Episode six of Hyouka is very nearly a bottle episode – an episode where every scene takes place within the same room. Episodes like this used to be born of budgetary necessity; nowadays, they’re more often used as an intentional dramatic gimmick, as in shows like Community or Breaking Bad. Of course, this episode isn’t really self-consciously trying to do some structural trick with that; this is Hyouka, it’s all about small moments, and even episodes that aren’t exactly bottle episodes generally use a sparse economy of settings. This show is about tiny events that are nonetheless important, and spaces that contain great import in spite of their everyday nature.
The very first scene is the one that makes this “almost” a bottle episode – it’s a scene of Oreki in class, where his boredom is made perfectly clear through an excellent progression of opening shots. While the teacher drones on about class divisions and the importance of owning land (subjects that, if Oreki were paying attention, he might note are oddly appropriate to his growing relationship with Chitanda), Oreki stares out the window and fiddles with his pencil lead. The pencil lead sequence is pretty much classic Kyoto Animation, where the acuity of framing creates something universal by carefully highlighting this tiny moment. We’ve all been bored in school, but how does bored in school feel? It feels like fiddling with your pencil lead, intentionally breaking off little pieces and only paying attention when you hear your crush shouting something in the other room.
The importance of Chitanda’s shouting doesn’t come up until halfway through the episode, after a long and rambling scene in the club room. The opening scene to the episode proper begins with a one-sided argument from Ibara, where every single character’s position relative to the argument is demonstrated through blocking and lighting. Oreki sits hiding behind his book, performing his usual trick of slinking into the corner of the frame. Chitanda is lit up and attempting to mediate, but she’s being shoved out of the frame by Ibara’s massive presence. Satoshi is attempting to hide in shadow, but is too trapped by Ibara to avoid being centered. And Ibara is burning with light and energy, shot from below to emphasize her dominance of the situation.
From that visually rich opening sequence, the scene ends up nicely demonstrating the relationship between Satoshi and Ibara while also showing how Oreki and Chitanda have grown together. In the aftermath of last week’s Hyouka-mystery finale, it was an open question how much the mystery had brought them together. Here, through silly moments like Chitanda getting frustrated at Oreki’s laziness, we see how much closer they’ve grown. Instead of making overt jokes like the one I described in the fourth episode, the show is now able to ride on subtle and wholly character-based humor, as the fact that Chitanda’s silent yelling is more effective in motivating Oreki than Ibara’s actual yelling works both as a tiny joke and a reflection of how much Chitanda and Oreki have gotten used to each other. There’s an inherent warmth and ease of telling when it comes to humor like this, humor that respects and validates our understanding of and hopes for these characters.
Ibara’s anger is defused by Oreki, leading into an extended discussion about the nature of anger that’s full of nice character bits for the whole cast. We see that Satoshi is casually mean to Ibara (“you sure can get mad”), but that the two have an easy chemistry as well, and have clearly spent a long time together. Oreki rightfully skewers Satoshi as being someone who “just doesn’t show their emotions in front of others,” but fails to see how this line applies to his own feigned indifference. Oreki smiles at the thought of Chitanda tormenting Satoshi, and Ibara says “it’s not like I can change that part of myself just by trying,” a line that might well apply to all the members of this group. Characters like Satoshi and Oreki are a whole lot better at subconsciously diagnosing their own issues than actually moving past them.
This conversation demonstrates a satisfying chemistry throughout the group while also offering small reflections on the show’s central themes, and is nicely capstoned by Chitanda’s “if you can never get angry at anything, that probably means you have nothing you like, either.” Anger and envy and all the other sins are bad in excess, but it’s anger that often drives our passions, and envy that might help these kids pull each other forward. Even if it’s not expressed as such, each one of these characters already seems envious of the others in their own ways – except for possibly Chitanda, whose lines about denial of the self interact very awkwardly with her apparent desire to invalidate her own anger. Chitanda is willing to impose when it comes to Oreki, but outside of that, it seems like her own strong emotions are a foreign and possibly unwelcome thing.
From there, Chitanda introduces a new mystery, and the scene is reset through one of the show’s most consistent repeated shots. Like K-On!, repeated shots like this one are often used to create a real sense of space and personality to apply to the school itself. As the sequences are repeated episode after episode, the feeling of existing in a permanent space moves from conscious to emotionally assumed. Just like how the specificity of boredom is better evoked through fiddling with pencil lead than through generic dialogue, the experience of school is better evoked through a bunch of repeated everyday moments than any single event.
This week’s mystery is a very small one, and mostly seems to exist to create a bunch of funny blocking opportunities for Oreki and Chitanda. Chitanda retells a story of her teacher getting angry, and we see through the transition back to the present time the otherworldly warmth of the club room. Chitanda gets insistent on solving her mystery, and basically leaps across the table at Oreki. Ibara warns her again not to expect too much from Oreki, but she can, and she does. Though Chitanda says she “doesn’t understand herself sometimes,” Oreki demonstrates a bit of that recurring shame when he admits “I still don’t know enough about Chitanda to know what makes her happy or angry.” And for her part, Chitanda is perfectly comfortable pushing the limits of her dramatic shot-devouring power. Oreki thinks he can hide in the corner of the frame, but Chitanda’s always ready to lean over and grab him.
The two are clearly growing closer, so much that Satoshi seems to be moving beyond jokes and into the classic “let’s not interrupt their cute moments” mentality (expressed through a series of nice shots where Satoshi and Ibara are essentially framed as absent from the moment the mystery ends). And the episode’s framing makes it easy to see how much they’ve gotten accustomed to each other, from the ways they now actually bounce off each other to the small smile each of them at one point enjoys at the other’s expense. Oreki is smitten, and his only defenses are philosophical ones – like when he framed Sekitani Jun as reflective of the rose-colored life, his final denial of ever being “able to understand her heart” is here framed as a sharp line between his alleged grey world and Chitanda’s rose-colored existence. But Chitanda isn’t an angel, and isn’t a theme – she’s a person, she has her own initiative, and she’s as culpable as Oreki in the two of them shifting slowly (or very quickly) closer.
But that’s enough romance talk. As one last point, I really liked how the relative simplicity of this week’s mystery allowed it to very sharply demonstrate how each member of this group adds to their sleuthing dynamic in their own ways. Chitanda is extremely observant, and can generally pick up what information is relevant to a mystery – her description of her teacher’s habits essentially handed the group all the clues they needed, even formatted in the way that would best solve the mystery. She doesn’t make the lateral deductive leaps Oreki does, but she’s a clear sharp mind. Satoshi could probably help more than he does, but he still performs his self-assigned role very well – he has the outside info, the “database” knowledge that provides context and shoots down loose conjectures. Ibara is all fire and passion, smart and practical and driven to actually push solutions forward. And Oreki makes those final leaps, using lateral thinking and clever emotive guesswork to find a solution worthy of Chitanda’s curiosity. They’re a great group, and I look forward to seeing where they go from here.
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