「人魚姫」 (Ningyo hime)
“The Little Mermaid”
That was not the header I was hoping for.
I’ll get to the finale of Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun momentarily, but unfortunately the big question that was hanging over that finale was not answered as I would have wished. Anime’s new series announcements have been getting more and more depressing for years, but what we’ve seen for 2020 (and even 2021) is unquestionably the most uninspiring group in the decade I’ve been doing this. We’re headed for a bleak year for anime (when we probably need a good one the most), and a certain end card at the close of this episode would have gone some way towards brightening that outlook.
So why didn’t we get a sequel announcement for Hanako-kun? Of course not getting one today doesn’t mean we won’t get one ever, and even given my pessimistic bent I’d still say the odds are better than even-money we eventually will. But with the spate of sequel announcements for a bunch of current shows that range from mediocre to crap – most of which are less popular than this series in manga form – the absence of one for Hanako-kun is especially galling. I don’t know why to be honest – the anime spiked the manga’s sales spiked to a degree that seemingly would please any production committee, and the merchandising tie-ins have been quite successful. It’s hard to know what they could have been looking for that they didn’t get.
Whatever happens, happens, and nothing that does (or doesn’t) will take away from the quality this series delivered for its 12 episodes. I expected Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun to be the best series of the winter by a good margin, and it certainly was that. And in hindsight this definitely wasn’t an easy series to adapt. The art style is obviously pretty singular, for starters. But the narrative style is quirky, too. If you read the manga you’ll know, but for reasons that are hard to capture in words this series just isn’t…. episodic. It’s a case where a too-literal adaptation simply wouldn’t have worked, which left Andou Masaomi and Lerche to try and capture the essence of the manga while reshaping it for a new medium.
Needless to say, they did it brilliantly. The art style didn’t please everybody, but I think a lot of the doubters (though by no means all) came around in the end. Hanako-kun is a not a showcase for lots of sakuga and photo-realistic backdrops. It’s like a series of surrealist drawings, and the visual style had to capture that surrealism and rely on impact rather than flow. And that’s exactly what Andou did – he effectively gave us an anime as a picture book, one of those old-school children’t stories that’s darker and creepier than almost anything made for adults.
As far as where he decided to end this season, that’s of course a loaded question when we don’t know whether there’s going to be another. What was skipped and what wasn’t is a fascinating thing in itself, though not really appropriate for discussion here. A lot of “bigger” arcs could have been employed, but Andou chose to go with the “Little Mermaid” arc, which is both short and sweet. I think the reasons should be obvious enough. It focuses on Nene and Hanako, it leaves things on an upbeat note, and it provides at least a modicum of closure even if all the major plot points are still totally unresolved. It would be a criminal shame if this has to serve as the ending, but it can at least fulfill that purpose.
Nene and her feelings towards Hanako are of course very much at the heart of this story. She may not understand them herself (denial is certainly more than a river in Africa) but Nene knows they’re powerful. When Porcupine Fish and Un-Un show up to offer her an alternative, neither side really understands the other. To the mermaid’s servants what they’re offering is a chance for Nene to shed her hideous daikon legs and become a princess among the fishes, but for Nene this is actually a temptation for another reason (the popularity is a temptation too, until she finds out her harem would all have gills and fins). Nene is entranced by the idea because as an apparition she might get closer to Hanako-kun – who the fish think they’d be freeing her from.
Nene is a hopeless romantic but even she knows this is a terrible idea, which is why she goes around trying to get someone to tell her just that (she doesn’t ask Kou, who’s clearly still shaken over what’s happened to Mitsuba). So what about Hanako’s feelings for her? It’s pretty clear that under his veneer of snark is something substantial – a depth of feeling he tries to mask with levity and pranks. Hanako may not have told Nene the truth about himself yet, but his reasons for not doing so are far more complicated than she realizes (just like his feelings).
And there were are, with nothing resolved if we’re honest – but there was never any way the anime could resolve anything of consequence in honest fashion. Even by the standards of an adaptation taking on a mere fraction of a source material, Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun defies quick resolution. This series is very much a slow-build, a story that eases into its themes and makes you believe it’s one thing when in truth it’s something quite different. That’s why it’s so fitting that the intra-episodic pacing is so consistent, with the B-part always upping the ante and taking the episode to new heights (another sign that the adaptation fundamentally gets the manga).
There’s nothing to do now but wait. Wait for an announcement which by rights we should already have gotten, then wait for an eventual sequel itself. I’m going to try and keep the faith, out of desperation at the paucity of promising new series and sequels if nothing else – there’s plenty of material for another cour and probably two right now, and the manga is more popular than ever (thanks to the anime). Great anime are their own reward, and Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun was amply rewarding – a brilliant adaptation of a brilliant but challenging manga. But this rewarding series, more than most, leaves me urgently hankering for more.