The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun ?
What is this?
How was the first episode?
After watching premiere after premiere that feel like they're not even really trying, it is beyond gratifying to watch a show like Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, which could not be trying any harder. Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun has a silly gimmick and a pretty familiar premise, and yet every frame of this premiere is still brimming with energy and visual invention. Whether I continue to watch Hanako-kun or not, it's nice to see any show bring such visual enthusiasm to its material.
In spite of its title, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is actually a pretty clean comedy. The ghost Hanako just happens to be tethered to a school toilet; he doesn't have any toilet-based powers, and demands no toilet-relevant sacrifices. Instead, he spends this episode helping the heroine Nene attempt to confess her love, as they bond through a variety of well-intentioned but deeply misguided romantic gestures. “Boy attempts to help girl find love, accidentally turns her into a fish instead” - it's a tale as old as time.
Though Hanako-kun has plenty of fun gags and creative twists on its classic romcom material, it's absolutely the visual execution that truly steals the show here. Instead of aiming for consistent fluidity of animation, Hanako-kun has embraced its manga origins, employing expressive character designs with thick, uneven linework and smooth curves. These characters pop nicely against the show's beautifully painted backgrounds, which are themselves incredibly rich in color, and elevated through evocative post-processing filters. Furthermore, Hanako-kun regularly jumps to a variety of evocative alternate art styles, employing unique and vivid fantasy backgrounds and character designs to convey narrative beats like the telling of a ghost story, or the fulfillment of a curse. And on top of all this, the show also consistently pulls out creative paneling tricks that echo the impact of manga panels, often splitting the frame or superimposing one panel over another for dramatic effect (a favorite trick of director Masaomi Andō, used to its likely best effect here).
From its fanciful storytelling to its beautiful art design, Hanako-kun offers an excellent premiere on all fronts. If you're looking for a lighthearted comedy-drama, look no further; Hanako-kun clocks in as one of the strongest first episodes of the season.
Over the past 15 years or so, both the Fate franchise and a number of other unrelated titles have gloried in recasting actual or mythical male historical figures as females instead. So why not reverse things by taking one of the most famous of all female Japanese ghosts and turning her into a boy?
That's the surprising main gimmick behind this new, stylish ghost tale. Hanako-san is now Hanako-kun, a boy in a military-style uniform who packs quite a bit of mischievous snark as he tries to complete Nene's wish in conventional, rather than supernatural fashion: by coaching her in ways to make her feelings known to her beloved. At the same time, he's also probing her psyche to see if what she's wishing for is really what she actually wants. In the process he helps her understand that she is really just looking for an emotional connection with anyone to help her cope with the devasting rejection of her attempt to confess to another boy she had long been interested in. Unsurprisingly, her misguided efforts bring her to calamity before she finally understands. The solution to her calamity is a slick one: by becoming Hanako-kun's human agent, Nene escapes a nasty curse and makes the kind of connection she was searching for (albeit with an apparition), while Hanako gets the physical servant that he's long needed. It's a remarkably satisfying win-win situation.
While there is humor in the scenario, the concept is, on the whole, taken mostly seriously, and that allows it to carry a tone which can be vaguely menacing without getting in the way of the lighter elements. Hanako-kun is also one of my favorite new characters so far this season, and Nene looking like she will be a suiting partner. The first episode has a lot more gong for it than just that, however. The artistic style is like nothing else so far this season – or, for that matter, nothing else that I can remember seeing recently. It uses thick lines, rich colors, and water color-like textures for an overall look that is as much stylish as it is quaint; my screen shot conveys the effect pretty well, I think, but it's something that has to be seen in animated form to be fully appreciated. The series is also directed by Masaomi Andō, who's had major successes with titles like School-Live!, Scum's Wish, and the similarly artistically-distinct Hakumei and Mikochi, so I have to trust the handling here.
Don't know if I'll watch more of this one or not, but the first episode at the least offers enough to be worth considering following.
I never would have expected an anime called Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun to deliver one of the best premieres of the season, but here we are. The premise seems simple enough on the surface: A meek girl named Nene pursues the school legend of the toilet stall ghost called Hanako, who will grant those who seek him a wish at a spooooky price. As far as supernatural sitcom plots go, its standard fare, but this is just such a charming little show, and executed with such obvious care and attention to detail, that I can't help but love it.
