Spoiler Alert: This analysis will contain spoilers for the anime ‘Hyouka’ as well as for the light novel series it is based on by Yonezawa Honobu.
“I am the most incurably lazy devil that ever stood in shoe leather.”
― Arthur Conan Doyle,( Sherlock Holmes.)
So Oreki Houtarou would count as ‘lazy’, right? We know his motto:
“If I don’t have to do it, I won’t. If I have to do it, make it quick.”
Well, he prefers to call it ‘conserving energy’.
He has no interest in sports, arts, academics, or in any of the numerous clubs Kamiyama High School has to offer. He prefers to keep a low profile, lead a haiiro seikatsu (灰色生活; grey life) and, above all, avoid any activity that would be ‘tiring’. In particular, he stresses that he is ‘average’, and takes a good deal of pride in that fact. His grades are average. His interests are average. His looks are average. Just about everything about him is average.
And with this, Chitanda Eru enters his life. With her dazzling eyes and overflowing curiosity, she makes it impossible for him to refuse her requests. Or rather, her questions. “Why?” “How?”
And he knows. He knows that the second she utters those words, “watashi, kininarimasu!” (“I’m curious!”), his low-energy lifestyle is doomed. He has no choice but to come up with an explanation that will satisfy her. Any further resistance will only cause him to expend more energy.
So he thinks for a bit, and comes up with the most logical conclusion. Crisis averted. But something strange happens along with that. His group of friends (consisting of Chitanda Eru, Fukube Satoshi and Ibara Mayaka) now consider him ‘good at deduction’.
Despite his insistence that he is ‘as average as they get’ and that all the conclusions he has drawn were ‘simply flashes of inspiration’ or ‘just plain luck’, he has somehow managed to convince the people around him that he has a special gift. Chitanda Eru, in particular, now expects great things from him.
And with every mystery he solves, with every answer he gets correct, the expectations grow. Not just from others, but from himself.
Then came Fuyumi Irisu, the Empress. In the ‘Fool’s Endroll’ arc, she convinces Oreki he was extraordinary – and that denying his talent was disregarding the feelings of those who lacked it.
She spurred him on and used him to get an answer for her mystery. And she did.
Irisu was satisfied; but Oreki wasn’t.
And despite his bravado that he does not like to expend more energy than is required, Oreki just hates to be wrong. He seeks out the right answer, despite the fact that it was not something he ‘had to do’.
So I basically just summarized most of the story for you. Not an amazing feat.
What is very interesting here, however, is the idea of a ‘self-image’, how powerful and confusing it is, and how easily it is affected by others.
Everybody probably does it sometime in their life: creating a personality that you believe yourself to be (or perhaps, want to become), and acting out that personality in everyday life. Every decision made goes through the ‘what decision would this character make?’ filter, and every action is taken in order to either preserve or strengthen that image. Any action or fact that would jeopardize that image is immediately denied or reasoned to keep the image.
This especially works in the case of self-depreciation. It becomes a defense mechanism, to reduce one’s expectations from oneself. And even otherwise, this persona protects a person from the prying eyes of the people around them.
But interestingly, the persona itself is built by observing the outside world’s reaction to the ‘self’. If there is no reason to believe that this ‘self’ is special, then the label ‘not special’ is applied onto it. If somebody tells this person that they are ‘talented’, then the label ‘talented in ____’ is applied.
We humans are terrible at evaluating ourselves. So we depend heavily on others’ evaluation of us. We look to the outside world to define who we are. This is not necessarily a bad thing, but it is the cause of Oreki’s train of thoughts in episode 9: “Am I really special? Can I believe that?” After all, the idea that he has any talent contradicts his original definition of ‘himself’. He’s supposed to be ordinary, living a haiiro seikatsu.
But at some point, people around him convince Oreki that he is talented as a ‘detective’ (they used the word ‘mei-tantei’(名探偵) or a ‘Great Detective’) despite his insistence that he has no talent. He begins to doubt his own character.
“Am I seeing myself as I really am? ”
So he chooses to believe it for once. That he is ‘special’. That he is a ‘detective’. For a while, it seems fine. But then Fuyumi Irisu came along and totally shattered that ideal in the ‘Fool’s Endroll’ arc. His belief was betrayed. He had never been a ‘detective’ in that whole scenario. Maybe he never was a detective to begin with.
In that case, “Who am I?”, he asks.
