The jump in quality from “Eba” to Kanya Festa” may be one of the most dramatic intra-series leaps I can remember.
One of the first comparisons I made with Hyouka was to “Seinfeld”, and this arc really goes a long way towards showing just why it felt that way to me. The ability to make doing effectively nothing really interesting is a lot harder than it sounds. “Seinfeld” was probably the best ever at it, and Hyouka is one of the best anime ever at it. The “Eba” arc reminds me of the last couple of seasons of “Seinfeld”, after Larry David left, when the show had too much plot and lost the essence of what made it work. “Kanya Festa” is right in Hyouka’s sweet spot, though – agreeably silly and obsessive about the small details.
“What did you do today?”
“I got up, I went to school, and I sat at a table selling pamphlets.”
“That’s a show!”
Well, throw in some cooking, a game show and a catfight in cosplay and that’s not just a show – it’s four shows, which is what this arc will be after next week’s episode. But rather than drive me crazy I’m loving it, because this culture festival has been about the best one I can remember seeing in anime. Mystery? Oh yeah, there is one, and it pops up again this week for about seven seconds – and that’s just how I like my Hyouka mysteries, of the “Oh, by the way” variety. I suppose Houtarou’s sister is probably behind these silly stunts with the “thefts” and notes, but we’ll find out soon enough. As always with this show, when it’s working it’s about the journey, not the destination.
There wasn’t anything this time that had me howling like the game show spoof and Satoshi’s performance in it, but a steady buzz of amusement ran through the whole ep. I quite liked the “Trick-or-treat! Yaaaaay!” girls who traded two bags of cookies and a crucial (you knew it would be) bag of flour for a copy of Hyouka and Houtarou’s Glock squirter (not as dirty as it sounds). The meat of the ep (sorry) was devoted to the Wildfire contest – four teams of three students each, cooking for 20 minutes each. An interesting concept, sort of “Iron Chef” in shifts. It’s impossible not to notice that the President of the Cooking Society (wearing a fake nose and glasses for some reason) is played by Sugita Tomokazu, and he has a lot of fun with the role (as he always does). KyoAni seems intent on hiring every name seiyuu in the directory for this show.
The whole contest was a lot of fun, especially with the rollicking BGM track played over it. The facial gymnastics of Satoshi and Chitanda were consistently amusing, as was some of the stuff cooked up by the competing teams (does Giseyaki even exist?) Mayaka was late, finishing up her poster for the Manga Society, but arrives with 15 minutes left only to find that the ADD/HDD Chitanda has managed to use the team’s entire supply of ingredients apart from a bag of shrimp heads and the butt ends of a few veggies. Enter Houtarou with the aforementioned bag of flour, which he relays via Satoshi to Mayaka with ten minutes left. What does she make? Kakiage of course – a kind of mish-mosh cross between tempura and a pancake. The highlight for me, though, comes at the end of the contest when Houtarou declares of his limited role, “That was hard work.” The subtext of course is that Houtarou is someone who actually cares about the success of the team (as witness his restless leg during the contest). Mayaka is doing this very much to impress Satoshi, and I confess, I was quite surprised to find all three of them such accomplished cooks.