by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Community score: 4.5
While Miko may be able to see into the spiritual plane at all hours of the day, we viewers won't be seeing any more Mieruko-chan on TV beyond this week. Concluding a cour of an anime based on an ongoing manga is an unenviable task. There's not a right way to do it, but there sure are plenty of wrong ways. Mieruko-chan's finale takes a scattershot approach, wrapping up Zen's arc while following a handful of other leads that could presumably segue into an eventual second season. It's not exactly graceful. It does, however, provide a handy survey of this season's riffs on the series' horror-comedy formula, which ultimately added up to a pretty darn likable show.
Zen's storyline follows through on last week's climax without too many surprises. Miko exorcises his mother's ghastly grip on him, and Zen, in his own way, acknowledges her departure. This isn't the first time Mieruko-chan has used this trick, loading subtext into a character's speech in order to make it appear as if the living are communicating with the dead, but this is probably its most affecting deployment. Zen unintentionally telling his mother, “I thought you left,” is a pithy, ice-cold rebuttal of her abuse. And the ghost cat softly licking his hand one last time tugged my heartstrings to their breaking point. Right up through the finale, Mieruko-chan's deftly-executed bouts of genuine warmth prove to be just as important an ingredient as any of its spooks or gags.
That being said, I'm glad to see that the end of Zen's arc leaves plenty of room for weird and sinister stuff as well. His interaction with the landlady is a rollercoaster, for example. Regardless of any progress Miko helped him make, he's still gloomy and asocial enough to turn a quotidian social nicety into an awkward standoff. And Mieruko-chan, eager as always to prove that we shouldn't trust outward appearances, reveals that the generous old landlady is even more of a freak than he is. It's a bizarre scene, and I love it. I also love the implication that Zen's feline vigilantism goes a lot further than just tracking and scaring off cat abusers. Even if this is just more misdirection piled on top of the past misdirection, it does good work by preventing the episode from feeling too treacly. Maybe Miko's substitute teacher is a murderer after all! There's nothing wrong with keeping us guessing.
In the interview we just published, mangaka Tomoki Izumi clarified that the monsters' overall enigmatic nature was an intentional choice to allow plenty of room for audience interpretation. I felt vindicated reading that, because I still believe that Mieruko-chan's best feature is how little it explains itself. The old horror adage holds true: nothing is scarier than the unknown. This holds especially true in the finale, where Miko worries the most about the shrine spirits. They might have helped her, but that doesn't mean they're on her side; she doesn't understand them any better than any of the other specters she's seen. That's scary whether the nightmare at the shrine was a figment of her imagination or a portent of payment that needs to be taken—and it's a chilling scene regardless, as Mieruko-chan flexes its presentational chops for the final time. These are beings beyond her ken, and the more she gets wrapped up with them, the more dangerous it's going to be for her.
However, Mieruko-chan tempers these menacing sequel hooks with character-focused bookending that highlights our heroines' development. Yulia has a pair of true buddies now, and she can talk about both ghosts and anime with them. What more does a friendship need? Hana returns to her normal amount of extravagant hunger, with Zen's aura no longer sapping her butt buns faster than she can replenish them. And Miko, most importantly, is feeling more confident about her strange gift. She hasn't solved any of her big problems or mysteries, but via her experience, she's learned little techniques and ways to cope with the daily ghost grind. Even further, she's resolved now to face them head-on when needed. Easier said than done, of course, but it's a nice sentiment for an open ending.
In mirroring the premiere for its visual bookending, the finale also ends up returning to the hornier gaze of the season's early installments. These leering camera angles were basically nonexistent in the series' second half—and appropriately so, given the heavier subject matter—so it was a little jarring (and funny) to be reminded of them at the last minute. It's a strange choice that doesn't do the finale any favors, but I think it also proves that the anime never needed to leer at its characters to make an engaging adaptation. Mieruko-chan's best moments were rooted in an understanding and appreciation of horror tropes, seasoned with comedic subversions and gentle sentimentality. Those are the qualities I'm going to remember the series for. Plus the butt buns. Can't forget the butt buns.
Mieruko-chan may not have broken the mold, but it's an offbeat horror highlight that's easy for me to recommend to anybody who wants something a little spooky. It's a great 7/10 anime, which I write with zero disparagement intended. I love 7/10 anime. I've reviewed my fair share of avant-garde mission statements and utter disasters this year, so it's nice to close 2021 out with a show that's just plain solid. Here's hoping 2022 doesn't have too much real, unfun horror in store for us.
Mieruko-chan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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