Hyōka (ep. 3)

A small riddle and a large set-up.

Mystery loves company.

Synopsis

Needless to say, beware of spoilers. You’ve been warned, mate.

The episode picks up straight from where the previous one left off: in the oddly-named cafe where Hōtarō sat bracing himself for a confession from Eru.

As it turns out, it’s less about romance and more about family secrets. Years before, Eru’s uncle – who, nearly half a century earlier, had been a Classic Literature member just like them – mentioned something about the club that reduced her to tears. She couldn’t recall what exactly he had said at the time, but as the years passed, two things began to stand out in her mind: that he had been uncharacteristically reluctant to divulge the information he had given, and that he did not attempt to console her when she began crying. Her own efforts to rebuild that fragmented memory having come to naught, she turns to our reluctant Sherlock and pleads for his help. The energy conserver flat out refuses at first, but eventually concedes his assistance (with reservations).

Oh, and I should probably mention that the uncle in question disappeared seven years ago whilst on a journey to India. Mm, the plot thickens . . .

. . . and then gets watered down as we move a bit further along in time, with Hōtarō rapidly depleting his precious energy reserves during Kamiyama High’s midterm exams. Lying in bed to recharge his batteries, he reads a letter from his sister (sent from Istanbul – my, what a well-travelled bird she is) that solves a riddle left over from the previous episode: namely, the location of the club’s missing anthology archives.

It turns out that they were never in the library at all, having been kept all this time within an old safe back in the clubroom. Back in school, he passes this information to Eru and Mayaka, who excitedly glance around their HQ only to discover that there is no safe in sight. Eru starts to panic, but Hōtarō calmly announces that the clubroom assignments had changed in the two years since his sister’s graduation.

Armed with information supplied by their club advisor, the Classic Literature trio (NB: member #4 is presently detained by his other club commitments) march over to their club’s old haunt, currently occupied by the Wall Newspaper Club.

They are greeted just outside the door by Koizumi Itsuki upperclassman Tōgaito Masashi, along with something else that catches Hōtarō’s attention: a faint whiff of an artificial fragrance, either perfume or a deodorant of some kind.

Masashi acts in a welcoming way at first, but quickly begins to stonewall when he hears their request to search the room for their lost archives. Hōtarō knows something is amiss, but true to his energy-conserving ways, quietly begins to retreat and beckons the other two to follow suit. Naturally, when he overhears Eru state that they will simply have to search the entire school if the anthologies couldn’t be located, he joins her in begging Masashi for permission to conduct a less energy-sapping search within the confines of his small clubroom. After Mayaka piles on more pressure, the nervous newspaperman gives in and allows them inside.

Here takes place the small riddle of which I wrote earlier, and which I shall leave undescribed as it would be difficult to do so without spoiling the fun.

Suffice it to say that some time later, the Gang of Four (with the strangely-garbed Satoshi back in the fray) are in the clubroom poring over their rediscovered anthologies, which belong to a series named – what else – Hyōka.

As the small riddle begins to recede, we are brought back to the bigger mystery in the background when Eru finds volume 2 of the anthology series – a volume that mentions her uncle.

At last, a clew! (If I may be permitted to use the old-school spelling of the word.) Now the scrap of information in that volume refers to an event that took place the year before, so Eru and Hōtarō quickly come to the conclusion that the key to the mystery might well be Hyōka volume one.

Just as they arrive at that realisation, Mayaka exclaims that every volume of the entire series is present and accounted for . . .

. . . except for volume one.

My two cents

I probably have no business writing about Episode the Third when I haven’t posted anything about the previous two, but I felt like giving my long-dormant writing muscles a brief workout. In any case, Hyōka drew me in from the very beginning, with the premise, the interesting characters, and above all the animation quality (lusciously rich as per exacting KyoAni standards) guaranteeing this title at least a fighting chance of landing a spot on my timetable.

I’d say it delivers a powerful blow with this episode, and I’m quite happy to stick with it for the rest of the season.

Props to the whole team for another job well done, and especially for the many little touches that contribute so much to the atmosphere. Among them: the way Hōtarō breaks his and Eru’s combined reverie in the cafe by flicking his finger against a teacup, and how his room becomes progressively messier as the stressful exam season wears on.

The humour is as understated as usual, and rises to its best when it pokes fun at our hero’s odd energy-saving obsession. I got a kick out of seeing Hōtarō, on the point of wailking away, do a 180 and join in pleading with Masashi for a quick look inside the clubroom – all because Eru mentioned the possibility of having to scour the entire campus for the lost anthologies. (A daunting prospect indeed for someone bent on conserving energy.)

Speaking of Hōtarō, the chap has gotten even more interesting with this episode. That he can bend others to his will in the most subtle ways is something we’ve already seen glimpses of, but here the mind game is of a different class entirely, rising (or should I say descending?) almost into the realm of mental torture. Perhaps knowing that an outright accusation will accomplish nothing, he goes on a different tack, relying on the power of implication and suggestion to wear his prey down to the point of surrender.

Though I’m glad it gives our reluctant Sherlock a chance to shine, the mini-riddle in this episode isn’t anything to write home about. Having said that, as a longtime fan of mystery classics (Agatha Christie has a whole section to herself in my library), I felt just a touch of the same fun I’d normally feel whilst reading an old-school detective story. I liked seeing the little clues fall into place, from their initial presentation all the way to the big reveal. This is the sort of detection I enjoy the most: pure observation and logical deduction, with little or no intervention from fancy laboratory equipment or unfathomable algorithms.

Of course, we also have the far larger conundrum in the background, for which this entire episode serves as an introduction and holds out the promise of more revelations to come.

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