To Be Dead While Alive, to Have No Mouth Yet Must Scream: Hyouka 5

Hyouka follows Oreki Houtarou as he enters high school wishing to expend as little energy as possible despite his intelligence and deductive capacity. Of course if he were successful, we wouldn’t have much of a story; so we follow along as curiosity incarnate Chitanda Eru enlists his aid in helping her remember why an old story from her uncle left her in tears. To solve this becomes one the Classics Club’s raisons d’être, as we have Fukube Satoshi and Ibara Mayaka round out their quartet.

The answer lies in the name of the club’s anthology itself, the Hyouka, and why asking her uncle what the name meant left Chitanda in tears.

In Shouwa 42 (1967) Chitanda’s uncle, Sekitani Jun, became the leader of a student movement to preserve the privilege of their extended cultural fair. The movement was successful to a degree and Sekitani was lauded for his efforts, but he himself was expelled a few months later for reasons that were lost to the modern club members. It’s these reasons, Chitanda feels, that were the catalyst for her tears that she doesn’t quite remember.

What happened was that Sekitani was made the leader of this student movement against his wishes, drawing the shortest straw. It was an unknown student that organized the demonstrations, while Sekitani was made the figurehead. This meant that as the demonstrations became more violent, and one of the school buildings got torched, Sekitani received all the punishment for it. He received the punishment for a position that he did not desire, nor did he earn, and he communicated his anger the only way he knew how: through the name of his club’s anthology. Hyouka.

But how does this leave a Japanese toddler in tears? Let’s try to paint a picture:

The story takes place 109 years after the complete destruction of human civilization. The Cold War had escalated into a world war, fought mainly between China, Russia, and the United States. As the war progressed, the three warring nations each created a super-computer capable of running the war more efficiently than humans. The machines are each referred to as “AM,” which originally stood for “Allied Mastercomputer,” and then was later called “Adaptive Manipulator.” Finally, “AM” stands for “Aggressive Menace.” One day, one of the three computers becomes self aware, and promptly absorbs the other two, thus taking control of the entire war. It carries out campaigns of mass genocide, killing off all but four men and one woman.

That is the premise for the post-apocalyptic sci-fi short story by Harlan Ellison named “I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream”. It follows the five remaining humans on earth as they try to escape and outwit a computer hellbent on torturing them, and to rid themselves of an immortality that was bestowed upon them without their consent. After all, without the release of death, torture can last for an eternity.

At one point, the protagonists found themselves separated from the gaze of their sadistic master, so they sought to capitalize on it:

Ted decides that instead of trying to each kill themselves, they should kill each other. Ted seizes a stalagmite made of ice, and proceeds to murder Benny and Gorrister. Ellen sees what is happening, and murders Nimdok, before being herself killed by Ted. However, before Ted can kill himself, AM realizes its mistake and stops him. AM is now even more angry and vengeful than before, with only one victim left for its hatred. To ensure that nothing can ever happen to Ted, AM transforms him into an enormous gelatinous blob who cannot possibly hurt himself, and constantly alters his perception of time to deepen his anguish. Ted is, however, grateful that he was able to save the others from this same experience. Ted’s closing thoughts reflect a need to scream out of the horror and pain which are compounded with the reality that he has no mouth to do so, hence the title.

In becoming the “Kind Hero” of their high school’s lore, Sekitani was bestowed with an immortality that he did not wish for and lived with a punishment that tortured him until his disappearance in India. In carrying the half-hearted thanks and praise of a student body that used and disposed of him, he nurtured a growing bitterness and resentment. This coalesced into a grudge that he could never express; except for the one way he knew how.


“Ice cream.”

“I scream.”

Sekitani Jun told his niece that she must be strong at all costs because there may come a time when she must scream, but have no mouth. She’ll wish to cry out, but can not. She will be alive, but dead.

Hearing that, she cried. I probably would have too.

Is this a tenuous connection? I don’t think so. If it were, it’d be an awfully big coincidence to set the year of the student demonstrations during the same year that this short story was published.



