by Lauren Orsini,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun ?
Last week I said I didn't mind Nene's absence, but after a new adventure with our charming trouble-magnet I take it all back. Only our hapless heroine could temper the creeping dread that threatens to overwhelm this otherwise lighthearted Alice in Wonderland adventure. Just like Micchy and Andy conclude in This Week In Anime, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun teeters on the precipice between humor and horror, and this episode reminds me what a critical role Nene plays in keeping the balance. "Tea Party" is a whimsical exploration into Hanako-kun's world that maintains enough darkness to stay interesting.
Nene is just like us. Clueless, clumsy, and addicted to an idol-raising mobile game, she's a relatable everygirl. But her offbeat style is also goth girlfriend #goals, which makes her role in "Tea Party" a bit aspirational otome heroine as well. (Her adorable tea party outfit has nothing to do with the plot, but I'm so glad it's there!) When Sakura's handsome but vapid sidekick and Hanako-counterpart Tsukasa kidnap Nene, the parallel between the protagonist and antagonist trios comes into stark contrast once again. Personality-wise, Nene and Sakura couldn't be more different, and yet they both acknowledge that their circumstances are very similar. Sakura is as reserved and mysterious as Nene is an open book, venting about Hanako-kun at the tea party mere minutes after vowing not to let her guard down. But Sakura and Hanako's twin share a sinister bond, and the light-hearted mood that Nene's ramblings caused evaporates the instant we see Tsukasa's cold, empty eyes. For a moment, it feels like Nene might be in real danger. It's an example of how Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun excels at changing the tone in a glance.
Of course Hanako-kun comes to Nene's rescue, but even before he appears, ditzy Natsuhiko flips the script from horror to comedy with his disaster-prone antics. Nene sure is surrounded by guys just a bit too quirky to be her type! I think the contrast between Nene's literally faceless ideal and the all-too-silly boys who inhabit her daily life underlines just how clever the character writing is in this show: they're so well developed that you can stick any two characters together and get fascinating dialogue, even if they've never spoken before. An especially emotional encounter occurs when Nene, attempting to return home, runs into a still-living Amane in the past. Time travel always causes plotholes in my experience, but let's go along with it: does Hanako-kun recall this encounter even now, and is that what endeared him to Nene in the present? (For now, we are simply left with the silly factoid that this fateful meeting gave him a preference for thicc ankles.) And while we're on the subject of life, death, and timelines, what is up with Sakura? If Amane grants wishes to the living and Tsukasa to the dead, how did Sakura come to have her wish granted?
As we approach the end of the season, I'm hearing that Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is skipping story arcs in order to neatly package itself into one season of anime. That explains why we've gone from a monster of the week format to a more deliciously complex exploration into the show's dualities: good and evil, life and death, Hanako-kun and his twin. It's a shame that our time in this darkly enchanting world is coming to a close, but if “Tea Party” is the start of the final act, it's going to be a promising finish.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is currently streaming on FUNimation.
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