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.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 01 (First Impressions) – The Greatest World

From the hypercosmic brain of Yuasa Masaaki (The Tatami Galaxy) comes a new brilliant, awe-inspiring adventure in a down-to-earth, lived-in world where the mundane is extraordinary. As soon as she moved to Shibahama as a little girl, Asakusa Midori was obsessed with adventuring and world-building.

Now she sits above her island high school’s social fray, taking in not the people but the absolute batshit crazy architecture. The pint-sized, husky-voiced Midori’s only friend is the tall, toothy Kanamori Sayaka, for whom everything is a transaction.

When Midori forces Sayaka to attend the screening of a Miyazaki-style anime, they encounter Mizusaki Tsubame, fashion model, socialite daughter of a megacorp tycoon…and unapologetic anime fangirl. She’s also on the run from her two bodyguards, who have been ordered not to let her join the anime club.

Tsubame may be a stranger in unfamiliar territory, but Midori and Sayaka join forces to rescue her. Midori, because Tsubame shares her love of anime, and Sayaka because there could be money in it. In the process, Tsubame spills strawberry milk all over her blouse, but Midori knows of a discrete laundromat in the neighborhood.

As Tsubame’s clothes wash, she and Midori become fast friends, swapping their notebooks and finding they complement each other perfectly. Midori has always loved creating worlds and gizmos with elaborate concept art, while Tsubame has a strong grasp of the human figure (she is a model, after all) and as such is better at characters.

As the two overly characters over environments, Sayaka hatches a plan: she’ll get these two talented girls to make a beautiful—and profitable—anime together. Both Midori and Tsubame lack confidence, but Sayaka assures them she’ll be there both to push them and support them…in any ways not involving artistry.

Earlier in the episode the younger Midori creates a whole black-on-white pencil line drawing world complete with sound effects. That’s taken to the next level when Midori spots a small, unassuming contraption in Tsubame’s notebook, draws a hanger bay around it, and the three are suddenly immersed in the drawing and interacting with it (complete with those same sound effects, likely made by the seiyus).

The two eventually complete the development of the dragonfly-like flying machine and with Sayaka’s help manage to take off before the bodyguards (in this world the villains) can catch Tsubame. A dogfight ensues, but their dragonfly squeaks between two skyscrapers and emerges on the other end, an otherworldly, fully-rendered realm Midori calls “the greatest world,” something she’s always seeking to create with her art.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! is a DELIGHT from start to finish. While it can get a little trippy at moments, it is always grounded by its trio of quirky, rootable characters, only one of whom employs a classic “anime” voice. The creators’ own love and passion for art and animation is plain to see in every frame, be it a crude line drawing or a gorgeous painterly city vista.

More than anything, Eizouken is a powerful imagination simulant. It does what any anime should: swell the heart and expand the mind’s eye to consider new worlds and machines and explore them beyond the surface. Speaking as an artist, it was a very rewarding experience to see such a wealth of creativity on display.

It was also gratifying to watch two kindred spirits from totally different social backgrounds coming together through their shared love of putting the fruits of their imaginations to paper. Eizouken stands out from the crowd of cookie-cutter anime in the best way. You’d be wise to give it a close look this Winter!

Juuni Taisen – 03

Is it just me, or have the POV warriors gotten progressively more interesting with each episode? After Boar and Dog, we now learn more about Chicken (Niwatori), who had spent last week showing Dog one side only to turn on him and show her true one.

Niwatori’s childhood was…rough, to put it comically mildly. We find her where the cops do: malnourished and filthy in an apartment filled with garbage and blood. It’s not her blood; it’s that of her parent(s), which, considering her “pecking” specialty, she killed by repeatedly pecking bits out of hem with an egg topper.

Her own memories of this time are quite foggy; she spent some time at a facility after a hospital visit, and after regaining her physical health, she was adopted by the Niwa family, whose matriarch was interested in utilizing her special ability to speak to birds.

They trained her into a soldier and assassin who can hide in plain sight and deceived and betrayed so many people, she had no idea who was a friend or enemy.

Back in the present, Niwatori has successfully fooled Dog unto his death, and makes quick work of Zombie Boar with a swarm of birds under her control, who peco their prey to pieces and pick flesh from bone.

Feeling peckish herself, Niwatori enters a convenience store and encounters Rat, who has no quarrel with her, and leads her to the sewers to meet Monkey.

Niwatori finds herself unusually affected, even moved by Shuryuu’s seemingly catch-less kindness and earnestness, and believes Dog’s One Man Army poison has heightened her emotions as well as her body.

Even though she finds herself perfectly capable of killing Monkey and Rat right there and then, and knows that is the best course of action to ensure victory in the Zodiac War, she just…can’t do it. She withdraws…and when she does, she’s so busy cursing herself for making such a dumb move, she doesn’t realize Ox is right there, ready to kill her.

Naturally, because Niwatori is the POV character this week, she has to die, and she’s not even the first warrior Ox kills this week (that honor goes to Horse, whom we don’t learn much about before his demise).

