“The suspects number over a thousand. To deduce the culprit from amongst them all isn’t humanly possible. Thus the only way to catch them is to catch them in the act. This case isn’t up Houtarou’s alley, so I’ll solve it myself.”
Let’s play a little game, shall we?
In Episode 15 of Hyouka, Satoshi Fukube takes it upon himself to solve the mystery of the disappearing objects at the Kanya Festival. The culprit has expressly chosen the method of the killer in Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders to steal the items. What this means for Hyouka‘s intrepid foursome is that a large amount of information is provided ahead of the fact. They know where the coming theft will occur and to whom. Immediately, when the Classics Club members begin to gather information, the series shows the audience Satoshi’s agitation. One can feel it in that moment, and it begins to permeate the intensity of his actions throughout the rest of the episode, culminating in his quick moonlight monologue quoted above. This time, Satoshi wants to be the one to solve the mystery, instead of his deductively-inclined best friend, Houtarou Oreki. More importantly, this time, Satoshi feels as if it is he, the database element, who is more qualified to solve the mystery.
Here is where our game begins. You see, I too am a database, sometimes yearning to make a leap forward and grasp at accomplishments that seem just out of my reach. I am now going to predict, based on my knowledge of The A.B.C. Murders, who the culprit is. Glory, what little of it there is in our corner of the internet, awaits me if I am correct. The agony of defeat and your, dear reading audience, ire awaits me if I fail.
Following Knox’s Ten Commandments, which were mentioned in a previous post on Hyouka and detective fiction as a whole, from the Golden Age of Detective Fiction that Christie was a part of, the culprit must be someone who has already been introduced early in the story. The audience may not be privy to their thoughts, and they must not be the detective themselves.
The easiest target is the girl immediately shown above. She was the first person to mention an item gone missing to Chitanda, along with providing the flyer which, unknowingly at that time, gave the audience a large piece in figuring out the mystery. I wouldn’t rule her out completely; however, I believe that her appearance, more specifically her name which mirrors the pen name of our culprit, is more of a red herring than anything else. In addition to this, she isn’t much of a presence in the arc as a whole as her scene is brief and she has not been mentioned again. In The A.B.C. Murders, the culprit is someone far more close at hand, whose presence is felt much more strongly. It is also a person in a position of some importance who, as Christie’s detective Hercule Poirot describes in his final reveal, is a handsome, cunning, and sane man, attempting to pass off the murders as done by a maniacal serial killer. Thus I give you your culprit…
…Or possible culprits. I lean towards naming Jirou Tanabe, the young man on the left with the yellow flier in hand, as the mastermind behind the Juumoji thefts. Introduced in the first episode of this arc, Episode 12, Tanabe is the Executive Committee President of the Kanya Festival. When Chitanda goes to him to ask for a favor, he comes off as intelligent, self-assured, and most importantly, intrigued by the Classics Club. One could also presume, from Satoshi’s commentary on convincing the committee to list the Classics Club last in the flyer, (which not-so-coincidentally was left by Juumoji at the Fortune Telling Society, as mentioned above) that Tanabe is well-aware of the Classics Club’s existence, along with their recent exploits.
The most important piece of information in solving the A.B.C. Murders was not the information itself, or the order it was presented in, but the order of importance given to each murder. One could assume that the same applies to the Classics Club’s Juumoji case: the most important thing is the thief’s true target, which is presumably the Classics Club itself. In Christie’s story, murders A, B, and E occur to cover up the murder of C. Thus, figuring out the culprit’s true motive behind targeting the Classics Club becomes crucial. It is here where I have to make a haphazard guess at Tanabe, in spite of not knowing his motive, simply based on what I know of his personality from this arc and using the framework of The A.B.C. Murders as reference.
In which Satoshi’s facts are sound but his deductive reasoning is faulty.
In one way, Satoshi is absolutely correct. He has the ability to compile information the fastest. Seeing as this is a mystery that gives its would-be detective a myriad of facts, Satoshi is the one who can arrange them most quickly. He is also correct when he says that it’s not Houtarou’s type of mystery. However, the conclusion he draws, that they must catch the culprit in the act, is faulty. Satoshi is thinking too linearly, as one who is more factually-oriented would tend to do. The information has been presented in a logical order, he is thinking in this order, and is therefore restricted by his thought process. As mentioned above, the most important thing in this case is the motive, which Satoshi is not focusing on at all. In addition to this, as a self-proclaimed Sherlock Holmes fan, although we know that he is aware of the existence of narrative tricks and when they began to occur in detective fiction, he seemingly does not expect one himself. The one most familiar with the A.B.C. Murders is Mayaka Ibara, who has been immersed in her own conflict with fellow members of the Manga Society.
Why didn’t they pay attention to Chitanda?
Throughout the Juumoji Arc, the series has been quick to point out how Houtarou has been paying more attention to Chitanda. In Episode 12, he immediately notices her hesitation before agreeing to negotiate with Tanabe on the Classics Club’s behalf. He is also seen peeking at her photographs in Episode 13, provides the flour to help her cooking team win in Episode 14, and most importantly, is the only one to notice that she is exhausted in Episode 15. As Houtarou has primarily been the audience’s window into Hyouka‘s world, it stands to reason that the series has been telling them to pay attention to Chitanda as well. The reasons are twofold.
Firstly, Chitanda has been acting out the role of Alexander Bonaparte Cust, the would-be fall man of The A.B.C. Murders. Arriving at nearly every venue that has been stolen from, she is paralleling the culprit’s actions unknowingly. In Hyouka‘s case, it is more a function of putting the individual pieces in a Classics Club member’s hand rather than setting Chitanda up as the thief.
Secondly, the series continues to paint a dichotomy between the audience’s, and Houtarou’s, perception of Chitanda, and her actual character. Her development is very subtle, but present within the series, and more increasingly noted on by Houtarou himself. We are told in Episode One by Satoshi that Chitanda is intelligent, in the top of their class, and also from a very wealthy family, but her actions within the series paint her charmingly bumbling around the various set pieces of the school or town. Chitanda is the curiosity aspect, the emotional heartbeat of what makes a detective. She is also shown to be cute and hapless, especially in light of Houtarou’s deductive skills, Satoshi’s exceptional memory, and Ibara’s general knowledge and research abilities.
However, Chitanda’s been present the entire time, developing right alongside the other three primary characters, her actions oh-so important and they, aside from the occasional comment from Houtarou, haven’t noticed. Furthermore, as this case relies on discovering the motives behind the thief’s actions, this case is right up Chitanda’s alley. As one learns from the Why didn’t she ask Eba? Arc, Chitanda is the team member who is most concerned with the motivations behind one’s actions. She accurately predicts that Hougou wouldn’t have wanted anyone to die in her movie, because she bothered to learn about Hongou on a more emotional level than her three compatriots. This ability makes her crucial to this current mystery. As Satoshi points out, there are well over a thousand people who could be considered as suspects. The key component in deducing who the culprit is, much like The A.B.C. Murders, will rely on their motive.
Whether it’s Satoshi, Houtarou, Ibara, or all three, they’re going to need Chitanda to solve this case.
Notes on Hyouka as an exploration of reading- Pontifus describes yet another reason why he is enamored with the series.
The Niece of Manga: Mayaka Ibara- Day provides an excellent character breakdown of our resident viewpoint: Mayaka Ibara.