It might actually, possibly, perhaps be happening!

– 12 April, 2014 –

I planned to make this blog happen starting April 2014, but I (sadly) lack the motivation and dedication. However, I still haven’t fully let go of the idea of starting up this blog.

– 12 May, 2014 –

A month after stating that I still refuse to let go of the idea of a blog, I can say that chances are growing that I will start it up. By neglecting episodic content or a guaranteed review every (other) week, Casual Anime will be its name in both content and updates. Only if I enjoyed something enough to write about it will I post it to this blog, and only when I have something I want to talk about about the industry will I post it.

Casual Anime will be a personal pleasure project. I will add content when I feel like it rather than scheduled. Those of you who think it sounds interesting, Casual Anime by ChazzU will probably go live towards the end of May with a small content of topics and reviews. Just don’t expect a guaranteed weekly review or opinion-piece, I’m afraid I can’t offer that to you guys.

– 16 March, 2015 –

I’m giving it a go. I’m working on getting some content ready for both a consistent schedule in the first month and some content to push out on launch, so I’m afraid it’ll take until half April or something, but I at least want to give it a shot and see how much fun it is. The review style will be different from what I have up currently (Haibane Renmei and Hyouka), although I’d like to keep the Tackling Thematics articles in the same style. Keep an eye out if you’re interested, and you’re always welcome to hit me up on MAL, Twitter or Reddit!

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Tengen Toppen Gurren Lagann E1

Pre-viewing fear is no fiction: “I really hope I can think of anything else than dicks being smashed through solid objects while watching this show.”

E01 - What the hell

Oh well …

TTGL was created by the people who also worked on Kill la Kill and Evangelion, two shows I despise and loath for reasons beyond “it didn’t click with me”. But I can’t say that I’ll watch the classics and chicken out of “BELIEVE IN THE ME WHO BELIEVES IN YOU” now, can I? And I have to say that even after one episode, I’m already intrigued. TTGL to me at least has made itself clear in just one episode.

“This show will be good. This show will at times be handling serious topics. This show will also take a piss at every aspect of animation you can think off. And this show will be batshit insane.”

It took Gurren Lagann one episode to make me desire more, because it is cleverly written. The humor might be blatantly obvious or incredibly simple, the motivational speeches crazy and some of the story aspects stereotypical, but it knows how to use them in a manner that makes you not question whether or not they wouldn’t have been better off replacing those parts. The possible critique on jokes on Yoko’s tits is immediately mitigated by a single scene and the characters roles are pretty clear from the get-go. Kamina the ever-motivated, optimistic dare-devil who thinks of nothing as too much when it comes to chasing your dreams and goals, Yoko the slightly-less-insane counterpart to Kamina who rather gives a plan a second thought instead of yelling about spirit and soul and Simon, the little guy who lives in his own world, is a bit scared but more so on the look-out for a bunch of people who’ll accept him for who he is.

So far the focus has mostly so been on Kamina and Simon, although Simon has only been shown his “I’m so scared, friends please help me” side of things. Kamina on the other hand is much more interesting from the get-go. Is he a liar when he talks about the surface to the village chief, or is it more so the little kid in him repeating what the father he lost told him as a child, and he’s just copying his words to honor his father’s vision, the image he has of his father and that ideal that has become his own dream as well? He’s probably both I have the impression, as this image indicates that he indeed has never been to the surface, but I couldn’t imagine such blatant lies coming from a character who values pride, honor and camaraderie over anything else, and selling out on those means betraying Kamina. Kamina is not pleased when you betray him.

The story itself is pretty simple, and I think that is for the best as well. The scene where Village Chief seems close-minded for blindly following his ancestors rules of not opening the ceiling is a great example of how I think the show will progress. The chief isn’t wrong in following the orders, because there is a reason people have migrated to under the earth obviously, it just happens that the Jiiha pit villagers have no clue why or even question it, while people from Yoko’s pit are clearly more engaged in the matter given that she was actively chasing a beastman and knew how to take it down, not to mention her reaction while boob-suffocating Simon at the end of episode one when two more beastmen walk in on them. “From the frying pan into the fire” makes me think that Yoko is definitely knowledgeable about the circumstances of living both under and above the surface, because otherwise a panicky reaction would’ve suited the situation much, much more, given how much trouble she already had with one beastman, and that under the surface where she had tunnels to hide and manoever in.

