In the Winter 2020 anime season, two different anime have given a spotlight to the strange Japanese phenomenon known as “School Wonders”. You may have come across these whispered rumors in other anime like Attack on Titan: Junior High, where they’re used as pranks to make a test of courage more frightening, or even in Ghost Stories, where they’re actually shown to be real. So where did the idea of “The Seven School Wonders” come from? and how do Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun and Magia Record use the concept in their narratives? Let’s investigate!
Japanese Youkai and Scary Stories
In Japanese mythology, youkai (monsters) come in many shapes and sizes and can possess inanimate objects or shapeshift into humans to make their victims drop their guard. They may or may not actually be evil (similarly to fairies and elves in European folklore), but they’re very good at scaring people. That’s why they tend to come up in rumors around the schoolyard, whose main purpose is to make the person telling the story look cool and edgy in front of their friends – one of the most famous, Hanako-san of the toilet, is said to be the ghost of a girl who drags children who summon her to Hell. Other common subjects include endless stairs, haunted anatomical models in science classrooms, and pained voices coming from nowhere.
It’s possible that many of these stories originated from samurai telling spooky tales to each other in the feudal era as part of a game called Hyakumonogatari Kaidankai, or “A Gathering of 100 Weird Tales”. Eventually, this game spread to the middle classes and then to the peasants, cementing the most popular tales in books designed to give participants fun scary stories to tell. Honjo, an area of Tokyo now known as the Sumida ward, was so naturally creepy that people began to tell of the “Seven Wonders of Honjo”. Even today, tourists can take walking tours and collect sweets representing the wonders that Edo-era Japanese people spoke of in Hyakumonogatari games.
Use in Jibaku Shounen Hanako-kun (Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun) and Magia Record: Mahou Shoujo Madoka☆Magica Gaiden (Magia Record: Puella Magi Madoka Magica Side Story)
In Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun, the Seven Wonders of Kamome Academy are actual ghosts and youkai that control various aspects of the school and have a hierarchy amongst themselves. They and the other lesser apparitions are directly affected by the rumors that living students spread about them, to the point that they gain power and can actually completely change form if their rumor portrays them as dangerous.
Hanako-kun, based on the Hanako-san story, is the leader of the Seven Wonders and keeps the others in check with his trusty kitchen knife and lovely assistant Nene. But someone seems to be purposefully changing the rumors around the school and sowing chaos among the ranks of the Seven Wonders. By making rumors the power source of these apparitions, Toilet-Bound Hanako-kun shows how simple words can shift balances of power and put innocent people in mortal danger.
Magia Record, on the other hand, uses the idea of school rumors as a thematic device to represent Rena and Kaede’s crumbling friendship. In episode 2, Rena writes both of their names on the Friendship-Ending Staircase and leaves Kaede to be swallowed by the chain witch who supposedly comes for those who attempt to patch up the friendship after the names have already been written. Rena says that she only wrote the names to draw out the chain witch so that the team could destroy it, but Kaede and the others know that at least part of Rena put Kaede in danger out of pure malice.
Whether or not these rumors are real, the intention behind them can represent some serious anger and hatred. In the original Madoka Magica, witches were metaphors for the despair that the magical girls put themselves through, while the rumors in Magia Record represent the rifts that the girls form between each other.
Since neither of these anime have finished quite yet, we’re looking forward to how they use the “School Wonders” concept to flesh out their stories even more. There’s so much more that they can do!
What did you think of our overview? Have you ever seen an anime that mentioned school wonders? Which schoolyard tale do you wish would appear in an anime? Let us know in the comments, and thanks so much for reading!