And here we are, at the very last episode of Hyouka. It’s a tremendous episode, but I almost don’t want to write about it – after several months of cataloging all of this show’s beautiful twists and turns, I really don’t want it to be over. Rewatching this show has reaffirmed my opinion of it as Kyoto Animation’s crown jewel, a masterpiece of a production that’s about as good as any show can be. It’s understated and graceful and grand, a full-bodied production that marries intimate character work to some of the most consistently great framing and animation in any television anime ever. It’s a show worth holding close, an achievement I can only hope they’ll one day match again.
Things start much as usual in this last episode, as the classic sequence of establishing shots brings us back once more to the Oreki residence. Oreki is being lazy, as usual, and is disrupted from his laziness by Chitanda, as usual. Even the way Chitanda asks Oreki a question fits into her usual pattern, as she rushes ahead to a conclusion without actually establishing what she’s talking about. But Chitanda’s request this time has nothing to do with any mysteries; she’s walking in a local doll festival, and wants Oreki to hold her umbrella.
Like with episode twenty, Chitanda’s request here is an expression of both what Oreki means to her and how she’s trying to move him forward. Chitanda wants to be with Oreki, but she can’t simply embrace her own personal desires. She is an expression of the Chitanda name, and that means that if Oreki is going to move closer to her, he must accept all that name implies. And so she invites him to join her in bringing sake to a local shrine, and she invites him to participate in her local parade duties. Chitanda is introducing Oreki to her “family” through all of these events, bringing him into a domain of intimacy she can only hope he’s willing to accept. And Oreki, for his part, seems ready. With barely a hint of hesitation and no convincing, he agrees to help Chitanda. He has become a different man.
Cherry blossoms mark Oreki’s passage into this final adventure, witnessed both on his calendar and on the road to the festival. They mirror the opening of the show’s very first episode, a symbol of the rose-colored life that Oreki once treated with distrust. But now, as he passes beneath the unexpected bloom, he gasps in awe, taken by the wonder of it. Approaching a bridge that’s undergoing construction, he asks if he can pass and is told he can – but the workman’s final “we’re starting in a bit, so you won’t be able to go back” seems equally relevant to Oreki’s passage and to the point of no return Chitanda is moving him towards.
As in the twentieth episode and even earlier, the early shots of Oreki arriving at the preparation ground consistently imply how small Oreki is in the context of Chitanda’s world. At school, they are on a level playing field; here in the country, Chitanda is more than a classmate, she is an institution. And again mirroring the twentieth episode, it is only Chitanda’s name that has any power here – Oreki is initially treated with suspicion, but as soon as he says he comes under the auspices of Chitanda, he is welcomed. The implication is clear in their smiles – if not for Chitanda’s protection, he would have no place here.
Oreki seems to take the fact that he doesn’t belong to heart as he waits for the procession to begin. As the other volunteers bustle about and discuss plans, Oreki hides himself in the corner of the room and frame, actively trying to shrink out of our view. But when the old man that seems to be the leader calls him out, Oreki has no place to hide. Oreki struggles to match the formality that he feels is expected of him, and then meets a surprise when the old man actually treats him as an equal. He moves from rising out of the frame to actually sit at Oreki’s level, and treats him with the same respect he’d likely afford anyone else. While others treat Oreki with suspicion, the true leader here treats him much like Chitanda herself, as a person with equivalent dignity who’s going out of their way to help. The leader’s behavior reflects the leaderlike attitude Chitanda has already internalized, and when he leaves, the communal sigh of relief shared by Oreki and the other helpers reflects how he has been moved closer to their level.
Oreki gets pulled further into the world of the procession as trouble arises over the route they’ll follow. Though he sits huddled in the corner, he can’t help but make himself relevant to the discussion, adding his own information and actually putting himself on the line. Old Oreki would have slunk away from this drama, but current Oreki is dictated less by his natural laziness than by the values he’s internalized, the “responsibility of knowledge” that has at this point almost become his guiding principle. We do not have to be defined by our natural tendencies – in fact, as we become adults, those feelings often become irrelevant. It is the people we choose to be that define who we are, and while Satoshi is still too afraid to make that firm choice, Oreki has taken clear steps towards becoming the man who “has his act together” that Chitanda knows he can be.
And then Chitanda herself calls for Oreki, and we see the wall of Chitanda’s circumstances represented in their most literal form yet. As Chitanda is dressed for the festival, Oreki is reduced to speaking to her through a literal sheet, unable to see the girl he’s gotten close to through the drapery of her formal life. Oreki can’t be certain she’s even listening through the curtain; but when he explains the situation to her, Chitanda thanks him with characteristic grace, and then becomes the Chitanda scion. Chitanda asks him to relay her acceptance of responsibility for the situation, acting without hesitation, embodying her position as the heir of an important family. Her simple words move the entire party to action, and Oreki can only stare in awe.
Hyouka’s far-better-than-television-anime background character animation once again serves clear dramatic purpose here, as Oreki’s usual laziness (hey look, it’s a clock echoing the episode’s opening) is visually contrasted against the extremely busy world he’s decided to invest himself in. Asking why another boy who’s actually a part of this world didn’t take his role, his acquaintance responds with “if I were in it, I couldn’t watch” – a line that could well apply to the old Oreki who merely looked through windows at those who take action, or to current Satoshi. But Oreki’s visual discomfort with this world is sidelined when Chitanda arrives, and Oreki is captivated entirely.
