Review: Michiko to Hatchin

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It’s been a while since I’ve seen an anime with this much flair. What Michiko to Hatchin occasionally lacks in storytelling, it more than makes up for with its distinctive and undeniable style. If I had to compare the series to any other work, I’d be tempted to call it a present-day, Latin American version of Cowboy Bebop in tone, perhaps with a little Black Lagoon thrown into the mix.

It’s not every day that we have an anime such as this come along. Directed by Yamamoto Sayo (one of the very few female directors within the industry) and produced by Watanabe Shinichiro (of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo fame), Michiko to Hatchin already had a high chance of being a unique series right off the bat. The fact that it’s set in a country modeled primarily on Brazil, centers around a lively cast made up of mostly ethnically realistic characters, and features music composed by Brazilian musician Alexandre Kassin, further distinguishes this show as being one of a kind.

Although the story takes place in a fictional country, it’s immediately obvious that first-hand experience and research went into its design. From the dusty desert highways that stretch out into the horizon, to the colourful but dilapidated barrios and densely-populated slums, Michiko to Hatchin does a superb job of showing without telling; the strong visuals alone are enough to depict a setting that draws the viewer immediately in but requires no verbal exposition. It’s within this setting our two titular characters come into play: Michiko, a brash and fiercely independent prison escapee, and Hana, who Michiko rescues from an affluent but abusive foster family. On the run from the law and in search of Michiko’s past love/Hatchin’s father, the two embark on an extended cat-and-mouse road trip through a harsh and often dangerous landscape.

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By itself, the synopsis may leave the impression that Michiko to Hatchin is a dark or depressing show, but much of the time, nothing could be further from the truth. More celebration than tribulation, the series is nothing if not vibrant, with plenty of feistiness and an action/adventure vibe that remains fresh the entire way through. However, this certainly isn’t to say that Michiko to Hatchin doesn’t slow the pace down at times, and I think this series is above all a character-driven one. Michiko is a streetwise but irresponsible hothead who often comes across as more emotionally immature than her 9-year old companion, and resorts to violence at the drop of a hat – Hatchin, the polar opposite of her in most ways, is simply dragged along for the ride. Nonetheless, there’s a genuine depth behind the facade, and several introspective episodes serve to remind the audience that despite all the noise, a great deal of contemplation went into the writing. This isn’t just a title that decided to liven things up by throwing rival gangs, strippers, and armed street urchins randomly into the mix, or one that relies on explosions and fanservice to tell its story – it’s the fact that Michiko to Hatchin involves all these things, and yet still manages to feel deliberate and purposeful in its choices, that makes it remarkable.

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On that note, I think the fanservice in particular deserves special mention. Or rather, I hesitate to even call it ‘fanservice’ – at least, not in the same way the word is typically used. It’s not sleaze but instead realism that this series is aiming for, and as such, the fanservice actually forms a significant part of its characterisation and world-building. We’re talking about an anime that’s set in a tropical climate, and in a culture where flaunting what you’ve got is a societal norm. Moreover, Michiko is a sensual woman and she knows it – she proudly uses her body to her advantage and is very much the kind of person who defines herself through her sexuality. If fanservice in anime is defined solely by the amount of cleavage shown, then Michiko to Hatchin has it in spades. If, on the other hand, fanservice is all about improbably large breasts, gravity-defying jiggling, and meaningless panty shots, then I maintain that Michiko to Hatchin has very little. Like just about everything else in this story, the amount of skin exposed throughout has a point, and I don’t believe that either titillation or comedy is usually it.

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Unfortunately, there are also a couple of aspects of the show that continually managed to bother me. First off, Michiko knows that Hatchin is the girl she’s looking for because, despite not actually knowing her, they both have the same tattoo on their stomachs – so who in the hell saw fit to tattoo a baby? This detail is not only more than slightly creepy, it’s also one which could have been easily replaced with a scar, a birthmark, or really almost anything else. Worse, the significance of the tattoo beyond its convenience to the plot (if there even is one) is never explained, rendering it essentially pointless to begin with.

Another issue I have is with the character names. For all intents and purposes, this anime is set somewhere in Latin America – so why exactly are every single one of our main characters walking around with Japanese first names? Michiko. Hana/Hatchin. Atsuko. Hiroshi. Satoshi. Shinsuke. On top of this, their last names are obviously Portuguese in inspiration (Malandro, Morenos, Batista, etc.), so there’s no consistency there either. I do realise that Brazil has a high concentration of people of Japanese descent, but this still seems more than a little far-fetched. It also warrants not a single mention from any of the characters at any time and stands out like a sore thumb… even more so thanks to the inexplicable use of Japanese honorifics in the original-language track.

