Hyouka and mystery as interpretation

The central premise of Hyouka is one of the numerous interpretations that a mystery can have, along with the notion that in reality whatever answer is presented will always be subjective and tied to the background of the person giving it. The mysteries presented to us in Hyouka may be considered benign or inconsequential, lacking the over-arching and often sinister nature of other mystery anime. As a series Hyouka is not concerned with solving these mysteries, but instead focuses on their presentation and the multiple interpretations that are given by the central characters. Each character brings with them a clear set of ideals and goals, ones that are encapsulated in their understand and interpretations of the mysteries that they are presented with.

Furthermore, we have their backgrounds and attitudes towards life to consider, with our four main characters all approaching life, school, club duties and these mysteries from a specific place and context. In essence we see how different characters in a mystery interpret the world and the clues in a very different fashion to each other. There are similarities between how the characters in Hyouka and those in Sherlock Holmes stories approach mysteries, with Watson often taking a more straightforward approach, using his knowledge from the army as his weapon. Whereas Holmes is the mysterious yet brilliant mind, the person who seemingly knows what has happened almost as soon as the clues are presented to him. As such we see that in Hyouka the interpretations of the facts differs depending on who is involved, and more importantly, the facts and the people interpreting them can be easily manipulated in order to bring about the required result.

During the film arc we are presented with three distinct proposals as to what truly happened, all three are wrong, but the provide excellent examples of how mysteries and stories can be interpreted in so many different ways. Nakajou ignores the script and other delicate areas such as camera work, and instead presents us with what he thinks the audience wants. Instead of an intellectually engaging script, Nakajou argues that the audience wants drama and high tension, thus giving us a far higher-paced film than the original script suggested. Then we have Tomohiro, someone who believes in his own brilliance and is at great pains to demonstrate his intellectual prowess before everyone present. His suggestion is that rather than an amateurish Holmes mystery there should be something far more intellectually challenging but also significantly more complex and problematic when looked at in detail. And finally we have Misaki who presents us with the simplest resolution with the greatest shock value; one that she freely admits is full of holes, but simply glosses them over as inconsequential.


All these characters either ignore or gloss over the problems with their ideas, suggesting that is the outcome rather than what got them there that is important. The script, props and emotions of the writer are never acknowledged or even viewed as important, instead it is the process and the success of the finished product that matter. Nakajou ignores what he views as minor details along with the knowledge that Hougou had visited the village and therefore new about its conditions. Tomohiro ignores the props, instead pushing his own ideas and ideologies onto Hougou’s script. Finally Misaki seems to ignore everything and instead focuses on what she thinks the audience want to watch. All three of these characters are ignoring Hougou’s original intentions, assuming they even knew about them and instead focus on what they think the film should be like.

Chitanda is in many ways the driving force of the series, eternally curious and always pushing her ideas, but also her attitude towards life away from her, as if she is attempting to influence all those who have gathered around her. As a character Chitanda is also very pure and emotional, presenting us with simple answers that involve her emotional investment in the subject and the people that it involves. She constantly has to ask about who the people involved in these mysteries are, attempting to tie them into the story and work out what parts they play. Because her ideas and theories are so simple and invested with so much emotion they are easily dismissed as overlooking key elements of the story. But at the same time, she continues to push forward, constantly and consistently questioning everything in her path as if the world is one big mystery for her to unravel.


Satoshi is a fascinating character, describing himself as a ‘database’, he looks at the simple facts, and is capable of compiling a significant amount of knowledge regarding each case. But, as a character he is oddly detached from the world, seemingly incapable of coming to any conclusions or presenting any solid links between his information and the facts or story at hand. In many respects his interpretations are as simple as Chitanda’s and are dismissed in similar ways. While Chitanda invests so much emotion into the mysteries and her understanding of it, Satoshi focuses almost exclusively on facts, as if emotions do not play any significant part. When he recounts the student protests of the 1960s during the first arc there is an oddly detached feeling about it. Satoshi sounds like he is reading from a textbook, giving everyone a history lesson devoid of emotion, along with no social or political context behind the riots.