Tackling Thematics – Hunter x Hunter: When murder becomes trivial

 

Note: There will be images and spoilers from Hunter X Hunter up until episode 35 in this post. Also be aware that I haven’t seen past episode 35 at the time of writing this. The other 110 episodes of the show might offer information regarding the topic, but obviously that is yet unknown to me.
E22 - Trivialize Murder

After having binge-watched a good portion of the only long-running shounen with critical acclaim, I noticed two major things:
1) While still following some genre-tropes, this show has fantastic writing. Everything flows into the next adventure in a very smooth and natural manner, and contrary to the big three there is an actual perception of time rather than vague mentions and lots of guessing. I appreciate that. It shows that the author worked on pacing the story rather than adding onto the previous scenes.
2) While I don’t mind people being killed off in a universe where fantasy powers are a given, the little amount of concern or emotion the characters show is off-putting.

And that is why I want to talk about it.

All these in-universe actions feel so odd and unnatural to me that I can’t help but feel distanced. Of course that happens with other shounen as well, but that would be because of the fantasy/supernatural element those have to them. Hunter x Hunter seemingly prides itself in being a more grounded show compared to the big three, but at the same time fails to make everything count and put the emphasis on things like death, despite having a main character who grew up trained as an assassin. Because any show that casually puts bones in a trash can and passes it off as a regular and even minor occurrence is able to get my attention, but perhaps not for the correct reason.

E03 - Trivialize Murder 2E03 - Trivialize Murder 1

Our first encounter with Hisoka, but more importantly also with the murderous intent that seems to be instilled in many hunter(s) (applicants). There is only a brief mention that Hisoka nearly killed an instructor during the previous exam, and that only disqualified him from last years exam and not from any further ones. Kurapika and Gon seem hardly surprised by this, as if they simply accept that murder is part of this world and shouldn’t be weighing that hard on the possibility to become a hunter because of “one little misstep during one exam”. Which was the first thing that struck me the wrong way. Gon, the little boy who looks for friends to have fun with, hardly bats an eye at someone nearly murdering another person. Leorio’s reaction is much more like what I expect any other show to portray their characters as, but he is seemingly only there to be the audience’s point of view (desperately behind the rest, no super powers and not always as clever as the others). He is a doctor, so I would understand if he was simply opposed to the idea of killing people, yet later on in the show emotional outbursts also triggered a “I want to kill him” switch, to which he hardly could keep himself calm enough not to interfere in a one-on-one duel between Gon and Hanzo. But he did manage in the end, meaning that Leorio probably had to vent his anger. That assumption is also supported by Kurapika’s reaction to the Gon vs Hanzo fight. Where as the normally calm and collected Kurapika would tell Leorio to calm down, he couldn’t contain his anger either, saying that there is no chance of him stopping Leorio if he were to interfere after Hanzo broke Gon’s left arm. Which is a good sign; Leorio is more than simply “I am a doctor, I am opposed to killing no matter the circumstances”, he is a human being with many aspects to him. He is opposed to killing when calm, but when taunted, angered and enraged by suffering he as well feels the desire to hurt the person responsible. Hurt; because Leorio doubtfully would’ve done more than giving his all to beat up Hanzo (if he was able to lay a hand on him) and then calm down enough to not go through with ending someone’s life. But that is Leorio as a character. He has a purpose much more than playing the black sheep: he is the voice of the audience. He is the weaker, less clever and less talented one of the group. He gets persuaded more easily than the unnaturally focused and solution-devising Gon, Killua and Kurapika.

And the voice of the audience echos loud and clear; how is this possible for life and death to be mentioned so casually?

E20 - Trivialize Murder 1

E20 - Trivialize Murder 2E20 - Trivialize Murder 3

Once again it happens, and this time mainly by our main group. Killua gets hypnozited by his brother and kills Bodoro. An unexpected turn of events! And no one gives even a single damn about the — now dead — guy. Gon totally tunnels on the circumstances, and on the relationship between Killua and his brother. Killua is his friend, and everyone standing in between that is a negative factor. I think that that is a beautiful thought, but to forget an actual murder over it makes it either bad/ignorant writing, or something the show will fall back on. Because that is what happened – we didn’t even get to see them move Bodoro’s dead body or honor him in any way or form. He died, and nobody cared, because Killua’s disqualification was much more important than the life of a fellow human being who got robbed of it in front of their very own eyes.

And the glory or consequences following a kill trump the value of life whenever they don’t know or aren’t related to the person dying. And with” they”, I mean everyone. Because it not only happened in the Hunter Exam, but it happened once more when Hisoka killed Kastro after having killed six other Heavens Arena duelists. And the crow cheered, loved it and while Zushi remarked that it was a shame that a good fighter died, the general consensus will end up as that he simply wasted his potential, and he will be forgotten.

