There are rumours of paranormal activity abound at Kamome Academy, and high school student Nene Yashiro comes across one firsthand when she seeks out a young boy named Hanako, a ghost that haunts the third-floor girls’ bathroom and is said to grant wishes. But Hanako’s wishes don’t come freely and when Nene messes with a magical object and discovers she isn’t prepared to pay the price, Hanako binds the two of them together to protect her, enlisting Nene as his assistant. As it turns out, life as a toilet-bound ghost’s assistant involves a lot of cleaning bathrooms, but the rumours pervading Kamome Academy of other apparitions haunting the school also turn out to hold some truth and can’t just be left to their own devices. As the rumours continue and begin to change the nature of the apparitions and place students in danger, Hanako enlists the help of Nene and exorcist in training Kou Minamoto to get to the bottom of things.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun is brought to life by Studio Lerche, replicating the visually distinct manga series by the writer and illustrator duo AidaIro and perfectly capturing the ambiance of spooky but fun afternoon ghost stories. Bound together by a curse, Nene must assist Hanako by investigating the many apparitions that make Kamome Academy their home and protect the students from harm. Joined by Kou, a child from a clan of exorcists, the two investigate all manner of rumours and their associated apparitions, discovering that said rumours have transformative effects on their subjects. This creates neat “monster-of-the-week” framework for the series as the gang investigates ghostly disturbances at the school, as well as an interesting “rumour mill” mechanic where the apparitions are forced to adjust to rumours to maintain their own existence – and as the rumours grow more deadly, the apparitions follow suit. Things begin to escalate when the rumours start manipulating the Seven Wonders, the seven apparitions representing the most popular rumours at Kamome Academy, and it becomes clear that someone is spreading rumours behind the scenes for their own purposes.
The absurdity of bathroom ghosts paired with a plot involving manipulating deadly apparitions to hurt students in Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun creates an odd but effective dichotomy, causing the show to regularly fluctuate between charming and chilling. Hanako himself is the perfect encapsulation of this dichotomy, at first appearing as relatively harmless and naive as he attempts to assist Nene in her quest for love by offering practical advice and acting as a sort of life coach rather than performing any magic. But underneath Hanako’s childish facade is a calculating and sometimes cold persona, and the combination of his quite competence and mysterious past give the character a lot of fun emotions to play with throughout the series, depicted perfectly by both his Japanese (Megumi Ogata) and English (Justin Briner) voice actors. The visually distinct style of the series also supports this balance of charm and danger, with solid cartoon-y edges and moe characters aiding the anime’s comedic moments while the beautiful colour design and cinematography support the series when it delves into more dramatic moments.
Of course, a monster-of-the-week framework is only as good as its cast, and Hanako, Nene and Kou have a vibrant chemistry that keeps Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun engaging. Hanako and Nene’s chemistry is strong from episode one when they begin to form a familiarity and tentative friendship, bickering like old friends but cautious of each other’s intentions. When Kou barges in to try and exorcise Hanako (unsuccessfully), he makes the ideal third wheel for the ghostly adventure, brash, just, and constantly comedically bickering with Hanako. Of course, the main cast are interesting characters in their own right who each get time in the spotlight as the series progresses. Revelations about Hanako’s mysterious past and complicated childhood, Kou’s struggle as an exorcist whose perspective on apparitions changes as he begins befriending ghosts, and Nene’s introspection about the difference between having a crush and the simple desire to be loved, regardless of by who, make for compelling character arcs, and carry Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun‘s monster-of-the-week formula throughout its twists and turns.
Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun is everything you want in a ghost story, it’s charming, comedic, spooky, and features dark twists and turns that will keep you on your toes. The final episode definitely suffers from “anime series based on a manga whose story goes beyond a 12-episode series” syndrome, but still wraps things up well and, most importantly, makes me desperate for a second season. If you’re busting for a fun ghost story with some teeth that’s oozing with charm, Toilet-Bound Hanako-Kun has you covered.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review.