By providing the bare facts with little context Satoshi’s conclusions are often severely lacking, missing key elements of ideas that are integral to the story. However, his knowledge and ability to analyse the facts that are presented to the group help to refute other arguments based on facts alone. His database style of analysis allows Satoshi to pull together key facts from other characters conclusions, and allows him to compile a list of facts and figures that aids in the overall process. Satoshi is often the character that helps to pull elements of truth or important facts from the ideas presented by Ibara and Chitanda. Ibara on the other hand provides us with the most normal of interpretations, as she is easily the most ‘normal’ of the group. To use Sherlock Holmes reference again, Ibara is similar to Watson, giving us a ‘normal’ persons viewpoint on the mystery and the clues and facts that are presented to the audience. She is clearly intelligent and well read, however, she is unable to see key points or obvious hints and clues.


Her theories are easily refuted due to her inability to make connections or links between the evidence, furthermore, she often lacks as much emotional engagement as Chitanda, thus missing key points. However, her theories are also often the most complete, providing us with the kernel of a thought or idea. Whereas Satoshi and Chitanda focus so much on their own specifics, with so much invested in either the emotional aspects of these stories or the basic facts that they forget everything else. Ibara by merit of being ‘normal’ (or at least more normal than the others) is capable of grasping many of the essentials but fails to see the bigger picture. While Ibara is similar to Watson due to her ability to notice the little details that others miss, Oreki is similar to Holmes, someone with an excellent analytical mind and ability to connect everything together. However, Oreki, like Holmes is a flawed character, someone who cannot function properly in normal society and can be viewed as socially awkward or inept.

We have seen on numerous occasions his ability to see the world in bright shapes and colours, bringing life and meaning to otherwise inanimate objects. He is the brilliant mind that presents us with a resolution, the person who can see how everything is linked and ultimately solve the mystery. In doing so we see that the mysteries are often incredibly mundane, such as the episode involving a ghost that turned out to be a kimono hanging up to dry. Oreki is not a character completely removed from the realm of fantasy though, and while he may attempt to conserve his energy at all times there is an element of the fantastical in the way he views the world. We have been provided with numerous curious scenes where Oreki appears to see the world in a myriad of colours, shapes and sounds, seeing writing fall off the wall in a torrent of understanding. Even his very first meeting with Chitanda has an element of fantasy in it, as if he is almost looking at a fairy tale or a magical world.


His character is one who perhaps views the world in a completely different way from everyone else, but still attempts to reason and rationalise it, turning it into something easy to understand, essentially taking the colour out and presenting a grey, and rational world where once there was colour and fantasy. However, Oreki is also flawed, and seems easily misled by the facts that he is presented with. Fuyumi Irisu was able to manipulate Oreki into finishing off the film script and creating the horror film that she wanted rather than the one the original writer had presented to her. By manipulation the information and complimenting Oreki on his analytical ability, Irisu is able to mislead him and focus his mind on something other than the original task that the Classics Club had been presented with. Irisu’s compliments and comments in effect blind Oreki to the truth, and instead of attempting to discover what the original writer wanted he blindly follows her advice. He is therefore easily misled and can overlook key facts if he is bombarded with too much information in such a short time.

While Chitanda is often the most emotional, and Satoshi presents a strict fact based idea, Ibara presents us with something closer to reality. Her inability to see key facts often means that she is wrong, but at the same time her ideas are those of a normal person, giving Oreki ideas and nudging him in a direction that to his mind would be improbable. Similar occurrences take place in Sherlock Holmes, with Watson’s apparently mundane and decidedly normal observations capable of sending Holmes into a joyous rapture as if Watson has suddenly uncovered secrets of the universe. In many respects Oreki is far too clever for his own good and thus overlooks key elements as being inconsequential or ultimately dull. While he may have an excellent analytical mind and is capable of seeing the world in a very different light to anyone else, he ultimately is bombarded with too much information.


