Irisu changed something for Oreki last episode. The whole show had been moving towards his acceptance of his own talents, through Satoshi’s jokes, Mayaka’s frustration, Chitanda’s gentle prodding. When Oreki claimed he was just lucky, they’d each accept this in their own ways without truly believing it. And it’s very likely Oreki didn’t believe it himself, and was simply saying the thing that was convenient, the path of fewest consequences. But Irisu insistently told him he was special, and for once, Oreki seemed willing to accept that weight. Being special means you’re responsible – being special means you can find the truth. Oreki was ready to be special, and by the end of the last episode, it seemed like he was even beginning to like the taste of it.
Well, it turns out Oreki isn’t that special after all.
The first half of this episode is a long tumble down a steep hill for Oreki, as his movie theory is countered blow by blow by each of his friends. Following directly after last week’s cliffhanger, the first scene here finds Oreki stranded in darkness beside Mayaka’s light, as she actually consoles him on his loss. Mayaka’s the one who always challenges other’s theories, and keeps their deductions honest, and normally Oreki’s willing to accept that role, because he’s not truly invested in the outcome. But as Mayaka points out that the lack of a rope forms a contradiction in his solution, Oreki actually gets defensive, saying “it wasn’t necessarily part of the trick” instead of his usual “I don’t care” or “that was enough to satisfy Chitanda.” Oreki has actually bought into his own specialness, and a blow like this hurts. Mayaka sees this, and tries to be kind when he’s disappointed, but she is not the one Oreki is fighting with. Standing just outside the window’s light, he contemplates his failure, and regrets.
Long, impersonal shots see Oreki cast in gloom as he thinks about what happened. “Did I change the question to match the answer?” he thinks, and another piece of the puzzle clicks into focus. Oreki may actually have had too much faith in the author – or at least, too much confidence the author was asking the exact same question he was. When your confidence is based in your understanding of the world, it always hurts to learn the world is much bigger than you imagined, and that people are much more complicated than you believed. We all have times when our view of the world and ourselves has to broaden as we are humbled by experience – in fact, if you don’t have these moments, you never really grow up. And the mystery here makes this universal human experience very parsable – Oreki really did think for a moment his specialness made him able to find out the “real truth,” and so he believed in himself absolutely. But the world is much more complicated than that – no-one at his or any age is truly going to have all the answers, and even if you are “special,” you still need to approach the world with an open mind. Given the limitations of his own deductive style, it was clearly arrogance to believe he knew exactly what the author was thinking, or that that the ambiguities of a personal, invented story were a mystery he could utterly solve.
Satoshi is the next to confront Oreki, and he does it from his own characteristically Satoshi angle. He first asks Oreki whether the chosen solution was Oreki’s or Hongou’s, and when Oreki says it was Hongou’s, we get a great sequence of surprise and then sadness, as we visually witness the faith Satoshi has put in Oreki disappointed. “That trick wasn’t what Hongou would have wanted,” he says, and then goes on to explain how from a storytelling perspective, there’s no way Hongou would have learned the trick Oreki used from her mystery research. “That movie is my style” he says, almost defensively. Satoshi seems almost protective of Hongou’s wishes, and frustrated that after putting his faith in Oreki’s ability to realize them, Oreki wasn’t able to make the kind of movie that validated him.
And again Oreki tries to deflect, and then Satoshi says the worst possible thing: “if you really believe that, I’ll believe it too.” Satoshi has very little faith in himself – that’s pretty much his defining character flaw. But he has endless faith in Oreki, and in spite of Oreki’s continuous insistence that he “can’t shoulder that responsibility,” in the case of this movie, he accepted that weight. Satoshi is willing to be disappointed if the man he respects believes this, but it’s actually harder to tell a lie to someone who’s willing to believe it. Oreki didn’t believe there was magic in the world, but for the sake of his friends, he was willing to invent it. And Oreki failed. In a sad mirror of last episode’s parting, Satoshi walks off ahead of his friend – but this time, without the confidence of being “special,” Oreki has no words to give him.
The final, inevitable conversation comes with Chitanda, who catches him after a wonderfully fatalistic match cut at the school gates. Now caught in permanent shadow, Oreki knows what this conversation will be like, and the framing mirrors the last two. Distant shots that make the characters anonymous, heavy shadow, and angles that that make it clear they are each making themselves small to dance around the other’s feelings. But there is a great moment of trust here too, as Oreki asks Chitanda to explain her feelings, and she smiles at his frank acceptance of them. They eventually take a seat at the river, and Chitanda presents her angle.
