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.
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.