With the over-the-top cooking competition over, you might think Hyouka would tune its energy level down to something approaching the regular level. Well, Hyouka is going to have none of that – this fifteenth episode is just as self-consciously dramatic as anything else the show has done, exploding with dynamic poses and wild angles and unexpected fantasies. With the show focus expanding far beyond Oreki, the storytelling moves outside of his monotone affectation as well, expressing the worlds of Chitanda, Mayaka, and Satoshi in their own brilliant purples and oranges and greys. It’s an affectation fitting for this arc’s new focus – with the thief Juumoji now having declared his intentions and laid out his modus operandi, Hyouka is turning towards its first self-conscious, overtly fiendish, catch-me-if-you-can mystery caper. Magic acts and phantom thieves and heated negotiations form the narrative bulwarks of an episode packed with more drama than the show’s ever seen.
We transition directly from the classics club’s cooking exploits to Oreki commenting on his own sister’s cooking, before Chitanda returns to introduce the school’s newest fascination. Classic shots of Chitanda rising from below to push Oreki off the screen return us to the pair’s usual dynamic, before Satoshi visually interrupts their at-this-point-you-have-to-call-it-flirting (which itself leads to the standard Hyouka trick of resetting tension by establishing a neutral frame). But Satoshi’s on Chitanda’s side here as well, and so we get a bunch of great shots of Chitanda sieging Oreki across the anthologies, and both Chitanda and Satoshi cornering Oreki in the frame. There’s a rhythm to Chitanda’s curiosity at this point – Chitanda opens the question, Oreki sighs in response, and then Chitanda moves into a series of mini-questions, building momentum up to “I’m curious.”
But Chitanda is stopped short this time, as Oreki physically redirects her energy back to the anthologies. Physicality is front and center all throughout this episode, and this scene in particular; characters express their emotions through wild gestures, as if performing their feelings on stage. There’s a dynamic shot from below as Satoshi stands to make a pronouncement, and a dramatically foreshortened shot of him grabbing Oreki’s attention. There’s a shot with the whole classics club framed through the crook of Satoshi’s elbow, as if implying how completely he’s captured their attention, and a bounty of smaller pieces of physicality that express these characters more loudly than ever before. Satoshi’s explanation of Oreki’s saleable potential is accompanied by a wild chuunibyou fantasy, and when Satoshi finds himself having second thoughts about this mystery, his descent into that classic half-shadow is given the most direct focus yet, in a closeup where the low depth of field gives us nothing else to observe. Hyouka is apparently through being coy about Satoshi’s emotions.
But it’s Chitanda who first takes the character-development stage in this episode, as she once again pushes the newspaper club to mention the classics club. Keeping Irisu’s key points of advice firmly in mind, she attempts to ingratiate-depend on-seduce her acquaintance, with fairly predictable results. Chitanda can’t really be Irisu, and only fumbles when she tries – she has many of the powers Irisu does, but she expresses them in a different way, and towards different people. Fortunately, and unlike Satoshi, she’s not trapped trying to be a person she isn’t.
In the episode’s second fantasy sequence, Chitanda briefly imagines herself being truly assertive, and pushing the newspaper club to pay her back. But Chitanda is not that person – as the daughter of a major local family, she has completely internalized a set of expectations of propriety that don’t let her push people in this way. As Satoshi later says (about the phantom thief, but with the camera sticking pointedly on Chitanda), she’s “tied down by her own rule.” And so she rationalizes her failure to do this, and she walks away. But Chitanda doesn’t really need to worry; the person she already is is a fine person to be, and her adherence to her own personality is rewarded when the newspaper club ends up honoring her wishes anyway.
