A novel about a classic literature club, how monotonous must it be?
Koten-bu is a novel like no other I've read before. With its classy and whimsical atmosphere, peculiar plot, smooth and easy-going prose, amazing interactions between its quirky characters, plenty of references to western works and mysteries that are so simple yet with the way that they're presented they may seem like they're just as complex as the ones only Sherlock Holmes himself would be able to solve. With so many characteristics as these it is not an easy task to find a word to describe this novel, but if I had to choose,
it would definitely be just one: Boring.
𝐒𝐭𝐨𝐫𝐲 (and storytelling):
Hotaro Oreki, a self-proclaimed "energy-saver" is an ordinary-looking, introverted and indifferent teenage boy with an average appearance. Lazy is the definitely the best word to describe his personality. But despite having such demeanor, to his displeasure, his eccentric older sister orders him to join the 'Classics Club' before it gets closed down because of its lack of active members.
Upon arriving in the said club he meets Eru Chitanda, another student from Kamiyama High School, which is described as being a graceful lady with a long, flowing dark hair and large black pupils. With a great sense of curiosity and a very persuasive personality she manages to bring out his potential as a mystery-solving detective and make his life-motto "If I don't have to do it, I won't. If I have to do it, I'll make it quick" crumble into pieces. Every time something relatively puzzling appears, all she has to do is say those 'magical words' to him, and as if he was being a victim of the spell of a witch, he has no choice but to accept her requests and in a mystery-filled school such as Kamiyama High there are plenty of enigmas waiting to be solved.
Remember when I said that this novel was boring? Well... in a general consensus it kind of is. There's no action, no murders, no betrayals, none of this. Only riddles to be solved by the Classics Club's members. But to me, I didn't feel bored not even for a second while reading this novel. Sure, the protagonist himself may be boring, as in a sense that the only thing that we know about him is the fact that he has a sister and he's not very fond of socializing. But just like many protagonists, he's a blank P.O.V. character created for people to put themselves in his shoes and experience the story through his angle. But to counterweight this, there's always something interesting and noteworthy happening around him to keep me entertained.
The serene and tranquil storytelling this novel has makes text flow easily and smoothly. The author chooses carefully which words to use to describe every scene, gesture or expression. The narrative is neither sloppy nor pretentious giving this novel a calm and peaceful atmosphere for most of the time, but it can also be engaging and captivating when the mysteries are being solved. Simply put: it befits perfectly for a light-hearted mystery novel such as this one.
The themes which are dealt in this novel range from discussions about subjectivity and objectivity when judging the quality of fictional works to dilemmas related to life choices and their subsequent consequences. While the main genre of this novel is mystery, there are also dashes of drama and a considerable amount of comic relief can also be found on it.
Oreki is a passive, calm and reserved person that prefers being alone reading novels or napping rather than spending time with other people. Chitanda is the president of the Classics Club and the one responsible for making the plot progress with her energetic personality and incessant curiosity. While she can be a polite, ladylike ojou-sama from a wealthy family she completely disregards the concept of personal space from time to time when she's doing her requests. Fukube is a cheerful yet sarcastic and also rather flamboyant person that finds joy in the constant act of teasing his best friend. And lastly Ibara, she's a very strict person that can come off as annoying for most of the time, but she can also be friendly and pleasant when she wants to, as she developed a great friendship bond with Chitanda, whom she affectionately nicknamed "Chii-chan". And these are the members from the Classics Club who spend their youth in Kami High School solving mysteries and dealing with their daily routines.
The interactions between these characters happen so spontaneously, it's something extremely entertaining to watch. For most of the time everyone just keeps teasing and mocking Oreki, but sometimes he is able to give some snarky responses to them. Since Oreki knows Fukube and Ibara since middle school, Chitanda feels like an outsider and because of this she's always making her best to get to know them better, always asking innocent questions while staring at them with her large black eyes. With every mystery that is solved the characters change a little, just a little and learn different things from each other every passing day.
One character that is not from the Classics Club, but is definitely noteworthy is, my personal favorite, Fuyumi Irisu, nicknamed as 'The Empress' by Oreki. She's graceful yet cold and manipulative and she's willing to do what it takes to get what/ever she wants. She even outsmarted Oreki into solving one mystery for her and that left him in a sour mood for a while. But even with a personality like this she is not immune to Chitanda's persuasiveness, as she said that she was a victim of the power of "Chitanda's Eyes" when she requested her help to sell the Hyouka anthologies during the school festival.
Other than that, all I have to say is that the author did a pretty good job with the characterization and fleshing out the characters throughout the story.
•Not so good protagonist;
•Fantastic heroine that drives the plot forwards;
•Excellent main cast overall;
•Fuyumi Irisu best girl.
