Hyouka’s twentieth episode opens with a small light growing through a crack in the wall. As the light expands, silent shots of gardening supplies creating a sense of peace in a small space, until the silence is broken by Oreki’s breath. Clearly some time has passed since the last episode, the truth of which is confirmed by Oreki’s first words. “Hey, Chitanda. Do you think the saying, ‘what you do on New Year’s, you repeat all year’ is true?” And Chitanda gives him a thoughtful but comfortable reply as the camera hones in on their new level of intimacy, simultaneously expressing their emotional proximity and the claustrophobia of their situation. But it’ll take them a while to reach that point of closeness. First, Oreki needs a reality check.
From that moment in the cold shed, we quickly jump back to Oreki in the morning, receiving a call from Chitanda. In the wake of two straight episodes where the pair essentially went on dates together, it now seems almost normal that Chitanda would comfortably ask him if he wanted to join her at the shrine for New Year’s. As Oreki makes a dig at Mayaka and Chitanda lightly scolds him, we see another reflection of the comfortable banter they’ve established. And Chitanda’s frank “I’d kind of like to show my kimono off” is clearly a step further than anything Old Chitanda would have said. Chitanda is not only comfortable asking Oreki on a date, she’s even perfectly fine saying she wants Oreki to physically admire her. In spite of the fact that Oreki is generally framed as the protagonist, Chitanda is consistently the one who pushes their relationship forward; her family background make her naturally inclined towards social propriety, but she is very willing to be the one who makes this relationship happen.
And Oreki, of course, is totally floored by this piece of overt flirting. But we don’t see his face – we just jump from absent-minded toe warming to a huge open shot of the room, a transition like a sharp intake of breath. All he can muster in response is a teensy “okay,” and then it’s time to get ready.
The actual date is framed as, well, an actual date. Oreki stands waiting in the cold for his lady to arrive, and when she does, he is dumbstruck once again. Chitanda is framed like she possesses an otherworldly beauty, and Oreki is lit up in her presence. Saying once again that she’s “here to show off,” Chitanda goes through a series of subtle expressions – first an expectant, nervous look, as she waits for Oreki’s reaction, and then a happy, gratified one as she sees how stunned he is by her appearance. Chitanda now knows him well enough to not feel offended by his lack of any way with words, and Oreki feels nervous, but not pressured to say anything. They both come across as shy and happy and embarrassed all at the same time, neither of them quite able to look at or away from the other as they grow closer without a word.
But Chitanda has business here at the shrine. Perhaps for the first time, she begins telling Oreki about the stressful specifics of her complex family life, an admission that by itself acknowledges how the Chitanda Oreki normally sees is a more relaxed and comfortable version of herself. Further inviting him to see this other side of herself, Chitanda asks Oreki to come along on an assignment to give a new year’s gift as a representative of her family. At the shrine house, Chitanda introduces herself as an extension of the Chitanda name first and an individual second, a choice that makes Oreki realize he’s really just some sort of appendage here. To Oreki, Chitanda is Chitanda – but to these people, “Chitanda” is a term laden with social consequence. Though Oreki is becoming more and more comfortable with Chitanda Eru, there is still much about her he does not understand.
Oreki is visibly uncomfortable in such a formal setting, and so shots are framed to show him feeling small or being pushed into the corner. But Chitanda is absolutely at home in this situation, and that only puts Oreki further off-balance. “So this is how rich families interact?” he thinks to himself, before getting outright trolled on his ignorance by Chitanda and her shrine counterpart. Oreki feels anything he does here might constitute some grave social offense, and is so out of his element that he can’t even make basic inferences based on obvious information. It’s hard to learn the girl you like is secretly some kind of noble princess.
Oreki remains estranged from Chitanda’s world in the next scene, when they run into Mayaka and the two girls start discussing types of kimonos. Oreki is purposefully left standing behind the two seated girls, putting him awkwardly out of place in the visual composition. And when his snarky “you look happy” to Chitanda is met with a blank “I am,” he once again is left without a line. Oreki is struck by a weird mix of being happy to learn more about Chitanda and being uncomfortable at the thought of being so far away from her world. He’s moving closer to a more meaningful kind of intimate engagement with her life, but for the moment, learning there’s so much distance between them only feels like it’s drawing her further away.
Fortunately, Oreki finally gets a chance to feel like he’s not entirely useless, when he volunteers to help Chitanda grab some supplies for the shrine. But this only turns into one more expression of his distance, as he leads Chitanda to a random toolshed instead of an actual warehouse. Feeling shamed once again for being so far from her palatial lifestyle, he only grumbles in response, as if this is Chitanda playing one more joke on him. Chitanda doesn’t feel at all superior to Oreki due to her class – in fact, it’s obvious in her every action that she respects him greatly. But like the distance between Mayaka and Satoshi, Chitanda can’t really express that respect in a way Oreki could accept, and so he instead feels somewhat mocked by this whole affair. Fortunately, Oreki and Chitanda soon find themselves with plenty of time to get intimate again, as it turns out they’ve both been locked in the friggin’ shed.
Of course, this doesn’t by itself do much to bring the two together. In fact, it initially just emphasizes the insecurities Oreki is already struggling with. Oreki feels embarrassed once again for his stupid mistake, as if accidentally getting locked in a shed is just another failure of his personality. He prepares to shout for help, but Chitanda stops him, and reminds him how if someone were to come over to help, they’d drastically misinterpret the situation. “I’m here representing my father” she says, almost embarrassed. The overt facts of the classic “trapped in a shed” anime cliche tend to bring characters together, and that’s somewhat true here, but even in the context of this forced intimacy, the facts of Chitanda’s home life still pull them apart. They can’t just be a pair of embarrassed teenagers in a silly situation – Chitanda has her family’s reputation to consider.
Fortunately, this urgent situation gives each of them a chance to fall into their usual, comfortable routines. Oreki gets a chance to try and solve something, and Chitanda moves back into her combined role of moral support and idea-refiner, shooting down all of his sillier suggestions and adding more pragmatic ideas of her own. There’s even a great moment of each of them expressing concern for each other; upon realizing there’s no immediate solution, Chitanda says that it’s okay if they call someone, to which Oreki responds that they’ll only do that if they entirely run out of options. They banter and cross suggestions and shiver in the cold, with each of them eventually apologizing to the other for getting them caught up in this situation.
As Chitanda speaks of feeling embarrassed for getting him tied into her responsibilities, Oreki makes an unhappy expression. Oreki wants to be someone Chitanda can rely on in times like this – after two seasons of solving mysteries and making her happy, he wants to feel like he can be the person she believes him to be. But in the context of this shed and Chitanda’s family, it seems like Oreki’s very presence is a burden on Chitanda’s ability to succeed in her family’s sphere. If not for him, Chitanda wouldn’t be here. If not for him, Chitanda could call for help. Their entrapment in the shed is a painful representation of exactly how out of place he feels in her world, like he’s only holding her back.
But again, Chitanda doesn’t feel that way at all. As her offhand mention of Satoshi prompts Oreki to think of a new, completely ridiculous solution, Chitanda seems determined to help in any way she can. When Oreki says his plan requires the use of a string, without even hearing the full details of the scheme, Chitanda offers to lend him her kimono’s obi string. It’s an act of both literal and metaphorical undressing for Oreki, a demonstration of her absolute faith in him – and of course, in the end Oreki’s the one who’s far more embarrassed by this admission. Chitanda is strongly committed to this relationship with Oreki, but given Oreki’s insecurity and general thick-headedness, she clearly has a difficult road ahead of her.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for all that you do.