Hyouka is quite popular even though its mysteries are not profound. However, the mysteries are interesting enough to at least amuse those looking for a hook, although I suspect the show's appeal is mostly due to its characters, not the mysteries themselves. Anyone who claims to like Hyouka strictly for its detective stories is likely new to mysteries in general. So besides the characters, what else is good if the mysteries themselves are mundane? Well, the animation is impeccable from a technical perspective, but even then the direction at times is straight-up terrible the way SHAFT X SHINBO stunt animation is terrible. It sometimes indulges in "creative" framing and different angles that are suppose to be interesting and unconventional. They are, in fact, unconventional in that they break old guidelines of cinematography that I suppose only purists care about these days. Hyouka features wildly framed shots for no purpose other than to be different, and angles that could not belong to any character's point of view are used frequently. (Ironically, Hyouka's own characters attack this very practice during the movie arc.)
So despite these flaws, is Hyouka good, as in Good with a capital G? Yes, it is. But is it interesting? Well, not always. Most complaints about Hyouka lament that it is boring or claim that nothing happens; the wacky camera angles that annoy me seem to bother those people a lot less. Maybe that's why Hyouka uses wacky camera angles at times: It expects viewers to find some of its content tedious, and feels a need to goose short attention spans with distractions. But if a long conversation in a cafe needs gimmicks to keep viewers engaged, them perhaps it simply runs too long.
Although I can easily see how others might think so, I don't personally find Hyouka dull. After all, I was able to marathon its earlier episodes quickly enough to catch up with the current broadcast without difficulty. So where would I retroactively rank Hyouka now among the spring 2012 shows? Pretty low, actually. I'd say after Lupin III but above Sakamichi no Apollon if I only consider the first 11 episodes of Hyouka. (I'm using the eleventh episode as the cutoff somewhat arbitrarily because the ED changes for the twelfth episode, and because 11 is around half of the show's projected
24 21-ish-episode length.) Admittedly, this low position is mostly because the show uses these early episodes mostly for development and comes across much stronger in its second cour once the character development culminates in a better understanding of the motivations and reservations driving the cast's actions. Perhaps I've been conditioned by the single-cour trend to be less patient with character development.
This is not to say that allegations Hyouka develops its characters too slowly are not justified. Yes, we discover Houtarou overlooked a serious flaw in his reasoning because his results-oriented personality prevented him from using a people-oriented approach to solving their problems, but should it take so many episodes to learn this? Maybe it's premature and improper to judge Hyouka at this point, since it seems to be building towards a final payoff, but due to the anime's reliance on external source material, there's a chance no conclusion will be rewarding enough to viewers not already enamored with the show thus far.
Perhaps I haven't been particularly forthcoming about this, but the most important aspect of a show to me often tends to be its characters, or rather, how well I like its characters. I'll forgive lousy animation, stupid plots, and poor contrivances as long as I like the characters. This is not to say either Tari Tari or Hyouka necessarily suffer from any of these flaws, but it may explain what some people consider inexplicable and inconsistent tolerances on my part when it comes to these sorts of shortcomings.
However, I did considerably like Tari Tari more than Hyouka because none of the characters in Hyouka resonated with me. I can respect that Kyoto Animation flexed its muscles a bit with Hyouka and genuinely committed itself to making a standout series over the past two cours, but all the layered depth and unspoken motivations, and developing relationships in that "SHAFT series with money" could not compete with Konatsu's dork rays, Sawa's unwitting-sex-bomb powers, and the refreshingly unstarchy comedy stylings of Wien and Taichi. Wakana deserves special mention as the sometimes emotional, sometimes dead inside, frequently mortified sweet kid cornerstone of an admittedly oftentimes conventional cast.
This is rather qualified praise for Tari Tari, and I concede Hyouka will likely be remembered better (and longer) in the years to come, but Tari Tari succeeds because it is basically is a P.A. Works layup of the sort J.C. Staff used to be able to accomplish reliably. Tari Tari is less ambitious, but it combines (harmonizes?) its different parts well (like a chorus?) with just a touch of quirkiness (and sometimes badminton) to keep things lively. It worked for me. I liked basically every character, even the foppish principal and the assortment of comically evil antagonists such as bitter Big C, the former best friend of Wakana's dead flibbertigibbet mom. I can't quite make the same claim for Hyouka. At the end of the day, I don't really care what happens to Mayaka and Satoshi, or whether Chitanda succeeds in ruining Houtarou's life.
What if it turns out I like the characters better because I like the show better, and not the other way around like I've been saying? I guess there's not really a conclusive way of knowing. I admit Hyouka's overt attempts at adding stylized animation for the sake of "look at me!" visual flair's sake annoyed me because I found it so intrusive, whereas Tari Tari is chock-full of audible cues in the form of sudden small cries and startled noises that I found endearing because I get the feeling I was not supposed to notice them. Perhaps I would have liked the characters in Hyouka had they been, say, more conventional J.C. Staff properties. It's a mystery.
I get the sense I wasn't exposed to a large portion of the shows that aired this season—an obvious consequence of not watching all that much compared to past seasons. Nevertheless, I'm not convinced I actually missed anything, although I do admit a curious fascination with Sword Art Online (despite the profoundly negative reactions to its cour-ending climax). I haven't yet watched a single minute of it, but I have read the first four volumes of the light novels (which I'm expecting the first two cours to cover). Learning that Kajiura Yuki is providing the music has put the show over the top, and I'll probably marathon the summer 2012 segment to catch up with the autumn 2012 episodes. Naturally, this will change my summer 2012 anime summary rankings, but it is late enough already and I can always reflect the addition with an update, so here goes:(more…)