“Asumi’s always looking up at the sky, right? Anyone who’s with her ends up looking up too. You will too, I bet.”
-Twin Spica, Volume 9, Chapter 54
This quote is lifted from a conversation in the manga Twin Spica, which follows a girl, Asumi Kamogawa, who dreams of becoming an astronaut. Throughout the series, she and her friends must overcome multiple hardships to achieve their dreams. In chapter 54, Asumi’s dormitory resident assistant confronts one of Asumi’s childhood friends. Their conversation culminates in the quote above. Everyone around Asumi naturally begins to look up at the sky due to, among other things, Asumi’s strong will and desire to go to space. They feed off of her energy, focus, and determination.
The same idea can be applied to Hyouka with interesting characterization results. As foreshadowed in Episode Five, tension between Satoshi Fukube and our main protagonist, Houtarou Oreki, has been steadily increasing. The first episode establishes Houtarou as an introverted high school student with a “gray-colored life.” In contrast, the series introduces Satoshi as a class representative, an enthusiastic personality, and an all-over, well-liked and jovial sort. It’s a traditional archetype pairing, made all the more potent by the fact that the series’s four main characters are also stand-ins for common detective fiction elements. Traditionally, Satoshi’s character type would exist as a potential foil for the main’s personality, crack a few jokes to alleviate certain situations, and generally not exist outside of these two supporting roles.
Satoshi Fukube the character steps well beyond this, beginning with pigeonholing himself into his own role of the database in Hyouka‘s first episode. By doing this he is already actively holding his own desires back. It’s all fine until Houtarou begins to look up, so to speak.
Inspired by his attraction to Eru Chitanda and his dormant desire to lead a “rose-colored life,” Houtarou begins to get to know other people. He starts to use his deductive skills to help other people or, at the very least, Chitanda and his own club members. In Episode Four, Houtarou actively takes the first step from passive observer, being dragged into mysteries by others, to active participant. He chooses to sequester himself in the bathroom until he can reach a plausible conclusion, rather than admit to the other three members of the Classics Club that he could not deduce an answer for them.
It’s no coincidence that the opening scene of Episode Five, mentioned above, immediately follows Houtarou’s decision to step figuratively into the light. From this starting point, we see Satoshi’s mask slip in Episode 10, where he admits his jealousy towards Houtarou. This tension continues to build into the Kanya Festival, where Satoshi vows to himself that he will catch the Juumoji culprit, not Houtarou.
“I didn’t want to win, but when you’re always looking up…”
-Satoshi Fukube, Hyouka Episode 17
Looking up, in this case, not only means that Satoshi is looking up to Houtarou generally, but he is also looking up alongside Houtarou and realizing, next to Houtarou’s brilliance, he will never be able to reach that high of a level. Houtarou’s deductive capabilities are too good, and now that he has started to look up himself, and pursue a similar life to the one that he believes Satoshi already leads, he is inadvertently causing Satoshi a great deal of pain. As Pontifus points out in this article at Super Fanicom BS-X, readers always remember Holmes, forgetting that John Watson was, in his own right, extraordinary. Expanding this idea beyond readers to in-universe characters of Hyouka, people remember Houtarou because of his exceptional deductive skills. It’s not that Satoshi isn’t intelligent, it’s that he’s not as apparently intelligent as Houtarou.
This leaves Satoshi crushed, with the only option present being returning to Houtarou’s side as his support: providing and memorizing facts as any good database should. Technically there’s nothing wrong with this. Detective fiction, like most things, is a machine of moving parts, with each part performing a specific task until the conclusion is reached. Possessing a memory that acts as a database is in and of itself extraordinary. However, now that Satoshi has been given a broader picture of how brilliant Houtarou really is, and the possible heights that Houtarou could reach, how can he possibly return to the role of support?
Hyouka provides two answers for Satoshi in the forms of Jirou Tanabe, and Mayaka Ibara.
Jirou Tanabe is the Kanya Festival arc’s culprit, Juumoji. He is indicative of silent support; the kind that actively pushes for the person they’re supporting through manipulative tactics. While Houtarou accurately guesses that Tanabe is Juumoji, he doesn’t deduce the actual motive. Tanabe had constructed this elaborate mystery to jog the memory of his friend, and enigmatic student council president, Muneyoshi Kugayama. Unlike Houtarou, who is unintentionally causing Satoshi pain by using his gift, Kugayama is causing Tanabe pain by not using his. A talented artist, Kugayama had drawn the manga A Corpse by Evening which had captured the hearts of many, including Mayaka Ibara, at that previous year’s Kanya Festival. Unfortunately, this had been a one-time project for Kugayama, and he had no plans to continue drawing to the disappointment and anger of Tanabe. Therefore, Tanabe set up the Juumoji thefts, hoping that they would inspire Kugayama to read the completed manuscript, based on Agatha Christie’s The A.B.C. Murders, and draw once more. Not only does it not inspire Kugayama to draw, but he didn’t even realize that Tanabe was reaching out to him.
Secondly, the series presents Ibara, who had been inspired to draw by manga like A Corpse by Evening. When comparing her drawings to those in the aforementioned story, or another one of her favorites, Body Talk, she finds her own to be severely lacking. However, the next day she is seen pushing ahead and still drawing, even in a hostile environment like the one festering in the Manga Club. Ibara is dutiful, works hard, but is not prodigious. She shows her support by fiercely defending the impact of the things she loves, all the while attempting to share her love and passion with others. At the end of Episode 17, Ibara discovers that a senior club member, Ayako Kouchi, has never finished A Corpse by Evening, which was drawn by Muneyoshi but written by her friend, Anjou Haruna, because she was too afraid of just how good it was. In the face of such talent from a writer who, according to Kouchi, rarely read manga, Kouchi is not willing to recognize her friend’s success.
The brilliance of her friend’s work so overshadows her own in Kouchi’s mind, that she’s too ashamed to admit her own defeat. A final, emotional punctuation mark is put on the whole scene as Ibara notices that a doodle Kouchi was drawing matches one in Body Talk. Thinking of how far behind her own manga is, Ibara cries. Later in the episode, with red eyes, Ibara is seen moving on and far more upbeat than she had been throughout the rest of the festival arc. Seemingly, Ibara is one who is able to express her emotions and step forward: a good example for one who represses his emotions like Satoshi to follow.
Hyouka is an excellent character piece. Not only does it follow Houtarou Oreki as he attempts to become an active member of society (with manipulative help of his older sister), but it also provides emotional repercussions, both negative and positive, of this development. When one so brilliant decides to look up, heaven help the people who surround them.
A few other notes:
Previously, I had taken it upon myself to guess at the culprit. I actually guessed correctly; however, I would hardly count it as a win. For one, following Episode 16, I had thought that the culprit was actually Kugayama, and said as much to several people. Secondly, my speculation around how the culprit would be caught was completely wrong. I had been thinking that Chitanda would be the key, but as it turns out, she was being used by the series for a different purpose. A database can’t draw any conclusions, after all.