Filed under Editorials, Hyouka

21 responses to “To Be Dead While Alive, to Have No Mouth Yet Must Scream: Hyouka 5

  1. theskylion

    I’ve read a few other blogs about this episode. It rather strikes me as odd that many find the pun/revelation to be anti-climatic. Isn’t it supposed to be? Hyou-ka resides in the real world. As real as anime can get. Doesn’t this mean that we can eject many of the expectations and tropes associated with other popular anime. Our cast doesn’t have to be genre savvy. They just have to be themselves. One of the things I am enjoying about this show; depth of character.

    I was chilled by the revelation (Yes, lame pun). All of us should be.

    • You know, I think that part of the problem is that this show is a bit too subtle for its own good. The moment I heard several of the characters speaking in very specific language, I knew immediately the sentiment that Sekitani Jun was aiming for.

      I never saw the “dumb” pun, because I was too busy being horrified by my memory of the premise of the short story that it was alluding too. Sekitani felt absolutely helpless and awful about his situation, and I sympathized with him throughout. But the fact that the nuance of the notion was lost on much of the audience leads me to believe that Hyouka failed to a minor degree.

      I am quite taken with the show and enjoy the characters and story, but one of the advantages that anime has over other mediums is its near-infinite expressiveness. It can reach emotional heights like no other visual medium at times I feel, but sometimes that means that an audience that is accustomed to that will miss subtlety and nuance.

      But hey, as long you, I, and many others step up to catch what others may miss, then I think it’s all good.

      (also, apologies for the late reply. I was working extra hours this week and did some traveling over the weekend)

  2. Quite the interesting tidbit there. I wasn’t disappointed by the lame pun being the “answer,” but I can’t say I was particularly impressed either, and this post makes me appreciate a bit more. It’s rather obvious that this was a purposeful reference (even if it were just a coincidence, it wouldn’t take away anything from the connection), and it’s a nice touch the author put into this story. Attention to detail! That’s what Hyouka has been about and what Kyoto Animation is so damn good at.

    • theskylion

      Reference are tricky things. Taken out of context, they can become utter nonsense. In the case of “hyouka” it’s entirely self-referential. It will matter to only the smallest handful of folks…and only if they choose to remember and pass the right information along. The answer wasn’t the pun. The answer was how both Chitanda and Oreki felt at the end.

      Or, as I was watching House MD last week, “Sometimes the answer, sucks”

    • @lvlln

      Definitely, if there’s one thing that Hyouka excels at, it’s the details.

      I didn’t focus on the quality of the pun per se, because honestly I was too wrapped up in the angst of the sentiment itself. I knew immediately where the inspiration came from, so the narrative weight from my perspective wasn’t focused on the reveal of the pun itself, but rather the dawning of the realization of her uncle’s grief on Chitanda’s face. The horror of the imagery from her childhood contacting with the understanding of a man close to her mired in sadness expressed themselves in a clear, and almost dignified, torrent of tears.

      I thought it was a fantastic scene, and KyoAni’s handling of it was remarkable.

  3. Zammael

    I originally had misgivings with the show, back in episodes 1 and 2, given its apparent intent in following classics like Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya, The last two episodes have swept my misgivings away, and I appreciate it much more.

    I’ve not read that story by Ellison, but it would fit nicely among the “Last Man on Earth” classics of scifi. Thank you for this blog.

    • I never disliked the show, but I was perhaps a bit cool to it with my appreciation for it lying in the purely technical: art, animation, music, design. But this particular episode did wonders to engage me in warmer ways. The emotion that spilled forth in the reveal scene was of a caliber that is above the average, and for it I resonated with the characters in this world ever stronger.

      And thank you for visiting. It really does mean a lot to me when I can string together a few words that connects over the cold, digital expanse. And please forgive the lateness of this reply.

  4. Intense episode! I really didn’t know what to think or say about the reveal of “Hyouka” as a pun because yeah it was a bit over my head, but I sort of get it anyway I am glad that mystery is wrapped up for now; however I bet we have not seen the last of it! Maybe…so what now? Random filler adventures and side mysteries? I guess it works.

