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.

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 02 – Boy in the Sky

Nene finds herself worked to the bone cleaning bathrooms by Hanako, to the point it interferes with her modest attempts to snag a man. Still, the fact that same pursuit led to her turning into a fish means she still owes the apparition who saved her big-time, and Nene is nothing if not honorable.

Toilet-bound Hanako-kun‘s art is so goshdarn colorful, whimsical and immersive you can forgive that it’s quite light on actual animation. It looks like absolutely nothing else airing, lending it a certain specialness.

When rumors spread of a spirit that makes off with people’s stuff and will kill anyone who looks at them, Nene ends up cornered by just such a monster, and has to be saved once again by Hanako. The monster turns out to be a group of small, bunny-like apparitions called Mokke.

Nene learns the Mokke must conform to the rumors people spread about them to continue existing, be they good or evil. To that end, Hanako asks Nene on behalf of the Mokke if she’ll help change the rumors about them to something more positive and less murder-y…which she does!

Nene is just getting the hang of her new boss, to the point she starts considering him a friend and adding “-kun” to the end of his name, a more familiar way of addressing him. Enter eigth-grader Minamoto Kou, who while not the prince fallen from the sky Nene hoped for, is the bearer of a sacred, ancient art of exorcism…and Hanako is his latest target.

Exorcising Hanako, however, proves difficult for the relative newbie, as his unmastered lightning staff hurts him as well as his target. Still, Kou informs Nene (whom he finds rather cute, and who can blame him) that Hanako was a murderer when he was alive, and still carries the kitchen knife he used to do the deed.

Hanako-kun doesn’t dispute this, but asserts that God gave him a chance to redeem himself in his current role. While Kou is no match for him, in a gesture of good faith he only punches him out to end the fight, and looks forward to the “excitement” of having Kou around, sensing he’s destined to be a great exorcist…just not today!

Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 01 (First Impressions) – Meeting the Seventh School Wonder

From Lerche, a studio that specializes in highly-styled high concept school series, comes Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, a title that initially invokes dread: will this be full of toilet humor? Fortunately not at all; it centers Nanako, one of the School Wonders of Kamome Academy: the ghost of a student who resides the girls’ bathroom. Legends claim that Nanako will grant a wish if the wisher pays a certain price.

Yashiro Nene wants to have success in love with her current crush, and manages to summon Nanako, only to learn she’s actually a boy, and someone mischievous and somewhat inexperienced in matters of love. Nene doesn’t exactly have a lot of options, so she follows Nanako’s advice, which unfolds in a similar fashion to a Wile E. Coyote-vs.-Road Runner scenario: ill-conceived scheme after another fails.

By the time an impatient Nene swallows a mermaid scale and transforms into a fish, she’s realized that all of her efforts thus far were for naught, because she never bothered to actually talk to her crush. She doesn’t even know his name! She just placed him on a pedestal and appointed him as her one and only goal in life. Then a mermaid from the “other side” comes to claim her, and Nanako whips out a big knife and protects her.

When Nanako eats the second mermaid scale, he’s able to grant Nene her wish to be changed back into a human. In exchange, she must serve as his assistant with his wish-granting business. Gorgeously adorable design, top-notch voices spewing witty banter, a fast-paced, energetic story, and that prototypical Lerche “edge” all conspire to make this an enticing option for Winter 2020.

Chihayafuru 3 – 10 – The Same as Always

Aside from a minute at the women’s final (a minute so quick I wonder why it bothered) the episode is dominated by the final between Arata and his society-mate Murao. The two have played countless games together, but Arata enters the match unsettled.

He’s unsure why he sighed after learning Taichi lost, and when he tries to visualize himself in his old room playing against Chihaya, he’s suddenly replaced by Taichi. Rather than a motivating factor, Taichi becomes a distraction Arata can’t afford.

Matters are made worse by the food Yuu gave Arata, which gives him the runs in the middle of a match. By the time he returns he’s lost four more cards and Murao has built a lead of eleven. Arata also doesn’t know which cards were read and which are dead.

He eventually settles down and mounts a calm, efficient comeback, focusing on offense rather than his usual balanced game. He ends up with the victory, and will face Dr. Harada (an offensive specialist) in the match that will determine who challenges Master Suo.

Back in Kyoto, Chihaya is hanging out her girl friends, staying up past curfew playing cards and chatting. But when she goes to grab some tea, she encounters Taichi in the hall; he says he “felt better” so he rejoined the class, and tells her Dr. Harada won the qualifying final and will face Arata.

Chihaya isn’t sure quite how to react, nor does she know yet who she’ll root for in the East-West match. Taichi, meanwhile, passes out as soon as he re-enters the boy’s dorm, leaving Desktomu to tuck him into a futon. Not being able to face Arata is certainly a blow, as is knowing that if he couldn’t get to him, he wouldn’t have had much of a chance against him regardless.

Chio-chan no Tsuugakuro – 05 – When You Gotta Go…

Both of the two stories that unfold in this week’s episode are focused, polished, and consistently hilarious. Chio faces a dilemma we’ve all faced: having to pee really bad. She fortunately finds a bathroom, but doesn’t realize until after she’s gone in and relieved herself that she went in the Men’s bathroom, near a busy bus stop to boot.

As we’ve learned, Chio is far more proactive, resourceful, and athletic than a below-average high school girl would be, but that’s what makes her so imminently watchable. We’re there with her as she susses out the best way to escape, finally making use of “mysterious bright-colored balls” that one would never find in the ladies’ room (because they’re for urinals).

One of those balls excites the nearby cat, who starts playing with it in the street. Two girls in miniskirts lean over to watch the cat, and two older men lean over to watch the two girls in miniskirts, giving Chio the opening she needs. It’s a brilliant tactic that almost goes terribly wrong when Chio’s momentarily stuck in the window, but manages to get out.

