Sometimes, it takes time for a show to find it’s groove, or for us to find ours when watching the show if we give it that chance. The first word that came to my mind when watching Hyakko was “off-beat”, or at least “off the beaten path” (which now that I think about it, doesn’t make too much sense) from the show’s attempts of humor. It pulled through jokes in its own way at it’s own pace, and though that resulted in timing and execution problems of some of the attempts along the way, it usually worked for me. But more importantly, my initial thoughts of Hyakko also came from the cast of “off-beat” characters and their interactions, and that’s where this show is won, in my opinion.
For a show that focuses on those aspects like Hyakko does, it becomes a hit-or-miss watch depending on how the characters are received. None of what you would call the main foursome were annoying or bothersome to me at the start of the series, though I saw how people were bugged by Torako’s unrestrained personality, or Ayumi’s lack of self-esteem for example. Given that there weren’t any major changes to those characteristics or of other characters, the fact could be a problem for some. But I also felt like from the beginning you could see a nice chemistry present among just the foursome. From seeing how Torako and Tatsuki regarded each other initially (as instant friend and instant annoyance, respectively), to how surprised both of them and Ayumi were whenever Suzume went about her eccentric ways, I felt like those dynamics given the various character traits present were played well. Not in the sense that everything was balanced off equally (tit for tat and all that), but that most interactions, no matter who were involved, tended to have an entertaining effect, though it was a bit off sometimes. I think that was where Hyakko’s strength lied, and it only got better as more characters got into the mix.
There’s a lot of interesting odd-balls in the cast of Hyakko besides the main foursome, and one thing I liked was that there were portions of the episodes that dealt with each of them and their idiosyncrasies. From Nene’s flamboyance, to Ushio’s actual attitude not reflecting her outward delinquent appearance, to Kitsune’s activities sorta befitting his name, or Touma’s self-applied isolation from everyone else, the brief focuses left me wanting to know more about the secondary cast. What made those vignettes special was that there was a thread running through all of them in the form Torako, who factors into all of them directly or indirectly. She’s the only one that is usually curious (or very nosy, depending on the person), foolhardy, headstrong and open enough to interact with a lot of people that others probably wouldn’t bother dealing with, including that some that don’t want to deal with her. She does it with no intent other than being generally interested in what other people were doing at the time without asking for anything in return, while other times taking random appearances from other people in stride.
In the process, Torako ends up bringing people outside of their comfort zones, often unintentionally, and that allows the characters to open themselves up a little bit more to us, though most of them still only have one or two prevailing traits. And because of Torako being involved, it felt like the focus was never directly on “this is what makes this character special/weird”, as may shows are wont to do. As such, the quirks come out indirectly and more naturally through those interactions, which led to a stronger interest and feeling of relating to the cast than I thought when I started the series. Hyakko’s use of this led to moments of synergy between the entire cast that I haven’t seen in a lot of anime, where each character and their characteristics seemed to fit together in a completely satisfying whole. Episode 8 showed off that collective effort the best, where members of the main class come together in an impromptu beauty parlor to initially make over the seemingly creepy Inori leading to other members of the class as well as the teacher. It might be strange to say was one of the best moments in anime that I saw in 2008, but it was. The moment also understated how things can just flow when people are just being themselves, and in how Torako, from getting to know others, is the natural focal point that started and directed that flow unconsciously.
Not surprisingly given the setting and all, Hyakko reminded me of some of my experiences in high school. Especially in how I was randomly placed with a group of people that I probably would never have interacted with in my life if I never knew them in that capacity, and that getting to know some of them was, for good or bad, an interesting experience. Of course, that’s just one of the things that this level of secondary education provided, but I think it was also one of the most important, despite how you never think of it as such when you’re actually there, and I’d assume that’s the case with Torako and friends here. Aside all of the inconsistent animation quality, problems with comedic timing/impact and so on, I feel like with Hyakko, we at least get a simple, decent look into characters just beginning to expand their world. Though I’m probably overstating that. Wouldn’t mind overstating some Torako x Touma though. 😛