Furthermore, in his quest for truth Oreki also has a tendency to forget about the emotions that people invest in mysteries and stories, instead attempting to focus on the logical facts and connections. Chitanda is the character that reminds him of these emotions, with Ibara and Satoshi often giving him new ideas or another perspective on he mystery to work from. As we see in episodes 10 and 11, Oreki needs to be told about specific things that he has overlooked or forgotten about due to the manipulations of Fuyumi. It is Oreki’s hubris that ultimately leads to him falling into this trap and thus finishing the script instead of working out what Hougou wanted. His desperate scramble to backup his conclusion is followed by a sudden horrible realisation that he allowed himself to be misled and therefore come up with the wrong ending.

His conclusion however is not incorrect or wrong, and the ending to the film is one that follows the conventions of mystery and presents us with a solid and interesting finale. It was Irisu who manipulated the facts in order to make the film project succeed in the way that she wanted; to her failure was not an option. During the final sequence there is the suggestion that Irisu did not like the script to begin with, and in order to produce a film that could be shown she deliberately pushed Oreki into finishing it off. Within Sherlock Holmes books we see the facts being manipulated by everyone involved, with Holmes as the key manipulator, turning them over and moulding them into the shape of his answer. The inevitable conclusion is one based on sound logic and reasoning with all supernatural and fantastical elements removed. Through Holmes and indeed through Oreki we see that the most fantastical act can become the most mundane, with all fun and emotion taken out of the picture. The presence of Chitanda is therefore to bring this emotion back into the story, giving it a more human side rather than simply a series of facts as presented by Satoshi.


The series itself presents us with mysteries in the form of simple stories, this format works due to the nature of the stories and the numerous interpretations that we see presented during the course of each episode. We are shown quite clearly that your own specific context, your beliefs, ideologies and of course ego can ultimately lead you to a specific interpretation or reading of the facts that are presented before you. The ultimate conclusion as presented by Oreki may seem mundane or normal because it is normal. We see our characters change and grow as the season progresses, each giving us new and fascinating ideas and interpretations based on their circumstances and surroundings. Rather than the conclusion it is the story itself and the journey that our characters take in order to come to the conclusion that is fascinating.

About illogicalzen
An Illogical anime fan in a very Zen-like way.

4 Responses to Hyouka and mystery as interpretation

  1. Flawless interpretation of this great series. I’m glad someone else appreciates how unique and well written this story and these characters are.

    • illogicalzen says:

      I do think that many people approached this series expecting it to be a pure mystery or detective anime, and of course the series description did not help. But instead what we have are mysteries that often turn out to be mundane or inconsequential, and the anime focusses on the characters as they attempt to solve the mystery rather than the mystery itself. Hyouka is beautifully animated, but I watch it because of the characters and how they interact with each other, that is what makes this anime so good.

  2. hyper says:

    Great post. I kind of disagree comparing Ibara to Watson, but the last time I read Holmes was more than ten years ago so I think I’m probably off. Anyway, I agree with you about what each character represented: Analytic mind, fact, emotion, and a realist.

    Every time I see someone say they prefer Hyouka when it has no mystery, I shrug a little. I see where they’re coming from, but I feel like they’re missing most of the great things about the show.

    • illogicalzen says:

      In terms of characters I would say that Ibara is closest to Watson, however in reality it might be more accurate to say that Watson is more a combination of Chitanda, Satoshi and Ibara, however, at the time I was looking for a single character and Ibara fit the description more than the others.

      The mysteries in Hyouka dont necessarily play as significant a role as they would if it were a pure mystery or detective series since the majority of the series is about the interactions of our main cast. However, without these mysteries no matter how benign or inconsequential they may appear we wouldn’t have such great character interaction. I think perhaps that for some people the mysteries are too subtle, or not dramatic enough so they will end up focussing on how these characters act and interact with each other, ignoring the mysteries that go on throughout the series.

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