OP: 「No. 7」 by Jibaku Shounen Band
「トイレの花子さん」 (Jibaku Hanako)
“Toilet Bound Hanako”
These moments are always a little nervy – when your top pick for a season finally premieres (they always seem to happen late, too). When shows with middling to no expectations debut you’re playing with house money – if you hit a blackjack so much the better. But when it’s a series you expect and indeed depend on to be a tentpole, it really hurts when you bust. You might not be able to pay the rent or worse yet, be forced to eat at Arby’s or something…
To be honest I was doubly concerned with Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun because I know, being a manga reader, that the series plays its cards quite close to the vest. It starts out in a manner that’s true to what the series is, but only shows you what’s on the surface. When you know what’s coming that’s certainly no problem – and to be fair, I was pretty caught up in the manga’s story from the beginning. But would non-manga readers jump to the wrong conclusions about what sort of series this is? That’s not a bad thing in itself – in fact I would even say it’s sort of intentional – but I hate the thought of folks dropping it.
As it turns out I needn’t have worried – at least I don’t think so, since I have no idea how this will go over. But the anime premiere was on-point in capturing the early pages of the manga, and what makes it so interesting. Lerche is a studio that’s evolved to an unusual degree, stylistically diversifying in a huge way and delivering some superb anime over the past couple of years. They’ve put together a solid team here in director Andou Masaomi (Kanata no Astra, White Album 2, Hakumei to Mikochi) and writer Nakanishi Yasuhiro. I’m also a fan of composer Takaki Hiroshi (Kyousougiga), who delivers some of the most cinematic music in TV anime.
What of our series itself? Aida Iro’s manga – much-loved by booksellers and readers alike – appears in Gangan’s Monthly GFantasy. It, like Gangan generally, is a haven for smart manga that defy demographic borders. GFantasy specifically has a lot of “shounen” written (and largely read) by women, including Kuroshitsuji. And if there’s one series that this very distinctive one reminds me of at least incrementally, it would be Kuroshitsuji. They’re quite different (Aida-sensei is a much less flamboyant writer than Taboso Yana IMHO), but there’s something in the gothic sensibility that definitely connects them. That said, they seem more alike now than they will after a few episodes of Hanako-kun have gone by.
Everything that happens in the premiere suggests at something that will happen later, but for now let’s focus on the now. Kamome Academy, like so many schools in Japan (this is true, not an animanga conceit) has a “seven mysteries” lineup. And like so many, one of those is that of “toilet-bound Hanako-san”. Just why this particular myth is so widespread in Japan I’m not sure – clearly there’s something about it that elementally resonates with young girls. Kamome’s Hanako mystery comes with a twist though, as Yashiro Nene (Kito Akari) finds out when she goes to the third stall and summons “her”. This Hanako is a boy – and not only that, he’s played by Ogata Megumi.
One imagines that Nene’s wish is a very common one for toilet-bound Hanakotachi everywhere – success in love. Indeed she – and it – seem very much by-the-books at first. But the quirkiness of this story doesn’t end with Hanako being a boy, it only begins there. For starters, rather than offer Nene some ghostly power to fulfill her wish – and thus extract the usual price – he warns her off that track as too dangerous, and tries to coach her through her “romance” with rather mundane methods. Nene ends up choosing the dangerous route anyway – mermaid scales, though they’re named “matchmaking charms” for a very dark reason. But she does learn something in her quest for love with second-year Minamoto Teru (Uchida Yuuma) – about herself.
Without going deeper than I should, I think it’s fair to say that it’s obvious Hanako-kun doesn’t necessarily abide by human moral norms. What would he have done if Nene had actually tried to use magic to compel another to her will? Who knows – but as is, he doesn’t mollycoddle her here by any means. Fittingly given that he’s literally a mystery, the mystery of Hanako-kun – who he is and how he got to be what he is – is at the heart of Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun. But it’s only part of the story, and we’ve barely scratched the surface one way or the other at this point.
While I’m by no means a neutral, I’ll be very curious to see how this series is received. The art style is wonderful and eye-catching, and the main charm of the series is its expectation-defying take on the situations it depicts – but that part takes some time to evolve and patience from the audience. It’s also been quite a while since we’ve heard Ogata-san in this sort of role, and voice acting in anime has changed quite a lot in that time. I get exactly where she’s going with Hanako and I think she’s a great choice (Sakamoto Maaya would have been even better IMO, but maybe that’s too on the nose). I hope my worries are unfounded, because this is an amazing series and I’d dearly love to see it be popular – not least because I’d love to see it get a second season.
ED: 「Tiny Light」 by Akari Kitou