by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 4 of
I did not tune into this week's episode of Mieruko-chan expecting to get so emotionally worked-up over a cup of convenience store pudding, yet here we are. It just goes to show that this series still has tricks up its sleeve that aren't exclusively spooky specters. For the most part, however, this installment is another fine iteration on its now-familiar formula, this time focusing more on Miko's familial relationships. Unsurprisingly, seeing ghosts everywhere puts quite some strain even on one's home life.
I continue to be pleased that this adaptation is being made by a crew who knows their stuff when it comes to the subculture surrounding the paranormal. The recurring “REAL Scary Stories” show is a perfect example. From its framing and its fonts down to the poorly-photoshopped money shot, it's clearly put together by people who are familiar with the vibes and voices of trashy paranormal TV/YouTube. I'll admit, those videos are a guilty pleasure of mine—I know ghosts and cryptids aren't real, but I'm fascinated by our collective multicultural impetus to perpetuate hoaxes and/or to succumb to belief in the supernatural, especially as recording and editing technology grows more robust. Obviously they're a little different in the context of a work of fiction like Mieruko-chan, but I also really like the idea that, even in a world where monsters are real, people would still go out of their way to fabricate scary stories and sightings. I hope we get some ghost hunters featured later on in the season. A bunch of scraggly dudes in baseball caps hurriedly scattering Ouija boards and EMF readers while Miko effortlessly sees a gaggle of specters—that would be a good bit.
(By the way, if your brain is both Vtuber- and paranormal-poisoned like mine is, may I recommend both Nyanners' spooky video watchalong and Selen's maddening 11-hour Phasmophobia marathon. They are new Halloween essentials, in my most humble of opinions.)
The vending machine scene is a cute play on our expectations so far. It's no surprise that Miko happens to see something while she's out in a dark alley by herself at night (maybe not the wisest place to escape to, in retrospect), but it is amusing that she finds it kind of adorable. It's a sign that she's learning to live with her ESP; If unholy terrors are going to continue to torment her, then it's only fair that she gets to enjoy the sight of a tiny nude man scurrying about like a mouse. Of course, this is just setup so that she can get doubly spooked by the giant nude man ringleader, but it's a good reminder that not all of what she sees is necessarily monstrous or harmful. This becomes extremely relevant towards the end of the episode.
Before we get there, though, Miko grows increasingly frayed by her nonstop visions of the otherworldly. The bath scene feels especially disconcerting, and that's even if we ignore the return of the out-of-place fanservice. While Miko holds her poker face as well as she usually does, inside she quietly begs for the spirits to haunt her “anywhere but in here.” It's a little heartbreaking! We should, ideally, consider our entire homes to be our sanctuaries, and bathrooms especially are a sacred and private refuge that people should be able to rely on even in the worst of circumstances. Miko might really lose her mind if she can't find an inch of respite anywhere. Yes, this is a comedy series, but Mieruko-chan seems genuinely invested in treating Miko like a person and not purely as a poltergeist pratfaller, which I think does a lot to enrich the series.
Along those lines, the episode pulls off its last-minute twist with a shocking amount of deftness. While I feel like I should have seen it coming—the previous episodes established everything we needed for a Sixth Sense moment—there's no denying that it got me good. And like a good twist, it works not just because it catches us off guard, but because it also recontextualizes and adds depth to prior scenes. We spend that entire breakfast scene assuming that Miko is disturbed by the giant disgusting ghoul, when she's actually shell-shocked by the sight of her dead father. Even sadder, she can't acknowledge that she sees him, because that would tip off the yokai that she can see it as well. However, she still manages to reciprocate his ghostly paternal affection with an offering of pudding, ending the episode on a literally and figuratively sweet note. Mieruko-chan has layers! I wish it came with a little less tonal whiplash though, and the cheesecake peppered throughout the story doesn't help that at all. Overall, though, it has enough earnest energy to hold itself together.
I also forgot to mention this in my review last week, but I'm a big fan of both the OP and ED, and each is funny in its own way. The opening song deliberately contrasts its jaunty pop melody with lyrics about Miko's constant fear and annoyance towards her incorporeal companions, while the aesthetic takes the goo and gore of horror films and paints them in bubblegum colors. It's a catchy and eye-popping exercise in irony. The ending is similarly wry and upbeat, but it goes even further with its joke, incorporating bloodcurdling screams into the call-and-response of its refrain. That takes some guts. In fact, if I had to pin the adaptation's success down to a singular quality, I would say that the production's confidence has helped it the most when it comes to standing out from the crowd. Mieruko-chan can commit to its silliness, scariness, and sentimentality in equal measure, and I hope it continues to do so.
Mieruko-chan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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