One of the best mangas I have read, and so very impactful. Yeah, looking at the covers I also expected an edgy slice of life with schoolgirl pantyshots – and maybe this manga even was it for the first half of the first chapter. But then the author fell victim to his dirty desire to make a good horror story, and Mieruko-chan degraded into a supernatural thriller to behold. There’re two main things on which this unexpected greatness rests:
The first is that the heroine tries to live her normal life while constantly internally screaming. That’s what made me finally pick this manga up. I mean “normal” life is indeed hard as nails and horrifying, I cry inside silently every day for hours. I felt the premise in my bones and I was not disappointed, the mood and the irony of the unending utter terror Mieruko-chan must at all costs contain felt fresh and delicious. Interestingly it’s what most seers actually do, from what I know. No one has no time to deal with hostile astral entities, so they screen, tone down, and hide.
The second is the power and the energy of monster designs. It’s hard to stress this enough, since commending monster designs in so par of the course with manga, I myself do it for many other works, but the monsters here are genuinely one of the best in the medium. The main qualities that distinguish them are:
The style. The author underlines the otherworldliness of monsters by drawing them differently – with expressive dynamic black strokes, as if scratched by a terrified hand on paper. They seem to shimmer and warp slightly from panel to panel. The rest of the manga is done in a clean detailed modern seinen artstyle that allows for a great contrast.
The presence. When the monsters become visible, they are very much in the space, interacting with the environment, active, and aware. They are very dangerous, and the rule of the fictional world dictates that if Mieruko-chan as much as acknowledges them, they will likely attack, so they are a constant palpable danger just a hair away, which creates tension and drives the events of the manga.
The malice. Again, it is difficult to experess it believably, but the designs are just so fully realized and so strong, that you don’t need to make any effort to feel that they are scary, you don’t need to be understanding or to suspend your disbelief – the scary comes naturally. These are mean terrifying bad bad things you never want to meet, you can’t do anything about, you just can’t – yet here they are in all the disturbing glory.
To place them on the chart: There’re monsters by Ito – a mindfuck between Lovecraft and an anatomy theater, covered in offensive surrealism. There’s eroguro with its body horror, damaged sexuality, and the joys of irreversible defilement. There’re urban legends of, say, Seeds of Anxiety. There’re demonic fighters of action series. And there’s subversion for every type. Manga simply has a lot of monsters to offer. In this manga the monsters are reminiscent of Silent Hill – they are terrifying unholy shapes that used to be human souls but then degenerated into otherside predators. The mangaka doesn't use cheap tricks like sexual details or subverted childhood imagery too much, these are simply dead people ground to the pulp and mixed up with the evils of human dwellings to reemerge as some huge cursed beasts. The designs are complex, varied, and plentiful. If we continue to reference games, this manga shows off elaborate horror bosses in every second chapter, sometimes several of them at once. It’s hard to not respect the amount of imagination and work invested, it’s difficult to not admire the results.
Furthermore, while the manga is initially slicey, it has a plot. The major, overarching story is forming as of now, but in previous arcs the author has established a sturdy cast of characters with their own quirks and complex relationships, laid down hooks for suspense. Even the schoolgirl mains end up being relatable and human-like, without excessive schoolgirl fetishism. The girls are somewhat sexualized, the author likes to draw their bodies, but it’s not disrespectful or lecherous.
The main criticism that can be directed towards the narrative is that the heroine seems weirdly inactive in looking for the cure for her condition. But it’s also shown that there’s not enough info to go by, she expects the “sight” to go away as it has appeared, by itself, and this is absolutely a series that grows a plot out of the initial slice-of-life status quo. There’re many chapters dedicated to the initial situation before the characters start to actively move. The initial setup is complex enough and deserves it however, plus there’s also a subplot to follow now and then. There’s also a side of very black comedy to this work, which can come onto the forefront at times.
The author is actually also an expert in subversion of expectations. This manga plays with perception in multiple ways. It does focus on perception as a topic, cause the characters have different points of view and abilities to view, which the mangaka uses to create alternative panels (a thing in one pov, the same thing in another pov), and the plot also carefully builds and then betrays the expectations of readers.
For me this manga has a lot of things that I tend to enjoy: dark tension-filled mood, black humor, elaborate meaningful monster designs, urban fantasy, mysticism, relatable down to the earth characters, mind games, compelling plot, ability to genuinely surprise me. I switched the lights in my corridor at nights way more often during the week when I read it! I urge readers with a taste in topics similar to mine to give it a chance. The only thing you are to watch out when picking it up is that it's actually scary. (This manga is also very recommended to people with a fetish for scared girls, obviously.)
Mieruko-chan is a clever nightmare fuel with great art and outstanding monster designs. It is a rare work that deals with urban mysticism head on – with proper esoteric rules, stakes, and dangers. Narratively, it may start slow and have unneeded ecchi in the first chapter, but it quickly gains impressive storytelling depth, emotional range, and power. Even the main characters are likeable and make sense. This is a disturbing, great, and genuine manga I heartily recommend to all readers except for the easily scared who also don’t want to be scared, and maybe even to them on this Halloween night.