by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun ?
Cliffhanger episodes can be the bane of a weekly reviewer's existence. It's tough to assess narrative pacing when you've only got half of the story. This week, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun left us hanging with “Misaki Stairs,” an apparent multi-part story about the Japanese version of the nursery rhyme “step on a crack, break your mother's back.” This show's got spooky style and dark fairytale atmosphere in spades, but the wide variation in this latest story's length has me wondering why, this week in particular, Hanako-kun just can't pick up the pace.
It's not only the show's wonderful worldbuilding, expressed through delightfully haunted scenery and an enchanted soundtrack that makes this show one of the most promising out of the winter lineup. For me, it's also been the sharp, snappy storytelling that keeps things moving. In the first two episodes, we learned the peril of the Mermaid and the comparable sweetness of Yousei-san while still wrapping up quickly enough to learn heaps about Hanako, Nene, and Kou. It's night and day with episode three, which slows down on multi-minute gags while at times zipping past the central mystery. When Nene's friend Aoi, and several of Kou's classmates, all go missing in the proximity of the stairs to the art room, Hanako is ready for a jaunt to the spirit realm—a risky trip which, in the impish fashion that's quickly becoming his trademark, he treats like harmless fun. The gang winds up in a deliciously creepy setting that resembles the stairs up to an old shrine, but it's packed with junk and they keep getting sidetracked. The boys squabble about an adult magazine while Nene spends precious time wondering if her body ought to look like that, too. It's an odd, time-consuming segue that doesn't add much to the story.
When that's dealt with, they tediously pick their way through an otherwise richly portrayed spirit world, gathering body parts for the illusive Misaki, an apparition who claims to be a long-ago murdered schoolteacher, and who claims to have no arms yet can somehow call Nene on the phone. The guidelines for her challenge aren't portrayed very clearly: she tells them to get her right arm but then accepts a mannequin arm (not to mention Hanako's scavenged robot arm) as fair game. However, I'm not complaining about the sudden speed-up that prevents us from having to watch them retrieve every single part of Misaki's body, even if it were to illuminate the rules. Even so, it doesn't buy enough time to allow us to meet the Big Bad. She better be truly impressive for all of the buildup we've gone through compared to for the other apparations we've met so far!
I'm looking forward to the Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun graphic novel, which is scheduled to be released in the US next week, and I'll be eager to see if it tells Misaki's story with more logical pacing. And at this point, not knowing how the manga or the anime unfolds, I might need to recant next week and say that this two-parter was entirely justified. But from this vantage point, it feels like a stumble on the stairs.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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