Story & Art by Aidalro
Translated by Alethea Nibley & Athena Nibley
Lettered by Jesse Moriarty & Tania Biswas
I’ve seen several people muse their surprise at Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun’s lack of toilet humor. I suppose that just goes to show that the old adage to not judge a book by its cover, or in this case its title, remains a valid practice. What particularly amuses me, though, is that the audience misperceptions of Hanako-kun mirror the primary theme of the text; people misunderstanding the world they engage with because of their assumptions. This is best illustrated through the depictions of the seven mysteries, particularly Hanako himself. From the beginning, Hanako appears and behaves contrary to the rumors surrounding him, being a boy in an old school uniform rather than a girl in a red skirt, and his methods for granting wishes aren’t as easy as protagonist Nene expects. Consistently, Hanako challenges Nene’s assumptions of the world, other people, and even her own way of thinking.
A great example of this are the Faeries introduced in the second chapter, who are normally marshmallowy rabbit-eared creatures but have been forced to adopt a more violent persona because of the vicious rumors associated with them. Even though they don’t want to attack people, they’re forced to because it is what is expected of them. After Nene spreads a positive rumor that they return lost things if they are left candy, they no longer need to perform violent acts. The Seven Mysteries of Kamome Academy are essentially forced to play roles other people impose on them, but if positive messages are spread and reinforced to change those perceptions, they can more freely reveal their true selves. The core message of Hanako-kun is that misperceiving the world and mischaracterizing people create conflict, and being open-minded and understanding others is key to a cooperative coexistence.
Hanako-kun expresses the necessity of challenging misguided beliefs with empathy and kindness. Hanako prods Nene’s line of thinking at several points in the book, not to diminish her feelings, but to bring out her self-actualization. Nene’s initial goal is to snag a boyfriend after being rejected and body-shamed by her longtime crush. While she says that she’s in love with someone else, her reasoning is that she wants to “date an amazing guy like senpai…and make that jerk see what he’s missing,” which makes it seem like she’s only concerned about receiving affection and getting attention. Hanako astutely muses Nene will “take anyone,” because she’s not in love with a specific person so much as the idea of being loved. Being rejected gave Nene an insecurity complex, worried she’s not sufficiently desirable, hence her wish to be a part of a couple to feel loved and prove to others she’s lovable. Upon reflecting on Hanako’s words, Nene eventually realizes what she actually wants out of a relationship, and lets go of her desperation to be a part of a couple. Throughout this process, Hanako never dismisses Nene’s feelings or admonishes her. Nene put her heart, soul, and time into mastering skills that she believed would make her appealing to her crush; an effort that should be acknowledged and validated. Unlike her crush, who dismisses her without trying to understand her, Hanako respects Nene’s efforts and praises the courage it took to confess to her crush and to seek out his help. Hanako guides Nene by empathizing with her situation and advising her, trying to help her understand her own feelings better so she can make decisions she’s happy with. Hanako-kun is about understanding the misunderstood, encouraging people to keep an open mind and a kind heart.
Fitting the urban legends it’s inspired by, Hanako-kun evokes wondrous surrealism in its art, managing to feel cute and dangerous at the same time. From the very first page, Kamome Academy is characterized by duality; a comforting and familiar place in the light, but full of ominous, mysterious, and empty corridors obscured in the dark. The manga incorporates more stylized art to establish a suspenseful eeriness to the story, be it the Utena-esque shadow puppets gossiping about the school’s mysteries or an unattended radio musing about forgotten things as creatures with many eyes murmur and squirm around out of sight.
The environments in Hanako-san are decorated with details, be them Nene’s flower garden, the bathroom, classrooms, hallways, and especially the Netherworld. These settings can switch from being inviting to uncomfortable in an instant tonal shift, like when the foreboding hallways where Nene encounters the Faeries suddenly feels less intimidating after the reveal of their peaceful nature, or when the rooftop where Nene and Hanako hang out goes from a cozy environment to a tensely distant one the moment Hanako questions Nene’s perspective. It’s notable that the vibe of the setting shifts upon the characters’ own understanding of their world. In the former example, the halls become more inviting once Nene realizes the Mokke aren’t malicious, and in the latter, the roof becomes cloudier and colder when Nene’s assumptions are questioned. Effectively, the school becomes a more comfortable or uncomfortable place for Nene depending on her perception of it.
We never see the world outside this school; Kamome Academy is, effectively, the home of these characters. Still, the premise never feels limited by the setting; rather, it’s a versatile base upon which even more worlds lurk within. Aidalro’s detailed environments convincingly present Kamome Academy as a mysterious wonderland, inviting readers to immerse themselves in the art and pay attention to secrets that may be hidden in plain sight.
Despite being high schoolers, Aidalro’s characters are unmistakenly childlike in design, sporting glistening big eyes, pillowy faces, and short chunky bodies. Yet, these cutesy characters never feel out of place in these settings. Their bubbly designs add a charm factor to its sweet and light-hearted moments, while the contrast of cute characters reacting frightfully or ominously heightens the dangerous feel and dramatic impact of the story’s scarier, more serious scenes. They evoke vulnerability and innocence but can be twisted to reflect a more startling, sinister nature that betrays those supposed virtues. Through this manipulation, Hanako-kun artfully realizes a child’s perspective of the dangers of a world yet still unknown to them, linking its uneasy and dreadful vibes with the characters’ own lack of understanding of the world they live in. In essence, the childlike designs of the characters lean into the story’s core theme that the world appears only as how you understand it, coming across more friendly or dangerous depending on the characters’ own perceptions and feelings.
Hanako-kun sets itself apart from other supernatural battle manga thanks to its unique art, setting, and emphasis on empathetic themes. Its principal characters are charming and adorable, particularly Nene, whose desperation after working so hard only to be rejected felt very real and relatable. Consistently, the series praises characters like Nene and Kou for their hard work and unique skills, thematically messaging that people’s efforts are valid and should be respected no matter whether they succeed or are rewarded. Much like how there’s more to people than what you may first assume, there’s more to Toilet-bound Hanako-kun than its title suggests. It’s a funny, creepy, heart-warming, and heart-breaking manga that has a lot of different qualities to love about it. The only way to truly understand and appreciate it is to become immersed in its world yourself.