    My response to this episode! <3

    • Yeah a couple of stand-alone mysteries for a few episodes definitely seems like the way to go. They could always go back to Chitanda’s uncle, because remember they never said he died, only that he went missing in India. Also they could try to find out who was the one who set up the protests in the past that got her uncle in trouble to begin with.

      Lots of ways they could go with this yet!

  5. Peter S

    Thanks. Your post clarified a few things in that episode and helped me realize the extent to which Jun felt victimized. This was an excellent episode. But I can’t buy the Ellison connection. How did Jun know about it? When was it translated? Or did Jun read it in English? Too many assumptions.

    I’m beginning to think Hyouka is the best show of the Spring season. That, and Polar Bear Cafe. Just kidding.

    • I’m a fan of Polar Bear Cafe myself, it’s the perfect sort of show to kick back and relax to, turn off the mental faculties and enjoy cute animals being cute.

      I think I should clarify something though. I didn’t mean to imply that Jun himself was referencing Ellison in story when relating his frustrations to his niece, but rather this was Hyouka’s author’s way of conveying to the audience the magnitude of Sekitani’s grief.

      The link to Ellison wasn’t an element of the story’s plot proper, but rather an element of the storytelling that surrounded it. I probably could have worded that a bit better in the post itself though.

      Thank you for stopping by and commenting! I definitely appreciate it, and I’m sorry it took me a few days to respond.

  6. I did not know that hyouka means ice cream. I thought aisukuri-mu/aisu means ice cream.

    • You’re right that aisukuri-mu/aisu means ice cream, and the majority of Japanese speakers use that term, but Hyouka ALSO means “ice snacks” in a literal sense.

      8thsin mentioned here what the term meant, and I can’t help but wonder if it’s just a more old-fashioned way of saying ice cream. Which would make sense since the time when Sekitani Jun settled on the name was over forty years ago…

  7. Thanks for explaining the reference, that is enormously helpful.

    On an unrelated note, does anyone else find the ED creepy as fuck? Panning lovingly over 15 year old girls’ partially covered bodies is not the way to make me want to keep watching a show.

    Actually, eps 1-3 did not much at all to make me want to keep watching. Cardboard cut-out characters solving bland school mysteries. Hopefully these recent developments will continue the upswing the show has been on. I still think Kyoto Animation should stop making goddamn school dramas though.

    • Absolutely. The ending animation is a clear misstep and doesn’t serve the show in any positive fashion. When my partner and I first saw the ending in the second episode we were a bit dumbstruck at how out of place it was. There’s nothing in the show proper to signify any kind of ecchi sensibility, which I think is at the root of the dissonance we feel.

      As for the mysteries themselves, to be honest I did quite like the characters. It’ll be a bit strange to say this, but Chitanda herself drew my attention the most of the initial three. She’s hopelessly awkward in how she interacts with others (and the latest episode reinforces that in which she basically asks Houtarou to explain to her why she got angry, of all things), but there’s a particular approach to life and knowledge that she has that I really appreciate. The line that got me completely was a response to the assertions of her intelligence:

      I’m not interested in what I know, only in what I don’t know.

      This week’s episode had her discussing the merits and positive connotations of the Mortal Sins, and it confirmed my suspicions that she’s an amateur philosopher. I love her for that fact alone.

      As for the mysteries themselves? I’ll confess that they didn’t engage me in the sense that a narrative’s plot should traditionally, but in juxtaposing the relatively simple and mundane “mysteries” with the relatively involved and complex thought processes that solved them, we saw a neat display of the mechanics of detective genre fiction. The mysteries themselves weren’t meant to be the main attraction or draw, but rather the process through which they were solved. It leans on the audience’s suspension of disbelief, and I think honestly that’s the real issue that a lot of people have. My theory is that this all is leading up to something. We are now meant to be primed to accept that the characters here are capable and have the faculties to solve whatever comes up, but soon we’ll see mysteries worthy of the caliber of the minds gathered here.

