Hyouka – 01

Oreki Houtarou is a passive high schooler who isn’t interested in sports, socializing, or studying, but merely getting through school with a minimum of exertion. When his abroad sister makes him join the dying Classic Literature Club, he meets the extremely friendly and curious Chitanda Eru, who convinces Houtarou to stick with the club with her charms after solving two mysteries together, one real, one faked. Houtarou’s friend Fukube Satoshi also joins.

Hyouka is the final piece of our Spring 2012 picture. It’s a KyoAni series directed by Takemoto Yasuhiro, who also directed Suzumiya Haruhi no Shoushitsu, one of our favorite films period, anime or not; and his touch is evident here. Fist of all, the quality of the animation and attention to detail are first-rate; this is perhaps the best-looking series of the Spring. Hyouka is also conspicuous in its overall calm, quiet, natural atmosphere. This is a world that looks and feels very real. Hyouka’s protagonist Houtarou is not immediately likeable, however. He’s a noncommital, unmotivated misanthrope, and his friend Fukube is a bit of an annoying smartass.

They spend most of the episode conversing with one another, which gets a little tedious. Who we did like quite a bit was the warm and genial Chitanda Eru, the antithesis of Houtarou; her bright energy nicely balances his apathy. Still, he wasn’t able to say no to her, so maybe he’s in for a change of heart vis-a-vis interacting with people. We will say we like the very surreal moments from Houtarou’s point-of-view, the kid clearly has a vivid imagination beneath his droll, Kyon-like exterior. This is yet another school club anime, but we can’t dismiss something that looks this good; we’ll be sticking with it.

Rating: 7 (Very Good)

Car Cameos: As the end credits roll by Houtarou and Satoshi walk home from school, many cars and vans drive by in the background: a Honda Vamos, Zest, and Acty Van, a Mitsubishi Colt, a Toyota Sienta and Vitz, and others.

Nazo no Kanojo X – 03

When Tsubaki walks in on his friend Ueno kissing his previously-secret girlfriend Oka, the subject comes up with Urabe, and she gives him specially prepared saliva to take before bed. That night, Tsubaki dreams of Urabe kissing him by surprise, and the next day he tells her their first kiss shouldn’t happen until they’re emotionally connected, echoing the “dream” him; Urabe is pleased and agrees.

Classmate Ogata asks Urabe out one day, and Urabe makes him wait a day for her decision, which irks Tsubaki. The next day, Urabe goes commando, making her saliva especially intense. It has no effect on Ogata, and she rejects him. When performing the same test on Tsubaki, his nose bleeds on cue, proving the strength of their emotional connection.

Another excellent, moving, hilarious, seductive, very odd episode of what is officially our favorite series of the Spring so far. Tsubaki is catching on that where his mysterious girlfriend is concerned, nothing is going to be done the normal or expected way. He’s understandably jealous when he sees his friend kissing a girl, but rather than refuse, Urabe gives him some special dream-spit that helps him come around to her way of thinking. Is her power to affect his dreams supernatural, or merely a placebo effect brought on by Tsubaki’s affections for her? Like so many things about her, it remains a mystery, which we like.

Tsubaki gets even more jealous when a classmate Ogata – a popular, athletic, handsome guy – asks out Urabe. Up until now no one else has uttered a word to Urabe, so it’s understandable Tsubaki is possessive. That, and since it’s not obvious or apparent that they’re a couple when in class. Urabe’s test for both Ogata and Tsubaki is another masterpiece of effective fanservice done right, and the fact that it just happened to be a windy day when Urabe decided to go commando was a little karmic justice for giving Tsubaki a sleepless night.

Rating: 8 (Great)

Sket Dance – 54

When Himeko goes to have her fortune told by Yuuki, Bossun, Switch and Saaya tag along, and learn that Yuuki is selling cheap talismans for her divination mentor, the famous Minakami Himiko. They confront Minakami in person, who challenges Bossun to a fortune-reading in front of a seminar of her followers. Bossun leaves the strategy to Switch.

When the date arrives, and Minakami refutes Switch’s claims that she’s fraudulent, then correctly decribes Bossun’s past, including the realization he has a twin. However, Bossun is actually Tsubaki in disguise. The student council discovered she’d sent her men to investigate Bossun prior to the telling, and she is exposed as a fraud.

It’s an almost Scooby-Doo type episode this week, as the meddling schoolkids go up against a powerful, haughty old fortuneteller who resembles a well-fed Cruella De Vil with a butch haircut. But it isn’t just an arbitrary challenge: Switch thinks Yuuki’s taking-in of all the woman’s BS will dull her as a sparring partner, and he feels it’s his responsibility to prove to Yuuki that her mentor is no good.

Switch deftly explains how Minakami employs the Barnum effect and both cold and hot reading to make her subjects believe she’s reading their aura. Using Tsubaki was a clever twist. The resulting showdown at her seminar makes for an entertaining show, especially if I was a spectator not expecting Minakami to be so thoroughly and publically debunked. This episode also continues the idea that Saaya actually likes Bossun, but because she’s a tsundere, nothing will ever come of it.

Rating: 3.5