Alright. So, I was completely off-base about who Juumoji was – completely! But I comfort myself in that I was hardly the only one, and, arguably, as a person with the Japanese comprehension of a five year old, I didn’t have much of a chance this time around to have sussed the entire thing out (i.e. why Tanabe was doing it at all). I’m also pretty inexperienced at actually puzzling out the culprits in mystery stories myself, anyway, as I typically just let it wash over me, or I’m reading something like Summer of the Ubume, where one spends so much time trying to absorb everything else going on that there is hardly any time left over for working out the mystery at hand.
It seemed that the lesson of this episode of Hyouka was that half the population has an inferiority complex. Kouchi (the manga club girl), Tanabe, and Satoshi all expressed some form of frustration over feeling lesser than their good friends in this episode (and prior ones for Satoshi), and behaved or admitted to behaving in ways that weren’t healthy as a result of it. Kouchi takes a purposely cynical attitude toward her beloved manga, Tanabe tries to guilt his non-manga-loving friend over his failure to produce more work, and Satoshi becomes self-dismissive in light of his being unable to solve the Juumoji mystery.
Tanabe’s actions come across as the most tortured of the three, to be honest. After all, it boils down to in his case him being unable to ask, “Have you read Haruna’s manuscript?” On the face of it, its a fairly easy thing to do… and even if we toss in Tanabe’s hang-up, he goes to rather elaborate lengths to send a very simple message. Of course, the contrast between the Tanabe we’ve seen previously (friendly but serious member of the student government) and the Tanabe we see with morose appearance on stage as all other laugh about the Juumoji incident is also sharp enough that it cannot be ignored. We do see Satoshi’s pretenses slip, too, but we’d seen previous hints that he wasn’t the eternal ball of sunshine that he tries to pretend he is; Tanabe’s change seemed to come out of nowhere.
But, really, I just keep coming back to the sheer amount of effort Tanabe put into sending Kugayama a message. Its so extreme; in fact, I’d call it a manifestation of obsession. There is no guarantee that Kugayama will cotton on to it, which Tanabe essentially admits when he states that maybe only Haruna would understand. Its so much effort on his part for something that may not even end up understood by the intended recipient. I don’t think its even just about a manga at that point anymore – there are some greater issues that Tanabe needs to sort out here, because at the very least it is very obvious that his and Kugayama’s relationship is dysfunctional. Friends with functioning relationships don’t use school-wide thefts as a means of communicating their displeasure.
Kouchi came off as a lot more honest about her issues when speaking with Mayaka, even as she, too, avoided the primary problem – she feels hurt by Haruna’s complete disappearance from her life. It may’ve, too, begun with a manga, but its not for nothing that Kouchi mentions that Haruna hasn’t talked to her in a long time (implication seemed to be ‘since she left’), and that she won’t read A Corpse By Evening as it would lead to her getting back in touch with Haruna. The wound’s too fresh, she can’t engage it quite yet. At least she’s willing to admit that she isn’t even going to try, whereas Tanabe puts the responsibility on Kugayama; if Kugayama doesn’t understand the Juumoji thefts, then that’s it. He just won’t come right out and say it.
I liked Kouchi a lot more after this episode. For one, she had more previous screentime than Tanabe did, so the further fleshing out of her character felt more satisfying. Its also gratifying to have a character previously portrayed so flatly have some depth introduced. I can always appreciate a prickly young woman if she’s lent some semblance of character.
I haven’t said anything about Satoshi yet. I can’t quite decide if he’s merely upset with himself for failing to solve the mystery, if he’s upset with himself and upset with Houtarou for obscuring the solution to the mystery, if he’s upset with himself and disappointed in Houtarou for making the deal he made with Tanabe… Like the others, his issue hardly seems settled, although in his case I’m expecting some sort of resolution, as he’s a member of the main cast. Although I also fear that his matter may be considered settled, as he’s back to smiles at the end of the episode, and at least makes a show of being at ease with being unable to make “conclusions”. What inclines me against thinking this will be the case is that Mayaka basically calls him out on his bullshit toward the end of the episode… well, ok, “calls him out on his bullshit” is putting it rather harshly as it is merely her grasping his uniform shirt and frowning after he makes his statement about being unable to draw conclusions. His face falls. He’s not fooling her at all.
Satoshi deliberately ruins Houtarou’s attempt to keep the Juumoji solution solely to himself at the end of the episode. Does he do so out of spite, or does he do it in a more teasing fashion? In light of his unnecessary egging on of Chitanda in the previous episode, it feels like there’s at least some of a malicious feeling behind it, but I can’t quite parse it at the moment. Hopefully the following episodes will provide some clue.
But maybe we’re back to the matter I raised last week – does Hyouka think that some people are just better than others? I said at the time that I thought Hyouka was refuting that, as Houtarou needs the others in order to reach his own conclusions. But if Satoshi simply settles with “I’m not capable of drawing conclusions, therefore I’m inferior to Houtarou.”, it makes it a lot harder to argue that that is Hyouka’s sentiment. And I’ll admit that I chafe at such a notion, that some people are better than others, although I don’t feel like going into it at the moment.
On the less serious side of the house, this episode was fuel, pure and simple, for BL and yuri losers like myself. Tanabe’s tortured feelings regarding and friendship with Kugayama screams BL to the rooftops, from his inability to communicate directly to his obsessive Juumoji game*. Kouchi’s line, “Friends? I guess…” in response to Mayaka’s mention of Kouchi and Haruna being friends is epic yuri bait when paired with the fact that the ‘friendship’ broke down and left Kouchi bitter about it (almost “Oh, I guess you could’ve called us friends…” with the implication that it was ~something more~). You could even manage to spin a MayakaxKouchi thing out of this one, y’know, like Mayaka ends up being the young, bright-eyed girl who heals the older, embittered girl’s heart. This shit is a staple of yuri, folks.
By the way, I’ve seen a few folks claim that Satoshi kissed Mayaka off-screen in this episode, based on this. I call shenanigans, because a. Satoshi would’ve had to break his back to have kissed Mayaka from where he was standing without moving, and b. their shadows are static – some folks are saying he’s reaching for Mayaka there, but its clear that he’s just dropped his arms to his sides in the process of dropping his act. Never mind that the vibe coming from them is still very much “Mayaka likes Satoshi, Satoshi likes Mayaka… as a friend”.
I’m sure some folks’ll brush me off on that front because I’m a BL fan, and the assumption will be that I am a HoutarouxSatoshi shipper, but I’m not. I might read Satoshi as gay, but I don’t think that one could in any way, shape, or form contort the Hyoukaverse such that the two would get together. Houtarou clearly is attracted to Chitanda; I don’t think we can debate this at all. And even many SatoshixMayaka shippers will admit that the show doesn’t give much to make hay on for the two. Again, Mayaka obviously has a crush on Satoshi, but Satoshi just as obviously doesn’t feel the same.
With this episode, Tanabe suddenly became my favorite minor character in Hyouka. I just love my boys miserable.
Oh, and, not for the first time, I really noticed the OST in this episode. The music-box-ish tune that played during Mayaka and Satoshi’s conversation, and during Mayaka and Kouchi’s conversation reminded me of the primary piece of background music utilized in Red Garden. I was, as a result, a bit surprised to discover that the composer was not involved with said show. Ah well, an OST I’ll likely seek out nevertheless.
*I can’t be the only person who kept thinking of Jumanji whenever this name came up, can I?