「ミサキ怪談 其の一」 (Misaki kaidan sono ichi)
“Misaki Stairs Part I”
I won’t say we’re getting into the meat and potatoes of Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun because, well- we’re not. But we’re starting in on the pre-appetizer at least. If this adaptation really does end after one cour we’re only going to get about as far as the salad, but that’s still a lot better than nothing. And if the anime had any intentions of making major changes to try and cram everything into 12 episodes we’re not seeing any evidence of it so far – the series has been very faithful to the manga, pacing included.
From the beginning we’ve been told that Hanako is only one of seven school wonders (it always seems to be seven, for some reason), but as yet there hasn’t been much talk of the others. That changed this week, as Wonder #2 entered into the narrative in a major way. Nene’s friend Aoi (Sato Minako) – in a misguided attempt to cheer her up – tells Nene of the “Misaki Stairs”. Step on the fourth stair and you’ll be dragged into the world of the dead and ripped to pieces, so the legend goes, and that step is drenched in the blood of its victims every twilight. A silly notion to be sure, but as Nene notes Aoi’s fairy stories have tended to be true lately – and when her friend not only disappears from school but everyone’s memories, it’s clear there’s something to this one too.
Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun so far ascribes to the old adage that most myths are based on a grain of truth. When no one – not even her mother – can even recall Aoi’s existence, Nene goes to Hanako-kun for help – and she’s not the only one, as Kou has two classmates who’ve gone missing too. He’s not there to help but rather because he thinks Hanako is responsible, but Kou can’t even get a rise out of Hanako at this stage – he’s entertainment value at best. But he insists on coming along when Hanako declares that he’ll take Nene to the spirit world to look for Aoi, even though Hanako-kun declares his protection will only extend to his servant.
What these early arcs are mostly about is twofold, really – establishing the characters and establishing the rules of this world. Last week Hanako told Nene that the youkai and spirits in the school were forced to conform to their perception by the students. Now, he informs her that their very existence is dependent on human belief, and not only belief but discussion. And that scary or traumatic memories last much longer than nice, fun ones. So they terrorize the humans from time to time. All this applies to Hanako-kun himself of course, which is more or less the elephant in the room here, but for now Misaki is the spirit in question.
The visual design of this series is much like the title character himself to me. It’s colorful and playful, but there’s an underlying sense of menace to it, something you usually can’t quantify even when you know it’s there. It was vital that Lerche capture this element, because that visual sense isn’t just here for show – it’s part of the very fabric of the story itself. Much in the same way Boogiepop wa Warawanai would have crumbled if the anime had tried to change the source material’s distinct narrative style to suit mainstream tastes, I think Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun would have if the adaptation had gone for a conventional visual style. It hasn’t, and it’s taken some heat for it – but it was absolutely the right decision.
Misaki’s world is a bizarre, surreal creation – reflecting on some level, surely, the psyche of its creator. Misaki (played with considerable panache by Yukana) leads the trio on a hunt for her body parts, starting with her arm, and the denizens of her nightmare world make things difficult for them every step of the way. Hanako notes that Wonders are virtually unbeatable within their own domains (his is the bathroom, of course). Unless, of course, one can destroy their Yorishiro (no, not Norishiro Nene), in Shinto a sacred object that in effect acts as the embodiment of the God. But that’s going to be easier said than done…