She even explains away her sudden and surprising appearance to the two men and girls by pretending the cat is her pet “George”, who clearly has no idea who she is and runs off again, allowing her to follow and extricate herself from the situation as everyone shrugs it off as a girl really liking cats…which a lot of people do!

The next episode begins from the perspective of Shinozuka Momo, member of the Disciplinary Committee and deep admirer of its faculty advisor Gotou-sensei. In an effort to be “useful” to him, she takes it upon herself to discover what student(s) from their distinguished academy have been chronically misbehaving in the vicinity of the campus.

This leads to her tailing Chio and Manana, who at first appear to be carrying themselves with “calm and grace”…until Chio pulls a long root out of a flower bed and whips Manana in the bum, setting off a good old-fashioned plant duel. The mortified Momo continues shadowing the two girls, and watches as Chio climbs a wall to see if she can beat Manana up a hill.

She can’t, and Manana rubs it in by denying Chio water, instigating another grappling match. Momo can’t hold her tongue anymore, and orders the two girls to stop hanging out, as they’re terrible influences on each other, going on to describe “true friends.” That leads Manana to correctly assert that Momo…has no friends. Poor Momo!

They make a deal where if they can prove their friends, Momo won’t record or report what she’s seen today. And boy, do they ever prove it, performing a thoroughly embarrassing (and long un-practiced) dance of friendship they devised back in grade school. It moves Momo to unironic tears, and the girls get off scot-free.

In fact, Momo asks them for advice on how to get closer to someone they immediately infer to be Gotou-sensei. As we know, Manana isn’t the person to ask about such things as she has no relationship experienced, but Momo doesn’t know that! As a result, next time she’s with Gotou, Momo acts mysterious and attempts to keep her blondie rival in check…with mixed results. That closes the book on a pair of very strong stories.

KonoSuba – 08

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Winter isn’t Coming, it’s already here, and Kauzma and Aqua are finding it impossible to continue living in a freezing cold stables. One wonders where Megumin and Darkness are living. Anyway, Kazuma decides the best way to make enough money to pay for warmer digs is to gain a new skill.

The person he asks for that new skill is a friendly lich named Wiz. Her introduction is initially a bit confusing, becaue Kazuma and Aqua seem to know her well, yet couldn’t recall who the heck she was. Turns out she’d never been introduced until now. Furthermore, they learn for the first time that she’s actually one of the eight generals of the Devil King’s army.

As such, she was a contemporary of the late Verdia, though quite amusingly she’s not choked up about his demise, considering he often tossed his head by her feet so he could look up her skirt. The Devil King needs a better HR person, ’cause that shit can get you sued. Also, due to her undead nature, Aqua constantly wants to eliminate her.

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Kazuma doesn’t let her, and gains a skill from Wiz that drains an opponent of magic and health. Then a happy coincidence occurs, as someone comes in Wiz’s shop needing a big haunted mansion exorcised. Kazuma and Aqua take the job, and Megumin and Darkness join them at the impressive and comfy-looking new place.

Of course, I assumed Kazuma and Aqua would end up right back in those freezing stables, huddling for warmth without regard for propriety. Because since when is a seemingly awesome mansion not have some huge problem with it that renders it utterly unlivable?

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Sure enough, even though Aqua seemingly does some exorcism work on the place, Kazuma is visited in the night by not one or two but hundreds of that good old cliche, creepy laughing dolls. He eventually finds Megumin in Aqua’s room, wanting to go to the bathroom with her.

Kazuma also has to go really bad, so the two have to deal with constantly being surrounded by creepy dolls and having to hold it in to the point of agony. Megumin even leaves her pants and pantsu behind in the ongoing chase.

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The cliched creepy dolls (and ludicrous number of owls!), along with the much more mundane need to pee really bad, made for a reasonably chuckleworthy combination of problems.

Though it’s all resolved pretty easily in the end, Kazuma forces Aqua to give back their “special reward” for eliminating all the new spirits that had taken up residence in the mansion, after he realizes it was her own magical barrier that kept the spirits from going where they wanted – the graveyard where they met Wiz.

All’s well that ends well, though, as the party finally has a respectable place to live, and Kazuma is a little closer to achieving the ideal “down-to-earth lifestyle” he desired. Adventuring will surely be more rewarding now that he’s not risking hypothermia every night!

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Sket Dance – 69

In the first half, Bossun has to go to the bathroom, but finds himself constantly blocked or otherwise prevented from going. In the second half, Tsubaki asks the Sket-dan to help him refine a two-page manga-style wanted ad for the student council to replace Agata and Michiru.

Our first reaction to half an episode being dedicated to taking a shit is “Really, Sket Dance? You that short on ideas?” But as the segment progressed, we found ourselves enjoying watching Bossun squirm as a proxy for ourselves, and admired the audacity of devoting an entire half to such a ‘high concept’. Sket Dance once again proves its adeptness at putting its characters in extremely relatable situations. Who hasn’t had one of those days when you just can’t get to a toilet in time…or worse, you get to one, and suddenly your colon won’t cooperate? Well, at least we’ve never been held up by a visual kei guy.

The second part was equally competant, and surprisingly involved manga without involving Saotome Roman. That’s not a bad thing, as it was nice to get a fresh art style for Tsubaki’s poster. As artists who have always been weary of “permanent” media such as watercolor, gauche, and ink, we also connected with the pitfalls of those media: when you make a mistake, you have to improvise to erase it or make it seem intentional. This half also served as foreshadowing for the recruiting of two new student council members, who are already in the OP.


Rating: 5 (Average)