Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun – 04 – Foxy Lady

When a beautiful woman appears she’s initially delighted to find that Nene, Kou and Hanako have constructed a human-ish body. But when she makes it move, it crumbles into a pile of parts; another “failure”she’ll add to the growing heap behind her, where Aoi and all the others who fell into her stairs lie, neither dead nor alive.

However, her scissors have the ability to turn a human (or a part of them) into a doll, so Hanako reiterates their goal of finding Misaki’s Yorishiro (or weakness). If the highest spot isn’t the deepest, then perhaps the lowest spot is…so he shoves Nene off the edge, and she falls, falls, and falls some more.

When she comes to she’s lying near the gate to a temple, surrounded by concerned Mokke. She finds a desk, an old photo, and a notebook that contains a kind of dialogue between a girl and her handwriting teacher. The handwriting gets better as the pages go on, but one day the teacher, named Misaki, doesn’t return.

Misaki, then, isn’t the woman in the kimono trying to turn everyone into dolls, but the teacher who abandoned her, likely when he died, or simply moved away. In any case, Nene now knows the woman’s weakness: a pair of haircutting scissors gifted to her by Misaki.

When the lady finds Nene and attacks her, Hanako intervenes, protecting Nene and giving her cover to make a run for the shrine containing the scissors. While the woman’s story is a sad one of unfulfilled love, she’s gone too far and way beyond her duties as a School Wonder. With her Yorishiro broken, Hanako strips her of her power.

Back in the realm of the living, Nene is safe and sound, while both a doll-ified Aoi, Kou, and all the other victims will be restored to their humanity. They were never dead, just trapped in between worlds. Then Hanako reveals the true form of the woman: an Inari statue in the form of a kitsune, or fox spirit.

In the past, Misaki-sensei befriended the ghost who inhabited the kitsune statue, name turns out to be Yako, and even included her when a photo was taken of him and his class. Yako grudingly agrees not to continue her mischief, but isn’t in a hurry to befriend Nene nor anyone else.

This latest School Wonder case thus solved, the black crane, really a black Haku-joudai  hiding in Nene’s hair, returns to its master, who then returns it to his master, a green-haired girl wearing the same uniform as Nene. She seems pleased things worked out. I assume at she’ll reveal herself and her intentions to Nene and/or Hanako at some point.

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.

Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka – 01 (First Impressions) – Voice of Destiny

Three years ago the Disas invaded Earth, but thanks to a treaty with the Spirit Realm, nine select human girls were transformed into Magical Girls. Four were killed defeating the Disas, and five remained…and went their separate ways.

The ostensible leader of the Magical Girls, one Ootorii Asuka, lives her life as a normal high school student, though whenever she sees any kind of animal mascot, she thinks back to the bad old days. Magical trappings aside, Asuka is a traumatized combat veteran trying to move on from the horrors she experienced.

But at school, she’s the cool mysterious transfer student. She stands out by dint of her physique and apparent aloofness. And when her classmates are accosted in the street, she rushes to their aid…and has to remember not to kill the guy.

The beneficiaries of small act of heroism, Nozomi and Sayoko, thank Asuka and announce their intention to befriend her. Nozomi wants her to join track since she’s in great shape; Sayoko wants her to join the lit club because she sees her reading.

But while Sayoko reads because she loves it, Asuka does it to escape; to keep her mind busy so it doesn’t go back to those bad old times of blood, sweat, and tears. When her guardian Iizuka arrives to tell her about a new squad being assembled, she passes on his offer without hesitation.

Back when she was in middle school, she came home to find two Disas had already killed her parents and were prepared to “give them back” to her one piece at a time, which is why Iizuka ended up her guardian.

Her takeaway was that while she fought to save the world, those around her suffered and died. Now that she has two new adorable friends, she doesn’t want history to repeat itself. Of course, Asuka she puts it, despite all the effort she’s put in to escape her past, battles keep finding her, because “a Magical Girl’s battle never ends”.

Whether it was a minor incident like the asshole who shoved Nozomi (who dared to call him out on his assholery), or an escaped terrorist leader and his kill squad with Sayoko in the crossfire, when duty calls, she’ll always answer. Once a Magical Girl, always a Magical Girl.

While Magical Girl Spec-Ops Asuka is almost painfully straightforward in its premise, the Disas are super goofy-looking, and the show lacks anything resembling originality, I found Asuka’s emotionally-wounded vet profile resonant, and the show is crisply designed and animated and accompanied by a cool Square Enix JRPG-style soundtrack.

The idea of Magical Girls moving on to more conventional military operations after the Magical enemy has gone is also intriguing, as Asuka is not alone and we’ll soon see what became of the other four of the Magical Five. Both the bloody action and the lighter school life scenes are executed with aplomb. Definitely entertaining enough to stick with for now.