Cynicism is a rampant beast. At its worst, a cesspool of negativity and hopelessness. In the world of Michiko & Hatchin, cynicism dominates its rural streets. Crime is frequent and violent, children are treated as objects to be sold, regular folks are forced into uncompromising situations, and survival is a fact of life. For nine-year-old Hana Morenos, hope is the only thing she has left in her sorry state.
Michiko & Hatchin explores the world through Hana’s perspective. She’s an orphan adopted by a supposedly devoted and religious family, but is secretly abused by both her foster parents and step-siblings. She wants more than anything for someone to sweep her off her feet and get her out of there. Her wish comes true when a woman on a scooter literally crashes into her life. Michiko is an escaped convict who kidnaps Hana—now renamed Hatchin—because she might be the daughter of her former lover, Hiroshi. This leads to a cross-country road trip as the pair evade cops and criminals alike in pursuit of a mysterious man whom Hatchin isn’t even sure wants to be found, if he’s even still alive.
Michiko & Hatchin distinctive South American culture and setting immediately sets it apart. Numerous anime either stick to their native grounds or venture off into fantastical European backgrounds, so the Brazilian-inspired world not only stands out in a good way, but shakes up the usual expectations of your average anime. I can’t help but recall Cowboy Bebop vibes, right from the colorful, sexy opening; the diverse range of ethnicities (the majority are of Latino and African-American backgrounds, an incredibly welcoming addition); characters with mountains of problems; and an equally down-to-earth setting. Michiko & Hatchin also takes cues from Quentin Tarantino and 70’s Blaxploitation films. Nigh every action scene you see in the show—and there are plenty—is intense and comically over-the-top, but it never ventures so far off the edge that it doesn’t fit within its world. One minute Michiko is dodging police fire, the next she’s playing matador to an angry bull. All of which is accompanied by a jazzy score.
The pacing juggles between standalone episodes and a growing arc between Michiko and Hatchin. A few of the episodes connect with one another while the rest center on a one-shot character and their issues with various degrees of memorability. The addition of Satoshi, Hiroshi’s former best friend as well as Michiko’s childhood buddy-turned-cop Atsuko lends further weight to the story. All of them have problems of their own, usually demonstrating that hanging onto something or someone for too long has a tendency to screw with your life.
The real heart of Michiko & Hatchin are its two lead characters. Both of them are multifaceted people who are forced to rely on each other because of circumstances. Michiko is a angry woman with severe determination to find Hiroshi. She’s rarely afraid of the numerous dangers she’s constantly running into headfirst, but is also prone to superstition and often bursts into childish arrogance. She serves as Hatchin’s guardian even if she’s only marginally good at it, but vows to protect the girl with her life. Eventually Michiko goes out of her way to not only gain Hatchin’s trust, but sees her as a surrogate daughter. I find it particularly interesting that a lot of Michiko’s outfits are scantily-clad, but she never once feels sexualized. Sure, someone might find her hot and sexy, but the show never attempts to degrade her into a sex object. I don’t recall a single moment where the camera pans up to her boobs or butt or otherwise emphasizes her sexual characteristics. Michiko choice of clothing reflects her confidence, showing she’s fine the way she is because she chose to dress that way. I don’t know if this is the result of Michiko & Hatchin’s director being a woman, but it’s rare indeed that Michiko is portrayed as a character rather than a sex object. The anime could have easily cater to that lowest common denominator, but what could have been trivial fanservice feels oddly empowering, not insulting.
Hatchin, meanwhile, is a grown woman trapped in a girl’s body, forced to be mature in spite of her young age. She acts as Michiko’s moral guidance and often chides her whenever she does something stupid. Hatchin loosens up a bit the more time she spends with Michiko, but never loses that sense of intuition that cleverly gets her out of jams when most children couldn’t afford to. Unlike Michiko who truly believes in Hiroshi, Hatchin is less sure her father is anything but a deadbeat dad and often provides a reality check to Michiko.
What I especially like is that the two of them don’t get along right off the bat. Hatchin isn’t going to latch onto Michiko just because the latter “saved” her from a hellish family. The two constantly bicker, with Hatchin often running away to try and make it on her own. Hatchin only sticks around because the world outside is much worse. Michiko & Hatchin deftly explores their complicated dynamic and ultimately the bond they form.
The English dub is superbly cast. The lingo and inappropriate language is frequent, but it suits the background. Monica Rial’s Michiko is absolutely perfect as a fiery woman with a hair-trigger, while Jad Saxton molds a voice as Hatchin that effectively switches between childish and womanly depending on the mood. Kudos to the dubbing cast for taking the extra leap and getting people of color to voice their respective characters (at least for the regularly recurring characters); it lends further authenticity to the show.
Michiko & Hatchin is available on Blu-ray and DVD from FUNimation. The latest release is a S.A.V.E edition that collects every disc with all bonuses at a decent price. Extras include commentaries for episodes 1, 2, 20, and 22 by the English voice cast and directors. Michiko: The Woman Behind It All and Hatchin: The Girl We All Love are two fifteen minute segments where the respective English voice actors talk about the character they play. Special Interview and Unveiling Press Conference are brief segments interviewing the Japanese director and voice actors. The rest are textless openings and credits, and various commercials, promos, and trailers.
Michiko & Hatchin’s Brazilian backdrop provides an aesthetically different offering in a sea of anime “me, too’s.” The story may be straightforward, but Michiko and Hatchin’s relationship is so compelling that you want nothing but the best for the two regardless of what they do. Importantly, it emphasizes the message of hope in spite of an ugly world. In a sea of cynicism filled with amoral low-lives and struggling civilians, the two have each other.
Discuss on the Toonzone Forums