by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun ?
Even though the first volume of the Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun manga I pre-ordered arrived before this week's episode, I had to wait until Thursday for the conclusion of the Misaki Stairs arc like everyone else. The manga, maddeningly, ended right where episode 3 did. Even so, it gave me a far greater appreciation for what the anime has accomplished: a story that stays true to its original narrative wrapped in an art style that builds above and beyond the manga's foundation. This week's episode is a masterful example of what I mean--a recognizable urban legend transformed by a flair all its own.
One benefit of the manga is that it includes this handy translation note for the name Misaki: “It is a name for the servants, such as foxes or crows, that appear to handle the coming of a supernatural being such as a god. It can also refer to the spirit of someone who died an unnatural death.” (It can also refer to a promontory rock, like the cliff from which Nene dives!) This is a clever choice because it does double duty to hint at the stairs' namesake: explaining both Misaki's untimely end and the true identity of his pupil. While I gave the first half of this two-parter a lower than usual rating because it spent so much time goofing around instead of getting to the point, I learned from the manga that it's actually a loyal retelling—and I learned from this episode that most of that seemingly slow buildup was necessary. From the lack of explanation for the body part scavenger hunt to the distinctive scissor weapon to the creepy dolls, everything in the Second Mystery's domain is there for a reason. It's a development that will give me a lot more faith in the next cliffhanger, if and when it occurs.
The story of a vengeful spirit who will stop at nothing to revive her beloved teacher isn't particularly original on its own. But Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun's special concoction of quick-witted characters and spooky worldbuilding imbues it with magic. While the world these characters inhabit seems cluttered and lived-in, it's actually very purposeful. From the warm color palette to the creepy-cartoonish designs to the charmingly occult score, everything works together to set the mood. This environment is flexible enough to serve as a backdrop for fast-paced banter, eerie suspense, and even—as we learned through Yako's story—heartfelt emotion. As Misaki and his class prepare to take a photo at the shrine, the story of a spiritually-adept teacher who instructs a little ghost girl is conveyed beautifully in just a single scene.
This episode showcases what Hanako-kun excels at: pulling everything together for sweet, scary, or funny tableaus. These often follow one another for an additional dose of the unexpected: first Yako oddly loves their doomed patchwork body, then Nene is fighting for her life, then Hanako-kun is at the ready with an off-color joke. Usually I wouldn't find this range so entertaining, except for the fact that the show sticks the landing on nearly each of its comedic attempts. It's hard to pick a favorite: while the show wins on style points, the manga features cute little extras that would be tough to squeeze into a half-hour anime. I'd recommend checking out both.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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