Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 03 – Into the Stairs

Nene gets lost in the clouds wrestling with the knowledge that Hanako-kun was a murderer. Her BFF Akane Aoi notices, and wants to cheer her up. Knowing Nene likes scary stories, she tells her about another School Wonder, the  “Misaki Stairs” by the art room. Anyone who steps on the fourth step is dragged into the underworld and torn to bits.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun comes in a few days later than Magia Record with its cursed school stairs. But Hanako-kun makes a great point to Nene: Apparitions need human attention to survive, and scary or unsettling stories about them are simply more memorable, because they serve both as entertainment and caution.

As soon as Aoi’s teacher came in telling her to meet him in the art room—beside which the Misaki stairs stood—I knew she’d fall victim to the very rumor she relayed to Nene. And so the next day, not only are Aoi’s plants and Aoi’s desk gone, but classmates, teachers, even her parents have never even heard of her.

The only one who remembers is Nene. The episode is very effective at building dread as Nene exhausts all possibilities and it dawns on her that her best friend has been erased. Fortunately, Nene is friendly with the Seventh School Wonder. Not only that, she’s not the only one who lost someone; Kou lost two classmates.

Nene and Kou meet in Hanako’s bathroom, and he tells them that their classmates were pulled into the Spirit World. The fourth Misaki stair is a boundary between the worlds, so the trio crosses that boundary and finds themselves in a lush, multi-leveled whimsical city populated by creepy masked dolls.

Hanako-kun warns the humans that while in the domain of a School Wonder, that Wonder holds all the cards and thus can’t be defeated by outsiders. To that end, they must play the Wonder’s game. Here, the Misaki Stairs manifest not just in the mad town, but in a woman who calls them on the phone.

We learn Misaki was a teacher who was slashed to pieces in the school years ago, so the “game” consists of Nene, Kou and Hanako finding a part of her in order to advance to the next level of the town. Hanako believes if they ascend high enough they’ll reach the location of Hanako’s Yorishiro, a precious object that serves as a Wonder’s power source.

This could all be an elaborate attempt to generate more buzz in the human world, but if that’s the case, why are Nene and Kou the only ones who notice anyone is missing? And what was up with that unusually hot guy Nene bumps into, and who leaves a black crane in her uniform?

We’ll have to wait until next week to find out, but this was a strong start to a two-parter, full of dread, atmosphere, and stakes.

Somali and the Forest Spirit – 03 – When Their Journey is Over

It’s clear Golem has been made more human by having Somali around. Heck, he only got her near the very end of his millenium-long life, meaning he’s already been bestowed the limited mortality of a human. He’s been good at keeping her safe and her true identity hidden, but he still has a long way to go when it comes to maintaining her emotional welfare.

This is evidenced by the sudden speed and urgency of their journey, which leads to the gorgeous, fantastical Anthole City. Golem learns the meager loot he carries fetches only a modest price. To keep Somali fed and to gather the supplies needed to continue the journey, he needs more money.

He finds a source when Kokilila, the owner of a cafe, needs a waiter. Golem institutes a strict agreement with Somali: she’s to stay within the cafe, under his supervision, at all times while he’s working. Even with Kokilila’s son Kikila as a fluffy playmate, she gradually grows bored and restless (as does Kikila).

However, for Golem the need to make as much money as possible overrides Somali’s need for recreation stimulation. He knows it’s not ideal for her to be cooped up in the cafe all day, but as he doesn’t trust anyone else to watch her and isn’t certain others will be okay at all with the fact she’s a human, there’s no choice.

Even when Golem isn’t working, his tendency to count his earnings is not lost on Somali either, and absent any explanation for her dad’s haste, she begins to believe he wants to end their journey and part ways with her as soon as possible. Sure, it might well trouble her more to learn he’ll be dead in less than two years, but at least she’d know it wasn’t because he didn’t want her around.

Because that’s what she gleans from his behavior, when Golem finally allows her to join Kikila on a simple errand, Somali grasps onto the city legend about yozame flowers and their ability to grant a wish. That leads the two kids (and fast friends finally sprung from their cafe prison by their guardians) to the city’s majestic but perilous subterranean caverns.

Of course, the moment Somali left Golem’s supervision, a knot formed in my stomach. This early in the show I’m still not sure how far it will stray to the dark side and present situations in which Somali is in true peril (like, say, Abyss, which was merciless to its young characters). We get a slightly clearer picture here, as Somali’s innocent plucking of a flower awakens an toothed eyeball mushroom monster.

She is rescued from said monster not by Golem or Kikila—who let us just say truly failed in his mission to keep her safe—but by a big, gruff, crossbow-wielding wolf-man who may be able to tell she’s a human from her smell. He could even be a member of the clan that originally put her in chains before she got separated and found by Golem.

In any case, Somali is now in serious danger. I just hope Kikila can keep the wolf at bay until Golem can find them.

Dropped: Kabukichou Sherlock – Case Closed

This was a tough one, but as we always say, when you know you’re done with a show, you just know. Sherlock seems content to continue its lighthearted and zany cases-of-the-week while, meanwhile, a teenager is in prison for murdering a monster who tore out and ate his invalid twin sister’s reproductive organs.

The tonal dissonance has grown too intense. I can’t enjoy the new cases while I know Moriarty is being abused behind bars. I realize there’s no getting around the fact he committed a murder himself, but he deserved a break. Sherlock shoulders some of the responsibility for getting a child and a victim so involved in the case, but when it came time to deal with the culprit, he lost control.

Even if Sherlock reckons with that failure and Moriarty is given early release, the show’s fast-and-loose attitude towards narrative seriousness has poisoned my emotional investment in the show beyond repair. It was a decent enough first cour; I just wish the show had ended with one.—Preston