Notes on Hyouka as an Exploration of Detective Fiction: A Database Post

“So…just what exactly is this show trying to do again?”

Hyouka is not concerned as much about solving its own mysteries, or presenting said mysteries to the audience, as much as it wants to explore the genres of mystery and detective fiction and what makes them so well-loved. As it grows and develops its characters, nurturing their love of mystery, it too pushes us, the viewers, along a similar path.

Acting as detectives for a moment, let’s delve a bit deeper into this theory.

I’ve gathered you here today…

Notes on the Characters as Stand-ins For Detective Fiction Archetypes:

Alluded to elsewhere, Hyouka first and foremost establishes its characters as detective fiction archetypes, rather than stand-alone characters. There are not-so-subtle hints in the first three episodes: one character’s catchphrase is, “I’m curious!” while another character flat-out states, “I am the database.” This comes to a wonderful reveal in the fourth episode when the four main characters set about solving their first mystery together. They meet, each presenting their theories. In turn, these theories encapsulate each of their roles, and which archetype, or piece of detective fiction, they represent within the series. Their individual reactions to the theories of their compatriots also further define their roles.

The first to present a theory is Eru Chitanda, who is pure, undiluted curiosity. Representing only the desire to learn what happened, her theory is very simple and easily disregarded by her counterparts. It’s also worth noting that hers is a very emotional theory, tied up in the fact that she represents the emotional investment, curiosity, of the detective. She presents the easiest outcome for herself to accept because she is emotionally invested; the mystery involves her uncle.

Next is Mayaka Ibara, who represents the audience viewpoint, or the ordinary counterpart to the extraordinary detective; Dr. John H Watson to Sherlock Holmes. Ibara is crucial because she’s intelligent, but not as intelligent as others: as a librarian she can gather information, but may not be able to piece it together. However, being the most ordinary of the group, she will also occasionally see things that the others, bound by their respective viewpoints, are unable to see. Ibara’s theory is limited by the amount of material she researches, and her own inability to correctly deduce what happened. Occasionally, she may have a breakthrough, as she is not unintelligent, but for the most part her theories, like the one she presents in Episode Four, will fall short.

Third to share their theory is Satoshi Fukube, the self-described database. What he offers is research and facts with little to no deduction or conclusion as to how they relate to each other. Fukube is far better at supporting or refuting others’ theories than presenting his own. This is due to the strengths and weaknesses of his position: excellent memory and a wealth of knowledge, with less of an ability to deduce an outcome than all of the other participants, respectively.

Lastly, there is Houtarou Oreki, the deductive reasoning component. Oreki is portrayed as the most exemplary of the four main cast members, and with good reason. In addition to being the primary lead, he also represents the key piece of what makes the detective: deduction. One is far more likely to come across a Chitanda, an Ibara, or a Fukube, than one is to happen upon a person with extraordinary deductive prowess like Houtarou.

That being said, Oreki too has an obvious blind spot: the information that he is provided with, along with his own ability to keep track of it. Deductive reasoning relies on given statements that are to be taken as valid. If the statements are invalid then, presumably, Oreki would rule them out through his thinking process. However, if he is presented with an untrue statement or, as the series presents in Episode 10, neglects to keep track of all of the facts, it renders his conclusions unsound. In addition to this, he doesn’t naturally consider the emotions of the participants involved without someone like Chitanda to remind him. In this way, Hyouka suggests that all pieces are necessary to solve a mystery.

Together, Chitanda, Fukube, and Oreki make up the necessary components of the detective, with Ibara as our personal stand-in to the proceedings.

The detailed notes of a would-be mystery writer.

Notes on Knox’s 10 Commandments and Hyouka:

Episode Eight of Hyouka introduces Ronald Knox’s 10 Commandments as a guideline for writing detective fiction. They are as follows:

1. The culprit must be introduced early on in the narrative, but must not be anyone whose thoughts the reader is privy to.

