To literally put first things first, I was very glad that this week’s Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun picked up right after the last one ended, manga-wise. Not only because I don’t want to see chapters skipped for artistic reasons (though that’s certainly true), but because burning through material looks critical right now. The February sales figures are in, and Hanako-kun placed 4th among all series in volume sales – behind only Kimetsu no Yaiba, Gin no Saji (which released its final volume) and Go-Toubun no Hayanome, and ahead of some big-time heavy hitters. It’s on-pace to repeat in March, too.
In short – the anime has given a huge boost to manga sales. That does my heart good for all sorts of reasons, and it means that if this series doesn’t get a continuation there’s something really weird going on. Even if this was unexpected there should still be room to pivot, and with about 20 chapters burned in nine episodes, we should have plenty of material to make a second season happen. At the very least I’m going to be extremely disappointed if we don’t get an announcement by the end of Episode 12, because it’s hard to imagine what more the production committee could possibly ask for.
In Japan at least, Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun is appreciated for the gem it is, and it seems to be doing reasonably well with Westerners too. This episode was yet another illustration of why this series is so strong, operating with a completely different cast than last week (only a small Hanako appearance common to both), and a radically different tone, yet not skipping a beat. We’re also seeing something that reflects both Aida Iro’s skill in constructing a story and the anime’s direction – every episode is a slow build, and the B-part is always stronger than the A-part.
In addition to showcasing how Nene’s hopeless romanticism is a trip-wire for her (it even extends to idol-raising cellphone games), this ep is a showcase for the dark reflection team. Natsuhiko comes to fetch Nene from her homeroom, and naturally she’s taken in by his sempai charm and good looks. She should certainly have realized this was a trap – especially after Tsukasa shows up and turned her into a fish – though to be fair Nene wasn’t aware of Natsuhiko’s connection to Sakura. Still, once she wakes up she seemingly forgets all that in the flush of delicious tea and Sakura’s big-sister commiseration.
Broadly speaking, the Tsukasa-Sakura-Natsuhiko dynamic is an obvious parallel to Amane-Nene-Kou. And Tsukasa is not remotely shy about referring to himself as Amane’s opposite. But beyond that, things are still mysterious. Sakura imperiously acts as if she’s in charge of this group, bossing the boys (living and dead) relentlessly. But she says Tsukasa is the one giving the orders, and she has no choice – as with Nene and Amane – but to obey. We don’t know what her wish was of course (there are elements of this explanation that raise red flags generally) but her sympathetic tone towards Nene is certainly in conflict with stranding her (and Natsuhiko) in a sinking room and blaming it on just following Tsukasa’s orders.
While it’s never explicitly stated, it’s clear from Natsuhiko’s flip attitude that he knows he’s in no real danger here. Does that apply to Nene too – and if so, why bother stranding her there in the first place? In any case, as Natsuhiko plays the gallant bakayarou, Hanako – who genuinely always is there to save Nene, just as she says – manages to reach her via radio and mokke, and inform her she’s “nowhere”. Natsuhiko starts opening doors – seemingly unconcerned about the dangers on the other side – and is eventually dragged off. Nene for her part tries to listen to Hanako’s advice and does eventually find a door she recognizes – but it takes her back to a time (if not a place) she doesn’t expect.
Even in a comedy-first episode Hanako-kun has feels to burn, and there’s no question that what Nene sees in July 18, 1969 will both draw her closer to Hanako and increase the distance between them. Seeing a vision is one thing – seeing a living, breathing boy (younger than she is, let’s not forget) injured and in tears quite another. There’s a little extra urgency in the greetings she shares with Hanako after he plucks her back to her own time (with a little of the past along for the ride), especially after he apologizes for ruining the donuts she made for him. I know this much – it’s going to be a criminal shame if we don’t get a second season, not just because Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun is a great series but because we’re barely even at the tip of the iceberg.