But with life being undervalued so much, something has to take its place, doesn’t it? There has to be a new aspect of life that reigns victorious as the most valuable and precious. And there is…

E18 - Trivialize Murder 2

E18 - Trivialize Murder 1

 

E19 - Trivialize Murder 2

E19 - Trivialize Murder 3

 

E19 - Trivialize Murder 7

E19 - Trivialize Murder 6

 

 

 

 

Look at that. Where as no one shows an actual reaction to murder, assassination and death, when torture comes into play the mood changes. Suddenly reactions come out of even the calm ones, even if only ever so slightly. Hunters can get a pass for killing, and we’re even dealing with a world where a family of assassins exists and has a publicly known base, yet no one bats an eye at it happening or fears for it happening to them.

In the world of Hunter x Hunter a very specific and eerie mechanic has come into play. In that world — where murder is a daily occurrence and everyone holding a Hunter’s license can get away with, where a family of assassins has become a public attraction, where people cheer on fighters who have murdered in front of them, where a boy younger than 10 more so regrets rather than mourns the death of someone who traveled the path he admires to walk — consciousness, perception and emotions have trumped life. Gon, Kurapika, Leorio, Killua and Zushi have grown up in a world where one’s suffering is heard with more importance than whether or not the the longs still pump, the blood still flows and the heart still beats.

E35 -  Trivialize Murder 2

 

 

 

Tackling Thematics – Hyouka: “The gray life of Oreki Houtarou”

Thematics in Hyouka: A character study of Oreki Houtarou

 Throughout the entire show Houtarou’s outlook on life has stood central. He changed from being a shut out person, not willing to interact with his surroundings into an ordinary person, who initiates a conversation and doesn’t mind offering his help to others. At first sight it can seem like an ordinary fix in character, but this isn’t something that happened on a whim, or over the span of a week or three – this is something that happened over a period of 10 months. The journey was tough, and even still unfinished as far as the viewer could see. But there is plenty to talk about.

 

“I don’t do anything I don’t have to. What I have to do, I do quickly.”

 Hyouka E05 - Tired of being gray

Self-deprecation as protection mechanism

 Self-deprecation is the act of undervaluing oneself, accomplishments and qualities, sometimes to the point where one could deny having said qualities and devaluing the worth of accomplishments that person certainly could be proud of.

 Self-deprecation is the keystone of the foundation on which Houtarou’s motto to live by is built. For the longest time, he denies being more skillful at deduction, finding links and the ability to bite into a mystery than his peers when solving a mystery. He claims it to be luck or coincidence. However, I believe that he doesn’t actually believe it to be luck. Instead, Houtarou does not allow himself to believe he is skilled at something. He has been stuck in the loop of being ordinary, of leading a gray life, that he has problems imagining himself as someone who can excel at something, who can lead a rose-colored high school life.

 I will admit that it is rather difficult, and a bit of guesswork, to puzzle together Houtarou as we never got to see anything from his past or household. The information to be gathered is all of the present, which makes finding a reason for how he become the person he is today difficult and based on guesses and probabilities. I do have my own theory that can support Houtarou’s behaviour and decision making throughout the series however. Namely that Houtarou isn’t unhappy, but he isn’t happy either. He is smart enough to do better than average, but never does so. Yet he’s unhappy with the that his high school life isn’t rose-colored, and he shows that through doubt rather than admitting to wanting to change. On top of that, episode 6 showed us that Oreki Houtarou has a sense of pride. He doesn’t want to admit failure where he believes he could have succeeded, so he downplays it.

 The biggest problem plaguing Houtarou was certainly the ending in ‘Mystery Movie’ arc, in which he realizes that he has been used by Irusu, and that all her sweet words were merely a way to get him to do what she wants. Everything he had started to believe in, the possibility that he might excel at something. Something that could give him the confidence he could rely when trying to break away from his gray life – because, after all, he saw Irusu as an objective bystander instead of a friend who’d say anything to motivate and encourage him. Hearing that he was special from her meant more than hearing it from Chitanda or Fukube. But it was all a trick, a lie.Worse was that everyone approached him separately to tell him he was wrong, all for different reasons – reasons he overlooked. But they didn’t do it in front of the group because they didn’t want to make him uncomfortable in front of the rest. Houtarou feels he’s being pitied, right after he had been celebrated as a star for a quality only he possessed.

I would hardly say the scene is underappreciated, but it is perhaps the most important one in Hyouka, in combination with the conversations he had with both Fukube and Mayaka in the pool OVA.

 

Want, or could?

Want, or could?

