The Fall 2021 anime season has seen the release of Mieruko-Chan, an anime that attempts to juggle the horror for the young female lead suddenly being able to see ghosts and monsters around her in her everyday life with comedic elements such as her steadfast refusal to pay attention to the ghosts, her best friend’s enormous appetite and plenty of fan-service particularly in its earlier episodes.
For some it might seem incongruent to combine traditional horror with comedy but when done well these two styles can really bring out the best in each other and lead to the kind of viewing that takes the audience from the edge of their seat in suspense to nearly falling off their chair laughing the next. The ping-pong style emotional beats are what sell it and at the very least you aren’t getting a mediocre horror experience that is so dour because it is taking itself far too seriously.
However, it is pretty hard to get the balance right because if you mock your own horrific elements too much you lose any tension when they appear on screen and equally it is hard to make the audience laugh if you’ve just pushed the horror so far that they are too busy being sick to really pay attention to your witty visual gag.
Shaun of the Dead is a great example of horror and comedy done right. Largely because everything you expect from an everyday man survives a zombie outbreak story appears in some form throughout the narrative with the jokes either referencing things you’ve seen in movies before or flowing naturally from character decisions. Even Ed’s stupidity once they get to the pub and drawing the zombies in is a continuation of his character’s oblivious nature and at least progresses the plot. Besides if Ed hadn’t alerted the zombies, something else would have had to in order to get the climax moving.
It’s almost impossible not to feel for Shaun as he tries to navigate this new zombie filled world and tries to patch things up with his girl-friend and also save his mother, all the while burdened by a best friend who just doesn’t get it.
How does horror and comedy work in Mieruko-Chan?
Mieruko-Chan hasn’t quite gotten the mix right and early episodes particularly really had a number of off-putting elements that had some viewers bail out. Which is a bit of a shame because while Mieruko-Chan isn’t a particularly strong comedy, its horror aspects are actually quite interesting.
Not saying Mieruko-Chan is scary. Very few horror shows or movies are actually scary. But using traditional horror elements and good characterisation do manage to create scenes with some brilliant tension and the situation draws out empathy for protagonist Miko as she stands facing a monstrosity and trying not to react to its presence.
Much like Shaun of the Dead, Mieruko-Chan works because you can feel for Miko.
Instead of wondering how you would get through a zombie apocalypse (and wonder if your own life is already a train-wreck and you just haven’t realised it), Mieruko-Chan has you wondering how you would navigate waking up one day and seeing these shadowy ghosts and monsters.
They are creepy and disturbing and when they’ve noticed she can see them, they’ve become downright terrifying. With no defence against them, even prayer beads only worked on weaker ones, Miko is left with the only defence she has and that is to play dumb.
It’s right up there with the scene where the characters of Shaun of the Dead impersonate zombies in order to walk through a mob of them.
Time and again Miko is approached by ghosts and monsters while she is in public spaces like cafes or the bus, or even when she’s on her own having a bath or similar, and time and again she’s forced to take a calming breath and to try to get through the situation without acknowledging that she’s seen anything.
While you might think that recurring plot point would get old, Mieruko-Chan actually manages to keep making this scenario feel fresh by changing up the setting, the stakes, the outcomes, and Miko’s own reactions to the situations. Regardless that the central gimmick remains the same, episode after episode they manage to bring something new to the table to make it all feel worthwhile.
Honestly, the honesty with which Miko reacts to situations, struggling with her own resolve not to react to the apparitions and her desire to protect her friends and family from the things around them, would be enough to sell this story on.
Hana, the busty friend who largely gets used for laughs, works well to ground Miko and to help set-up particular situations and create more tension. That she’s also regularly used for fan-service seems more a detriment than an appeal.
Then again, most of the fan-service, and the early episodes of Mieruko-Chan are particularly heavy with it, feels gratuitous.
As a long time horror viewer I get that horror and sex scenes have gone together forever. When you are killing off your cast and you’ve already got a higher rating because of it, you may as well throw in some sex and there’s definitely a portion of the audience that it appeals to.
Yet in Mieruko-Chan the weird camera angles and focus on the girl’s bodies as well as groping ghosts that appear in the early episodes definitely takes the audience out of the scene and robs them of some of their tension. It all feels a little bit like someone realised that a standard element in horror movies was the sexy girl but wasn’t sure how to incorporate it into this setting and what we ended up with just kind of feels like a weird amalgamation of fan-service ideas borrowed from other anime.
Equally, some of the lighter moments, or lines that feel like they were added to lighten the tension after a particularly heavy scene, don’t land. Maybe part of this is because it gets lost in translation but it kind of stops me getting truly lost in what is otherwise a fairly solid supernatural drama.
A recent example comes from episode 8 where we get one of the most tension filled scenes Mieruko-Chan has delivered yet. Miko and her brother are riding a train and a ghost is striking each of the passengers in turn with an axe. None of them can see him or feel the axe and they don’t react in anyway but for Miko, sitting there and waiting for the ghost to strike her is a nerve wracking experience and one that is conveyed beautifully to the audience.
It is one of my favourite scenes so far in Mieruko-Chan and was beautifully executed in terms of build up and then release of tension as they finally get to the station and get off the train.
Where the scene is then kind of taken down a notch is as they walk away from the train Miko talks about needing a new pair of underwear from a convenience store and her brother comments it is difficult to be a girl.
It added nothing to the scene and I’m not sure that wetting her pants would have been funny regardless of the brother’s misinterpretation of the situation.
But it is moments like that where the comedy elements haven’t quite connected with the horror and the overall impact is that they throw the audience out of the moment.
Still, for the most part Mieruko-Chan has found its flow. Each episode presents a series of situations that Miko navigates through and each one brings a number of positive elements to the table. While it isn’t perfectly smooth sailing there’s a lot to appreciate when looking at how Mieruko-Chan is combining horror and comedy and overall this series has so far been pretty successful at keeping me thoroughly engaged by its characters.
I’d love to know what you think about Mieruko-Chan and how it handles its different elements. Be sure to leave a comment below.
You can read the full season review here.
Images from: Mieruko-Chan. Dir. Y Ogawa. Passione. 2021
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