The dog days of summer have arrived, and Hyouka wants you to know it. Establishing shots of the dry heat outdoors, the valiant struggle of a standing fan, and Oreki’s sun-crushed condition set the tone as those inescapable cicadas and Oreki’s classic “letter to his sister” song vividly create the sense of a vacation nearing its end. Days like this aren’t meant for solving mysteries – they’re meant for going to the pool or the beach, relaxing and spending time with friends. Classic OVA activities! Unfortunately, Oreki is in the mood for none of that – his usual laziness has been compounded by his recent identity crisis (this OVA actually was streamed between the airing of episodes 11 and 12, making it somewhat uniquely chronology-friendly), and now he just wants to sit around and be a lump.
Oreki’s lumpishness is portrayed very well in this episode’s early scenes, as a sequence of shots at the pace of his movement put us directly in his very sleepy headspace while also establishing the light punchline of his sister’s arrival. We see as Oreki wanders through the house and lazily takes in one object at a time, the wheels visibly turning in his sleep-addled head before his sister makes her appearance. And when that’s been established, the show segues into using precise body language to demonstrate what a performance Oreki makes of his lethargy. Oreki does everything lazily – absentmindedly inspecting every object he comes in contact with, slouching his way onto the couch, examining the remote before turning on the TV. It feels like he’s intentionally making an over-the-top performance of his laziness.
Which is almost certainly what he’s actually doing. Oreki isn’t the type to actively seek support when he’s feeling down, but he still needs it, and so he does his own style of “dramatic sighing until someone asks you what’s wrong.” In order to get his sister’s attention, he turns on the TV, and when she remarks on that being unusual, he says “I don’t feel like thinking.” And so his sister assigns him an actual job to get him out of his own head, and he grudgingly agrees.
Oreki’s over-the-top performance of laziness continues in the next scene, when he responds to Satoshi’s phone call with a series of grunts and a slowrolled “I can’t hang out, I have a job today.” Oreki knows his usual self and knows Satoshi, but when Satoshi gives him grief about having a job, he keeps his responses deadpan, not playing into their usual “Satoshi jabs at Oreki’s divergence from the energy-conserving life, Oreki makes snide evasions in response.” In spite of what he was overtly arguing, Oreki’s denials of moving into rose-color were actually one of the strongest indicators he was embracing it – people who are disengaged with life don’t angrily protest that they’re disengaged, they just, well, disengage. Depression is generally emptiness, not violent negativity. And Oreki may be depressed about the events of the movie arc, but he’s not so ashamed of those feelings that he’ll try to mask them from his friends. Because it’s him, acting truly disengaged feels almost like his own way of asking for help.
And so Oreki finds himself at the poolside after all, but not as a swimmer – as a reluctant lifeguard (and yes, this place also more or less does exist). With a visor over his eyes and a canopy over his head, Oreki is pretty much the representation of shadow itself, hiding in his dark tower while the happy kids frolic in the water. And then Oreki’s friends arrive, in order to “witness the once-in-a-lifetime event of Oreki working,” as Satoshi puts it. And with Chitanda in a two-piece bathing suit, we get some of the most Orekivision shots of the show so far, as the camera pans shakily to directly mimic his not-so-smooth scan across her outfit. These perspective shots are then matched with a close viewing of Oreki’s own reactions, firmly establishing his specific reality.
Oreki may be feeling down, but he’s not that down – he is totally smitten with Chitanda, and his inability to keep his cool about seeing her in a bathing suit will pretty much follow him all throughout the episode, consistently expressed through that mix of charged perspective shots and awkward body language. Through gloom and mystery and ultimate reconciliation, Oreki will act embarrassed as hell about seeing Chitanda in a swimsuit, and the camera will take care to demonstrate the difference between Oreki looking at one of his regular old friends and Oreki looking at the girl of his dreams. From the soft focus to the blooming light to the angles that hang on anything he can’t usually see, Hyouka is perfectly happy to use a pool episode in order to make its best “camera as vehicle of adolescence and intimacy” Monogatari impression.
