Episode sixteen opens with Satoshi prepping himself for his great mystery adventure. Having resolved last episode to finally come out ahead of Oreki for once, he arrives at the festival bright and early, only to see that the newspaper has already put out a call for any would-be detectives. Over at the current events club, where the next Juumaji theft is theoretically scheduled, the floor is lousy with self-confident schemers and bored sleuths. Satoshi is ready to shine in a way only he can; but then his annoying rival gets a call, and Satoshi learns he has once again been defeated. Shots are framed to avoid his face and emphasize his powerlessness, as his “that was pointless” echoes his feelings on the magic show fiasco. Satoshi may have finally decided he’s going to commit to something, but that doesn’t mean the world is willing to play along. Sometimes you just can’t win.
And sometimes your entire presence is a godlike aura that strains the camera’s fundamental ability to even capture you in its frame. Oreki-sis also arrives early at the festival, and a run-in between her and Chitanda demonstrates just how much in-universe power she seems to have. From the distant shots down the hallway to the careful focus on body language and over-the-top dramatic angles as she passes Chitanda, it’s abundantly clear that in the world of this show, Oreki-sis is some kind of actual wizard.
This makes sense, given her role in the narrative. Oreki-sis isn’t an actual character here – she’s a larger-than-life presence, a role model for some and instigator for Oreki. The camera hides her face, because she’s not supposed to come across as a person to us. Revealing her face would humanize her, and in the context of this story, she’s only technically human. She’s an elemental narrative force, and given she’s a very smart adult dealing with a bunch of high schoolers, it actually sort of makes sense that she’d come across as straight-up omniscient.
Oreki-sis’s narrative godliness proves itself once more when she straight-up trades Oreki’s current mirror for A Corpse by Evening itself, the manga grail Mayaka has been seeking. Dropping off the doujin without a second thought, she accompanies it with “whether this staves off your boredom or not is up to you.” It’s a very layered comment to add here, one that feels like it’s speaking more to the audience than Oreki. It works as a base-level comment, a slightly mocking line to her pampered younger brother; but on top of that, it also seems fully aware of the fact that this manga is the key to a larger adventure he could get involved in, a tool that could engage with his deeper-level existential boredom. And on top of that, the line also laughingly echoes Kouchi’s “the reader decides the value of a manga” philosophy, seemingly sending up a thematic point Oreki-sis could clearly not have any knowledge of. Oreki-sis is very powerful.
But Oreki-sis’s words are soon overtaken by the achingly relevant words of one of A Corpse by Evening’s collaborators, from an afterword that Oreki reads through in its entirety. Acting as a combined professional bow and entreaty to the reader, the passage makes a direct request of the audience, asking that “if you enjoyed this manga, you should thank the artist and writer.” In the context of a story as self-reflective as Hyouka, these words don’t just apply to A Corpse by Evening. Following up on the movie arc’s overt examination of visual and narrative storytelling, this text seems like the mission statement of a story dedicated to emphasizing the human nature of art creation.
Mayaka argued for the specificity and humanity of art in her own very personal way, but this afterword paints an even clearer portrait of the fact that art is not an assembly-line production. Art is the product of individual creators, creators who burn themselves into their work and deserve to be recognized. That this work is a collaboration does not diminish the fire of those who created it, or the passion of those who contributed even in just a small way. Through the lens of Mayaka’s conflict in the manga society, this arc essentially acts as the Mayaka of Hyouka itself, loudly declaring that Hyouka is the creation of passionate individuals who are absolutely committed to their work, and who are willing to admit they should be recognized for it.
The afterword goes on to turn its thematic reflections inward, saying that “while I think it’s quite something for our first work, self-review holds no ground to true criticism. I will leave judgment of its value to those who read it.” This works perfectly well as a signature on the “recognize me” message of the afterword, but it also reflects very specifically on the journeys of Hyouka’s characters. Oreki’s central conflict through the movie arc was largely predicated on his poor ability to judge himself, and in this current arc, both Mayaka and Satoshi are struggling with the limitations of self-review. Satoshi sees little value in his own personality, and can’t recognize his strengths, while Mayaka is feeling deeply insecure about the value of her commitment to her hobbies. In contrast, each of these characters’ friends see them as special and valuable. If only Hyouka’s own characters were better at trusting in the judgment of those who care about them, and at learning to articulate how much they believe in each other.
