by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun ?
Poor Nene doesn't even have a speaking role in episode eight of Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun. But as much as I love her as the show's silly and spirited heroine, "Mitsuba" proved that she's not the only character that makes this show a must-watch. While it's a close call between a slew of fantastic episodes, I'd argue that this Kou-focused storyline is the best we've had so far, and certainly one of the most empathetic standalone episodes I've seen all winter. With typically gorgeous composition, emotional character beats and a high stakes plot, "Mitsuba" is a startling, heartbreaking showcase of all the best qualities that Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun has to offer.
I was taken aback at the abrupt ending last week in the middle of a heated conversation between Kou and an exceptionally outspoken apparition. That spirit got a name this week—Mitsuba—and so much more: a storyline that gives him humanity, intention, and an abrupt and tragic downfall that hit me directly in the feels. Kou has grown exceptionally as a character, opting for the first time to try and grant this spirit's wish rather than exorcising him into smithereens, and the results are surprising to us and to him. It turns out that Mitsuba is Kou's first-year classmate who died with regrets: in order to avoid being bullied, he hid so much of his abrasive personality that he experienced something that he felt was even worse than that prior torment: he was completely overlooked. He was so forgettable that Kou didn't even recognize him! Dead and with nothing more to lose, Mitsuba has decided to simply be himself around Kou, and the result is that the two become fast friends. They develop an easy rapport that's entertaining to watch and all the more touching when we realize that both boys are achieving this bond at their most vulnerable, while each of them is trying out a new way of interacting with the world for the first time. That makes it all the more painful when, at the height of Kou and Mitsuba's heartwarming understanding, tragedy strikes.
The most chilling visual storytelling of the episode occurs when Mitsuba and Kou enter the school in the warm, late-afternoon sunlight, when a dark, spectral form slowly fills in behind them. It's Hanako's brother, and he even has a name now: Tsukasa. This sequence does double duty as a hands-on example of exactly what our antagonist trio does in order to cause and accelerate the occurrence of deadly apparitions around the school and as a devastating end to Mitsuba's undeath, just when we thought he had found peace. Tsukasa claims he's granting the wish of a ghost (the same way Hanako-kun grants the wishes of the living, like Nene), when he transforms Mitsuba into a horrific half-camera monster. The reflection of Kou's terrified face in Mitsuba's once kind eye is shattering. Even Hanako's appearance isn't enough to save the day, though I admit that the back-and-forth of Megumi Ogata taunting Megumi Ogata still manages to add some levity to this otherwise heavy scene. “You shouldn't be too kind to the dead,” Hanako concludes to Kou. “We have no future.” Hanako isn't only talking about Mitsuba there.
What makes this such a perfect episode is how self-contained it is, giving us the show at its most enchanting through a combination of emotion, action, and intrigue. At the same time that it offers a satisfying ending inside itself, it also unfurls the mystery of Hanako-kun's untimely end, and more importantly, makes me sympathetic as well as curious about what happened between Amane and Tsukasa. Each of the brothers projects his own regrets onto Mitsuba, attempting to give the poor spirit what he thinks he would want—monstrous power in Tsukasa's case, and a quick, merciful end in Amane's. It says a lot about what each of them values, and why their conflict is a lot more complicated than good versus evil. While I'm looking forward to Nene's return (hopefully!) next week, this time around I couldn't have asked for anything more.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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