 

 What I think is that Houtarou used to be confident, but lazy. He is a smart kid, and more than likely was already so before entering high school. He thought he could do whatever it was that he was asked to do, and he noticed that he often could indeed perform those tasks successfully. Most of a persons confidence and self validation comes through school results at the age of 10-14, as its the main objective their parents drill on and the only platform that has a big enough group of peers to compare themselves to. And he was smart, always succeeding and scoring high grades – and over time starting to consider himself smart enough to get by while doing nothing. He got lazy, and for a while he still managed to keep up thanks to the effort he put into his studies. However, keeping up because the subject is a spin-off of something you did study only lasts for so long. Thus when relying on previous efforts stopped going as well as he wanted it to, he lowered his own standards in order to not having to face the fact that he wasn’t doing as well as he could. Which, in turn, had to be protected by something, his feeling of pride was on the line after all. He was smart, thought of himself as someone who could perform at the top of his group of peers and suddenly he couldn’t keep up. And now he finds himself in a pinch. He has gotten accustomed to living a life of energy conservation, and seeing as Oreki Houtarou is still a lazy teenager, what is easier than feigning ignorance? Feigning indeed, because the moment a person comes into his life, ruins his comfort zone and forces him to face the reality that is the fact that he isn’t using his smarts to the best of its capacity, he slowly but surely starts to feel the will to change. A desire Fukube, the person who knows Houtarou the longest and the best, does make a remark upon, only for Houtarou to wonder if he wants to go back to his old life. The life in which he wasn’t on energy conservation mode, but also the life in which he enjoyed a rose-colored life.

 However, the wanting is part of the cover-up, the facade he put up to protect himself from both his own expectations and of the people around him. And he has began to experience this cover-up, this facade, as natural emotion. His lowered standards became the standards he actually valued himself at, the facade that he didn’t have anything he excelled at became the reason for a life in which he strove towards mediocrity. The question was thus never whether he wants to or not, and is in fact more likely the question of “could he go back?” Because over the duration of the story he gets praise from a lot of persons, both of his friends of whom he thinks only do it to support him, but also those who he looks at as objective bystanders, acquaintances, and who wouldn’t gain anything from complimenting him to support him over thanking him for something he actually did well. And yet he can’t accept the compliments he receives. He doesn’t think he deserves any praise for his efforts, because his standards are set low – because he lowered his standards by so much. He makes himself believe that everyone could have done, it given enough time. Yet at the same time he is also making progress. He’s trying to change, beginning to change even, but has problems finding a foot on both sides at the same time. He can’t seem to find a balance he feels comfortable with. It is something that is shown on more than one occasion.

Episode 11, Houtarou and Irusu at a tea house
“Last time we were here, you told me I had a talent. What talent?” is what Houtarou asks Irusu.
“You really want me to tell you? … The talent of deduct-”
“NO!”
[…]
“Irusu-senpai, what you told me last time we were here… Those with talent who aren’t aware of themselves cause pain for those who have none. What a joke. You don’t care about the ones with no talent! All you care about are results. When you said I had talent, was that also for Hongou’s sake? Were you also lying when you said that everyone should be aware of their own talents?”
“Those words were not what I really think. Whether you consider them lies or not is up to you.”
An answer to which Houtarou reluctantly, yet relieved, “That makes me feel better.” answers.

Episode 17, Fukube discovers that Houtarou identified Jumoonji
“You can not say the word ‘expectations’ when you have confidence in yourself. Expectations are what you have when you have given up. You can’t help it. Unless you have already given up, it sounds so fake. A good example would be … the difference between me & him. I didn’t want to beat Houtarou. But if you’re always looking up to someone…”

 And you can’t blame Houtarou for not finding his balance. He is trying to make a change, and he has a lot of thoughts that keep spinning through his head. If he makes the step and decides to change, will he be able to live a rose-colored life happily and successfully, or will he turn around and around, aimlessly wandering, unable to find his place in this world as he sees both his desire and safety net fade out of reach. He wants to live life actively, but the risk is that if he reaches out he won’t find anything, and by then he can’t go back to his old life and only has cruel and cold reality left that he can’t find the motivation to move forward, without having a cushion to fall on.

 It pains him in other ways too. Realizing that he makes other people feel inadequate because he can’t face the fact he might be good at something is a heavy burden. It means that he has to believe that he has qualities that make putting in an effort worth it. But at the same time, he is still in doubt with himself. And that doubt isn’t undone as easy as one might want. Doubting yourself is more difficult that doubting others, because once you have taken a stance on something, how do you begin to persuade yourself when you’re on the defensive?

 

Hyouka E05 - What does it mean to be rose-colored

 

 

Limited by self-set social boundaries

 To devalue your qualities and accomplishments is one aspect of the whole situation, but if the image you have of yourself is that low, then it doesn’t stop at undervaluing yourself. It goes beyond that, as your lowered self esteem will cause you problems when you want to break way from it all. It will make you, once again, doubt yourself and wonder if you can actually make the change.

