Hyouka was a great series, one of the best of the year. I loved how the series dealt so lovingly with the mundane mysteries of everyday life; how Oreki gradually emerges from his shell, egged on by Chitanda, and how the club is dragged forward by Chitanda’s infinite capacity for wonder. But my favorite character in Hyouka is Mayaka.
What’s so special about Mayaka? She finds herself in a club of remarkable people: Chitanda, the heir to a wealthy family, beautiful and passionate. Oreki, a genius. Satoshi, with a picture-perfect memory.
Mayaka herself, in comparison, is rather ordinary. She likes reading manga, but is only a middling artist. She’s intelligent, but not a genius like Oreki. She’s cute, but nowhere near as beautiful as Chitanda (in the eyes of her classmates at least, who are, admittedly, idiots). Mayaka’s not even all that dedicated to the literature club, since she splits her time with the manga club.
Mayaka is not the best at anything. Yet she is absolutely remarkable, and, I would argue, the most fascinating character in the show. The key to good characterization is not to display some personality, traits or abilities: the most essential component of characterization is showing how characters interact with one another. Hourou Musuko excelled at this, which is what made it such an excellent show. And Hyouka does just as well, if on a smaller scale.
Mayaka is defined not by what she does, but in how she interacts with other people. Her close friendship with Chitanda. The biting sarcastic barbs she throws at Oreki. Her suppressed and subdued love for Satoshi. She doesn’t treat everyone the same. How she acts towards each of her friends is wildly different, even if there is an underlying consistency to her actions. This difference in treatment is essential to good characterization. After all, it’s how everyone acts in real life.
If I have to pick a favorite moment of Mayaka, I’ll choose the Valentines Day episode where she gives chocolate to Satoshi. Hyouka turns this into a mystery when the chocolates disappear. Strangely enough, Mayaka and Satoshi hardly appear in this episode at all— most of the work is done by Oreki and Chitanda. Yet with this setup we fully explore the relationship between them. Satoshi is afraid to return Mayaka’s love, but his feelings are clear regardless. Mayaka continues to wait patiently, although she is often angry with him. This was the most beautiful relationship of the year.