by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun ?
The scene is set for a romantic confession: Nene gripping her schoolbag in anticipation, daikon legs pigeon-toed, a gentle breeze ruffling the tree leaves and late afternoon sunlight filtering… through Hanako-kun's body. It's the details that give this anime its otherworldly atmosphere: beautiful settings with just a touch of eccentricity to remind us that everything is not as it seems. Episode five, "The Confession Tree," feels like a bookend episode, dividing its time between a half-episode apparition and some partial character intros, a narrative lull that gives more focus to the magical backdrop it portrays. Though it takes place entirely on school grounds, it might be Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun's most visually rich episode yet.
What makes this the prettiest show to ever have "toilet" in the title? It's partially its gothic style: a school with wrought-iron widow's walks and a Hogwarts-reminiscent garden classroom. It's partially the show's style, with action portrayed in splashy manga panels and Nene's inner monologue shown through stained glass tableaus reminiscent of Revolutionary Girl Utena. I also love the way the animation plays with duality: light and shadow, day and night, physical world and spirit realm. This episode even hints at a new dichotomy that we've only seen expressed in the opening before now—a more sinister side to Hanako-kun himself. Darkness may lie ahead, but for now the show keeps it light with a short, silly setup about a tree that turns any pair who confesses under it into a couple, even if they're just kidding. As usual, things get real for Nene when her BFF Aoi is affected, this time because her childhood friend has suddenly spurned her in favor of his confession practice buddy. It's certainly bizarre, but boy-crazy Nene forgets about it when Hanako-kun asks to meet her under the tree.
Since the first minute of the first episode, it's been clear that Nene is in love with being in love, but hasn't put much thought into what her paramour might actually be like (in her vision, he's represented by a blank face that says “handsome” on it). She's pretty sure Hanako-kun is definitely not the kind of guy she's into, not least of all because he's a ghost. But in typical Nene fashion, the suitor doesn't really matter. It's the fact that a boy, any boy, is expressing interest in her! That's why it reads so accurately when Nene forgets entirely about apparition hunting when the prospect of Hanako-kun's interest enters the picture. Hanako-kun instantly bests the creepy tree, but the real payoff is of the emotional variety—Hanako-kun attempts to rib Nene like with their usual banter... before he notices her tears.
Nene is often frivolous and anyone can see that her thinking about romance is flawed, but her feelings are sincere. In an episode about couples brought together by spiritual meddling, her earnestness is even stronger in contrast. Hanako-kun, cowed and hatless, is rightfully apologetic. Framed by the brilliant afternoon sunlight, this is one of the prettiest scenes Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun has given us so far, both on an artistic and emotional level. Nearly half of this episode goes to establishing new character beats for later, making it difficult to gauge right now. But the beauty that this episode packs into its visuals is in itself sufficient to tide me over until next week.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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