We’re arriving at the point now which I always knew we would around this stage. That is, when Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun distances itself from the field and emerges as the clear standout of the season (with apologies to Runway de Waratte – which I still love). The anime – which impresses me as a pure adaptation more and more every week – is doing exactly what the manga did. It’s a slow build, establishing characters and setting at a measured pace and luring the audience into a false notion of what sort of series this is. But now slowly but surely the layers upon layers of this story are starting to reveal themselves.
Slow build anime are a tough sell in the light-novel age to be sure, and Hanako-kun was always probably better suited to be a hit as a manga than as an anime. But even if this series never gets to the really good stuff and serves mainly as an advertisement for the manga (which I suspect was always the plan) I can’t view that as a complete tragedy. What we get is still going to be great – hell, it’s already great – and if it brings a few more converts to the manga, so much the better. If the current state of the anime industry has instilled lowered expectations in me, at least that makes it harder to be disappointed.
I could say everything or nothing about this episode – I have a half-page of notes in front of me I could refer to, but all that really need be said is that it was a masterpiece. From the moment the butterfly led Nene and Kou into the Four O’Clock Library it was a magical, sinister journey to the other side. Curiosity has its share of truisms to be sure, and while Nene is no cat it doesn’t take a genius to see that reading about your own future is a really, really bad idea. And fat legs and love poems are the least of the reasons why. But Nene is a child possessed of a child’s judgment, and how many children could resist if given the same chance she was?
Perhaps that extends to reading about Hanako-kun’s secrets too – the whole reason she and Kou ventured into the library at all – but when danger appears he’s still the one to show up and save them. On-hand as well is the chap we met this week, and indeed he is a spirit – Tsuchigomori, both a teacher at Kamome Academy and the Fifth School Mystery (pet peeve – I don’t know why Funimation chose to translate “fushigi” as “wonder”, but I hate it). He’s an intriguing combination of sinisterness and joviality, and – like Hanako – not above trolling the humans for a bit of amusement.
There’s a lot to unpack in this four-way encounter in the Four O’Clock library, but it certainly seems that the other mysteries – at least the ones we’ve met – do acknowledge Hanako-kun as their leader. And he reports that there’s a traitor among them, sowing discord when their job should be to keep the peace – spreading false rumors about the mysteries themselves, indicating that it’s someone on the inside. Hanako’s plan is to destroy the yamashiro of all the mysteries, rendering them temporarily powerless, and smoke out the traitor. And while he uses the occasion to extract some embarrassing tidbits from Nene (an exchange diary with Teru, grounded in pure fantasy) and Kou (he’s… afraid of oni masks?) Tsuchigomori is surprisingly compliant with Hanako’s request.
This is all leading to Hanako’s secrets, and not a love of donuts (though that’s an interesting thing to reveal). Tsuchigomori insists that Nene go with him alone to destroy his yamashiro, and he’s seemingly in quite a talkative mood. Only one human has ever changed their future that he’s aware of (we can guess who). And his yamashiro is a moon rock – one Tsuchigomori says was given to him the day after the Apollo 11 moon landing. It was given to him by a boy named Amane Yugi all those years ago – and when Nene destroys the yamashiro, she once more sees a vision of the memories that are attached to it.
The meaning of all we see isn’t intended to be clear at this point, that much is obvious. It’s enough that the flashback sequence is incredibly riveting, a sense of impending tragedy communicated in wonderfully subtle fashion. The story of the boy who decided not to go anywhere ever again is obviously a sad one, even if we don’t know the underlying truth of it yet. And it’s clear that it impacted Tsuchigomori deeply then, to the point where he’s still not over it today. The relationship between he and Yugi – now Hanako – is a long-standing and complicated one, that much is unmistakable. It’s one of many roots in Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun which branch out wide and deep, so far only just breaking the surface.