In contrast to Chitanda’s small victory of selfhood, Satoshi spends this episode on a harsh downward trajectory. He seems to almost immediately regret sparking Oreki’s interest in the Juumoji mystery, and so while everyone else is working for one of their actual clubs, Satoshi sets off alone to catch the thief in the act at the coming magic show. His sulking there is pretty much immediately interrupted by his would-be rival, who once again demonstrates this episode’s heightened visual drama through some wild smears and expression work, neither of which seem to impress Satoshi. But the actual magic show is a who’s-who of the school’s leading lights, as Satoshi is joined by Irisu, the heads of the manga society, and even the student council president. The scene is established almost like a classic opera theater climax, where all the major players gather just before the heist goes down. “How will you steal something with all these people watching?” Satoshi thinks to himself. It’s an outrageously theatrical idea, a magic trick performed within a magic trick – a perfectly Satoshi scenario.
But Satoshi fails. It turns out the phantom thief doesn’t really care much for Satoshi’s ideals of drama; the theft is performed well before the performance, and Satoshi is left looking as much of an idiot as his would-be rival. This is clearly a blow for Satoshi, and he shows it. Even though Satoshi acts consistently upbeat and energetic, in truth he’s much like Oreki – he doesn’t truly commit himself to things, because he doesn’t truly want to know how good he is. But having thought this mystery was something he can actually beat Oreki in, he finds himself looking like a clown. As the rest of his classmates cheer at a sparkling star on a real stage, Satoshi sits with head bowed, separated from his classmates, once again stranded between the darkness and the light.
While Satoshi is sulking in his defeat, Oreki and Mayaka are sharing one of their very few scenes of just the two of them together. Seemingly angry at Oreki, Mayaka eventually opens up when he starts asking her about the mystery, and responds to his questions about Christie by outright asking “do you want to catch Juumoji?” Mayaka isn’t like Chitanda, Satoshi, or even Irisu – Mayaka is blunt, and asks questions when she thinks of them. Her style of interrogation charges right through Oreki’s usual defenses – when he says he’s only interested because Chitanda is, Mayaka straight-up asks him why he doesn’t ignore her, and when he says he can’t ignore her, Mayaka laughs. Mayaka distrusts Oreki’s laziness for obvious reasons, but when it’s clear he’s doing this because he’s both legitimately interested and has a crush on her friend, Mayaka warms up to him again. His honest feelings are something she can respect.
Mayaka’s relationship with Kouchi, on the other hand, could still use a little work. Back at the manga society, Mayaka finds herself being harassed by Kouchi’s vocaloid hanger-ons, provoked into action by their disrespect. When one of them implies Mayaka was actually lying or too scared to bring in a manga (a direct dismissal of her conviction, something she cannot abide), it’s actually Kouchi who tells them to shut up – and later on outside, the club president reveals that Kouchi was friends with the author of A Corpse by Evening. Things were simple before, but they’re becoming very complicated for Mayaka; Kouchi’s feelings don’t make sense to her, and given she sees asking Satoshi for help as “running away,” she’s left with very ambiguous feelings about her own motivation and identity. Just like Satoshi, Mayaka may be feeling the pressure of that insecurity Irisu so carelessly described – knowing your best isn’t good enough, because some people were just born to shine.
Most of Hyouka’s cast ends this episode in various states of unease, all grappling with their own dramas or insecurities. Chitanda’s issue is simple – she knows who she is, and she knows what her job is, it’s just hard. Mayaka’s is more thorny – not only is she feeling insecure about both her own manga and her feelings on the manga of others, but she’s just learned that the person who essentially symbolized everything she hates might actually be more complex and sympathetic than she expected. She may well be on the verge of one of those “the world is a much larger place than I realized” revelations Oreki so recently suffered through. And Satoshi’s problems are at this point no longer being whispered about through shadows and asides; staring up at the sky, Satoshi directly questions his own feelings on this mystery, and on Oreki’s inevitable embracing of his own talents. If Oreki accepts his role as the master magician, what does that make Satoshi? Reaching out towards the moon, Satoshi pledges that it will be he who catches Juumoji – but it’s clearly not the phantom thief he’s reaching towards.
Meanwhile, Oreki figures out you can buy festival stuff online. Hurray for Oreki.
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