2. All supernatural instances must be ruled out.

3. No more than one secret room or passageway is allowed.

4. No previously undiscovered poisons or scientific developments that would take a large amount of time to explain.

5. No Chinamen.

6. No accidents can aid in the solving of the story; neither can a sudden intuition.

7. The detective themselves must not be the culprit.

8. The detective must declare any/all clues that they discover.

9. The sidekick of the detective must not conceal their thoughts. They also must be slightly below the intelligence of the average reader.

10. No twins, unless the story has sufficiently made a case for their existence.

All of these are fairly self-explanatory (with the exception of Five, which is an archaic, and incredibly racist, character archetype). These rules are introduced as guidelines for a fictional script within the series. However, if one chooses to apply them to the series, one discovers that the mysteries presented within also follow these rules.

“Everyone was way too picky about little details. Something about how mystery works or something.
Drama is way more important than that stuff.”

Notes On Why We Love Mysteries:

In Episodes Nine through 11, the Hyouka team is called upon to complete an unfinished mystery movie script for another class’s cultural festival project. Mirroring Episode Four, three students from Class 2-F present their theories as to what the original scriptwriter, a meek girl named Hongou, would have wanted. Previously, Hyouka had addressed the key components of detective fiction. In these episodes, the series chooses to explore why an audience is drawn to such stories.

Leading off, Junya Nakajou presents his theory; the most bare-bones, direct, and simple solution of the group. Nakajou could care less about the details in the script, camera work, or acting. As he states above, he represents the mystery-reading population that loves it for the high tension and drama. In Nakajou’s ending, the most important thing would be a tearful confession scene as the culprit is cornered and forced to admit his crime. His actual resolution, a locked-room mystery where the culprit entered and exited through the window, is the least complex to think up. When questioned by Ibara, Nakajou presumes that Hongou was unable to write a more complicated trick. The truth in this statement is that Nakajou himself cannot think of a more complex resolution. He is only focusing on the drama and desiring the ending that will least tax his, and the audience’s, mind.

The props master, Tomohiro Haba, is the next to present, giving a more complex but concise answer than his brutish predecessor. From the moment he enters the room, Haba goes out of his way to establish himself as intellectually superior to Hongou, and the main Hyouka cast that he is presenting his theory to. As props master, Haba is privy to details that his classmates, like Nakajou, may not have known. He uses these, along with a fully-prepared floor map, as part of his presentation. Patronizing Hongou, he says that she could only manage reading the amateurish, entry-level mysteries of Sherlock Holmes. In spite of offering a more complex resolution than Nakajou, Haba makes it known that he believes that his version of what Hongou would have wanted is simplistic and easily solved. Haba represents the audience that wants to feel intellectually superior through reading mystery novels.

Misaki Sawaguchi, the publicity manager, is the last to offer a theory. Her personality is jubilant and bubbly, reflecting her role of spreading the word about the movie. Sawaguchi equates mystery with horror, representing one with little to no knowledge of the literary tradition of the mystery genre. Opting for the lowest-common denominator, she is the opposite of Haba, the would-be intellectual. The resolution she presents is one that she herself admits is lame, but has the most shock value, especially since it is the most gory of the three. Her concerns are more over the promotion of the movie and entertaining an audience. Sawaguchi represents the majority, who are only tangentially familiar with the mystery genre, and want only to be entertained through shock value.

Different though their theories may be, the three would-be detectives of Class 2-F have one major thing in common with each other: the ability to gloss over those details that weaken or outright refute their theories. Nakajou ignores a detail involving tracks made in the tall grass, saying that Hougou must have forgotten, since she visited earlier in Spring when there would have been short grass, making an escape route less detectable. He again, unknowingly, is bringing Hongou’s thought process to his own level. Haba ignores the amount of blood that Hongou requested be used as a prop. Like Nakajou, he presumes Hongou’s meaning although, instead of equating his own thoughts with Hongou’s as Nakajou did, Haba presumes his assumptions to be correct. He overrides Hongou’s decision, saying that she outright requested the wrong amount, making a mistake. Lastly, Sawaguchi ignores any and all details that conflict with her own version of the ending. Of the three, she makes it the least about what Hongou would have wanted, and more about what she presumes her audience to want from the story. She also goes as far as to suggest a ghostly culprit, directly contradicting Knox’s 10 Commandments which had previously been established, along with Sherlock Holmes, as the guidelines for Hongou’s script.

