WARNING: The following contains spoilers for Episode 11 of Mieruko-chan, "She Looks," now streaming on Funimation.
Mieruko-chan is a fairly straightforward anime that doesn’t hit viewers with too many curves and twists. The paranormal comedy is usually much more concerned with the terrified reactions it can get out of its heroine, Miko, than tricking viewers with narrative traps -- but Episode 11 pulled off the latter with one of the most suspect characters in the story.
Zen was first introduced in Mieruko-chan as a very shady figure with a potentially troubling agenda. However, Episode 11 gives viewers some much-needed insight into Zen’s character and background, showing there’s much more to him than some might have thought.
Zen has been a source of stress and anxiety for Miko since first taking over as her class’ substitute teacher. Finally fed up with the unease he carries around with him, Miko decides to go on the offensive and do something about the situation at hand. Determined to find evidence of his suspected wrongdoings, she follows Zen around in hopes of having him removed from the school.
When Zen comes across a kitten, Miko – remembering the cat spirits she saw haunting him – snatches it away from him out of fear. The kitten gets away from Miko and strays into oncoming traffic, where Zen rushes to save it and gets hit by a car in the process. This act of kindness completely catches Miko off-guard and shatters the perceptions of him that had been formed earlier in Mieruko-chan.
A flashback to Zen’s childhood shows that he had an incredibly overbearing, mean-spirited mother. He had tried to adopt a cat in secret when he was a child, only for his mother to discover it and kill it, traumatizing the young boy. Not only does this explain his interest in strays, but it also puts his detached personality into perspective.
At the hospital, Zen reveals he’s been searching for the culprit responsible for attacking the neighborhood’s cats. Having fully grasped his familial situation and the traumas he went through, Miko realizes the ghost haunting Zen is his abusive mother. In an act of selflessness, Miko goads the malevolent spirit into attacking her, summoning the shrine maiden spirits to defeat it and subsequently using up the last of her three chances.
It had long seemed as if Zen was being set up as the villain, but Mieruko-chan once again subverted viewers’ expectations on this one. With the shrine maidens no longer looking over her, however, Miko is once again on her own. With all the evil beings still lurking and the number of times they’ve almost done real damage, Miko will need to find a new way of dealing with the spirits around her.