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.

How Heavy are the Dumbbells You Lift? – 11 – Bridge Over Troubled Ratings

After a string of ten straight solid “8” episodes, the eleventh came off as somewhat sparse. As the teachers celebrate New Years Eve by drinking at home, the girls head to the Shrine of the Muscle God, which has a truly epic staircase for training purposes and is also maintained by none other than Machio.

After watching the sun come up and descending from the shrine, the girls still have enough energy to train. Gina suggests they use the equipment at a local park, but to her horror (and my surprise) most of the equipment on which to train has been removed from most parks in Japan, so they do a number of isometric exercises that require nothing but their own bodies. Handy if you’re training (as I plan to do upon completion of this show) but lacking in excitement.

Gina tries to spice things up by registering the group for a live TV talent show (directed by Deire Kutarou, from the idol competition) but the sum total of their performance is some poses and a perfectly-executed “Wrestler’s Bridge” from a masked Satomi. Deire is surprised to find the girls boosted his show to second-best in the time slot, and the producer and president want to see more of them.

Jason shows up and takes Deire aside to propose a “Nikunoshima Tour,” whatever that is, which will be covered in the twelfth and final episode. But I couldn’t help but feel like this was the weakest of the Dumbbell outings so far; unlike the others it felt more meandering, even listless, like it was running out of gas. Hopefully the finale can restore the lost momentum and bring things to a satisfying close.

HenSuki – 05 – Beware the White Rabbit

In an effort to keep “Witch-senpai” from monopolizing Keiki, Yuika joins the Shodou club, even abiding by Sayuki’s directive that she dress as a bunny girl for a day. Mao also joins, but doesn’t have to wear a costume, as Sayuki is already a huge fan of her BL manga.

But Keiki has bigger problems than the three weirdos in his orbit joining forces: a fourth weirdo who took an incriminating picture of him. She intends to blackmail him, but isn’t interested in him, only his friend Shouta.

This fourth girl is Ootori Koharu, who despite being tiny and having a bunny-like aura, is actually older than Keiki, and a third-year. That makes her demand to Keiki difficult, as she’s obsessed with Shouta and wants to meet him, but Keiki knows his best mate only likes younger girls.

Thanks to some inspiration from Mizuha, Keiki crafts a plan: when the summer unis come out, which are all the same color regardless of year, he’ll have Koharu meet Shouta wearing a hoodie concealing the bow that indicates she’s older. She also addresses him as senpai. Shouta falls for it hook, line, and sinker.

Things bode well for Keiki having the photo of him groping Sayuki deleted from Koharu’s phone—though I hasten to note she didn’t actually do it yet. Instead, after another quick check on the shodou club (which is a bit too much concentrated weirdness for Keiki’s taste), he spots the vice-chairperson Fujimoto descending the stairs with a tall stack of printouts.

Predictably, one of the papers ends up under her shoe, and she slips and falls, but Keiki saves her, ending up underneath. In a subversion of cliche, Fujimoto is not mortified by their ensuing amorous position. On the contrary, she’d prefer if they stayed that way a little longer. Could Keiki have finally found his Cinderella?