Expositions are boring. This was how I used to think for the longest time. I mean, who really wants to watch characters talking while sitting in a cafe or walking down the street when you can be watching something more exciting happen, some type of action or drama? But if watching Bakemonogatari taught me anything, it was that directors are able to make any type of exposition seem exciting through creativity in visuals. And when watching the late Takemoto Yasuhiro’s Hyouka, I got the same feeling of greatness visually that I got when watching Bakemonogatari.
At its core, Hyouka is a mystery story. This means that a lot of the scenes feature our detective, Oreki, thinking about or explaining the mystery. This leads to a lot of exposition. While the quality of these mysteries are, in my opinion, questionable, they are undeniably entertaining. Here, I will be breaking down the cinematography and aesthetics of Hyouka within scenes that I thought were impactful in order to see what makes Hyouka so gripping to watch.
Before I get into more specific camerawork of Hyouka, I want to start off with the most basic part of visuals: the colors. The aesthetic presentation in the show is comparable to that of intricately made films. As a school-based show, it is important for Hyouka to stay relatively grounded within their color palette. As I briefly mentioned in my Horimiya post, it feels jarring for a school anime to have colorful hair colors when it is trying to be realistic.
Within Hyouka, there is a brown overlay within the whole show. This set up the show really nicely to have this grounded image of itself. Unlike a lot of modern anime, none of the highlights are too glaring nor is the brown overlay low in saturation or luminosity which would have given a dull feeling to the show. Luckly, Hyouka managed to find that right balance of color treatment to make the show bright yet grounded, giving the perfect aesthetics for a school show like this. There also seems to be a slight gaussian blur within the background itself which gives a more paper-like texture to the whole image. These all help make Hyouka a lot better to look at.
But what’s great about Hyouka’s colors is that Hyouka doesn’t just stick to this one color palette; when necessary, it switches it up to present the atmosphere. One example of this is in episode one of Hyouka where Chitanda’s curiosity is being exhibited to the fullest. As Chintada encourages Oreki to stay to look into the mystery with her, her hair extends, gripping Oreki while she gets closer to Oreki’s face. Here, the color palette switches to a bright rainbow shade with a lot of green along with sparkles all around the scene. If the normal grounded colors of the world reflect the grayness that Oreki was talking about, the bright rainbow colors represent the rose colored life that Chitanda is bringing into Oreki’s life. Also just a side note, I think the hair becoming longer with flowers growing was a pun (ki ni narimasu also means I’m becoming tree) which I find hilariously amusing.
But the most interesting part is the cinematography, specifically blocking, within this scene. Blocking is essentially how the character is placed within a scene to match with the camera to give the scene more meaning. In this scene, the director did everything in his power to show how Chitanda’s curiosity is hooking Oreki to be more engaged. Here, the hair gripping Oreki visually represents how Oreki is being hooked by Chintanda in an inescapable fashion. Just from the angle of the photo above, you can easily see that Chitanda is the one above, overpowering Oreki. In this scene, Oreki is left powerless to Chitanda’s curiosity.
From the blocking of this scene, you can see that Chitanda is the one who is facing towards the window, being lit up by natural light, whereas Oreki is facing away from the window’s lighting. Again visualising the brightness of Chitanda compared to Oreki’s gray life. This gets very interesting when being coupled with the end of this short episode where Chitanda is asking Oreki for the filled club application. Here, Oreki is the one facing natural light, being shined showing how Oreki is slowly starting to live out the rose colored life thanks to Chitanda.
This is followed by a similar tree effect that we saw previously, a close up of the application, then Oreki’s face being shocked from Chitanda’s perspective. The tree effect establishes pretty much the same ideas as before; Chitanda gripping Oreki over to her side. The close up of the application is then done to give emphasis on the action of Oreki handing over the application. This at the same time symbolizing how Chitanda has control over Oreki’s life from this moment. The shocked face then shows how Oreki is unconsciously following Chitanda’s orders.
Insert shots, which refers to camera work where focus is given to a single object by switching the angle from the original main shot, is used often within Hyouka both to give emphasis and to control rhythm of the show. The close up of the application is an example of an insert shot. As mentioned, it establishes the focus on the application but it also creates pacing of action by splitting Oreki handing over the application and his shocked face to make each scene more impactful while flowing more smoothly. The quick rhythmic tension created by this is what makes the viewers feel the unconsciousness of the actions of Oreki.
Insert shots are actually relatively prevalent within Hyouka. Just in episode one, there were quick successions of insert shots showing the janitor locking all of the doors. Once again, these succession of insert shots emphasizes the actions (which would be the janitor locking the door here) while creating more tension with the mystery due to the tight pacing of the editing.
One of my favorite parts about Hyouka is the impressive blocking choices made. A very good example of a great blocking scene is at the end of episode 1 and the scene in the middle of episode 10. Both scenes feature a conversation between Satoshi and Oreki as they walk through the street.
In the end of episode one, we can see that the two characters are walking side to side with each other. Up until here, where the Satoshi inferiority complex isn’t as strong, the two are standing in similar positions. They walk towards the same direction at the same pace. Here the mood is communicated through use using insert shots of Oreki and Satoshi’s face. We see throughout this scene that Oreki continuously has a gloomy shadow over his eyes whereas Satoshi continues to look upwards without any visible shadows.