 That is the problem Houtarou faces. “If I decide to change, will I succeed? Or will I end up nowhere?” It is an aspect of social anxiety, because while you have no problems at engaging conversations with other people, you do feel uncomfortable stepping out of your comfort zone in order to change to the point where you’d rather crawl back than take the leap. Change is always scary, but less so for people who are self confident and have a steady ground beneath their feet, whereas Houtarou doesn’t have that steady ground beneath his feet. And for the bigger part of Hyouka, that’s what we get. We see Houtarou struggle, climb and fall down – doubt himself, get support and find a new path to try and climb back up again. Little by little Houtarou changes, one by one the barriers go down and step by step his comfort zone extends. One of the best examples is a scene from the OVA, in which Chitanda makes a remark on the fact that someone in the pool might become a gold medalist. The OVA takes place right after he is got used by Irusu and is struggling with himself, although during the episode he also regains a lot of his old wit back while not putting up his walls again.

“It’s a simple question of whether he has the ability or not. If he is special, he will. If he is normal, he won’t.”
“Oreki-san, do you want to be special?”
“Not really. Either way, I’m just a normal person.”

 

Houtarou goes through many changes, but little by little he gets more comfortable in his own skin, and he finds himself enjoying himself more in more situations, meaning that he stops shying away from activities.

 At the end the Mystery Movie arc his confidence gets crushed, and later restored again by finding new reasons to believe in himself, yet he still wants to share his findings. He sheepishly tricks Chitanda (and by that I mean ‘making Chitanda realize he’s too proud to boast but really wants to share his experience’) into asking what he found out after realizing that his script didn’t match up with that of Hongou.
 During the Culture Festival he goes out of his way to help during the cooking competition and even goes as far as blackmailing the school counsel’s vice-president in order to sell out their anthology Hyouka.
 And in the very last episode he even offers help to complete strangers. They turn down his offer, saying that they’re already glad they got a replacement. “You’ve got your act together, son.” A compliment to the likes he never received before. It makes him realize how easily he offered his help, and that being involved with other people isn’t just about putting in effort but that it can be satisfying as well.

 The last scene of the show is the unresolved romantic scene. A scene that does not fit in with the actual storytelling, but it was a wonderful portray of Houtarou’s progress.

A rose-colored future

A rose-colored future lies ahead

A troubled past

Leaving a troubled and darker past behind

 

The reason I want to press attention to this is because it shows Houtarou hasn’t fully changed yet. Houtarou realizes that he can’t even confess his crush while she might as well have said that she loves him when she told him that she wanted him to see the place she lives at and where she will return to. And yet the doubt keeps eating away at Houtarou, as he probably just wished that Chitanda would have straight up confessed to him. It shows Houtarou isn’t there yet, and one might take that last moment as a lesson.

You might always be working towards a better form of yourself, without ever creating the perfect image we all want to look at when staring in the mirror. At one point you have to accept that that non-perfect person in the mirror is you, and that wanting to better yourself isn’t bad as long as you can take a step back and realize whether or not you are already at a point that provides you with happiness.

 

Houtarou went from asocial cynic to friendly high schooler, which was exactly what he wanted to be in the first place; someone with a rose-colored high school life who can enjoy life instead of seeing it as a drag. And even though the fact that he couldn’t voice his thoughts at the very end does indicate that he is not there yet, he has come a long way. Live life to be happy and make the future shine brightly for you, so you can escape the gray life you feel imprisoned in.

 

Conclusion

 Ending the show, looking back on everything that has happened since the first arc, I have to give credit to Yonezawa Honobu, the writer and creator of Hyouka. Houtarou was fantastically written as a character and certainly carried Hyouka in a spectacular fashion.

Review: Hyouka

Disclaimer: This was one of the very first pieces I wrote, and I didn't have anything as lined out yet as I have it right now. I very much like this piece though, so I'm not going to alter it to fit my current format. The review on its own is a bit shorter, but is followed up with a link to "Tacking Thematics: Hyouka Edition". This review was written with the other part in  mind, so definitely check out the second part as well if you enjoy this one. This review also contains spoilers. This will not be the case from now on, and I'm sorry for the inconvenience.

Hyouka, You Can’t Escape

 Hyouka is the only show I know of that combines slice of life with mystery, and while it may seem a weird combination at first, it works splendidly. Now this is still mainly a slice of life show, so with mystery we’re talking about mostly trivial subjects. Disproving the existence of a ghost who allegedly haunts an inn, or why a match teacher brought the notes for the wrong class with him. Some of them a bit of a setback, but some of them are more elaborate ones, and one the first mysteries is a rather serious one – at least serious enough to withhold Chitanda’s middle-aged uncle from reminiscing about it as if it was no big deal. The follow-up ones are more entertaining ones with as purpose to glorify Houtarou’s intellect. Not that he wants to solve mysteries, he’d rather sit back and do nothing., but he always gets dragged in by Chitanda’s insatiable curiosity, and Houtarou seems to have a talent for solving mysteries.

