Content Warning: grotesque ghostly horror, fanservice
What’s it about? Miko can see ghosts: horrifying, grotesque apparitions that appear throughout her house, her school, and her bus route home. Determined not to get further embroiled in any supernatural torment, Miko takes the advice of a paranormal TV show host and simply pretends she can’t see them.
I’ll be candid: from this premise, I’d assumed Mieruko-chan would be much more straightforwardly a zany comedy, juxtaposing the terrifying creatures of the beyond against Miko’s disinterest in engaging with them. But the pacing of this entire episode, and each individual apparition, leans way more on the horror aspect of this horror-comedy.
This dripping, cold sense of unease builds throughout the first half of the episode. Shots linger on cawing crows and dogs barking at (supposedly) empty space. A damp handprint appears on Miko’s mirror as she’s brushing her teeth. Bruise-dark rain clouds gather overhead. High school slice-of-life shenanigans play out, with Miko’s best friend stealing her lunch and chattering about collectibles, but it all happens over a minimal soundtrack and sometimes absolute silence.
The overall effect is one that’s satisfyingly uncanny, and when the ghosts arrive, it’s almost a relief… except for how traumatized Miko is. I was expecting her to brush it off and that to be the joke! But this poor girl is scared out of her mind and simply doing her best to put on a neutral face! That’s a dire situation… which, admittedly, does give me some hope that this show might be able to sustain itself into a proper plot with emotional stakes rather than running on a gag the whole time.
Overall, this episode is pretty solid. It builds that sense of eerie tension and introduces us to Miko and her family without much need for dialogue or exposition. Granted, we don’t know that much about our heroine at this stage, save for the basic setup: she’s an ordinary high school girl dealing with her haunted status in the most pragmatic way possible, pushing her reactions down and exhaustedly Googling exorcism items.
In sharp contrast is her bubbly friend Hana, who seems—at least for now—to exist outside of this spirit world that’s encroaching on Miko’s life. Hana, ironically, is the most normal entity here, yet her over-the-top extroverted personality is the thing that ends up feeling otherworldly and out of place. The juxtaposition of a typical anime girl boob-squish joke with deathly silence from the soundtrack, uh, works wonders for adding to that undercurrent of disquiet.
Fanservice is in no short supply in this premiere, though it occurs so silently and matter-of-factly amidst the building unease that it just feels bizarre. The audience gets to see Miko slide her underwear off and sit on the toilet, but the scene is quiet as the grave and infused with the fear of something beyond this mortal coil lurking in the stall next door. Miko’s pajama pants cling to her at all sorts of uncomfortable-looking angles as she bends over her bathroom sink, menaced by a contorted figure spewing smoke. The sexualized shots feel so randomly inserted that they unintentionally add to the uncanniness of the whole episode.
Mieruko-chan could do something really interesting with its premise, now that the cat (well, the demon) is out of the bag and it’s established that Miko can see, and is desperate to avoid, the souls of the damned. Or it could, as I initially expected, dissolve into a comedic loop that rests on the same juxtaposition of terrible creature and non-reaction each time.
It could also get profoundly silly, continuing its love of ridiculous and randomly-placed fanservice and overusing the shock and horror of the ghosts until they’re no longer shocking. It could delve into some truly psychological terror as Miko increasingly tries to ignore the hellish visions right in her face and/or it could reduce her to a terrified mess for audience titillation. There are many potential pathways ahead, and it’s difficult to tell which one it might take just from this episode.
Did something happen to Miko to give her this ability, or has she always been like this? Is there a way out of her predicament, or is she stuck like this forever? These are the questions that could prod the show in interesting directions, if it can keep up the spooky energy that it mastered in the buildup in its premiere. Whether it ultimately ends up silly or scary (or a mish-mash of both) this show might be a good pick for Halloween season: the combination of boob-squish and horrors beyond mortal comprehension might make it right at home among some Hollywood B-movies, or, if it pulls this off, some really effective supernatural horror.