by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Frights, feelings, and ghastly funnies abound in this week's especially menacing installment of Mieruko-chan. I lamented the apparent holding pattern last time, but we've got some really nice iterations and innovations on the formula this time around, spanning the considerable width of the show's tonal gamut. In other words: not a single spectral stinker to be seen! Not only did I have a good time, I'm also the most excited I've been to see what happens in the next episode.
The first bit is the lightest and most typical to Mieruko-chan. However, that doesn't mean it's necessarily the weakest part. The adaptation's consistently solid execution remains an important, if easily overlooked component of the anime's success. While it's rarely flashy, its splashes of subtle flair go a long way. Here, I really like the way the shot pans from Miko's feet over to the dark ghost smoke licking the legs of the undead sales clerk. We know what's going to happen as soon as Miko goes into that changing room alone, but that's a creative way of heralding the imminent haunting. It's also fun that this ghost happens to be completely benign. Despite Miko's trepidation, she just keeps complimenting her like a demon full of nothing but positive affirmations. I wouldn't mind one of those haunting me!
The lighthearted introduction juxtaposes nicely against the episode's spooky centerpiece: a lumbering ax-wielder patrolling the subway on some unfathomable and unholy mission. He has one of my favorite creature designs featured in the show so far—slasher-inspired but otherwise not too busy, which allows his red spider-leg accoutrement to really pop. He also creates one of the tensest situations Miko has been through yet. The show turns a brightly lit subway car into a nail-biter through an applause-worthy application of horror techniques. Part of that lies in the simplicity of the “rules” at play, with the man burying his astral ax in the skull of each passenger one-by-one. Both Miko and the audience can follow the count-down, and consequently the mounting tension, until he reaches her and her brother. Another important part, though, is the element of the unknown. Neither we nor Miko know who this guy is, what he's doing, if he's hurting his targets, of if he's doing anything at all that affects the living. It's even possible he's doing a good thing, exorcising (in his own gruesome way) evil spirits that happen to be haunting people, but we're primed to expect the worst from his appearance. It's a great scene.
Perhaps against my better judgment, I think the concluding gag is good too, which I chalk up to the excellent misdirection. Miko's weird behavior made me assume that the ax guy actually did something serious to her. It's not that farfetched to consider he might have been able to cut into whatever it is that makes her see the other side. But nope, she just peed her pants. Congrats, Mieruko-chan, you owned me.
The second half adopts a more sentimental tone. I like that this feels like a natural component of Mieruko-chan now, rather than a cheap emotional rug-pull. And again, the show uses its element of mystery to misdirect the audience (albeit in a much more wholesome way this time) before revealing its hand. Miko assumes the weird slug floating around her teacher has to be some kind of malevolent force, because that's still how she's primed to think about these things. The truth, however, reinforces just how little Miko understands about her “gift,” and it's enough of a shock to make her reflect on it in the most serious way we've seen so far. She even considers reversing her entire philosophy—that maybe she's supposed to help these spirits instead of ignoring them. For a while, that has seemed like the logical direction for Mieruko-chan to head towards, using her great power with great responsibility and all that jazz. She's not quite there yet if a big gross elephant man-thing can immediately dissuade her selfless ambitions, but we're getting closer.
The reappearance of the evil cat man will almost certainly push her further in that direction too. Like Hana said, it's okay to let some sleeping moths lie, but this dude is too evil a presence for her to ignore. It's a good cliffhanger, and a good way to tie a bow on Miko's development in this episode. She's the only one who can see the inky black serial cat murderer (I'm assuming) writhing beneath his questionably good looks, so she has a certain responsibility now to make sure he doesn't hurt anyone in her class. It'll be interesting to see how she pulls that off without blowing her cover, if she can even do so. Perhaps this will be where Miko finally teams up with Yulia in earnest—provided she can convince the mushroom head that she isn't trying to kill her and hide the body, that is.
For now, I'm very happy to see that the good cat man is doing well, even as his appearance unwittingly terrorizes hapless cashiers across the city. It's an okay gag, but beyond that, it's fitting for the series' themes. Mieruko-chan is all about seeing what lies beneath the surface. Whether it's beautiful or terrible, there's so much more to this world than we assume at first glance. As long as the anime keeps this emotional refrain alongside its scares and snickers (and occasional gestures towards undergarments), then I'm happy to keep returning to it.
Mieruko-chan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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