A big part of what elevates the material is its surprisingly lush visual style. The environments feel hand- crafted, like they were plucked out of an especially evocative picture-book, and the way the show uses overlays of comic panels to break up some of the gags and establishing shots makes everything even more painterly. Such panache is to be expected from director Masaomi Andō, whose expert work on series such as Scum's Wish made me a fan for life. Nene and Hanako's back-and-forth is already cute and funny in its own right, but the confident direction gives the story wings. For a show about a socially-awkward and romantically hopeless girl who befriends a goofy ghost, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun sure does have that spark of life that so many other anime lack.
I also appreciated the general tone of the episode, which balanced light-hearted gags with some hilariously dark bits, all while taking its characters' emotions seriously enough to make the drama work. I was enjoying Nene's failed attempts to follow Hanako's advice and summer vegetables and broken buttons to try and woo her current paramour, but the off-screen maiming Nene causes by knocking innocent bystanders down a flight of stairs had me busting a gut. What tied it all together was the lesson Nene learned about herself, that she was merely using the idea of love as a crutch while avoiding the real work of making herself vulnerable enough to form real relationships. The real meat of the story comes in this second half of the episode, where she accidentally transforms herself into a fish and attracts the wrath of the local mermaid, which Hanako has to fight off with his infectious mix of quiet menace and detached silliness.
Any show that can successfully mix dark fairy-tale tropes with funny sitcom shenanigans is a winner in my book, and bonus points get awarded for the lackadaisical toilet gremlin who serves as our hero. I was beginning to worry that I wouldn't fall in love with any of the season's premieres after Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! stole the show so early, but I'm pleasantly surprised to report that Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is another must watch for anyone who enjoys well-written stories that are exceptionally pretty to look at.
Whatever I was expecting Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun to be, I definitely didn't get it. (And since I wasn't sure what I was expecting, that's probably good.) Based on the manga of the same name, which volume has just skyrocketed to the top of my “to review” pile, the story is an odd mix of horror, humor, and folklore, taking not a few cues from GeGeGe no Kitarō and combining them with a distinct visual style and almost unbalanced style of narration. I think I liked it, but I'm honestly not entirely sure.
The obvious gimmick here is that the familiar spirit who haunts Japanese bathrooms, Hanako-san (or sometimes -chan) is in this case a boy, and not necessarily a little boy, either. He appears to be about the same age as Nene, the female protagonist, and there's definitely some sort of dark past that led to him becoming the bathroom spirit. In fact, for a title rife with the potential for potty humor, this is actually quite dark; Hanako-kun does his best to keep Nene from actually getting her wish granted via his powers, and when it all goes sideways at the end when she ignores his advice, he manages to save her – but probably to save his own skin later on. Both opening and ending credits seem to indicate that he's an unwilling prisoner in the role of Hanako-san, and the two ghostly orbs who accompany him everywhere seem less like his helpers and more like his keepers; it's them who force the supernatural solution to her wish on Nene, and they don't lift a metaphorical finger to help Hanako-kun against the mermaid. Add to this the fact that prior to their pact Nene couldn't touch Hanako-kun and he starts to sound more like a ghost than a yokai, which has many more potentially depressing possibilities.
Despite this, there's a clear sense of humor to the episode, although at times that can make things feel disjointed. Hanako-kun enjoys baiting Nene and teasing her (though if he really thinks a kokeshi doll is a little sexy, it may be an indicator of his original time period), and some of Nene's failed attempts to get sempai to notice her are very funny, like the bento from hell or the poor guy who ends up getting thrown down the stairs. The visuals are more interesting, taking on sort of a stained glass quality to the shapes and coloring. This works with the different moods within the story surprisingly well, and while it might not work for everyone, I think I like it.
That's basically how to sum up my thoughts on this episode: I think I like it. It has an interesting supernatural/folkloric theme, potential for a romantic subplot, and definite backstory waiting to be revealed. If nothing else, this one should be interesting.
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