      That is, assuming that the storytellers can continue to improve on their storytelling situation. There is every possibility that they’ll screw it up and the show could languish as a result. We’ll see!

      Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate any and all thoughts lobbed my way. I don’t write too often, but occasionally I throw a few words together because I feel they need to be said. I saw something in Hyouka that nobody else was discussing, and I felt that the show deserved a bit of advocacy. Thank you.

      • This week’s episode had her discussing the merits and positive connotations of the Mortal Sins, and it confirmed my suspicions that she’s an amateur philosopher. I love her for that fact alone.

        I haven’t seen the episode yet, so I can’t comment much on that. I will; however, say that while I love philosophy; with the exceptions of Kierkegaard and Nietzsche, I’m not a huge fan of continental philosophy. If I see her with a book of Hume or Nietzsche at any point, though, I may start to feel the same way <_<.

        The mysteries themselves weren’t meant to be the main attraction or draw, but rather the process through which they were solved.

        True enough, I still feel they spent needlessly long on mundanities though. Truth be told, I think what really bothers me is that it all just feels so safe. I find Kyoto Animation’s total lack of thematic ambition a bit tiresome. A story about two girls and two guys in high school solving mysteries with a romantic undercurrent. They say stick to what you know, but KyoAni seems stuck, nailed and riveted to what they know. It would be ok if that was just their thing, and no-one else really did it, but isn’t there enough cute high school anime out there already?

        Don’t get me wrong, Hyouka is leaps and bounds better than K-On! and Nichijou, and they get plenty right – animation, some clever deduction, attention to detail etc. – but it still hasn’t engaged me on close to the level Haruhi or Clannad did in the first few episodes.

        Thank you for taking the time to comment! I appreciate any and all thoughts lobbed my way. I don’t write too often, but occasionally I throw a few words together because I feel they need to be said. I saw something in Hyouka that nobody else was discussing, and I felt that the show deserved a bit of advocacy. Thank you.

        Thank you for the interesting, if a little disturbing, read. I can’t remember if I ever thanked you guys properly for your wonderful Penguindrum colloquia, so I’ll do so now. They were amazing. Whenever I recommend Penguindrum to someone I always cite this blog and 8th Sin’s as required episodic reading.

  8. rou

    I am just a random person from the net and this may be horribly late, but i feel i must say this. I hope you see this eventually as well.

    After reading “She’ll wish to cry out, but can not. She will be alive, but dead.” and after taking into account the short story that was mentioned along with how tortured Sekitani Jun must have felt, i think the author meant to allude to one more thing. Its an allusion to the actual death of a student protester in 1967, during the actual student movement in japan, who’s death was marked as the date for a Tokyo protest the year after in 1968. His name name was Yamazaki Hiroaki and he died during the violent protest to stop Prime Minister Sato Eisaku from taking off at Haneda Airport to visit Saigon during the Vietnam war. From then on at least part of the student movement projected onto Yamazaki and made him into a martyr, projecting their frustrations with the war and cries for campus reforms onto his story.

    The student movement couldn’t gain much favor with the common populace and so their voice was lost. In the end the student movement failed. The students as a whole felt bitter, abandoned, and oppressed. They wanted to cry out but could not and although they were alive they were dead. That all got projected onto Yamazaki Hiroaki.

    Because of all of this i think Sekitani Jun’s story is a clever metaphor, for the Student movement in japan, that cleverly used the context of a student protest itself as well as being an allusion to the death of Yamazaki Hiroaki.

    Like Fukube i did some research into the topic.

    I also apologize if i have broken any rules of posting or if this comment is very very late. I just had to post because this was just much too interesting.

    • rou

      Also, In Sekitani Jun’s story, an incident occurred in June and he had to leave school in October. In actual history a female student named Kanba Michiko died in a clash between police and activists on June 15, 1960,(many protests also happened in June 1967 as well) and Yamazaki Hiroaki died during the Haneda airport protest on October 8, 1967…

      I think this is way too spot on to be a coincidence and i also think the author purposefully meant to allude to this.

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