Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun (2020)

It’s rare that I need to open a review by explaining the title before getting to the main discussion but this show warrants it, since the word” toilet” may put people off from watching it before knowing what it is about. So, please note that this series has nothing to do with bowel movements or any form of bodily fluid release, therefore is free from any puerile comedy associated with it.

The toilet in question is situated on the third floor in the old school building of Kamome Academy, noted for its Seven Wonders – supernatural occurrences linked to specific rumours and urban myths. The seventh and most famous wonder is Hanako-san, a female spirit residing in the third stall of the girls’ toilet, said to make any wish come true in return for something personal in exchange.

Nene Yashiro, a first-year high-school student and believer in the occult, is desperate for love and summons Hanako in the hope she will help Nene get a boyfriend. However, much to Nene’s surprise, Hanako turns out to be a boy! He does offer to grant Nene’s wish but Nene feels Hanako is a fraud until the situation becomes complex and he uses his abilities to save Nene’s life, although she is left with a curse that turns her into a fish whenever she comes into contact with water.

Per the agreement, Nene has to give something in return and with her wish being for a connection with someone, Nene is now bound to Hanako as his human assistant and together, they investigate the other Seven Wonders at the school when new rumours about them begin to spread. It seems a troublesome force is creating these rumours and Hanako needs to stop them to restore balance between the human and spirit world.

Once the main storyline becomes clear, one wonders why creator Aidalro chose such a provocative title for this spooky work, yet it is hard to deny that Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is in fact a perfectly accurate description of the central character. Maybe Aidalro was right all along, and it is our suspicious and judgemental minds that fell into the trap of assuming the worst based on the connotations of one simple word.

Fortunately, the action isn’t limited to the toilet, but the whole school with each section or room harbouring its own wonder – e.g. – there is a spirit in the library, one in the art room and so on. Some are malevolent, others more approachable, either way it befalls to Hanako to help straighten things out, often by using his superior powers or through simple mediation.

Along with Nene, Hanako finds support from exorcist Kou Minamoto. Kou originally set out to exorcise Hanako accusing him of being a murderous spirit but is scuppered by Nene sticking up for Hanako, allowing Hanako to gain the upper hand. But instead of vanquishing Kou, who is trying to make his family of exorcists proud, Hanako sees some potential in him and offers to work with him.

So we now have the workings of a comedy team to pivot from case to case yet the real crux of the overarching story is not the Seven Wonders but this core relationship. The air of predictability over the direction this takes thins out as the show progresses, at least where romance is concerned since that would essentially be necrophilia, with mutual respect and genuine fondness being the prevailing feelings that blossom.

But this doesn’t mean we escape the tried and tested formula of Nene getting into a scrape and Hanako or Kou, or both, come to the rescue, this is one trope that despite being a cliché is required to set the adventures up. The early episodes are largely in the “monster of the week” vein, although some cover two chapters, but most are standalone but not necessarily one and done in terms of their importance to the main story.

Case in point – the second episode sees Hanako expose the Mokke, tiny pink apparitions responsible for a spate of thefts at the school, and their punishment is to work for him, adding to Hanako’s cadre of assistants. However, we are still without a definitive villain for Hanako to do battle with, and the other Seven Wonders won’t be enough. In this case, the identity of the mysterious false rumour spreader hits very close to home for our supernatural hero, adding a dark twist to his secretive nature.

In true anime fashion, Hanako’s backstory was a tragic one of unfulfilled potential which jars with the largely comic tone of the show, although this itself is forced to give way to darker moments per its spooky foundations. This adds a layer of depth to Hanako’s otherwise cheeky character whilst brings out the caring side of the usually ditzy Nene, but like most of the cases under investigation, it is all rooted in Japanese folklore and urban myths of regret give birth to anger.

Whilst the stories are strong enough to hold out attention, it is the aesthetic that makes this a unique series to behold. First, the colour palette, a mix of browns and flat primary colours, takes a while to get use to, whilst the cast are rendered with thick lines to make them stand out more. The real twist though, is the way the images replicate the manga –  scenes are presented as still panels as though lifted directly from the comics, another gimmick that takes getting used to, but adds something to the quirky presentation.

Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun is an unusual beast on a number of levels, with its provocative title, esoteric approach to storytelling, and idiosyncratic artwork production, putting it somewhere among the niche titles of the anime oeuvre. This might be its undoing as it is much more accessible that many series out there, and has all the ingredients to make it a crowd-pleasing show.

Definitely one for those looking for something a bit different.

Rating – *** ½  

Man In Black