“What do you think? A bit lame, right? But I think everyone would accept that theory, right?”

The reasons why the main Hyouka cast are drawn to mystery are also brought to light, furthering their characterization both as archetypes and as characters in their own right. Chitanda is drawn to the motivation of the scriptwriter, not caring as much about the story itself, but the emotions of the person behind the story. Fukube is drawn in by the details, mirroring his role of information-provider in the solving of mysteries. Ibara is the first to tell Houtarou of a mistake he made, but is presumably still unable to solve the mystery herself.

And what of the series’s rising deductive star, Houtarou? Lacking the typical catalyst of Chitanda’s curiosity to prod him into solving the mystery, Fuyumi Irisu from Class 2-F plays to his confidence in order to manipulate him. Reiterating what his friend Fukube had said earlier that day, Irisu tells Houtarou that he is special, allowing the last key component that makes the detective fall into place: the ego. In order to go about solving mysteries, gathering clues, making deductive connections, one first must have a sense of pride and self-confidence in order to presume that they are the right person for the task. This too has a downside, as overconfidence can easily be the downfall of a detective, especially in Houtarou’s case where he is lacking in the other key components. It is this hubris that makes him grasp to validate his incorrect conclusion in Episode 11, even in the face of contradictory evidence presented by Ibara, Fukube, and Chitanda. It’s similar, but not equivalent, to how the three Class 2-F presenters each ignored important evidence in order to support their own versions of the movie ending. No one likes to be wrong, after all.

The theater inside of Houtarou’s mind, where he admits his misstep.

Now, a bit of a review to tie these somewhat loosely-related ends together. Firstly, Hyouka makes a case for what is needed to create a good mystery story and a solid detective, or detective team. Secondly, the series alludes to established rules and guidelines for writing detective fiction, from the straightforward mysteries of Sherlock Holmes, to Knox’s 10 Commandments which came out of the Golden Age of Detective Fiction. In Episode 11, the series also references Agatha Christie and use of narrative tricks, continuing its trend of slowly delving into more complexly-constructed mystery stories as it progresses its own story. As the main four learn more about mysteries, what is needed to solve them, and how to solve them, so do we the audience. Thirdly, it also offers suggestions as to why the mystery genre is so beloved, and different reasons why one would choose to read, or watch, a mystery.

As for other conclusions to draw from Hyouka, I’ve rambled along far too much as it is. I am only a database and as such, am hampered by my lack of deductive reasoning. Feel free to leave your deductions in the comments section.

Further Reading:

Topology of Imagination in Hyouka– Snippettee discusses the creative way that the series highlights the thinking process.

To Be Dead While Alive, To Have No Mouth Yet Must Scream: Hyouka 5– Vucub Caquix uncovers the pun behind the first mystery Hyouka presents.

26 Comments

Filed under Editorials, Hyouka

26 responses to “Notes on Hyouka as an Exploration of Detective Fiction: A Database Post

  1. Really interesting read! I dropped Hyouka a while back mainly because the characters felt shoehorned so thoroughly into specific archetypes/plot roles, but the stories probably become more interesting if you look at it as a meta analysis of the mystery genre, rather than a mystery series. I may have to pick the show back up once I have the time, just to look at it from a writer’s perspective.

    • Thank you!

      Yes, for anyone interested in mystery story construction or mechanics, Hyouka is certainly a worthwhile case study. I obviously recommend it! ^ ^

      One thing that I only touched upon in this article was also how the characters are slowly beginning to influence each other, occasionally taking steps out of their previously-defined roles within the series. Satoshi Fukube, especially, will be one to watch out for, and I think it’s these character moments that may propel the series from good to great by the end of its run.

