The school festival has ended, with half of Hyouka’s characters left at their most tense and unhappy moments so far. Satoshi has attempted to match Oreki and failed, ultimately validating his own lack of confidence. And though Mayaka is trying to reach out to Satoshi, she’s also left with feelings of inadequacy – not only can she not help the boy she cares about, but her passion for manga has been rewarded with the knowledge that even those far better than her feel like failures in their own eyes. Given all these sad, climactic character shifts, you might expect Hyouka to now start ramping up towards some final, cathartic revelations.
But that’s not really how life goes. The end of the festival doesn’t prompt the beginning of a narrative climax; it’s just one more set of days, as summer begins to fade into fall. Time just keeps passing, and people can’t stay beaten forever. Things change slowly, and people move on.
The opening shots of Hyouka’s eighteenth episode gently establish this sense of peace and time’s passage, as a long, palate-cleansing shot of blue skies and browning leaves shifts to the idle chatter of the clubroom. We’re reintroduced to that clubroom from Oreki’s point of focus outwards, a gradual reintegration into Hyouka’s general space that establishes we’ve also returned to Oreki’s headspace. Then Oreki notices something, and the frame itself begins to turn, foreshadowing the cut to the blades of a helicopter outside.
This episode is slow, deliberate, and confident, a tonally unified performance from Noriyuki Kitanohara, one of Kyoto Animation’s long-time episode directors. Measured, steady shots are placed to create a sense of peace that’s only disrupted at key moments; following the interruption of the helicopter, level engagement is reestablished through a lengthy mid-distance shot of Satoshi getting up to investigate, a far cry from the dramatic framing of the last few episodes. The conversation that follows, where Oreki remarks on an old middle school teacher who apparently liked helicopters, feels almost like the Hyouka version of a K-On! conversation. The warm dynamic of the group is emphasized over the drama of the mystery, with little fragments of body language and eye contact demonstrating the ways these characters have grown closer together.
But there is a mystery here, in spite of the peaceful tone. Oreki isn’t quite sure why that “Ogi likes helicopters” memory sticks out to him, but it bothers him – from a shot framing him as thinking into open space, we get his classic mystery-solving pose and then a lovely new fantasy illustration of his thoughts, as he tries to come up with a solution with no actual prompting. And when Oreki demonstrates actual self-motivation in pursuit of this answer, Satoshi doesn’t let him get away with it – in fact, all of his friends lightly jab at him in their own ways, with even Chitanda playing along with Satoshi’s enthusiasm and then challenging Oreki on his curiosity.
And so, after one more of those classic Hyouka sequences of Chitanda’s enthusiasm pushing Oreki out of the frame (an easy confidence that feels even more intimate given Chitanda’s now-established discomfort with imposing on others), we cut to Oreki and Chitanda heading to the library, intent on solving another tiny mystery. As Oreki explains the very practical reasons this expedition has been reduced to him and Chitanda, we see a boy and a girl on a bike meet up outside, a visual gag that undercuts his words by demonstrating how date-like this situation actually is. And then Chitanda rides up on her own bike, and all Oreki can do is imagine the romantic absurdity of the two of them riding to the library together. The scenes between Oreki and Chitanda are at this point so naturally charged that Oreki can’t really pretend she’s a normal friend to him; the framing by itself articulates how much their relationship has shifted over time.
And so Oreki lets Chitanda go on ahead, watching her retreating back as he once again delays acting on his own feelings. Peaceful shots lead into the mountains and Oreki’s thoughts on his home, but the metaphor of romantic tension remains. Oreki’s thoughts on the “different climates” on each side of the mountains might well refer to the reason he’s afraid to actually pursue Chitanda – crossing that range would change everything, and he doesn’t know what life might be like on the other side. But he sighs and moves on, thinking to himself “I shouldn’t make Chitanda wait too long.” In spite of the lazy tone, characters are moving forward with every step.
At the library, Oreki and Chitanda learn that Ogi was the Kamiyama Climbing Club president, and spearheaded its trail restoration projects – facts that likely explain why he’d been struck by lightning several times, and which could possibly also explain his interest in at least one helicopter. While the two of them wait for more information to be gathered from the archives, Chitanda suggests they take a look around the library. Her words reinforce the idea that this is basically a date, and the next shot, focused on their two bags lying against each other, confirms it. Oreki tries to keep his face still as he learns new facts about Chitanda and her interests, and then in characteristic fashion, Chitanda asks him what he’s interested in, pushing him to express himself like she always does. And Oreki’s choice is about as loaded as can be – staring across the library offerings, he selects a book full of pictures of imposing castles, signifiers of both Chitanda herself and her status relative to him. The conversation emphasizes this, and is right to – with the two of them so close on a personal level, the fact that they’re so distant in terms of class and family circumstance is actually starting to become relevant. They may only ever be able to get so near to each other.
But for the moment, this episode’s framing continues to demonstrate how close they are now. Wide shots of the library emphasize both the amount of silent space and the tiny distance between Oreki and Chitanda. The two are briefly framed through glass when Oreki finds the article he was looking for, and considers how this answer might not be one Chitanda appreciates – but as he explains his reasoning, intimacy returns. Oreki is no longer treating his deductions as a burden, or as an unreachable performance – instead, as he takes a seat next to Chitanda and begins his explanation, he’s actually inviting her into his world. Explaining how Ogi was likely looking for a helicopter that might be rescuing his stranded friends, Oreki gets over his fear of giving Chitanda a solution that will disappoint her, and instead actually invites her to share his emotional burdens. Oreki’s actions here demonstrate an emotional honesty with Chitanda that Satoshi still refuses to share with Mayaka.
Chitanda returns that honesty in the final scene, when she softly says “can I ask you a question?” as they walk home. In contrast to her confident “I’m curious” impositions, lines that fall within their accepted social dynamic, this is an admission that breaching personal space in other ways is still somewhat difficult. Chitanda asks Oreki why he was curious, and when he waves the question off as more teasing, Chitanda continues to push. It is unusual for him to be curious, and Chitanda cares about him enough to want to know why. In spite of his denial of his own actions, he does many things for many people, and Chitanda feels confident enough in their friendship to say this to him directly. Chitanda might originally have been interested in finding the truth about Hyouka, and thus willing to smile and let it go when Oreki made his defenses – but now Chitanda is interested in him, and wants to know what makes him tick.
Chitanda’s frank questions and compliments put Oreki off-kilter, a fact represented by one more of this episode’s very rare angled shots. And Oreki’s explanation feels new for him as well – looking up at another passing helicopter, he says he felt “a responsibility to the truth.” That if he were to casually say Ogi just liked helicopters, he’d possibly be misrepresenting feelings far more important than that. Just like Irisu once predicted, Oreki now feels that his talents give him a true moral responsibility.
Chitanda starts at that, getting a clear heart flutter in the wake of this intimate confession. And for a moment, Chitanda is blinded by Oreki’s light, or at least the light his investigations convey. She doesn’t know how to express these feelings, and in the end settles on “I’m glad I could see a different side of you today.” Though Oreki still sees her frank feelings as teasing, their crush has now clearly become heavy and mutual, a weight hanging between them at all times. Chitanda bikes away in a shot framed to directly echo their earlier parting – but even in the course of one brief afternoon, the context of their relationship has already changed. It’s not embarrassment at his own feelings that Oreki turns to at the end – thinking back across the day, he reflects on how Chitanda clearly did want to go with him to the library. People change slowly, but people do change.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.