 

Hyouka E01 - Silk Spider Club

Storyline

 Hyouka’s opening arc is incredibly good, story wise the best of the show in my opinion, although I’ve seen plenty of people pick another arc so don’t worry too much. Hyouka manages to keep a consistent level of quality throughout the show, and ‘best arc’ is therefor highly subjective and based on what resonates with you the most I guess. While not necessary, I think it certainly helps to watch Hyouka in arcs. There are the three major arcs (Hyouka, The Detective Movie and The Culture Festival), separated by some stand-alone episodes and one OVA, with the show finishing in some gibberish romance that tries to answer to a tension that could be felt throughout the show but was – in my opinion – lackluster. There is some implied shipping between Houtarou and Chitanda, but I was not a fan of the romance myself. It added nothing to the show, was not of any major importance to the story and only made for an excuse to bring attention to Hyouka through shipping possibilities to net more viewers.

But when the show ignored the romance, it was a blast to watch. The Silk Spider Mystery, for example, is the first one to appear in the show and perhaps my favorite gig in Hyouka. It’s simple, but charming, and perfectly defines Houtarou as the person he is in the beginning of the show. But many other mysteries are more elaborate, and that is for the better. It allows for a bit more intricate and complex mystery writing compared to the fill-up episodes they put inbetween the arcs. Gigs aside, the show moves along, something that slice of life shows sometimes tend to forget to do. But Hyouka doesn’t have that problem, and is willing to skip over the times nothing of importance is happening by the means of two or three fill-up, stand-alone episodes to bridge the gap between April (Hyouka mystery) through May (Detective Movie mystery), after which the OVA comes to fill for the summer vacation after exams had ended and to connect back to October for the Culture Festival arc. After that however, it runs into the problem of not having a decent close-out.

Yes, I do indeed believe the romance in Hyouka wasn’t a good addition, because all it did was add an aspect that will never be resolved to the story. Chitanda and Houtarou aren’t a good couple, although some of the other romantic tensions were handled a bit better. But Hyouka isn’t a romance show, which is why the romance is annoying to see take place. Out of all possibilities, for a show that is (from a storytelling perspective) all about closing out and answering question marks, they end on an unresolved romantic situation with Houtarou holding out in the end. Yes, it falls in line with Houtarou as a character, he’s a character struggling with himself and how he sees himself and how he wants others to see him, but you do not end a show on a bombshell you chose to ignore during the entirety of the show. It’s lazy writing, and it honestly left a sour taste with me as I really enjoyed the first 19 episodes of Hyouka.

 If Hyouka ever receives a second season where the romance is an actual part of the story, I think I wouldn’t mind an ending like this. At the moment of writing this, there is still one Light Novel not turned into an anime adaptation yet, and there are rumors of the writer picking the writing back up. However, until that time comes, I will stay on the opinion that Hyouka never needed to end on a romantic ending after having ignored it for the better part of the entire show.

 

Hyouka E11 - Houtarou and Chitanda

Characters

 Hyouka is clearly a character-based show. Every mystery or event is only a means to dismantle Houtarou’s facade and develop him, step by step, so he could be happier with the life he’s leading. But together with the characters personalities, equally important is the interaction between them, which was fantastic. I like to describe shows as Hyouka ‘Scripted Realism’.
They’re meant to be believable, but they’re not realistic. They feature ordinary people, doing ordinary things in their ordinary lives – we all could be them, but we’re not. Everyone is too nice, never having a bad day. The conversations are casual-intellectual, always have actual and ‘smart’ content and are spread over a wide variety of subjects. There are no pauses or friends trying to one-up each other with some bad joke or pun. Which isn’t bad, but it’s not 100% realistic either. It’s scripted, but – honestly – who cares? Hyouka is enjoyable, and so are the interactions between the characters, and in the end that’s what it’s all about.

 Houtarou‘s character is harder to describe than lazy, or average. He does live an ordinary life, but he seeks so much more, yet he doesn’t know how to achieve it. Houtarou’s an innocent and upfront character. He conceals his doubts, but doesn’t hide them. He wants to change, to lead a more rose-colored life as he calls it himself. Away from his gray-colored life. And Hyouka is that journey. Houtarou is willing to look for said change, because the new-met Chitanda’s upbeat personality pulls him out of his self-wallowing, and challenges him to look for what he wants out of life.