  2. I initially thought that Hyouka was very tame and ‘family-friendly’, but it does have firm story threads and arcs that have defined beginnings, middles and ends so it certainly isn’t one of those slice-of-life 4-koma sketch type shows. Yes, it’s fluffy and harmless but it is a bona fide mystery series too, and I’m grateful for it. The mysteries are still tame (such as the murder-mystery being a fictional one rather than being real in the context of the show’s setting so no characters actually die) but the rules and everything else still apply.

    I’m grateful that you went out of your way to list it all here, such as Knox’s ten ‘commandments’ – this is truly in the mystery tradition, but it’s interestingly portrayed through the lens of twenty-first century otaku fandom. Maybe this is more marketable than a ‘proper’ mystery show like another Natsuhiko Kyougoku adaptation, perhaps? It’s still fun to watch and think about though, even in a more limited way.

    Whenever I talk about Hyouka it sounds like I’m being critical of it, but I’m honestly really enjoying it. Another Mouryou no Hako would be wonderful to see, but when the general concept is handled in a ‘high school anime’ style it’s lighter and less demanding.

    You’re also dead-on about the characters, which is the other aspect I really appreciate about Hyouka. As you say, their traits won’t solve much on their own but the can achieve a lot when working together because their strengths compliment each other and make up for their respective weaknesses. When I’m not enjoying it as a mystery show I’m enjoying it as a character-driven story about friendship. I’m looking forward to Eru and the others bringing Houtarou further out of his shell of laziness!

    • It’s interesting that you mention that whenever you speak of Hyouka it sounds like you’re being critical of it, but instead you are enjoying it. My championing of this series is much along those lines. I rarely come away with a visceral, emotional reaction to the series; instead, the things that the series addresses slowly boil in my mind until I can separate them and take the time to think about what the series is trying to say. It’s a pleasant slow burn as opposed to immediately lighting the world on fire that’s refreshing and enjoyable.

      I’m unfortunately at a loss to comment on Natsuhiko Kyougoku, as I have not read any of his work, nor have I seen Mouryou no Hako, although I’ve now added it to my watch list. I’ll agree, echoing my first part of this response and your comment, that Hyouka is more than likely more marketable, especially based on the character designs that they chose to use (although I know another argument has been posed that these more moé character designs allow for more facial expression as well). Another reason for the high-school setting could be that it’s a very familiar one to nearly every viewer, so it makes the series far more accessible. The rumor is that the series is following the source material fairly closely.

      Agreed that it’s the characters that make the show. I’m especially interested in Satoshi after these most recent episodes. Thank you so much for the comment!

  3. This was a great post. Thanks for doing this AJ. Seeing as how in engineering school, we don’t do much with literature, I had to look up a lot of your references. My mind is kinda scattered, so I’m just going to put some random things out here:

    So with this last arc, would you consider Fuyumi to be a villain? The way she “manipulated” the situation would almost make it so.

    I found the “10 Commandments” interesting. Also, there a second referenced list”Van Dine’s Commandments” that added additional detail. The one that caught my eye was there could “be no love interest”. As much as we thing Eru and Houtarou could make a couple, if they stay true to being a detective story, this could never be.

    “No lesser crime than murder will suffice”. If murder is a key element of any mystery, you almost have to think at some point, an event off campus will be the hilight of the series.

    I think the naming of the club is perfect for this show. Since it is built on the premises of classic detective and mystery literature, “classics Club” is almost too obvious.

    • No problem! I love gathering information.