In contrast with Mayaka, who focused on the in-universe details, and Satoshi, who critiqued the overall storytelling, Chitanda’s approach is very different. Chitanda was never terribly interested in the ending to a fake murder mystery – to Chitanda, the real question was the meta-mystery of “why did Hongou write this story, and why did she not give it an ending?” She rightly points out that if Hongou really had an ending in mind, the class should have been able to get that ending from her; and if they weren’t able to, the whole context of their seeking an ending would have been very different. She describes Hongou’s classmates as “wonderful people,” a description that makes Oreki wince at his own grey-world framing of them as antagonists. And as Oreki realizes he wasn’t even engaging with what Chitanda cared about, he hits a visual low point, turning away from the light as the world turns to actual grey.
As Chitanda leaves, we see how Oreki now sees himself. Not as a detective or magician anymore, but a jester, a puppet on strings. A fraud who doesn’t even realize he is one, playing to a crowd of faceless clapping hands, only actually entertaining himself. It’s one of the show’s sharpest visual metaphors so far, and a nice sendoff for the last episode directed by Eisaku Kawanami (who also handled the fourth, where each character visually explained their theory on the Hyouka mystery). “What a detective I am,” he thinks, and then mopes around in the way any teenager would, watching cars from the overpass and rolling around in his bed. Without either his newfound confidence or his prior assumption that if he really did try, he’d do well, Oreki for once has to grapple with the uncomfortable sensation of trying hard and failing – of not having any ideas, because you’re no longer a person who has absolute confidence in their own mental leaps. He tries to deflect back into his old self, thinking of how his current moping “isn’t conserving energy.” But Oreki isn’t really that person anymore, and so he pulls himself together, and starts moving forward again.
He starts by confronting Irisu with the truth – the real truth this time, the meta-truth of what Hongou must have wanted, and what Irisu had her do. Approaching the mystery from Chitanda’s perspective, he realizes that Hongou would never have written the ending that he created, and in fact would never have written the movie even as he originally watched it. “I wasn’t the detective,” he says, “I was the mystery writer.” It seems unlikely Oreki would have been arrogant enough to think otherwise right up until Irisu’s “you’re special” speech convinced him he had some unique ability to divine the truth – and Oreki knows that, and Oreki is legitimately angry. There’s a great cycling of expressions as he listens to Irisu calmly accept his deductions, and as his explanations move towards the personal, he gets increasingly bitter. “You don’t care one bit about those without talent. All you care about are results.” Irisu told him what he needed to hear to get results from him, a realization that must hurt on multiple levels – that he was such an easily used fool, that he might very well not be special, and that his blind acceptance of that mantle ended up disappointing his friends. Rapid cuts and abrasively intimate shots ratchet up the drama as Oreki accuses Irisu, and then the shot cuts to complete silence, with Oreki once again cast in full shadow.
Irisu’s response is typical Irisu: “Those words were not what I really think. Whether you consider them lies is up to you.” With the film completed, Irisu has no further need to push Oreki in any given direction; it’s likely her version of an act of respect to leave Oreki without any further answers. Oreki must find his own truth, but at this moment, that doesn’t make things any easier for him. His head sinks slowly across the frame with his eyes hidden, his dark thoughts all the more clear for us not seeing his full expression. “That makes me feel better,” he says, but the camera tells the real story – from a closeup blocking his eyes, most of this line is said not just in shadow, but in full black.
Oreki’s black mood continues in the next sequence, as he’s shot first from that same anonymous distance of the early scenes, and then with his expression literally clouded in darkness. He’s not special anymore, and now even the defensive affectation of indifference he once relied on has been stripped away. Irisu effortlessly demonstrated how close he was to accepting he really was some kind of prodigy, and then callously proved he was just another kid with a swelled head. We all need moments when we realize we don’t have the world all figured out, but man, they really do suck at the time.
Fortunately, Oreki isn’t alone with that burden. After a brief scene where we learn Oreki’s sister was the real mastermind, we return to Oreki and his melancholy thoughts. As he sits in the clubroom pouting and staring out at the rose-colored life, Chitanda draws him back out of it. There’s lots of little bits of body language as they basically cheer each other up over the mystery, and their conversation here, where they each lightly jab at the other about what is or isn’t “like them,” reflects how close they’ve become as friends. The true solution, or at least the closest Oreki could come to it, reflects both Hongou’s feelings and the general, arc-wide theme of sacrificing for a friend – the attacker explained their reasons to the victim, and the victim accepted this and them unconditionally. And Chitanda is satisfied with this solution, saying she “thinks she knows Hongou better now.”
Chitanda’s curiosity reflects a lack of ego on her part, and a willingness to constantly engage with and see something new in the world, which contrasts directly with Oreki’s original disengagement and recent belief that he really did have it all figured out. The two are very good for each other; Chitanda pushes Oreki to be more honest with the world, which opens her own world in turn. Growing up always requires moments where our perception of the world runs into the harsh fact that we’re only one tiny person, but good friends can make that shock a whole lot easier to bear.
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