 The biggest problem plaguing Houtarou was certainly the ending in ‘Mystery Movie’ arc, in which he realizes that he has been used by Irusu, and that all her sweet words were merely a way to get him to do what she wants. Everything he had started to believe in, the possibility that he might excel at something. Something that could give him the confidence he could rely when trying to break away from his gray life – because, after all, he saw Irusu as an objective bystander instead of a friend who’d say anything to motivate and encourage him. Hearing that he was special from her meant more than hearing it from Chitanda or Fukube. But it was all a trick, a lie.Worse was that everyone approached him separately to tell him he was wrong, all for different reasons – reasons he overlooked. But they didn’t do it in front of the group because they didn’t want to make him uncomfortable in front of the rest. Houtarou feels he’s being pitied, right after he had been celebrated as a star for a quality only he possessed.
But after all the problems, he steadily finds more confidence in his abilities, he becomes more sociable and even goes up in his conversations with Chitanda, apparently rather forgetting than neglecting that he should try to act indifferent.

While the other three characters are listed as ‘main characters’, they don’t get the same screen time as Houtarou. They are also mostly a tool to develop Houtarou by having them create conflicts and giving solutions.

 Chitanda is the catalyst for everything that happens in Hyouka. She is the reason Houtarou is solving mysteries, helping others and is willing to change his way of living. That is a huge impact. But that is it, she is a tool used by the producers. She’s the girl Houtarou fancies, the person he is willing to change for in order to put a smile on her face. Chitanda is everything he is not; a polar opposite. She’s always happy, gives people the advantage of the doubt and is a very active and energetic person. Yet in the end, Chitanda is not much more than that. Her reactions are often exaggerated for comic effect, which reflects her role. She’s there to often start things up, and is then only a humorous addition or blow-off in between scenes that progress the show.

 Fukube suffers from the same fate as Chitanda. He gets a good amount of screen time, but he’s there as the one who keeps digging a little too deep into Houtarou’s feelings according to the last one. Sometimes it leads to internal monologues on both ends, but sometimes it also sparks a conversation, more often than not about both’s position, their stop, wondering if they should move on to the next one or idle around at the one they’re at that given moment. He forces himself to be happy, but in order to do so, to be so, he has to put himself and his feelings first, rather than arranging them in order to think of his friends as well. He acts all giddy and happy, he looks like a friendly guy but in the end, Fukube is a selfish asshole. And while he does feel bad about hurting others, he’d rather do that than hurt himself. He wants to shut out every negative aspect in order to live the perfectly positive life. If he would keep that up, he’d end up with no friends. But in the end, even Fukube learns his lesson and finally answers Mayaka. Something that, after all this time, can only be considered a consolation prize for Mayaka.

 Mayaka‘s the fourth and final member of the Classics Club, and also the with the least screen time. Her role in Hyouka is to even out the boy-to-girl ratio, and aside from that doesn’t add that much to the show. It’s a shame, because Mayaka as a character is more interesting than Chitanda or Fukube. She knows what she wants. A love interest she actively chases in hopes of finally getting a decisive answer, although she knows nothing will come from it. An interest in manga, strong enough to want to associate with it despite being picked on from time to time by a selective group of girls who also participate in the Manga Society Club. Out of everyone, she lives the most. She reaches for the high points and doesn’t hide or run away from the low ones. She lives with a foot in reality, knowing not everything is perfect, knowing not everything can get a happy end, and that some question marks might never get an answer.

 

Hyouka E05 - Background

 

 

Art, Animation & Sound

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Conclusion

 Ending the show, looking back on everything that has happened since the first arc, I have to give credit to Yonezawa Honobu, the writer and creator of Hyouka. Houtarou was fantastically written as a character and certainly carried Hyouka in a spectacular fashion.

Review: Haibane Renmei

Haibane Renmei – The Charcoal Feather Federation

Haibane Renmei is a very ambiguous show. It deals with a lot of themes and showcases the importance and impact of an independent identity in the eyes of the person him or her self. What makes the show particularly impressing though, is how it doesn’t stray away from telling a heartfelt and sincere story about growing up while tackling all these big themes and inevitable problems one faces at one point in their lives.

Disclaimer: This review contains spoilers about the show. Follow through only if you have either seen the show or don’t mind spoilers.

HaiRen E1 - Kleurenpalet 2

Storyline

Haibane Renmei starts out great, peaks in the 4-8 episode span and then seems to slow down the pacing a bit. The reason being that it trades themes and symbolism for more literal storytelling, which was well placed and still fine in my opinion, but unexpected.

The worldbuilding was splendid, and was mixed in incredibly well with the mystery that slowly unfolded itself as the show progressed. The thing with these incredibly well-told shows is that when they combine multiple genres, you need to remember that they combine multiple genres. The mystery aspect of Haibane Renmei becomes so big in the middle of the show that I almost forgot I was watching a slice of life, and that the show couldn’t keep pumping out these big and complex questions. But they pulled it off. The mystery faded out a bit to make way for closing out the story in a beautiful and captivating manner. All the time spent on Reki, which was more and more towards the ending of the show, actually lead up to something that enriched the story and not only gave insight to Reki as a person, but also helped to put some closure to the overarching theme of identity and how we perceive ourselves makes for how we perceive others.