Still, she faces her imminent death standing tall, with a defiant look in her eye, and after sacrificing so many of her beloved birds to defeat Zombie Boar, there’s a poetry to her giving up her body to feed still more of those birds.

I won’t say that she came out of the hell of her childhood—in which she was no doubt pecked away at to the brink of death—to live a life of honor or morality. Indeed, she saw herself as an instrument—another weapon in the Niwa family’s arsenal—and little else.

We don’t know what wish she’d have asked for had she won the Zodiac War. But I will say that for the brief time I got to know her, I emphasized and liked Niwatori, and the show feels a little smaller without her, as I’m sure it will continue to feel as more POV characters meet their maker.

Juuni Taisen – 02

Poor Boar is now a puppet of Rabbit’s along with Snake; he’s in the lead. Turns out Monkey (Shuryuu) interrupted her own attempt to form a pacifist alliance by smashing the floor. In doing so, she thwarted a preemptive strike she sensed from one of the others, though apparently she doesn’t suspect the sleepy Rat (Nezumi).

Having holed up in an underground parking garage, Dog (Dotsuku) is our primary POV character this week, and we hear more of his inner thoughts than the words of anyone else. Upon meeting Chicken (Niwatori), he believes he’s better off agreeing to her request to team up, as she possesses a valuable skill by which she can see through the eyes of all of the birds in the city; pretty handy.

Unfortunately for Dog, he’s too confident he can control Niwatori, to the point he’s drugging her with a supersoldier “poison” that powers her up and leads to her crushing his face. Whether Chicken was putting on a meek innocent act all along until then or really couldn’t control the strength Dog gave her, it looks like Dog is now out of the game, marking the second straight POV character who fell by spending too much time in their head and not enough time being very careful.

I don’t know if the same pattern will be followed next week or the week after that, but I got an odd, satisfying feeling of finality from both Boar and Dog’s stories this week; they went as far as they could go, even if they didn’t know they were at the end of their respective roads until it was too late to turn back. There’s a super-abridged version near the end of Horse seeking out Ox as a fellow “moderate”, only to be charged at by Ox like the train behind him.

The only alliance that seems reliable is the one between Rabbit, Snake and Boar, and you can’t really call it that since Snake and Boar no longer have free will, heartbeats, or jewels in their chests. Nevertheless, I liked the parting shot that combined bloody horror of an undead Boar with a Hitchcockian mass of birds surrounding her.

Considering the ominous calculation of this parting scene, I’d wager SuperChicken is primed to peck somebody.

Juuni Taisen – 01 (First Impressions)

“My, such a new building, completely abandoned.” A curious opening line, as the entire city surrounding the building is similarly abandoned. The building, and the city, have been prepared for the Holy Grail Zodiac War, and this lady, “The Boar”, is one of its twelve participants, all with an animal aesthetic matching a certain sign of the Chinese Zodiac.

My immediate thought was this is a Fate-style Battle Royale, with anthropomorphized Zodiac signs instead of historical figures. There’s a (mostly) civil opening ceremony (only one person is dead before the official start) with an “Observer” named Duodecuple. Rather than command seals, each warrior gets a black jewel they must swallow. Whoever collects all eleven jewels (presumably by cutting them out of people) will get one wish of their choice.

We’re even introduced to The Boar as her backstory cuts in and out of the present-day festivities, explaining how she, and not the little sister her abusive asshole father chose, is the Ino Family representative in the Juuni Taisen. Basically, she ordered her sister to kill more and more people in more gruesome ways until she finally went mad and killed herself. So we know this Boar lady is someone who won’t even let blood get in the way of achieving her goals. She’s also, well, pretty goddamn evil.

We only get the slightest bits and pieces from the other eleven members, (whose character designs range from boring and obvious to outrageously wacky) through Boar’s lens, though she clearly has it in for Monkey, who has a Class Rep aura about her, and asks if anyone will help her win so she can wish to bring everyone back. Ultimately only the narcoleptic and the singularly crazed, half-naked Rabbit-Boy (who already killed someone) join her.

Then the ground literally opens up around the twelve, resulting in a bit of chaos Boar thinks she’s prepared for, what with her dual automatic rifles with unlimited ammo. However, she didn’t consider that Bunny killed the guy so he could turn him into a zombie thrall, which is what he does because he’s a necroman”tist” (not “cer”).

All of a sudden, the one character we’ve spent any meaningful time with, and the only one whose thoughts we’ve heard, is on the edge of death at the very beginning. She pegged herself as one of the top 3 challengers in this battle, but…here we are.

Juuni Taisen is, in a word, serviceable. It looks very nice, with imaginative and often just-plain-weird design by the creator of Arakawa Under the Bridge and some very smooth and competent combat animation.

Cons include the Boar not being that likable a character and there being nothing about this premise that’s particularly original or exciting. But as it airs on Tuesday, which is, in my experience, usually a light day for anime, so…we’ll see.