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Anime Reviews: Michiko and Hatchin
Caution: contains spoilers.
At last, after all these years, I’m reviewing an anime series directed by a woman.
Veteran animator Sayo Yamamoto, director of the recent Lupin III title The Woman Called Fujiko Mine and whose credits also include Samurai Champloo, Eureka Seven, Death Note, Attack on Titan and Evangelion 2.0, made her directorial debut in 2008 with the critically-acclaimed Michiko and Hatchin, a series I’d heard good things about, saw a couple of dubbed episodes of, and have been meaning to watch for a while now.
The series focuses, through no coincidence or accident of its own design, on two girls. One is Michiko Malandro, an independent, well-built criminal who’s been rotting in one of the most maximum-security maximum-security prisons on Earth. The other is Hana, later dubbed “Hatchin”, a nine-year-old orphan girl living with a cruel and abusive foster family. Despite their different backgrounds, they do have something in common—a man named Hiroshi Morenos who is Michiko’s former lover and Hatchin’s birth father. Popular opinion states that he is dead, but Michiko is strongly convinced that he is alive and well—so convinced, in fact, that she breaks out of prison, tracks down and rescues Hatchin, and the two of them go on a cross-country road trip to find this mystery man.
In shows such as this with an overarching plot, it’s not so much about the destination as it is the journey. Heading into this series, I was expecting another Thelma and Louise-type serial escapade, an El Cazador de la Bruja set a little further south of the border. But after you get deep into it, M&H turns out to be a grittier, less lighthearted series. While El Caz was the story of a naive young girl and her plucky companion who get along really well for 26 episodes, in this series Hatchin is very polite and mature for her age while Michiko is the action girl and the brash renegade type, and from the onset of their journey they get into quite a few arguments. And the world we see isn’t completely full of friendly strangers and pretty girls singing songs about tacos—instead, we get characters like a mob boss who has a bit of history with Michiko and Hiroshi, as well as Atsuko, an old childhood friend of Michiko’s who is now a afro-donning policewoman bent on sending her back to prison. Slowly but surely you watch Michiko and Hatchin come to rely on each other, particularly when the mob boss makes himself more of a presence, and the tender moments they share are a joy to watch.
A lot of the series takes place in a fictitious country that is almost but not quite entirely unlike Brazil with a slight touch of Mexico. Most of the action takes place in run-down favelas crawling with juvenile mobsters, everything’s written in Portuguese, and we have episodes that take place at carnivals, tropical rain forests with Aztec-like ruins, and a bullfighting arena. I also couldn’t tell what time period it takes place in—I’m guessing mid- to late-20th century, with the old-fashioned TVs and Atsuko’s choice of hairstyle. It’s basically a crapsack world that this show takes place in, definitely in a version of Brazil before its economic boom, and these are the kinds of odds our heroines are up against. The music is pretty good as well, from the opening samba number to the mellowed out end theme and all the incidental music betwixt and between. It kinda feels like something out of Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo (and the guy who directed both those series was involved with this one, so I’m not that far off here.)
Now for the downsides, I’m afraid. There were some bits in the series that I thought could have used a bit of explanation. For instance, in episode nine Hatchin runs away from Michiko and joins a circus—two episodes later, Michiko somehow finds out where Hatchin is and pays her a visit, casually explaining that she managed to find out where she is because she “saw her on TV” without so much as elaborating on it. It only happens a couple of times and they’re so minor they’re not too distracting, but there are also a couple of characters, particularly the mob guy and the cop with the afro, that didn’t really appear often enough in the series for me to concern myself with.
Plus there’s one scene from episode twelve that takes place on “April 31st”. Apparently someone over there momentarily forgot that thirty days hath September.
Michiko and Hatchin is by no means a perfect series in execution, but if you can look past its flaws, what you’ll get is an entertaining story about two strangers on a journey through a world that would eat them alive if they’re not careful. What awaits them at the end may not exactly be what they’re looking for, but along the way the bond between them grows so strong that they might just find it anyway.
That, and you’ll get some pretty good action scenes, too.
empathizable lead characters; decent world building
some characters more developed than others