There’s something to be said about supernatural settings in pop culture. They can be spooky, cute, or even gruesome. When the setting hones in on something even more specific, such as a high school, the story can go anywhere.
Memories of school for anybody can be a whirlwind of emotion, so sure a ghost would maybe be trapped in a girls’ bathroom. That’s where it starts with Toilet-Bound Hanako Kun. With one of the most interesting titles I’ve heard in a very long time, both the anime and the manga promise a good time with just enough spookiness to appease anyone waiting for Halloween to roll around.
The original story follows love-obsessed Nene, a junior high student at Kamome Academy desperate for love after a disastrous confession. Her new target is Ryouji, her handsome upperclassmen who ties fate together after returning her pencil case one day. A fan of the occult, Nene has no problem venturing into the abandoned girls’ bathroom in search of the rumored Hanako, the ghost of a dead girl who will grant a wish after being summoned.
Of course, things aren’t always so easy and Hanako appears as a boy in an old-fashioned school uniform and a mark of a curse upon his cheek. Still, Hanako tries to help Nene in the only ways that he can think of, which are just as disastrous as one would expect.
The boy is oblivious to the workings of love and Nene is just as hopeless, the two fumbling over attempts of a love confession like it was a competition to see who would do it worse. Soon the two are introduced to an exorcist in training, Kou. Nene and Kou strike up an interesting relationship, often navigating the supernatural world alongside their own.
The 12-episode anime adaptation premiered early in January, with heightened anticipation. At the helm of the show is director Masaomi Ando, who directed both School-Live! and Scum’s Wish. Combined with Yasuhiro Nakanishi from Kaguya-Sama: Love is War writing the script, the anime was produced by Lerche.
That alone would appear to signify success, with not only a stellar director-writer duo but also the studio that pulled off Assassination Classroom.
The anime begins with Nene’s first fated encounter with not only Hanako but the idea of the “Seven Wonders” of the school. Seven wonders, all occult in nature, take place at the school, one of them being Hanako himself. They vary from the Misaki Stairs, Hell of Mirrors, and even a Confession Tree.
Very quickly, the show throws the viewer into the world of the occult, with curses, ghosts, and diabolical deals being shown to us so fast it’d give us whiplash.
By the end of the first episode, we’re introduced to the head of a curse, an incredibly terrifying mermaid who disappears almost as quickly as she disappears. The episode feels like a quick introduction to everything, showing the viewer what the school is, what the wonders are, even the idea of the supernatural in general.
It can be almost jarring, with the ideas and characters introduced in rapid-fire succession.
However, the soft and almost visceral art of both the manga and the anime is enough to soothe any fear that the viewer might have about the adaptation. The manga was known for its shoujo style art, with delicate, frilly Nene and the almost devilish Hanako. Even smaller moments, like witnessing another student confessing her love, feels like something out of an art textbook.
It’s a bouncy, fun style that pairs nicely with the idea of the supernatural and occult. The hyper pop color palette of the anime makes you feel like you’re watching the show through panes of stained glass, turning even the drabbest of scenery into a colorful scape of beauty.
One such scene is the bathroom itself that Hanako is tied to. Initial thoughts might paint it a dull grey, with little to draw you in.
Instead, the eyes are treated with rich colors and glimmering light. The art feels like a gentle reminder to the viewer; yes there are ghosts and ghouls but maybe that’s not the entire point of the show.
The Ghosts of Kamome Academy Aren’t the Only Wonders
The rest of the story goes through what feels like a monster of the week format. Nene and Hanako encounter other wonders of the academy along with other lesser spirits that reside there. It would be easy for the show to begin to feel stale, as can happen with most of the week formats.
Fortunately for both the show and the viewer, there are deeper themes at play with the storyline, hints, and clues here and there that give into a broader picture of what the show is actually about.
The idea of it being simply about a girl and a ghost would be too easy and a disservice to Hanako and Nene. At the core of the show resides something both a bit sweeter and a bit more ominous.
Friendship, heartache, and murder all mingle with one another, forcing the viewer to look at these interactions between Nene and the other spirits and what it means to be human. The soft, neon aesthetics of the story begin to feel like showing the viewer a different perspective, much like Nene learns along the way when interacting with spirits and students alike.
What is something specific on the surface level ends up being a hell of a lot deeper than what both viewer and character alike expect?
The show feels like a breath of fresh air amongst the isekai and shonen series that seem to be dominating the pop culture scene. The style alone relays to the substance; at its heart, the visual aesthetics of the show are just as important as the storyline. That might not work for some folks, but for others, it’s everything the season needs.
The story occasionally slips up to where style does overtake substance, but it’s never enough to be the deciding factor of whether or not to stop watching. It’s packed with moments sweet enough to give you a cavity, and moments with just enough heartache. As with most things with both high school and the occult, nothing is ever quite what it seems on the surface level, and the series should be taken as such.
It’s worth the time for both a watch and a read, if not for lovestruck protagonists and sympathetic spirits but for the hyper pop aesthetics that bar nicely just in time the changing of the seasons.