Hyakko follows some of the events in the lives of four first year high school girls who attend a rather prestigious (if absurdly large) school who are brought together by chance (and incredibly poor senses of direction which are rather sizable negatives on an absurdly large campus) and who bond- sometimes in slow and even a semi-forced way at times- as they spend their days on the campus encountering some of the other eclectic students who have gathered there as well as try to deal with the often capricious antics of the groups more outrageous member, Torako Kageyama, who tends to be very gregarious but her energetic actions sometimes happen by reflex rather than thought which can create a bit of mischief in her wake to deal with. As the students try to manage their days there will be chances for some odd encounters, misinterpreted events and plenty of chances for jokes and puns to fly as these exceptional girls live their lives boldly if not exactly with a direction in mind.
Hyakko feels like an odd tale that falls into a weird gap in terms of when it was created and aired on Japanese TV as it follows a couple of years after The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya which seriously took the odd girl adventures in school (and outside of as well) concept to another level and set a rather tremendous bar for other series to decide to follow or not. In some respects Hyakko’s decision to try a different route where the characters aren’t (usually) near as odd or over the top as Haruhi’s puts it into a position to feel almost tame in comparison which may turn off some viewers who have become acclimated to frenetic energy series and as such the still high, yet not wildly so, nature of Hyakko may feel slow and somewhat subdued and thus requires its stories to carry more weight that raw energy doesn’t quite make up for and in this it isn’t entirely successful. On the other hand though, Haruhi herself and many of the characters that have followed after her in order to copy some of her aspects have turned off many potential viewers as well as sometimes that energy manifests in characters in ways that aren’t always likeable all the time with their attitudes.
I wish I could say this more reasoned and middle ground approach to the characters made up for things and help make Hyakko a series that stands well on its own but in truth many of the episodes feel like they are based around jokes that are funny for a bit of time but that they stay on the stage far too long and take what might have been much funnier with a lighter touch and turn them into bits that by the end the viewer is glad to see go. Hyakko probably would have been twice the series it is if the writers had simply allowed themselves to turn the series into something like either Lucky Star or Azamanga Diaoh that allow jokes to run their course and switch a couple of times throughout an episode as opposed to simply doing so at the halfway break (if the story is lucky) and while it doesn’t quite turn the series into an unwatchable slog it does take the sheen off many of the jokes
This actually can be forgivable if the characters can carry the series as even some less than stellar material can be delivered well from interesting characters but this idea exposes Hyakko’s single greatest weakness as many of the characters feel more like archetypes that were sketched out to carry a shorter comic but that when expanded out really fell like they are lucky to be bordering on making it to two dimensions at times as the series often fails to develop them in most cases and in others by the time they do it feels like the timing is off. Unfortunately for Hyakko it aired in the same TV season as Toradora! which also used a tiger concept (both lead character’s names in the respective series mean tiger) but the other series just had a better focus on giving some life to its characters (who also display some very strong archetypes in their design) and it just kind of underscores how shallow at times Hyakko’s cast is. None of this is to say Hyakko is bad exactly as it isn’t, it just often isn’t magical when at times it feels like it almost could have been but what exists is solid- if not spectacular- and the series did manage to garner enough success to produce an OVA sequel (sadly not included here).
While the series may have some flaws Lucky Penny does a seeming amount of yeoman’s work in their release as they include a rather rich translator’s notes section to explain some of the ideas and puns that feature to quite an extent in the series (and perhaps this level of gag that needed explaining to me is part of why the series seemed to be lacking to an extent in my viewing) that will help to cover many of the ideas bantered about in some of the episodes. In final measure Hyakko is a series that may appeal more to the fan who has seen less series in this particular genre than those who consume them all but even the genre veteran will find moments to laugh out loud at, even if the whole may not be quite as funny bone tickling throughout as some moments within.