Mieruko-chan
Episodes 1-3

by Steve Jones,

How would you rate episode 1 of
Mieruko-chan ?

How would you rate episode 2 of
Mieruko-chan ?

How would you rate episode 3 of
Mieruko-chan ?

The seasonal smorgasbord has grown too large to be pinned down into reliable patterns, but a small consistency I continue to enjoy is the offering of horror anime that overlaps the autumnal months. Sometimes they manifest as weird niche titles like 2018's adaptation of Angels of Death, and sometimes they balloon into surprise hits like Zombie Land Saga. While this season has vampires and ghouls aplenty, the show that so far tickles my horror bone the most is Mieruko-chan. Based on the webcomic-turned-manga by Tomoki Izumi, this spooky comedy series asks a simple question: what if having the sixth sense was not only spine-chilling, but also extremely annoying?

The show so far has hewn to a predictable structure. Our protagonist Miko can see ghosts, but she has to act like she doesn't in order to not draw their attention any further. It's a simple premise that, nevertheless, is easier said than done when there's a fetid walking corpse making googly eyes at you from across the room. Mieruko-chan subverts expectations into its own bemusing brand of horror humor, taking a genre infamous for its bloodcurdling screams and sublimating that tension instead through Miko's gritted teeth. She treats these hauntings like you would a drunk racist uncle at Thanksgiving, smiling and nodding and praying that he goes bother somebody else as soon as possible. It's not the acme of comedy, but it provides a consistently relatable kind of amusement.

The visual presentation, however, helps boost Mieruko-chan from an acceptable diversion into an anime that can go toe-to-toe with other horror heavyweights. The most eye-popping component is its creature design, which takes no half-measures when it comes to slapping sloughed skin, gnarled limbs, and hellish orifices all over Miko's spectral tormentors. They're also drawn in a conspicuously sketchy style and animated in varying framerates, so as to further differentiate them from the more quotidian world of the living. The technique is very reminiscent of the way the Jujutsu Kaisen anime handled its own monsters, and that's no coincidence: Hiroya Iijima, who was responsible for most of JJK's Curse designs, contributes designs here as well.

Even absent the particularly ghastly ghouls, Mieruko-chan's overall visual direction is a cut above average. It exercises some of the freedom that comes with the genre, indulging in odd angles and fun illusions for the purpose of setting up its horrific setpieces, even if its end goal is to subvert them. My favorite example so far is the premiere's episode-ending stinger, which begins with Miko noticing a person's shadow walk by the outside window. This would be unremarkable—if she weren't currently on the third floor. It's a subtle trick, and a legitimately spooky one too once the realization sets in. These unique monsters and moments add up to make Mieruko-chan feel anything but a perfunctory adaptation. It gives me the sense that the people making the show understand and enjoy making the source material work in motion, and that's not an attitude to be taken for granted.

However, your enjoyment of Mieruko-chan is going to be reliant on your tolerance for tasteless cheesecake. When the camera isn't glommed onto a ghost, it tends to wander close to the boobs, butts, and thighs of Miko and her friend Hana. Horror has long walked hand-in-hand with the lascivious and the low-brow, so I haven't really minded the show's trashier flirtations. It's pretty shameless about it, and I've occasionally gotten some good whiplash-induced chuckles from seeing the show's meticulous rendition of underwear creases be immediately juxtaposed against a writhing stinkdemon from hell. Still, though, it doesn't add anything to the show's core appeal. It feels like a crutch that, at worst, can turn away audiences who are just looking for some silly spooky times. The good news is that, as of episode three, the blatant fanservice seems to be dwindling in favor of adding new characters and angles to the story. I think that's the smartest direction the show can go in, so even if you were put off by the premiere, you might want to give Mieruko-chan another shake, pending how it progresses from here.

Personally, I think the series has a strong enough foundation to grow into something more than just an exhibition of frightening monsters juxtaposed against cute anime girls. I especially like Miko as the protagonist. She has a normally deadpan personality that balances nicely with the restrained nervous energy of her ghost encounters. A normal person would have freaked the hell out by now, but Miko exhibits a commendable amount of savvy and self-control, even when she's scared speechless. While Hana reveals much less complexity, her airheaded bubbliness is a good complement for Miko. And since I'm still four years old, I really enjoy the silliness of the two of them talking about eating butts while munching on pastries called butt buns due to the fact that they look and feel like butts.

Godmother's introduction is another strong development. She effectively expands the spirit world of Mieruko-chan, informing us that Miko is not alone in possessing ESP, which opens up plenty of avenues for better understanding and controlling her new ability. As much as I've enjoyed these opening episodes, I'm not too confident the anime can sustain a full season on what is effectively one gag, and thus a little plot could go a long way. Godmother is also an amusing character in her own right—a scheming conwoman with a heart of gold—so I'm hoping she sticks around as Miko's mentor in the immaterial. I have to assume the gloomy girl with the gradient pigtails has a connection to the spirit realm as well, and it's only a matter of time before she becomes a main cast member. And Miko has already used her gift of sight in productive ways—most notably, getting an abandoned kitten to a good home. That was a disarmingly sweet way to end the second episode, and I hope the series can continue to surprise me like that.

The anime's above-average adaptation of the horror-comedy gag manga makes Mieruko-chan into some amusingly macabre Halloween viewing, even if it can be a little too horny for its own good at times. As of now, I'm sufficiently charmed by its restrained spin on the scream queens of horror film classics, and I'm looking forward to what monstrosity will be hiding in Miko's closet next week.

Rating:

Mieruko-chan is currently streaming on Funimation.

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