by Steve Jones,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Community score: 4.4
Mieruko-chan, a stalwart innovator in the world of horror anime, steps its game up this week with a spine-chilling foray into an oft-ignored venue of terror: pre-packaged convenience store pastries. Yes, their new substitute teacher might be a serial killer haunted by an eldritch fusion of his past victims, and yes, Miko almost loses her cool in front of a large toilet ghost, but nothing else in this episode struck fear into my heart as much as Hana's lunch purchases: Chocolate-chip melon bread yakisoba pan. My stomach shudders at the thought. Only Beelzebub incarnate could have devised such a cursed amalgamation of staple snacks. If not for her powerful spiritual aura, I have no doubt that Hana would not have made it out of this episode alive. Please exercise caution when consuming individually-wrapped novelty foods, lest you too fall prey to such infernal machinations.
That PSA aside, this is another satisfying episode of Mieruko-chan, relying on its familiar formula with sprinkles of new zest here and there. While the big plotline concerning creepy cat-wanting substitute Toono stays on the backburner for most of this week, the show clearly intends to keep following it, so I don't mind a slower pace of development. Unsurprisingly, Miko's primary concern is her friends. The giant ghost haunting Toono, on the other hand, creates an interesting wrinkle, especially because it implies that it knows about Miko's sight. The ghost has some kind of grudge against him—it's easy to imagine any number of reasons why—which would imply that it's nominally on Miko's “side.” But could they work together? Would they even want to? We can't say without knowing more about the ghost or about Toono, and that's good enough to hook me into next week.
As expected, these events are bringing Yulia further into the main fold, although I can't say I foresaw this starting in a toilet stall. While her and Miko's relationship is still mostly made up of crossed wires, they each seem a lot more comfortable with the other now. Yulia's a tiny little ball of chuuni energy and social anxiety, so seeing her relax around Miko and Hana provides the kind of cuteness that counters Mieruko-chan's more dastardly specters. These are good kids, even if Hana could stand to learn not to smother her friends so much.
Miko's anxiety is at an all-time high, however. The things she sees have gotten worse, not better, as the show progresses, and now she has to contend with a combination evil person/demon magnet in her homeroom every day. It makes her paranoid, and it also makes her drop her guard in front of the toilet ghost, whom she escapes only by dumb luck. Miko, sight aside, is just a high school girl. She's an ordinary person, and people can only bottle up so much stress before it starts harming them from the inside-out. This isn't the first time I've been worried about her, and it's also not the first time the series has broached these more serious psychological concerns. Just as it balances its horrors with wholesomeness, so too does Mieruko-chan balance its comedy with drama in apt ways. While I may sound like a broken record at this point, I have to continue praising the series for maintaining its unique equilibrium, because it's all too easy to imagine a version of Mieruko-chan that grows too rote, too hokey, or too self-absorbed.
The haunted house section proves to be an excellent example of Mieruko-chan's warmth and cleverness. I presumed that the joke would revolve around Miko being too desensitized by her sight to be grabbed by any of the attraction's jumpscare-laden ghoulies. And that does kinda end up being the case for Yulia, even though, shocking nobody, she's more of a fraidy-cat than she lets on. Miko instead has a eureka moment that turns the maze of horrors into a safe space where she can at last vent some of her frustration and, more importantly, have fun. It's really sweet! This therapeutic saunter of screams is carried by the same subversive spirit that fuels much of Mieruko-chan. For the first time, however, circumstances allow Miko to let her proverbial hair down and enjoy an adrenaline rush without fear of being pursued by a poltergeist.
In addition to granting Miko the biggest smile we've seen from her all season, this change of tack also appears to have an effect on one of the real spooks inside the haunted house. When she throws her pursuers a big and cathartic command to back off, it doesn't stop the underpaid teens in sweaty slasher costumes, but it does stop the ghost with the big head in its tracks (and in its tracksuit). This may be a fluke, or it may point to a different direction Miko could take. Ignoring a problem is hardly ever a long-term solution; staring a problem down and hitting it with a firm “no” can be the start of something more permanent. And considering the conflict with Toono on the horizon, there might not be a better time for her to harness the courage and confidence she found this week. I know I'm rooting for her.
Mieruko-chan is currently streaming on Funimation.
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