But the point of this episode, and of Oreki’s friends’ presence, isn’t for Oreki to act like a horny teenager. Satoshi, Mayaka, and Chitanda are there because they care about Oreki, and because they’re all aware that he’s feeling down. It’s likely the three of them eventually realized that all of them had gotten on Oreki’s back about his movie, and that’s not something they would have intentionally done. And so they attempt to draw him out of his stupor in their various usual ways, with Satoshi generally leading the charge. As the four of them sit around eating lunch, Satoshi and Mayaka make their usual light jabs at Oreki’s moodiness, but he just sits there and takes it. Friends make fun of each other, but when Oreki’s just willing to accept their insults, it’s a hollow interaction, unhappy for everyone.
When Satoshi and Mayaka give up on improving his mood, Chitanda takes her own approach, striking up a conversation about the energetic swimmers running laps. Chitanda manages to draw Oreki partway into the sunlight with this tactic, as they share a conversation that works simultaneously as an overt attempt to reconnect with Oreki and a straight meditation on the nature of talent and the pursuit of greatness. As Chitanda frames the swimmers in hopeful terms about their futures, Oreki bitterly counters with a binary view of talent, responding with “It’s a simple question of whether he has the ability or not. If he’s special, he will succeed.” Oreki’s conversations with Irisu have left him framing talent as an exclusive club he can no longer see into, and accepting that stings. And Chitanda, with characteristic emotional intelligence, responds to his actual thoughts. “Do you want to be special?” she asks him. And he sticks to the easiest path, saying “not really.”
Chitanda doesn’t accept this, though. She briefly raises Oreki up with an unexpected “you’re special to me!”, before dropping him back to the ground with the sobering “everyone I meet is special to me.” Oreki wants to be actually special to Chitanda, in a way that is exclusive to him, but simply being one more interesting mystery in a world she sees as full of them isn’t enough for him. But Chitanda again doesn’t accept his arrogant self-loathing, responding to his childish “that’s just your opinion” with a defiant “you don’t have to worry about being special or normal compared to everyone.”
Filled with false confidence by Irisu, Oreki has forgotten what he initially cared about. He didn’t solve mysteries for adulation from a vast, cheering crowd, or to be weighed as special in the court of public opinion. He was just trying to make Chitanda happy. A clear contrast is drawn here between philosophies of Irisu (or at least Irisu as she presented it to Oreki) and Chitanda, where “specialness” is either a legitimate attribute that implies a responsibility to meet the world in general, or simply a reflection of a personal relationship that has value by virtue of how two specific people feel about each other. Oreki might well be talented enough to embrace the first philosophy, but the healthier route, and the one far more likely to make him happy, is the second. But that’s not a crossroads Oreki has to deal with quite yet.
Instead, he gets to spend more time with his friends, as they do their best to cheer him up in the summer heat. As he once more sulks in the shade, the trio come up to him with a fresh mystery, with Satoshi and Chitanda performing a one-two punch of demands to push him to action. As they divvy up roles in order to try and find a missing earring, Satoshi tries once again to push Oreki into a leadership role. Satoshi is finally able to get an angry note out of Oreki as they split up, and is glad of it; his attempt is followed by Mayaka, who tries to cheer him up with the very Mayaka “you’re annoying either way, so at the very least, be more like the old you” (never one to directly praise Oreki, Mayaka instead demonstrates her concern through later playing along with his ridiculous mystery-solving demands). Between the three of them, they’re able to shove him out of his gloom; with a characteristic hair-tug and thoughtful expression, he “solves” their very tiny mystery (using an ice cream stand that the show creators were kind enough to invent). And upon hearing his answer, Chitanda goes beyond her own general comfort zone, straight-up saying that “I think that how you do that is amazing!”
Though Chitanda is a naturally exuberant person, she’s also very accustomed to respecting other people’s feelings, and normally she understands that drawing attention to his own talents isn’t something Oreki wants to hear. But at this point, it’s exactly what he needs – and from an entire episode where he was consistently cast in gloom, Oreki lights up at being praised by the girl he likes. “They say life is good when someone needs you,” he says, playing off his engagement with some of his usual snark, proving he’s back in the land of the living. Oreki is pretty okay at what he does, but he wouldn’t be much without his friends.
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