      In the last arc, I would consider Irisu to be somewhat of a villain, but not a very competent one. It was made known by the end that she was not the one pulling the strings, and I would say that she’s intelligent, morally ambiguous, and easily impressionable; therefore easily manipulated under the right circumstances. The person to watch out for as a villain, or at the very least more of a mastermind, will be Houtarou’s older sister. It is she who sent the first letter, setting up the formation of the Classics Club and their solving of the mystery of Chitanda’s uncle. Furthermore, she’s now been revealed to be behind their most recent mystery of the cultural festival movie. I look forward to the series revealing just exactly what it is that she’s up to, i.e. her motives for her manipulating her brother and the other characters within the series. Honestly, what I presume to be true about Houtarou’s sister could be an entire post in and of itself, so I’ll just stop here.

      It will be interesting to see if the series does actually include a murder. I’m uncertain as to whether it’s willing to be that dark, and honestly know nothing of the source material as I’d rather not be spoiled, especially with Chitanda declaring that she, like Hongou, does not like it when people are killed in mysteries. In addition to this, the conflicts that the series appears to be setting up for are solely mental ones, which could be more terrifying than murders as the science-fiction reference in the first arc states.

      As for the romance. I highly doubt that there will be any established romance, only hinted-at emotions. Thanks for commenting!

  4. krizzlybear

    I’m going out on a limb here and actually pick up this show so I can make a comment. Any series that deals with the creative process automatically gets a follow from me. Thanks for the heads-up! I’ll be leaving another comment here when I get around to catching up. Shouldn’t be hard, with this limited Summer season upon us.

    • This is by far the best compliment that any advocate of a series can hear, and I should have said this to Cholisose above as well; someone being convinced to watch a series based on something that they wrote. Thank you and I hope you enjoy it. Whether you do or do not, feel free to comment!

  5. I really loved this post! You made the series justice by pointing out what we really saw. I mean, how all revolve around mystery genre, the detective types and the reasons we watch mystery. Since I’ve only been Poirot’s films fan I didn’t obsess over it and just consumed the episodes for enjoyment. But your analysis makes the series richer and more meaningful :)

    • Thank you! I’m certainly happy with the positive response that this has received, and I’m glad that you liked it.

      Agatha Christie/Hercule Poirot are actually the references that I am familiar with the least, having only recently read Murder on the Orient Express. ^ ^

      I don’t think it’s necessary to know these references to sit back and enjoy the series, but for literary-minded types (like myself, I am very much a detail-oriented database) Hyouka also has a lot to offer beneath the surface. Thanks for the comment!

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  7. Tzu

    Something you pointed out nicely is portraying the main characters as a detective “team”, while the series seems to try to place Hotarou as a detective and the rest as a support. I think the main reason Hotarou “failed” to solve the movie incident was because he was alone during his deduction, without Ibara to point the obvious fact of the rope, Eru to point out the feelings of the author and Satoshi to reveal the info on the narrative trickery.

    Also in regards to Hotarou’s sister, I can’t see her much as a villian, but more as Hotarou’s guide; like if she was training him in a way for something bigger. It’s the same with Chitanda, she is Curiosity, definitively, but also Motivation, that makes her much more relevant since it is the one trait our hero lacks. The key here is the distance in their relationship.

    • I’ll reveal my hand a bit here: I believe Houtarou’s sister to be a mastermind. Not an evil villain archetype, but a mastermind nonetheless. It was her letter that set Houtarou in motion to seek out the Classics Club. It was her timely dispensing of just enough information through a phone call to incite Houtarou, furthering his involvement with the mystery of Chitanda’s uncle. Finally, it was her who pushed Irisu to seek out Houtarou’s deductive skills and play to his ego in order to write a better ending to Class 2-F’s movie.

      I can see Houtarou’s sister continuing to be behind most of the mysteries within Hyouka until a final reveal where Houtarou discovers what she’s been up to. Again, I don’t think her intentions are bad, if anything it may be a bit like Cardcaptor Sakura where Eriol Hiiragizawa is the mastermind behind a series of trials which only serve to strengthen Sakura’s powers. Perhaps Houtarou’s sister wants him to not only recognize his own deductive skills, but learn to work in a team and get out of the ennui that he seemed to be trapped by in the first few episodes. Thanks for the comment!

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