The festival is in full swing now, and each member of the Classics Club have their own giants to slay. With Chitanda on site procurement, Satoshi on promotion, Oreki on sales, and Mayaka dealing with her own manga club troubles, episode thirteen bounces back and forth across characters, portraying the individual dramas of each member across the course of the festival’s entire first day. But that doesn’t mean I have to bounce around. The episode’s structure is intelligent; by shifting continuously between characters, it keeps tension high, builds meta-narratives across multiple individual conflicts, and even results in cute scene transitions like Satoshi’s thoughts about Oreki leading to Oreki being up to no good. But I’m going to disregard all of that effort and take this character by character, starting right where the episode does, at Satoshi’s much-anticipated quiz competition.
Satoshi is in his element in this episode, wearing a stupid hat and performing for the crowd and making full use of his “useless knowledge.” His saturn hat is inherently great, but also gets several of its own “character moments” through Satoshi’s quiz adventures. Early on, shots ostensibly framed to portray the competition stage seem to really exist to emphasize the silliness of his hat, giving Satoshi visual personality purely through his bobbing planet. And later, when Satoshi finally gets the chance to complete his mission and advertise for the Classics Club, his silly prolonged spin-moves are given a nice character-animation punch by the way his hat continuously slips around his face, making his moves even less graceful than they would be anyway. Satoshi’s hat is clearly a critically important guest star in this very serious episode.
Satoshi also runs into this episode’s first hinting at the Mystery of the Festival, as a boy he barely remembers from the Go club decides he’s apparently Satoshi’s rival. Close expression work and attempts to escape the frame demonstrate Satoshi’s lack of enthusiasm regarding this decision, and we eventually hear his own thoughts, when he directly contrasts this lackluster opponent against the rival he’s chosen for himself. But the important thing about this twerp is that he’s run into the festival’s phantom thief – items were stolen from his club display, replaced by an ostentatious note that seemed to more or less advertise this as a self-conscious mystery.
Meanwhile, Chitanda’s mission to secure better placement or advertising runs into a few snags. She briefly drops off her accidental prizes at the Classics Club, but after momentarily asking Oreki what to do, she figures out a plan on her own. Chitanda’s self-motivated now, and her following negotiations with the former newspaper club member demonstrate that even if she’s not yet a brilliant debater (and still prone to jumping to the final question without actually letting people know what she’s talking about), she’s still doing better than she was before. But Chitanda is again sidetracked soon enough, and drawn into a tent that seems designed for adventure.
In contrast to Satoshi’s offhand, distracted introduction to the festival mystery, Chitanda’s is all looming shots and hushed words and dramatic shadows. There’s a slightly warped, fisheye effect all throughout this scene, creating a sense of otherworldly space and mystical importance. Chitanda is framed as if she’s the one being watched in the crystal ball, and her friend’s explanation of the mystery variables is measured and deliberate. This is exactly the kind of thing Chitanda wants to be distracted by, but she has other concerns right now. After an episode that demonstrated even the random festival attractions are often too much for Chitanda’s curiosity, getting presented with such an intentional mystery seems almost unfair.
In contrast to his hardworking clubmates, Oreki spends most of this episode doing exactly what he did last time – sitting in the club room and idly listening to the attractions outside. Satoshi’s advertising ends up leading a number of new guests to the club room, and so Oreki performs one more item swap, trading a clothespin for a water pistol (in a very Oreki touch, he sighs at the student bragging about his main weapon but then correctly identifies the pistol himself). The biggest event of Oreki’s day is the discovery of Chitanda’s cosplay photos, a discovery marked by about as much embarrassment and awkwardness as the camera can possibly portray. With Chitanda gone, the specific shots that were once dominated by her presence now emphasize his aloneness, as if to say “come on, take a look. Nobody’s watching.” Congratulations Oreki, you are just as much of a teenager as the rest of your friends.
But really, all three of those journeys are just preamble. This episode’s key sequence, the showdown that dominates its second half, takes place in Mayaka’s manga club. After a day spent idly listening to the fun things going on outside (portrayed through a nice shot of Mayaka trapped in a corner, hearing the sounds of a big interesting world), Mayaka’s clubmate Kouchi decides she’s had enough of selling manga reviews, and makes her own opinions known.
Kouchi is essentially the portrait of smugness as she starts offering “suggestions” about what the club should do, with the club president only able to offer a hesitant “we all decided to create this booth together” in response. Kouchi is a very specific and inescapable kind of person, the kind of person more interested in the argument than the resolution, and it takes a specific type of leader to be able to handle that personality. The manga club does not have that kind of leader – as the actual president wilts, the worried underclassmen look to Mayaka, who’s apparently already established as the only person willing to stand up to Kouchi. Long-term dynamics of the club are made clear through a few quick sequences of eye movement and body language, and as Kouchi continues, we see this is just the newest version of an argument that has played out many times before.