This is an unique and extremely enjoyable novel (at least for me). I have fun reading it and also translating it (I'm translating it into my own language - ENG→PT-BR)*. The mysteries are simple but they're intriguing and well executed. The characters are brilliant, they're charismatic and well-rounded and they have amazing interactions with each other. The drama is neither weak nor forced and the jokes are genuinely funny. I'm glad I've found this novel because I honestly had a great time reading it. I'm sure this novel is going to stay forever amongst my favorites for being an amusing and enlightening work of art. And even when I'm not reading it, I can't stop thinking about it!
*/Edit: not anymore.
•Simply a work of art.
Story - 9/10
Characters - 9/10
Art - N/A
Enjoyment - 10/10
Overall - 9.3/10
Similar recommendations for those looking for stories centered around mystery(/slice of life), drama and some comedy:
Akuryou Series, Yahari Ore no Seisun Love Comedy wa Machigatteiru., Haruhi Suzumiya Series, Gosick, Kokoro Connect, CLANNAD, Monogatari Series, HaruChika: Haruta to Chika wa Seishun suru, Zetsuen no Tempest, and Natsume Yuujinchou.
Let me begin by admitting that Hyouka is by far one of my favorite series in anime. And while many say that the artwork in the show is one of its best aspects, it is truly seen in its original novel series that that is clearly not the case, and bluntly, it isn’t even needed.
I will refrain from an elaborate review of the first few volumes since KyoAni produced a spectacular adaptation. But for formal review sake, I would simply like to state that these chapters do a wonderful job introducing our beloved characters, and giving life to our favorite Classics Club. Oreki is the
same as always and Chitanda is as curious as to her anime counterpart.
However, now the question is how well does the story continue? What have we not seen under the precision and beauty of KyoAni’s production? Well to put simply, it’s the same quality of substances that viewers have already experienced in Hyouka(2012). Currently, there are only two additional volumes that are not part of the animation (except for one chapter about Ogi-sensei and the helicopters).
The first additional volume, or volume 5, is an arc where the Classics Club members are now second years. They attempt to recruit more members and stumble upon an underclassman that seems interested initially. However, her interest suddenly changes and tension is caused between Chitanda and this new character. Oreki utilizes his power of deduction, as he does, to find the reason for her sudden change of heart. These chapters were an interesting read. It gave us a shake up in the cast as well as an entertaining chance to imagine Oreki in his prime environment, the school marathon.
However, what I truly enjoyed was volume 6. Although there is still a slim chance, I still feel disappointed that I probably won’t be able to experience these chapters in an animation form. For an extremely concise summary, these chapters basically dive deeper into our club members (all except for Satoshi - but he already had that Valentine chapter so it’s all good). It gives the spotlight for Ibara and her manga, Oreki and his motto, and Chitanda and her future. While these chapters are episodic, as viewers of Hyouka can expect, it is written superbly, emotionally intriguing, and simply made as a sign of love for the characters.
Throughout the series, we get to see Oreki use his logic in these so-called mysteries that many could argue to be futile or obvious. But what I learned from Hyouka and continue to agree with after reading these two volumes, is simply that the beauty of this series is not in the detective work. The true gem is found within our four curious characters (some more curious than others), their bond, and their ever so subtle development as they enjoy their rose-coloured high school life.
Perhaps I’m being biased. Perhaps the translators deserve the credit by providing improvements, obvious or subtle, to the story (I will never know if this is the case). Perhaps it is naive for me to say that there isn’t anything else like this series in the world (partly because one could say this for any piece of art that hasn’t been struck with copyright infringements, or partly because my experience in (light)novels is meager compared to those who can proudly say they are experienced in this medium).
But perhaps Yonezawa created a series that is actually as magnificent as I believe it to be... yeah, I prefer that one. And if it is true, it gives merit to my review. But alas, since this is a subjective review, as all reviews perhaps are, I believe that my opinion on Oreki’s quasi-idyllic life could be valid and/or useful to other readers who might have stumbled upon this wonderful series, no matter which “Perhaps…” is true.
Although what I’m about to say is unfortunately derived from my pessimistic expectations of Yonezawa, I genuinely hope for the continuation of this wonderful series. Maybe this series was just something for fun. Maybe this series was just a lucky break. But as Irisu-senpai once said, “Everyone ought to recognize their own talents… Or it would be painful to watch for those without”. But maybe the author got bored of the series, or blinded by the rose-colored life he manifested. Or maybe he is lost and is unable to see a clear path for this series to take. If that’s the case, then I give you these wings, Yonezawa, the path might be hidden in the sky. But if you respond as the innocent Chitanda said in the last chapter, “Even though I’m told I now have wings, what am I supposed to do?”, I will take one small step further than Oreki's response by providing a likely obvious answer: just keep writing. The rest is for you to sort out.