The show also hints at many things, but is lacking on other domains. One episode hints at the toga’s origin for example, and the way it is told is mysterious and without defining answer. It is an ambiguous answer fitting of the feeling that Haibane Renmei emits, and in other episodes they go out of their way to add worldbuilding details that serve no purpose or get left in the middle.  The former sets up for some greater addition to the religious aspect Haibane Renmei showcases, but the latter isa weak storytelling aspect as it creates unnecessary mystery when a simple explanation would have sufficed. On the other hand, the show also has this great unsolvable mysterious touch to it that doesn’t go at the cost of the story. The wall – what is it exactly and how does it work? The outside – what really exists out there? Is it the earth as we now it or is Glie actually as described in a book named “The beginning of the world” Rakka had interest in? The Toga who do not speak – do they not speak as a part of their punishment or out of fear someone might recognize them? Or are they actually people from behind the wall in the end?

Some of these get answered and some of them stay shrouded in mystery, yet the show gives out enough information for some of the mysteries to be answered by the viewer themselves, depending on their investment and the way they look at the show.I need to change my opinion of what the mystery genre should accomplish a bit. A mystery show shouldn’t give an answer to everything, it should keep the bigger mystery intact. A mystery show should however give you the pieces of the puzzle, and let you figure out how they fit together. And Haibane Renmei did exactly that.

And despite the different topics, themes and focus on characters, the story ties together in the end. Haibane are born pure and clean, almost as if they were here to experience the happiness they lacked in the life before this one, as if they have been given a second chance at living a fulfilling life. They have everything their heart desires – family, friends, support, interaction and a place in society – yet they also miss the most important aspect, freedom. Which is where their departure kicks in. The town of Glie is a cocoon in itself, where people grow out of their old lives and identities and into their new ones.

HaiRen E3 - Communicator en Toga

Characters

There isn’t too much to say about the characters, which is weird since it’s a character-driven story.

The reason lies that, in the end, the characters are merely a pallet for the authors to paint the story’s messages on. I could talk about how Rakka and Reki battled their loneliness but that was merely a means to push through the question of how autonomous an identity is formed as it becomes warped when a person feels out of place. There isn’t too much to the characters. They’re rather bland, but it’s needed for the writers to showcase everything they wanted to with Haibane Renmei.

However in the end, the characters do stand alone.  You could still feel sympathy for them, or hold high hopes for a happy outcome. They’re bland, but not badly designed.

HaiRen E10 - Inside the wall

Art, Animation & Sound

Originally I thought that Haibane Renmei simply looked old, and that several things, like character design, could be attributed to that. But Studio Tullip has shown that they can create beautiful images, and there have been shows that came out around the same period Haibane Renmei did and look and are animated much, much better. As intelligent as Studio Tullip was with creating the atmosphere through colors, both the art-style and animation are sloppy, not to say plain out awful.

But, I’m impressed with how they handled color compositions. Haibane Renmei is easily cut up in two color pallets (light and dark), but they aren’t what you’d think on first sight. With light, we refer to both grim and happy scenes where it’s easy to distinguish the background. The dark color pallet comes into play whenever the show is trying to tell you the characters have touched upon a roadblock on the way to their Day of Flight, and is accompanied by black spaces trying to eat up as much of the background as possible.

The inside of the wall wasn’t unfortunately dark, the water was bright as day. But the ground on both sides was dark, which is a key element to the mystery aspect Haibane Renmei uses. In episode one, when Rakka talks with Reki about not remembering her dream, this is used splendidly. This is the moment where everything is fine still, this is the moment where Reki hears that Rakka doesn’t remember her dream. Aside from smart foreshadowing, this is the type of intelligent use of colors that differentiate a safe walk through the woods and a confused, chaotic and scary one.

Sound director Motoyama Satoshi (who also worked on Shinsekai Yori and Bartender) did an amazing job. The melodramatic music which embodies the tragedy and depressing reality our two main characters face, but also succeeds in creating that one spark of hope that might set ablaze a fire symbolizing the hope and salvation they so much desire. On top of that, the opening and ending differ so much they might be opposites, but they also play off of each others strengths. The opening is still dramatic but is more upbeat, and hopeful than the rather depressing ending. The show leads you in with hope, and leads you out with a feeling of loneliness and sadness where one should struggle himself out of.

I wouldn’t go as far to say that I’m running the soundtrack solo in the background, because it is very emotionally heavy and sad music, but it was the perfect fit for Haibane Renmei and it added to the experience. Rarely does one find music that fits the atmosphere of a show so well.

 

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