Legends and Rumours Hide A Greater Story
At some point I feel I need to write a post about studio Lerche. It is a studio that when you look at their catalogue superficially you will see a number of similar titles where they aesthetically combine cute or bright characters with horrific realities and supernatural elements such as Assassination Classroom or Danganronpa, though even Gakkougurashi! (School Live!) wold definitely fit into this niche that Lerche seems to be carving out. Yet at the same time there’s a range of other anime in the list that seem to entirely break out of this mould and do something totally different (Given).
Either way, while there’s a some anime in Lerche’s line-up that I’m not particularly interested in, they’ve also managed to produce quite the catalogue of anime during the 2010’s that actually managed to just hit the right note for me with a number of them being among my favourite anime of the decade.
All of which is a long-winded way of me saying that I wasn’t actually all that interested when I read the premise of Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun however I did try a few episodes while it was airing after reading some positive reviews. What made me go back to it and complete it in 2021 was a curiosity about what this studio had produced this time around.
Right off the bat I am going to say that this isn’t going to be topping any of my favourite anime even lists, not even in the supernatural category. There’s a definite charm to Hanako-Kun and the jarring juxtaposition of over-the-top comedy and almost cartoonish visuals with some of the darker subjects and events that Nene and Hanako get themselves into with Kou often just along for the ride actually kind of works. There’s a few genuine creeps along the way as well as a few laugh out loud moments as Nene learns about the seven wonders of her school and their fairly complex relationship with rumours and gossip.
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Now, this isn’t the first ghost story that has manipulated supernatural elements through manipulating rumours, myths and legends, however the concept remains an interesting one to explore. Supernatural beings that exist only through the way they are remembered opens up a range of nasty story possibilities particularly when antagonistic characters are most definitely using the laws of this reality for their own nefarious (if reasonably undisclosed) purposes.
However, while in principle, I really like Hanako-kun and the world established in this anime, and I also loved the visuals and use of colour, and the music was fantastic (really that OP is exactly what this premise needed) and there’s even a lot of moments along the way in the story that managed to hit the right emotional notes, overall I have to come back to the fact that while I wanted to like this and at times did, a lot of it really just felt like I was detached from what I was watching. Arguably, this isn’t something objectively wrong with the story or anime but rather I just never felt like things came together for me and that feeling is only heightened when the series ends on a relatively inconclusive note between the main pair.
If I had to pin down the parts of this anime that really just didn’t click quite into place for me, I’d probably start with Nene, our central character who kicks off the story by making a wish to Hanako-Kun before circumstances push her into becoming his assistant. Again, not a lot new in that set-up as we’ve seen characters dragged into supernatural occupations before working alongside or beneath either a more knowledgeable character or one that actually is of supernatural origins. With Nene the reoccurring jokes about her romantic fantasies, her appearance and lack of self-confidence really undermined her likeability for me and while she did have a few moments where she seemed to rise about bumbling human-plot-device who stumbled into any supernatural situation that existed in the school, these moments were few and far between.
And with not particularly enjoying Nene, Hanako’s attachment to her and relationship throughout the series wasn’t quite as interesting to watch as it may have been. I ended up finding Kou, an exorcist who ends up working alongside the other two, the more interesting character of the three and even then he takes a fair while to feel fleshed out and like a real person rather than a trope that exists to make the jokes happen.
While many of the episodes feature a wonder or ghost of the week, the story is actually an ongoing one that explores Nene learning more about the supernatural world but feeling a distance between herself and Hanako. Unfortunately just when we learn enough to actually be a bit curious about Hanako we hit the season end point. The antagonistic characters of the series have so far been impressive only in-as-much as they seem to be mostly getting their own way but personality-wise there isn’t one in the bunch that has actually made me want to know more about them.
As a point of curiosity, AnimeLab listed this under it’s horror genre whereas MAL plays up the comedy and school aspects as well as supernatural. The reality is it definitely gyrates between these two positions. I bring this up because there’s definitely death, dismemberment, suicide and abuse sitting behind a lot of this story. I mean, there’s a whole bunch of young ghosts in it and what we learn of their lives and deaths isn’t exactly pretty. Not to mention what some of these ghosts are doing to the current students as their legends get warped in fairly hideous ways. Now, as a fan of horror, this doesn’t both me and actually was part of the appeal of Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun, but for those expecting a school-comedy while there is definitely a school and comedy in this anime you are going to get some dark subject matter as well.
The end result here is one that is a bit mixed. This is an entertaining anime that works and should we get another season is starting off a pretty interesting story in a world with well thought out supernatural lore. It didn’t personally work for me (at least not enough that I’d turn-cartwheels over another season being announced) largely because of the characters and that is a little disappointing because I really did want to like this as I watched it.
Images used for review from: Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun. Dir. Y. Higa. Lerche. 2020.
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