The procession of the dolls seems like a dream to Oreki. He slips into another world and we follow, the staggered frames and blurred image giving the impression of a world under glass. The music is timed to match the actions of the characters, and as Oreki finds himself swept away in the flow, he laments the death of his energy-conserving philosophy. We see Oreki in reflection like in the opening song, but now it’s from the perspective of the real Oreki looking down. We see that single cherry blossom that initially passed when Irisu made her speech about responsibility, now heralding the arrival of the otherworldly cherry blossom tree. And we see Oreki himself, stunned beneath the impossible colors (another echo) of the blooming tree. “I can’t see Chitanda. I’m curious. If I could see her with her makeup from the front, what would she…” Oreki is losing whatever separates him from this world, finally being carried away.
And then that jerk Satoshi breaks his revery, raising a hand that abruptly cuts off the procession’s heavy filters. Satoshi only really gets a moment in this episode, though; his “arc,” such as it was, concluded last episode. But Mayaka gets a chance to thank Oreki for helping her, in a sequence of shots that demonstrate to Oreki some of the benefits of actually engaging in life. Oreki felt embarrassed about his anger towards Satoshi, but Mayaka smiles at his words, and the two move a little closer together.
After the festival, Oreki finds himself once again in the corner of a bustling room from another world, and steps out to get some air. Enjoying the peace of the late afternoon light, Chitanda finds him there, and their relationship jumps abruptly back to normal. While Oreki spent most of the day captivated by Chitanda’s unfamiliar world, Chitanda was just being her Chitanda self, and actually spent the whole day wondering what had happened with the bridge mystery. “I had a job to do, so I had to control myself all day!” she exclaims, simultaneously indignant and proud of herself. The episode continues to draw contrasts between the people we naturally are, the people we choose to be, and the people we sometimes have to be.
But together again, Oreki and Chitanda get to be the versions of themselves they are most comfortable with. Chitanda asks Oreki about the mystery, but by this point, she doesn’t just want to have him explain his conclusions. Instead, like in the nineteenth episode, she makes the reveal a game – a puzzle the two of them get to solve together. Arriving at the same conclusion, they each explain their reasoning to each other, and each conclusion is characteristic of their style of thinking. Oreki looked at the base facts of the case, and considered which parties could potentially gain from changing the route; Chitanda considered the emotions and politics at play, and chose based on her understanding of her own world.
Though she already had the answer, Chitanda is happy to hear Oreki’s explanation – it doesn’t change the fact of what happened, but it justifies the culprit’s actions in an emotional sense. Through solving mysteries in the way he does, Oreki really does bring a magic into the world for Chitanda – a magic of understanding, of being able to relate to why people do the things they do. It’s the reason Chitanda was initially unhappy with Oreki’s solution to the movie mystery; mysteries don’t really matter to Chitanda, but people matter a great deal. The question Chitanda is always seeking to answer is “what can make sense of this person to me?” And though Oreki isn’t a naturally social person, he can give this gift to Chitanda.
A rose-colored sky looms overhead as the two walk back from the festival, side by side. Though Oreki is the one holding a bike this time, it’s a scene they’ve shared many times before, walking to and from school. Chitanda seems troubled by something, and looking down, she explains to Oreki how and why she took control of the bridge situation. Old politics meant even the small route change brought a set of social requirements, and as the heir of the Chitanda family, only she was able to resolve it. “A powerful old family, just like Satoshi said” responds Oreki, echoing a conversation from the first episode. But Chitanda seems to disagree.
As the camera pans across them towards the brilliant rose-colored future, Chitanda speaks of how her world is actually a very small place. “Even if I go to a university, I’ll have to return to this place. No matter what road I take, my final destination will be the same.” While Oreki has hemmed and hawed all series about actively engaging with the world, Chitanda has had the opposite problem. In spite of naturally wanting to embrace everything the world offers, she has always known exactly who she will get to be.
Turning the conversation even more practical, she discusses how her choice of pursuing the sciences was motivated by the way she felt she could best help the family. Her two ideas were developing better crops and running the business side, and given her discomfort during the festival arc, she felt the first path was more appropriate. Standing beneath the cherry blossoms, she stops, and asks Oreki to look back.
“This is my place. All that’s here are water and soil. The people are growing old and tired. I don’t think that this place is the most beautiful. I also don’t think that this place is full of potential. But… I wanted you to see it, Oreki-san.”
Chitanda’s words are clear. “This is all of me.” Having invited the boy she cares about into her world, she speaks frankly of the future she’s facing, the future she’s willing to share with him. While Oreki has always been blinded by Chitanda’s light, here we see she has felt the same way; that Oreki is a bright and ambitious star to her, while she can only live on the tired earth. Her world is the shadow now, one that might not be able to compare to the bright future ahead. She is embarrassed to say this, but she is not ashamed of who she is; she is willing to take this step.
Struck silent by her honesty, Oreki can only stare at Chitanda, thinking back to Satoshi’s own engagement with this moment. Caught in a wild fantasy, he pledges what he wants to say – that he’ll be there for her, that he wants to be beside her, that this world is beautiful to him. The two each see a beauty in each other, bring each other into the light. Together, their feelings spin in the wind like a rose-colored dance, cherry blossoms alive in flight.
But things are not so simple as all that. Magic doesn’t rely on Oreki’s fantasy; even without his confession, the wind still lifts the blossoms in the breeze, still gives the two this moment. Their eyes meet, and their light is shared, a light they each bring to the other.
This article was made possible by reader support. Thank you all for your generous help, and for joining me on a walk through this wonderful show. I hope to see you all again soon.