(A Corpse by Evening is also relevant to the plot, incidentally. There’s stuff about a Christie takeoff mystery that clearly implies the manga’s group are involved in the Juumaji incident. Sorry to actually talk about something as boring as plot, but it seemed worthwhile to mention that.)
The degree to which these characters rely on each other in spite of their various issues becomes clear across the next scenes, as characters are strained to their limits and then brought back up by their friends. The show first turns to Chitanda, who we see steeling herself for yet another aggressive meeting with a random club member. Chitanda secures a stop on the school’s radio station and briefly smiles, before almost wilting entirely at the thought of one more request. In spite of her usual chipper attitude, this style of presumptuous extroversion isn’t her – she’s mostly just comfortable with her friends, and regains her energy when she returns to the club room, the only place where she really is comfortable imposing herself.
That energy is necessary to restore Mayaka in turn, who suffers her greatest disgrace yet at the manga club. An attempt to bully her ends up completely destroying her third cosplay outfit, forming a harsh visual mockery of everything she cares about. Mayaka hides her wavering eyes beneath her cap as her handkerchief fills with surrogate tears, and when she emerges in a tracksuit, Hyouka draws a sharp contrast between her now-deadened eyes and the bright energy of the festival posters.
But Chitanda is there, and Chitanda restores her. Presenting both A Corpse by Evening and her own infectious curiosity, Chitanda draws Mayaka back to her own passionate self, as the two investigate the team behind Mayaka’s masterpiece. Comparing the doujin drawings to those of a festival poster, Mayaka is able to put the study of manga she feels so insecure about to clear productive use, solving a mystery through the dedicated application of one of her true passions. Mayaka’s strengths are there whether she’s willing to acknowledge them or not.
Everything comes together back at the club room, as the various classics members announce their assorted trials and discoveries. As Oreki’s lack of actual knowledge makes him strike out twice in a row, Mayaka excitedly explains what they’ve learned about A Corpse by Evening. While Satoshi is able to see that Mayaka’s track-suit attire clearly means something bad has happened, demonstrating his close emotional sensitivity, Oreki is surprised when Mayaka outright declares she loves the manga, demonstrating his own total obliviousness to the emotions and even general personalities of his friends. Oreki begins to feel legitimately left out when Chitanda announces her own approaching radio performance, and a few insecure shots reflect his rising need to actually prove himself. And then, when Oreki emerges from his classic Sleuthing Pose, he sees all of his friends looking at him expectantly. Just like Mayaka and Satoshi, Oreki is not a good judge of Oreki – it is up to his friends, the “audience,” to believe in who he truly is.
The scene ends with some great moments of comedy, as the show actually makes an overt joke of its light-darkness motif through Chitanda’s interrogation. But when Oreki gets a moment alone with Satoshi, the show returns to total seriousness. As Oreki offhandedly declares he may have figured out the entire Juumaji mystery, Satoshi actually loses his composure. The lighting shift and camera shoves itself into Satoshi’s face, creating a sense of uncomfortable, violent invasiveness as it lets Satoshi fully embrace the darkness. Oreki lays out his deductions like a true magician announcing his trick, and all Satoshi can say in response is “I’m going back,” mirroring his resigned “I’m going on ahead” from the movie arc.
Having failed once again this episode, and now seeing Oreki is already making deductive connections he never would have seen, Satoshi feels chastened for even having thought he might once beat his friend. The scene ends with a classic set of Satoshi in darkness shots, looking out at an Oreki who doesn’t even seem to realize he’s embraced the sun. “Don’t let us down, Houtarou” he says. What else can he say? We may not be the best judges of our own character, but even knowing that does not lessen the sting.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.