes. It’s a limitation of hand-drawn animation that’s pretty much always existed (one that Walt Disney allegedly obsessed over, leading to “solutions” such as the multiplane camera first used in shots like the opening to The Old Mill, where literal depth is created through the juxtaposition of separated layers of drawings), and one most animation simply avoids messing with. That’s why a shot like this stands out so much – it “solves” this problem by consistently redrawing the stationary desks and tables in order to cope with the shifting relative perspective.
Aside from the great character acting, that’s this scene’s most ostentatious visual trick (and by the way, if you’re interested in more discussion on the physical mechanics of animated framing, I’d recommend picking up The Anime Machine). The last thing I’d mention for this scene is the lighting, and specifically the contrast between Chitanda and Oreki. In two successive shots that demonstrate each of them arguing with their classmate from a different direction, Chitanda is bathed in light and Oreki is cloaked in shadow. Their polarity doesn’t just show up when they’re squaring off – each of them has a different kind of power, and they’re far stronger when working together.
The group finally get their anthologies, and Chitanda discovers her uncle was indeed wrapped up in some complicated business. Suddenly struck with doubt about her quest, Chitanda and Oreki switch roles in the last scene of this episode. Wondering whether she might be better off not knowing what happened, Chitanda embraces the shadow, uttering a line that could well reflect on Oreki’s doubts about committing to action within his own life. And briefly standing in the light, it’s Oreki who assures her it’s a truth worth seeking. Chitanda and Oreki each push the other forward in a number of small ways this episode, building a connection expressed in every word and frame.
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