Episode four opens with another idyllic after-school scene. Classes are out, kids are leaving the gate, and Chitanda and Oreki are walking home in that classic sepia light.
It’s not a particularly climactic moment, but it’s reflective of something I find kinda generally interesting about Hyouka – in comparison to most shows, it feels like Hyouka uses shot transitions almost as “paragraph breaks.” A sequence of shots sets a scene, and then a couple jump transitions move into a conversation. Two characters reach some agreement in a conversation, and then the shots reset for their next engagement.
In this case, that “agreement” is that if Chitanda doesn’t accept this mystery might require revealing her past to more people, then she may never find the answer. And Chitanda accepts this, and agrees to include Ibara and Satoshi – a pretty dramatic step, considering it took her over a month to feel comfortable enough with Oreki to ask for his help. Hyouka centers itself on Oreki’s shoulder, but it’s often as not Chitanda’s growth and changes that are caught in the frame.
Speaking of framing, two scenes after this one, we get a great example of KyoAni’s smart comedy framing, when Oreki and Satoshi meet up to exchange info. I think what makes this a strong example is actually that the joke isn’t very good – it’s a moment of mild goofiness from Satoshi that plays on Oreki’s general awkwardness, barely even a joke at all. The joke is basically just “Oreki is waiting for Satoshi, Satoshi makes a big scene as he arrives, Oreki gets embarrassed” – but it’s staged as a series of frames that consistently undercut expectations and emphasize comedy beats. We open with an extended shot of Oreki by himself, passing time and then slowly checking his watch – and then Satoshi arrives, first with an abrasive closeup to shock the viewer, and then with a shot that draws back to emphasize “this is a public place, this is embarrassing.” Instead of jumping to Oreki’s reaction, we first get the quick visual punchline of Oreki kicking his bike – and then, after Oreki gives the desired reaction, he undercuts the joke by switching to his usual monotone and acting like nothing happened. It’s a very simple joke, but every single shot serves a clear purpose in establishing information, surprising the viewer, or undercutting the tone of the previous shot.
Things get more serious from there, as a bike journey towards Chitanda’s house leads into another discussion of the “rose-colored life.” From earnestly enjoying the immediacy of cycling, Satoshi seems troubled by this topic, before bouncing back as he usually does. While Satoshi describes Oreki as grey, Oreki labels Satoshi “shocking pink” – a line which, like his “useless knowledge” line from the first episode, seems like perhaps a harsher condemnation than he intends. Satoshi isn’t a truly rose-colored person – he’s an imitation of one, burning brighter and laughing louder for it. Satoshi accepts his color, and acknowledges it with his face clouded in shadow.
Satoshi ends this exchange with two more metaphorical lines that seem to reflect his own feelings. First, he repeatedly insists that he “won’t be dyed” – that he is him regardless of all else, and his identity is his own. This seems like a pushback against the hopes expressed by Ibara back in episode two, when she urged him to grow up – even if he’s not fully happy with the person he is, he has at least made these choices for himself. And the potential extent of his unhappiness is expressed by his final line, “if I wanted to demean you, I’d call you colorless.” Even if Oreki is “grey,” Satoshi respects that strong, coherent identity. It doesn’t seem like he can say the same of himself.
The two then arrive at Chitanda’s estate, where Oreki discovers her family really is kind of a big deal. Chitanda’s home is vast and beautiful (and also based on a real place, from the broad strokes to the small details) but also often impersonal; shots are framed to emphasize the characters stranded in a home far too large for them, and it’s only when the group comes together that intimacy is restored. This seems likely to be a hint towards Chitanda’s place within her own life, but the place’s effect on Oreki is also emphasized – he’s not much of a talker, but his reactions are used to imply that many of the lingering shots of the estate are from his gawking perspective. Similarly to in the first scene of episode three, this trick will later be used to emphasize his unspoken feelings in other ways.
From there, the show moves into each of the leads sharing their research on the fate of Sekitani Jun, along with theories about what their information could represent. Hyouka’s mysteries tend to be warm and breezy, and in spite of its central question hanging on expulsion, student protests, and possible violence, this one is no exception. The visual articulation of each character laying out their theories is compelling, and equally nice is the way the show never emphasizes any particular potential truth. These are theories, not solutions, and the characters bounce off each other nicely as they challenge and contradict each other. Chitanda is invested but likely too naive in her conjectures, Ibara tries to draw too much information out of too little data, Satoshi is quick to counter points but unwilling to offer his own, and Oreki…
Well, actually, let’s back up for a moment.
I know it seems like I’m playing favorites with Satoshi, and that’s because I am, but seriously, his moments in this scene really did offer some fresh and excellent reflections of his character. Early on, it’s easy for Satoshi to play to his role – he offers data and counters points, but doesn’t actually contribute new theories. But when it comes to his turn, he first offers information with a clear conclusion to be drawn, and then claims he can’t find it. Ibara sighs at this, and offers the missing information, and then he smilingly praises her, saying that her thoughts were “what he’d meant to say.” Neither Ibara nor Oreki are really happy with his actions, but they say nothing – in fact, a fairly substantial running thread in this episode is how each of these characters actually do rub awkwardly against the others (like with Oreki’s “shocking pink” line), striking insecurities and causing frustration on a level too small for any of them to truly acknowledge.
Anyway, as I was saying. Oreki’s presentation is a bit of a problem, because as it turns out, he forgot to actually think of a theory. Like with schoolwork (which this episode took care to remind us he’s pretty mediocre at ), Oreki only contributes what he has to – but here, flanked by friends and Chitanda’s all-powerful eyes, he once again feels ashamed of himself. He panics, a feeling expressed viscerally through a rapid series of close-ups. He considers the problem, and briefly finds himself lost in an actual maze as he navigates a metaphorical one. And then he sets his mind to work, and commits.
Oreki solves the mystery, or at least gathers the existing pieces into an order that makes sense. The solution was there in front of him; like with Satoshi not following his own information to its logical end, the deductions that could be made from Oreki’s info weren’t previously made purely because he didn’t want to commit to them. There’s some clear doubt as to if we’re really at the bottom of this case, though I predictably found that cliffhanger less compelling than the fact that Chitanda’s house returns to long, isolating shots the moment her friends leave. And even when it came to the mystery itself, the solution was less interesting than the effect it had on each participant. Chitanda responds with honest praise, Satoshi mimics Chitanda without much emotion, Ibara is frustrated due to her own investment, and Oreki plays it off. Things are slowly shifting for all these characters, but everything takes time.
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