Oreki’s answer to this came in the form of a kind of acceptance. He realized that he doesn’t need to define himself; and that if there was something in the world that only he could do, he could add value to someone else’s life. That’s all that mattered. He started to use his ability to think logically to solve any problem he’s given, instead of insisting that he be labelled a ‘detective’. This is seen in how he solves the mystery of Juumoji and uses it to his advantage.
It is also seen in the final episode, when is considers offering to help Chitanda with her family business. Of his own accord. Gasp.
Now, everybody comes up with different ways to deal with the question of who they really are. Some people spend hours listening to the Power of Now (my dad), or some people just leave the question unanswered (me). A few people actually set out to find the answer (and I suppose they would’ve attained enlightenment or something), but fewer still just accept themselves as they are without trying to label themselves (or maybe that IS the state of enlightenment? Who knows?)
By the way, I think that that (the time between the ‘Fool’s Endroll’ and ‘Juumoji‘ arcs, and when that acceptance of the self came for Oreki) was around the same time he begins to accept his feelings for Chitanda Eru, as well. (Because what would a character analysis on Oreki Houtarou be without a Chitanda Eru?)
I actually feel like Chitanda Eru as a character is a personification of Oreki Houtarou’s own curiosity and love for mystery. That aspect of his personality had been squashed down by his ‘low energy’ lifestyle and the ‘self’ that had been created from it; but Chitanda Eru forced it back out for him. Or perhaps she simply made up for it. Either way, it’s quite clear that Oreki’s behavior with Chitanda mirrored his relationship with himself.
After all, the initial attitude Oreki had toward dealing with solving mysteries was, well, to blame it on Chitanda. As previously said, he would ‘land up spending more energy’ fighting her than to just give her the answer she’s looking for. Then he started to drop all resistance. He didn’t even try to seriously argue with her anymore (we see this in the Fool’s Endroll arc). And after a while, he seemed to almost seek out problems to solve (like the thing with Ogi Masakiyo). So much for his low energy lifestyle.
In particular, that ‘test’ that they conducted in episode 19 seemed awfully a lot like a test for Oreki to prove his own skill to himself, rather than a test to prove the lack of such to Chitanda. And after that episode, we see the changed and wiser Oreki (personally, I didn’t like how his personality just shifted like that without any explanation, so I’m giving it one); and we also see that Oreki and Chitanda have become closer.
Well, getting locked up together in a shed for a few hours must have helped a bit as well.
But anyway, Oreki Houtarou is a character who goes through a pretty common dilemma: the question of how the ‘self’ gets defined and how that can affect your life. It’s a pretty interesting thing to see, especially since I went through that phase myself.
I actually can relate a lot to Oreki Houtarou as a person, but probably in the opposite manner. I have been told my entire life that I am extremely talented in various things. But I cannot be sure whether my ability to do the things I can are really my ‘talent’ or are simply a belief that had been put into my head by the people around me that I can do those things.
It is a known fact that simply believing that you have a certain quality can cause the manifestation of said quality in yourself.
But, if that’s the case, then does that mean that talent doesn’t exist at all? And how did people come up with those beliefs in the first place? Was there some kind of trigger?
Like I said earlier though, I just choose to leave these questions as is.
Unlike Chitanda, who seeks out answers, I’m the type to seek out questions.
“It is the brain, the little gray cells on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within–not without.” ~ Poirot
― Agatha Christie
As a random quick side note, this particular theme of self-identity and the ‘gap between who you are and who you want to be’ extends beyond the character of Oreki Houtarou. We see it in Fukube Satoshi as well.
Fukube is an extremely interesting character, who is envious of Oreki’s talents in a field he admires.
Oreki’s description of Fukube as an ‘ese-suijin’ (似非粋人) is actually partially accurate. The term translates roughly to ‘a fake mirror of a person who is cultured’. (The person he’s trying to mirror is perhaps Sherlock Holmes? Oreki?)
The word ‘ese’ (似非), in particular, refers to a person who is trying to copy someone else, and initially seems like the real thing, until you realize that it’s ever so slightly different. So it’s not quite a complete product.
In that case, aren’t we all ese in a way?
Most of the ideas in here are completely my own with few outside references. But I did find the bit about people developing personalities based on what they are told they came from here.
This is my first proper piece of non-fiction writing I’ve posted online ever. So critique is very welcome. What do you guys think? Any experiences about your sense of self you’d like to share? Insights? Factual errors in my writing? Is it too long and boring? Please leave a comment!