While this scene is good by itself, it gets a lot more impressive when comparing it to a similar scene in episode 10. This is time, the mood is slightly different. Rather than Satoshi questioning Oreki, it is now Oreki who is questioning Satoshi. Here, they are a lot more divided than they previously were. One, because of Satoshi’s inferiority complex, and two, the change in Hotarou’s mindset after solving the mysteries and talking to Irisu. Within this scene, Satoshi is carrying a bike which is physically separating Hotarou and Satoshi. In the following scene, we get Hotaru and Satoshi divided into halves through a pole. This places Hotaru and Satoshi into two different sections with Oreki being on the left and Satoshi being on the right. Both these dividers work to visually show how the two are now separated. From here, the show manages to create tension by shifting the characters left and right in a different manner that they were in from the main shot above,
The two continue to be in this separation, never getting a scene together until Satoshi talks in a fairly light hearted mood about how “Irisu got Oreki worked up.” After this scene, which doesn’t give them any dividers, we once see Satoshi trying to escape Oreki’s scene, physically moving to the side without Oreki to the right of the pole. Similarly, whereas in the previous scene Satoshi was under the shadow of the buildings, as he leaves Oreki’s side of the pole, he moves towards the brighter side of the road. The clear cut shadow down the middle is now only affecting Oreki. From the light, we are able to see a more clear divide of the shadow that is now looming on Satoshi’s face, almost like that of Oreki’s in episode one. The pole continues to divide them until we see Satoshi fade away within his side of the pole.
While these two scenes are merely normal conversations on the middle of the street, these blocking techniques used within these scenes make the conversation much more immersing into the character’s emotions and the situation.
Here, I want to move on to what is probably my favorite scene within Hyouka that is able to use all this to create the perfect exposition scene. This scene is the cafe scene at the end of episode two and the start of episode one. The scene starts off with quick insert shots of clocks emphasizing the fact that Chitanda is late and also the importance of time itself — a theme prevalent in the Sekitani Jun arc. We then move on to see the coffee cups. These cups work to show the personality of the characters; whereas Oreki is drinking coffee in a completely plain cup and cup holder, Chitanda is drinking a fancy latte with flowers on her cup holder. After a series of dialogue about why Chitanda decided to speak in this cafe, Oreki asks if she is going to “confess or something” as Chitanda responds that it is “something like that.” Here, the camera angle slightly slants compared to a few seconds ago (from the first photo below to the second photo below. This creates tension due to the diagonal lines that are now being used within this scene which creates a sense of instability within the whole shot itself. This visually shows the shock of Oreki to Chitanda’s response while giving the viewers the additional sense of surprise. The episode then ends with the shot continuing to be slanted with a zoom in of the shaking eyes of both Oreki and Chitanda as we see ice shaking to drop —visualizing the sudden shift in atmosphere. Honestly, what better cliffhanger can there be to an episode? This whole scene was just masterfully crafted to make you angry at the studio for ending it here.
Episode three then continues perfectly from here. The episode choses to now have a shifted color palette to a rose colored tint with low saturation. Of course, this refers to the rose colored life that was mentioned in the first episode. As the show baited us with Chitanda’s confession, they make it seem so much as though this is leading to a romantic moment of the show. Hilariously, this color change is reverted completely back to normal once we find out that Chitanda was asking for a favor. This type of color change in the palette is a very fun and creative way to show the atmosphere of the whole scene.
After the opening, we get more of the conversation. Here, the director does a lot to make this conversation, which may seem boring because it’s about Chitanda’s uncle that no one really cares about at this point, as interesting as possible. One example of this is using the setting to reflect the dialogue. For example, we see, in an almost picture book like animation of Chitanda’s story, Chitanda’s uncle reading a newspaper. With this, as the animations cut back to the two characters talking, they use a character within the cafe reading a newspaper to set the newspaper as the frame for the cut. The director then uses a mirror to show both Oreki and Chitanda on the same frame as Oreki asks a question. I thought this was a neat way to break the 180 rule (which is an imaginary horizontal line within a scene that is set up not to confuse the viewer’s sense of direction) in a natural way while strengthening the connection of the characters to the setting even more. This works well since the camera actually ends up breaking the 180 rule in a few following minutes and this mirror scene makes this transition a lot more smooth. Symbolically, the mirror reflects the dialogue as Oreki was asking a question that was almost mirroring Chitanda’s dialogue. The scene also uses other fun cuts like the desk covering half of Oreki’s face and Chitanda’s legs, moving down slowly with the camera as Chitanda mentions how she forgot what happened in the past. All of these inventive shots throughout this scene makes the whole 8 or minutes of just conversation feel so much more interesting that it should be on text.
Outside of all these great scenes, while it isn’t really a filming technique or anything, one of the parts I wanted to highlight was the presentation of Oreki’s detective work or the case itself. When presenting the mysteries to the audience, Hyouka uses a visual storyboard with models of characters rather than focusing more on the characters talking. For example, in episode one, when Chitanda is explaining the door being closed while she was inside, the show shows a kanji that reads open and closed while using Chitanda’s face to be shaped almost like the kanji. Or in episode 18 of the show, rather than focusing on Chitanda and Oreki talking, it puts a lot of the visual focus on the animations which draws out the case in animation fashion. This change in presentation is a clever way that allows the animation to present the dialogue in a fashion that doesn’t just look like an interview. There’s a lot of creative things that go on within the scene like the mole hitting game representation of the culprit or the buildings with suilluttes breaking down as Oreki disproves the theory. I think this works especially well because Hyouka is an animation itself which makes it more natural to shift style of presentation like this.
There is honestly so much — so much more that I could be talking about with different scenes of Hyouka. This show is just absolutely filled with great cinematography and is a show I definitely used to study different types of camera work for film. If I later talk about the mystery within the show (or if this post gets pretty good reception) I’ll definitely address a lot of other scenes that impressed me throughout.
Thanks for reading!