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The granddaddy of all children's anime ghouls remains Shigeru Mizuki's Spooky Kitaro. However, the 1990s were dominated by "Hanako," an iconic figure that came out of nowhere. The indisputable hit of Toru Tsune-mitsu's urban myth collection School Ghost Stories was the short story Ghost Toilet, set in an elementary school in Nagano Prefecture. In the dark, dank toilet on the north side, the fourth stall was said to be permanently locked. Students forcing the door discover the corpse of a girl in a red dress, presumed to have committed suicide, whose ghost is said to haunt the restrooms, eternally trying to lead schoolboys into hell with the temptation "Shall we play?" This tall tale has become the defining spooky story for the Japanese children who grew up in the 1990s, creating a subgenre in children's books beginning with Hanako in the Toilet: Scary Stories of Your School (1993). This in turn was adapted into the Here Comes Hanako manga by several artists, most of whom also wrote the anime version that was broadcast as part of the TV program Ponkiki Kids in 1994. In that special, Hanako, with a deathly pallor like a juvenile Elvira, introduces episodes such as The Haunted Cinema and The Cursed Promise Ring.
Hanako also appeared in her own 50-minute anime movie, Hanako of the Toilet (1996), directed by Akitaro Daichi, which recast the wild-child as a ghostbuster keeping evil spirits at bay. The franchise reached live-action cinema with Joji Matsuoka's 1996 film of the same name and New Hanako (1998), which returned to the original story by featuring a group of high school sleuths contacting Hanako through a Ouija board and saving another classmate from a homeless pervert who is the true cause of all the strange happenings. The phenomenon and its exploitation are parodied in Haunted Junction, where Buddhist Kazuo wishes to collect "all the Hanakos" from every school in Japan; Dirty Pair Flash, which features a Hanako hologram; and Hell Teacher Nube, which features a more "traditional" Hanako apparition. Real School Ghost Stories and School Spirits are among its many distant relatives. The generation that grew up watching Hanako swelled box office receipts for modern horror films such as Ring.