As promised. Predictably, I’m behind on this one, so there won’t be any spoilers past episode five or so.
I’ll start with my biases, if you don’t mind. I collect old books. Not rare books — monetary value isn’t that interesting to me. I collect utilitarian books. I have a set of old Dickens, for example, printed on paper so cheap that you wonder whether they were pirate copies (that sort of thing happened with some regularity). They’re worth nothing at all, but it’s precisely that kind of volume that would’ve introduced thrifty American readers to Dickens in the first place, and that fascinates me.
I also have a history of symphonic music. Now, I don’t know a damn thing about symphonic music, and I’m not even much of a fan (I prefer fewer instruments, rather than more) — what’s interesting about this book is the collection of random things stuck throughout.
There’s a March 1981 notice from the vet informing us that “your kitty” has been vaccinated against rabies. An invitation to a job interview from the same year. And a newspaper clipping that’s almost sixty years older than those other things, nearly as old as the book itself. (A review of a sci-fi movie that might be Soviet propaganda! Reports about Japan’s military!) How and why did all these things end up together? I can’t get enough of this stuff. This was someone’s life. Or lives.
Now here’s something I experienced when I decided that my MA thesis should be a history project: all history is someone’s interpretation of many leftovers like those above. That’s called historiography. The contrivance of history. You don’t necessarily intend to “contrive” things — you try for an accurate record — but there are always gaps, and filling those gaps with really good guesses is the art of the historian.
I’m personally interested in the lives of “small” people — the owner(s) of The Development of Symphonic Music, for example. They probably weren’t presidents or anything. This is why, as the cast of Hyouka dug into the life of Chitanda’s uncle through old documents, I was practically salivating (reference to that other show I’ve been watching not intentional).
This isn’t a “mystery” in the whodunit sense. I’d argue, at risk of splitting hairs, that Hyouka isn’t even a mystery show. It’s a slice of life show, and the thing that brought these characters together — well, the thing that keeps them together after Chitanda brought them together is a shared love of thinking. If you buy that, Hyouka is one of the more pro-intellectual shows around.
I buy it because I buy the characters’ attempt at doing history. It requires several skills: a hunger to know something (Chitanda); familiarity with libraries and their contents (Ibara); data collection, retention, and sorting (Fukube); the ability to fill information gaps with plausible hypotheses and make a big picture (Oreki). You gather what evidence you can, review it thoroughly, consider it at length, and reason through it until it resembles a narrative. Then you write it down (hence historiography). If it’s something you like to do, the breakthroughs are quite satisfying — this show has a way of catching me up in the enthusiasm of the characters, especially when they find that things aren’t what they seem, perhaps because I’ve been there, I’ve made those discoveries. It is exciting.
And it’s possible to make mistakes, as the fifth episode teaches our heroes. The worst thing you can do is believe wholly in your conclusions. Once you’ve seen every extant bit of historical evidence, you’re still missing whatever was lost in intervening years, and something was always, always lost.
In light of all this, consider the first arc’s episode-ending text:
… [T]he niece of time is based off the novel called “The Daughter of time”. The Daughter of time is a title inspired by Sir Francis Bacon, whom once stated that “Truth is the daughter of time, not authority”. The idea here is that truth is something that authority can try to hide away, but will lose the battle to time and history. …
Tsuki, “Hyouka — 04″
But if time frees the truth by toppling authority, time also obscures the truth by erasing its tracks. This is why we need historians, or people like the cast of Hyouka.
Oh, and the beautifully-animated streams of consciousness are nice, too.