The problem with people like Kouchi is that to them, the actual argument doesn’t matter. Kouchi doesn’t care that her words are loosely considered, or that they’re insulting to the clubmates who’ve worked hard on their magazine – Kouchi is just “offering suggestions,” just “expressing her opinion.” As Kouchi’s words get ever more pointed and broad (moving from “our product is boring” to “there’s no point in reviewing manga anyway”), we see her purpose isn’t to create a new agreement – it’s to draw out Mayaka specifically. And when Mayaka actually makes eye contact with her, Kouchi smiles without a word. Kouchi is the twitter egg, the 4channer, the comment section. It doesn’t matter to Kouchi if her argument is proven valid, Kouchi is validated the moment she knows she got your attention.
A person like Kouchi is basically kryptonite to a person like Mayaka. Unlike Kouchi, Mayaka cares deeply about everything she applies herself to. She wouldn’t apply herself if her passion weren’t there – earnest commitment is her founding principle, meaning that someone like Kouchi, who picks opinions just to frustrate people, can very easily drive her to anger. After offering a brief mental apology to Satoshi (an offhand detail that again demonstrates the closeness of their friendship, implying she’s discussed this exact problem with Satoshi before), Mayaka rises, and challenges Kouchi’s assertion that manga reviews are pointless.
As the actual club president hurries out of the room (for a very underhanded purpose), Kouchi doesn’t back down on her bold claim – instead, she doubles it, saying that reviews are pointless because there are no meaningful differences between one manga and another. To Kouchi, this may well be true – just like she treats any argument as equally meaningless, so too might she see art as just commerce, a reflection of how much the reader can care. “Don’t you understand, Ibara?” she says, her voice and manner dripping with condescension. Laying out an art-denying philosophy of manga value, she essentially says it’s purely the reader’s fault if they find one manga less interesting than another. Not enjoying a given manga is never reflective of some inherent failing of the manga itself – it’s because that reader just has a “short antenna” for entertainment, and is probably a cold, boring person on top of that. Kouchi frames the entire concept of art having diverse value as simply a personal failing on the part of the reader, implying anyone who makes value judgments about media is simply an unfun person.
And Mayaka, unsurprisingly, hates this. Not only is this an outright denial of her fundamental belief in effort creating excellence (the belief that makes her so upset whenever Oreki effortlessly solves a mystery, as Ibara touched upon), not only does this fly in the face of her general commitment to the world around her and anger at those who deny it, but the idea that all manga are the same is a terrible affront to anyone who actually cares about manga, and is invested in the ways it can be great. When you hold tight to a media object and claim that it is great and important, you are claiming it is great and important for real reasons. You believe in its quality, and that quality exists relative to everything else. Even if you’re not framing them as “better” than the favorites of others, you still want to believe your favorites, and the feelings those favorites brought forth in you, are special and worthy of merit. Given her own personality and her old-school costume, it’s clear Mayaka takes pride in her appreciation of manga, and wants to believe her feelings are special. And Kouchi’s philosophy inherently invalidates the “objective” specialness of Mayaka’s feelings.
As the argument continues, the fact that Mayaka is arguing from a position of emotional investment becomes ever more clear. Mayaka should never have gotten into this debate; people like Kouchi don’t actually care about the argument, they just like the violence. You can’t “win” against a person like that – you can only walk away. Kouchi claims that masterpieces are simply manga which have survived the popular gauntlet over time, while Mayaka states that masterpieces are born masterpieces, and that it is an intrinsic quality they possess regardless of their reception. Mayaka has a fundamentally reasonable point of view (obviously, considering art criticism is, you know, a thing), but her own argument is weak – it’s based in her emotional reaction to a work, because that’s what she’s actually defending. And this makes her situation even worse, because there’s nothing more frustrating than knowing you’re right but being unable to defend that rightness.
Fortunately, Mayaka is able to step back, taking a breath and calming herself down. It’s a quiet and frankly portrayed moment that I really appreciate, and perhaps one of the strongest moments Mayaka’s received so far. Normally it’s Oreki’s disinterest that dominates the stage, but Mayaka is basically the opposite of Oreki – she’s a person who’s extremely passionate and can’t really control their temper, but who is also continuously pushing herself to do better, and manage her emotions. The thoughtfulness with which Hyouka portrays Mayaka’s feelings makes this scene almost frustratingly powerful.
Mayaka manages to postpone the end of the debate, as she promises to bring in a manga that will surely change Kouchi’s mind. Even if she were able to find this special manga, it wouldn’t work – Mayaka is operating under the false assumption that Kouchi is fundamentally similar to her, and thus would not only be willing to admit if she was wrong, but would also be affected by an “obvious masterpiece” in exactly the same way Mayaka did. But this is a very Mayaka assumption to make; just like how Mayaka’s failure to see Kouchi’s reaction to the manga’s name (a reaction that may eventually make sense of her current attitude) is a face she never would have made before.
In the meantime, Chitanda and Oreki might have to figure out how they feel about Oreki seeing Chitanda in a penguin suit. Golden light, ridiculous expressions, and that classic sinking-out-of-the-frame trick all make this episode’s ending one of their most mutually adorembarrassing moments yet. At this rate, the tension in the club room will soon be too thick for anyone to breathe.
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