「カガミジゴク 其の二」 (Kagamijigoku sono ni)
“Hell of Mirrors Part II”
While anything written about anime has to deal with the real elephant in the room (the room in this case being the whole world), as far as Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun goes we have a very specific pachyderm here. It should be obvious to anyone, manga reader or no, that this story has barely gotten unspooled yet. And with only one episode to go, the matter of whether we’ll get a second season – and/or an announcement after the finale – hangs over everything. By any conventional measure we should, given the big spike in manga sales for an already popular series. But anime in the production committee era dances to the beat of its own drum, so I’m trying not to get my hopes up.
One thing I know for sure is it would be a colossal shame if one more ep is all we get, because this appetizer has been better than almost every main course anime serves up. Anime can serve as a much-needed respite in troubled times in many different ways, but with Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun the formula is simple – the story is so engrossing that it’s easy to surrender yourself to it for 22 minutes and forget all the terrifying things on your twitter feed. They’ll still be waiting for you when you’re done of course, but those small breaks are all we have to cling to sometimes so thank goodness we have them.
While it may be an escape Hanako-kun certainly isn’t escapism. This is a dark ride, and that very much applies to Mitsuba. Unfortunately for him he’s earned a place as Tsukasa’s newest plaything, a toy to be experimented upon. Having banished him to Number 3’s domain, he now tries to force-feed him the heart of the Mystery he’s just murdered (seemingly with ease, and on his own turf too). This, he says, will make Mitsuba “strong” – but understandably, he wants nothing to do with this. Nene tries to come to her ghostly kouhai’s aid but Tsukasa puts her to sleep (only after remember that he’d been admonished – by someone – to be gentle with girls).
Having no idea Mitsuba is trapped there too, Hanako-kun and Kou are tying to get to the Hell of Mirrors with no luck. Desperate, (read into that what you will) Hanako turns to Tsuchigomori for help, and he’s still helpless against his old student’s charm. He enlists Yako to assist, since her function as Mystery – though her domain has been abandoned after her defeat – is space. Through her realm all other realms are accessible, and she reluctantly agrees to help after Kou asks her what it’s like to have her will taken over by ever-changing human rumors about her. She remains herself, Yako says, but it’s like a side of her she normally conceals is unleashed on the world, and she can’t stop it.
I think it’s worth pointing out that Chiba Shouya is doing a really wonderful job as Kou, a less flashy role than Ogata Megumi’s double-turn but almost as important. He was great in Tsuki ga Kirei as well, and this is a different sort of performance – he really projects both Kou’s courageousness and his vulnerability with great effectiveness. When Kou sees what’s happened to Mitsuba we can really feel the pain he’s experiencing through Chiba’s performance, especially when Kou realizes that his friend no longer knows him. And it’s clear that Tsukasa would like to keep it that way.
Poor Mitsuba-kun – his desires are so simple, but his situation is so complicated. Now he has to choose (once he’s been force-fed the heart) whether to become a sort of monster or fade from existence altogether. Understandably he’s not ready to disappear, and he certainly retains enough of himself to comprehend why. But Hanako insists that it’s forbidden for a spirit – “an apparition, the furthest thing from a living person” – to take the form of a normal human and return to the world of the living. Tsukasa disagrees and eventually coerces Mitsuba into using his new powers to clear the invaders out of “his” new domain, but Mitsuba makes sure no one is hurt in the process.
The thing here is, all the major players are facing an uncertain and unresolved situation. All of their existences are in flux, and all of them have stories that have barely begun to be told. If anything I feel marginally better about the prospects for another season after this episode, because things really are taking on the feel of a staging operation – a setup for the real story to begin. That could all just be in the function of a commercial for the manga – this is a perverse industry, and stupid and vexing things happen all the time. But if Andou Masaomi and Lerche were using this season as a setup for another to follow, they could hardly have done a better job.