Reviewby Nick Creamer,
BD+DVD Part Two
The members of the Classic Literature Club have solved a variety of mysteries in their time together, but with the school festival approaching, they're now gearing up to actually promote their own club. But mysteries always seem to find Oreki, and soon enough, a whimsical club equipment thief has the whole school clamoring for another solution. Of course, Oreki isn't the only one sweating this festival. Chitanda will have to struggle against her own nature to protect the club's future, while Mayaka finds herself embroiled in a new battle within the Manga Society. The Literature Club's peaceful days may soon be over, as all of Hyouka's heroes walk steadily toward their futures.
Hyou-ka's first half presented a stunning statement of purpose, combining great character writing and subtle reflections on identity with some of the most exemplary visual execution in TV anime. Its characters were brought to life both through natural banter and vivid character acting, establishing relationships through their every motion. Its sepia-stained perspective on adolescence echoed protagonist Oreki's own personal world, and the show's consistently smart use of lighting and focus made his slow development clear at every turn. Few shows can make you feel their drama as completely as Hyou-ka's gorgeous production.
In its second half, Hyou-ka doesn't just match the heights of its early episodes, it eclipses them. Many shows tend to become more conservative as their runs drag on, limited by increasingly tight schedules and less able to pull off consistent animation. Hyou-ka's second half is a testament not just to a great creative staff, but to Kyoto Animation's overarching work environment, their insistence on careful scheduling and reliance on fully employed in-house animators. The results absolutely speak for themselves.
The first segment of Hyou-ka's second half is possibly the most visually impressive arc the studio has pulled off, and an extremely strong contender for “best school festival arc” in anime. On a pure visual level, Hyou-ka brings its festival to life with an attention to detail that feels almost indulgent. This festival is populated by dozens and dozens of background characters who all have their own distinct designs and mannerisms, and as Oreki and his companions rush around the halls, we see their classmates living lives just as dynamic and busy in the background. Sequences of full classes of students advertising their stalls or preparing their exhibits lend a unique vitality to the show's world, making it feel like we're truly attending a living festival. Hyou-ka's slice of life leanings generally lend it a quiet and contemplative tone, but here in the festival arc, the warm bustle of the everyday comes through just as clear.
Hyou-ka's festival arc also does great work in fleshing out several of Hyou-ka's non-Oreki characters, as well as giving Oreki a suitably climactic mystery of his own. Having spent a full season watching characters like Oreki and Mayaka demonstrate their talents and envying them for their apparent strength, Chitanda's insecurities about her own nature lead her to spearhead the efforts to actually promote their club. Chitanda struggles mightily with the sometimes frustrating demands of leadership, a conflict that echoes her anxieties about her post-high-school future. Chitanda's journey outside her comfort zone offers a strong mix of character development, interpersonal drama, and offhand comedy, culminating in great sequences like her fiery participation in a school cooking contest.
Meanwhile, Mayaka finds herself trapped in a battle with a senior at the Manga Society, fervently debating the nature of art and genius. Mayaka's struggles are a perfect fit for her character, emphasizing the passion for direct action that often makes her so frustrated with Oreki and Satoshi. Her manga society conflict reads almost as a rallying cry from the show itself, an emphatic argument for artistic self-expression. And when Mayaka's conflict comes to an end, and she finally learns the truth about the senior who scowled at the idea of genius or “instant classics,” that truth reflects directly on Hyou-ka's overall thoughts on genius and the limitations of our potential.
That thread of genius and potential isolates all of Hyou-ka's stars as the theatrics of the festival fade into a final stretch focused on small vignettes and ambiguous resolutions. The depth of Satoshi's self-hatred is made clear in his conflicts with Oreki and Mayaka, their clashes suffused with a sharp edge of bitterness. As Hyou-ka's most ambiguous star, Satoshi's narrative centers on an ugliness of emotion that feels completely true to a certain high school experience - that cold-burning anger at knowing others are simply better at what you want to do than you ever could be yourself. It's the same anger that leads Mayaka's senior to scorn her passion and keeps Mayaka herself apart from her long-time crush. Whether simply isolated by Hyou-ka's consistently clever lighting or directly articulating his unhappy feelings, Satoshi steals many of this half's most cutting moments
While Satoshi's story focuses largely on the isolation of genius and its absence, Oreki and Chitanda grow closer across a series of vignettes equally dedicated to building their relationship and reflecting on their futures. The cold blues and deep shade of Satoshi's story is visually counterbalanced by Chitanda's pinkish reveries and autumnal oranges, her stories building both romance and melancholy through charming dialogue, purposeful shot framing, and revealing body language. From their starting point as contrasting figures with deeply fractious worldviews, Oreki and Chitanda slowly build into a natural pair defined by common concern and consistent negotiation of their needs, making for an iconic anime couple.
Hyou-ka's conclusion tethers the show's romantic pretensions to its grounded perspective and evocative melancholy, offering a beautifully realized proposal that never betrays Hyou-ka's understanding of emotional and societal limitations. But ultimately, every episode of this second half is beautiful in its own way, marrying lively animation to thoughtful direction, and thematically purposeful lighting to living background art. Few shows possess a single episode as carefully realized and beautifully animated as Hyou-ka's average - Hyou-ka maintains that standard for twenty-three episodes and applies that execution to a story populated by richly layered characters, suffused with compelling thematic through lines, and dedicated to universal questions about growing into ourselves and the limitations of our identities.
As with the first half, the music in Hyou-ka's second half is more of a role-player than a standout, but the show maintains a diverse selection of melodies and a broad array of instruments, along with its understanding of when silence is needed in a scene. The regrettable ending sequence of the first half is fortunately replaced with a charming new one, while the somewhat standard first opening is replaced with an opening cleverly illustrating Oreki's emotional narrative. As for Funimation's dub, my issues with Madeleine Morris' awkwardly affected Chitanda continue, but it does feel like all the cast members have grown to better embody their characters across this half. It's overall a fine dub, even if I still prefer the original.
Outside of that dub, there are still no meaningful extras included in Funimation's standard blu-ray release. But Hyou-ka doesn't really need extras to sell its quality. The show is astonishing: a gorgeous, thoughtful, and emotionally resonant journey from start to finish. It is one of Kyoto Animation's greatest accomplishments, a show that embodies how well this medium can bring even the smallest character story to life.
Overall (dub) : A
Overall (sub) : A+
Story : A+
Animation : A+
Art : A+
Music : A-
+ Builds on the first half's character development to arrive at stunning dramatic peaks, one of the most beautifully realized anime series
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