Hyouka’s fifth episode opens with one more of the series’ most iconic sequences (directed and storyboarded by Yoshiji Kigami, in what would be his single largest contribution to the series – though he’s done plenty of other excellent work). Oreki and Satoshi head back from Chitanda’s in the rain, with Satoshi once again needling Oreki about his inconsistent actions. “You had your chance to escape,” he says, this time moving beyond “you’ve made a mistake relative to your persona” to “you really are interested in Chitanda, aren’t you?” And as the rain begins to stop, Oreki turns back to Satoshi, and for once doesn’t disagree.
This is a key turning point for Oreki, and the show sells it wonderfully. Early shots establish the rainy but not unpleasant atmosphere, a mirror for Oreki’s gloomy, shadowed everyday life. Distant shots of the overall scene shift to highlight a black crow huddled in the rain, and then the conversation between the two begins. The sunlight emerges slowly over the course of their conversation, as shots are framed to emphasize the environment and put us exactly in their headspace. Oreki’s self-reflection is even cutely emphasized with a shot of his reflection, as he considers who he’s been and who he wants to be.
Then, as Oreki begins to admit he’s been influenced by Chitanda and really does want to change, the palette lightens. The contrast grows between Oreki’s thoughts and the world around him, the world he’s beginning to acknowledge. Oreki is surrounded by light, and as he begins to embrace this thought, his lines start to echo Satoshi’s own feelings. Oreki and Satoshi often act as mirrors of each other, with Oreki’s false shadowed affectation leading into light just as Satoshi’s feigned happiness hides darkness. Each of them see something different and true in the other, but each of them are responding to things the other doesn’t necessarily believe in. And yet in spite of the tenuous nature of what each sees in the other, they still successfully push each other forward.
Oreki admits his fascination with and even envy of his friends, and the sunlight arrives. Caught in the glow and acknowledging he’s ready to engage with the world, Oreki switches positions with Satoshi, and the lighting shifts to match. The crow takes flight, sunlight bathes his face; basically every visual element imaginable screams that this is the moment, this is Oreki’s chance, this is him entering a new world. But just as Satoshi’s false confidence inspired Oreki, so too can Oreki’s real investment inspire his friend in turn. And so Satoshi follows his friend into the sunlight, far more uncertain, possibly even unchanged, but still willing to take a chance on Oreki’s newfound brilliance.
Of course, this is Oreki we’re talking about, so him just admitting the rose-colored life tempts him doesn’t mean he’s going to change his identity all at once. The rest of this episode contrasts the Classics club figuring out the rest of the story behind the mystery with Oreki debating the merits of different lifestyles, and directly comparing himself to Sekitani Jun. “Do I want to be like Sekitani or Chitanda?” he thinks, and then pulls in the words of his sister with “I’m sure I won’t regret it ten years from now.” Oreki’s sister pushes him forward as insistently as anyone in this series, so it’s no surprise that a call from her reveals Oreki hasn’t quite solved the mystery without actually giving away the answer.
Oreki-sis’s framing of the incident as a tragedy makes Oreki realize what he’d been doing, and raises new doubts. Oreki wasn’t just being led into the light by his close associates – he’d even been idolizing Sekitani Jun, seeing his brave sacrifice as an emblem of the cost and glory of a rose-colored life. But if Sekitani Jun hadn’t actually wanted to be a sacrifice, what does that say about his own feelings? And so he resolves to actually find out the truth behind the mystery, for all the reasons he’d previously been engaged and for his own identity besides.
Oreki’s renewed commitment to the mystery pushes him to action immediately, with his long-term doubts about the rose-colored life being pushed aside as he once again “impresses” Ibara with his dedicated work. It turns out Koorigami Youko, the writer of the Hyouka preface, is actually their current librarian – a truth revealed through one of the most lovely visual tricks in all of Hyouka, a rewinding back through Youko’s life that captures highlights and fatigue and a slow return to the bright eyes of youth. In an arc that consistently asks “what is the value of our youthful actions, and what will we treasure or regret in our full age,” it’s only appropriate that even the visual flourishes emphasize the strange but somehow majestic passage of time.
The scenes in the library are staged to create a full sense of space, alternately capturing characters in beautiful alleyways or drawing back to encompass both the active conversation and Ibara’s wonderfully animated library duties. There’s a sense of personality to this space, and though Hyouka’s words warned that “eventually all of this will become history,” in this space, history feels like a living thing. In the club room, shots are framed with the small details of the room itself cluttering the foreground, creating a sense of both depth and intimacy; here in the library, shots emphasize the open space.
In this sequences, it’s the librarian who is cast in shadow, as she recalls the full truth of Hyouka’s mystery. Turning back with a sad look, she frames the festival as “a culmination of the youthful energy that ran rampant through Japan at the time.” The value of the festival is inherently tied to a rose-colored life, and now, with this line, she’s equating that rose-colored life with engagement in general, a commitment to the world that implies both vitality and risk. But she doesn’t frame this as a totally noble thing – describing the protests about the festival’s length, she says they were “like children deprived of a toy” (and Oreki glances at Chitanda, whose face is cast in shadow by this possible dismissal of her uncle’s sacrifice).
It turns out Sekitani was not a willing leader of the protests – he was a scapegoat, chosen to mask the organization’s true leaders. And though the value of the festival may have been real, the protests went too far, leading to a burning building (foreshadowed back in the very first episode) and Sekitani’s ritual expulsion. “Sekitani Jun didn’t want to be a hero,” says Satoshi (a very Satoshi line), and Oreki, now fully understanding the man he briefly looked up, reveals the silly but telling truth behind Hyouka itself. A silent scream, as you’re used up by a world in which you have no power. “If I were too weak, there would come a time when I wouldn’t even be able to scream” is what Chitanda’s uncle told her – a line that, even if Oreki’s faith in the rose-colored life has been tarnished, he’d do well to remember. If you fail to engage with the world, you might not just regret it ten years down the line – there may come a time when you’ve lost your power to step forward at all.
Chitanda cries at this knowledge, though she’s happy to know the truth. As she reflects on her uncle’s passing, the scene shifts from fading sunlight to a literal rose-color, situated outside the window Oreki continues to admire. Chitanda once again thanks Oreki directly, and Oreki is once again uncomfortable being highlighted – in spite of his engagement, he turns back out of the light. But Chitanda knows him well now, and she’s fine with the role he’s chosen to play.
After a brief scene that offers some cute foreshadowing of Ibara’s future adventures, the episode and arc end where last week started – Oreki and Chitanda walking home from school, the quintessential adolescent drama moment. Oreki accepts his role as the writer of the coming article, and acknowledging his attachment to its subject, mutters that it’ll make a “good tribute to Sekitani Jun.” And then, after Oreki asks her why she was willing to bring Ibara and Satoshi into the mystery, Chitanda answers one of Oreki’s great doubts for him. It was because Oreki had mentioned that her uncle’s words, and her feelings about them, might fade into history. Chitanda acknowledges this may be true, and that years down the line, whether she has regrets or not might just be a dim memory. “But to think that what I’m feeling right now won’t matter in the future… I don’t want to think that. I’m alive right now.” A simple answer, but a powerful one; and staring up at the bright sky that dwarfs both of them, the sky that just minutes ago had been used to symbolize engagement with the world, he says “I’m the same way.” The story of Sekitani Jun may not have ended the way he’d hoped, and may in fact have cast even more doubts on the nature of a rose-colored life. But that sure is a beautiful sky.
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