Luckily, Michiko to Hatchin does a pretty decent job of distracting from these flaws with an excellent sense of both visual and auditory pizzazz. It’s hard not to like the art direction of the piece, which clearly had a decent enough budget paired with the right amount of imagination to produce some memorable designs. The animation, a little spotty as it sometimes becomes, doesn’t detract from the funky atmosphere, and CG is used relatively sparingly. The music, handled by Watanabe, is an odd but charmingly energetic hodgepodge of jazz, samba, and even a little rock to really amp things up. I’d say the OP especially does a fine job of allowing its viewers to immediately appreciate the amount love and creativity that was poured into the show.

To quickly round things up: Michiko to Hatchin is gutsy. It’s nearly everything that fans often bemoan the lack of in contemporary anime, and for the most part, its risks pay off. Female-centric action titles that feel as sincere as they do entertaining are few and far between, and while Michiko to Hatchin isn’t without its flaws, I see more to praise here than to criticize. If you’re looking for something with both swag and depth, you should really give this a try.

Question of the post: What are your thoughts on Michiko to Hatchin? Do you think that director Yamamoto Sayo succeeded in her goal to create an anime that women in particular would enjoy?

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7 thoughts on “Review: Michiko to Hatchin

  1. I usually handwave naming conventions in situations like this as merely an additional part to the fantasy mix being melted together. Which is to say, it is a kind of blended cultural cocktail escapism, pulling from many traditions. So taking South America as they are and then throwing in distinct Japanese names for so many folks is kind of like running highlighter pen streak through it – that names and cultures can be such fluid things, or could have ended up this way (which is, to us, kind of jarring) on a different reality.

    I have not actually seen this series in particular though, admittedly, so I’m just pulling at staws. Maybe that’s me just being lazy after trying to justify the cultural heritage background mashups of one too many Japanese named space pirates and princess though, haha.

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    • Normally I’d be okay (or at least a lot more forgiving) of that kind of thing as well, but then again, seeing Japanese named space pirates would normally mean it’s a fantasy series or other kind of show that’s obviously removed pretty far from reality. Michiko to Hatchin, on the other hand, is in many ways quite a realistic series that’s very clearly modelled on an actual, present-day location.

      I don’t know that this aspect of the anime bothered many other viewers though – it may well just be me getting a little fussy.

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  2. This show is too mature to review on my blog, but I made a rare exception and watched it all the way through. It’s not the kind of show I’d usually watch. And that just shows how good it is at being what most anime (heck, most media period these days) is not. The showing vs telling is strong, the setting actually has a point and is never forgotten for story convenience, and the characters stay consistent throughout, slowly learning, but remaining true to their core beliefs from start to finish.
    Again, this tone of show really isn’t my thing, but man do those points up there MATTER. If more directors realized how powerful those tools are, maybe they would rely on that instead of more panty shots. I’d have far more favorable reviews to dish out. And anime would probably be a more respected media form overall than it has been in the past (it doesn’t make the best case for itself right now either as this kind of show is super rare).

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    • I really couldn’t agree more. Showing vs. telling is such an integral part of why I watch/read so much, and exactly how much I appreciate what I experience. I’m really glad you chose to try out this series even though it’s normally not your thing. Of course, I’d never want somebody to force themselves to watch something they really had a personal objection to, but there’s definitely something to be said for trying out new things as well. Luckily, I think the rewards of Michiko to Hatchin are well worth it.

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      • Exactly. Kinda like Utena, in a way. Not a show I normally watch, but worth all the weird and awkwardness and such in the end. Showing is just soooo much more powerful. Such a shame that so few shows utilize this tool. The day a character focused, show-don’t-tell Gundam comes along is the day I watch Gundam shows again.
        Until then, I’ll make due with the occasional good stuff and slamming the lazy shows in personal impressions on my blog. xD

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  3. One of the things that made Mitchiko e Hatchin stand out for me was the lack of common effects used in anime making for a grittier, realistic feel. Another thing, as you’ve mentioned, is the range of ethnicities dealt with and genuine issues that arise in the setting Mitchiko e Hatchin is based on. There was no attempt to gloss over the subject matter dealt with either, and it felt more like a commentary for the audience to take in.

    Whether or not it’ll appeal to female viewers I can only guess, however I’d say the inclusion of topics such as single parenting, mother/child relationships and struggles between lovers all with a female protagonist should definitely have their appeal. Thanks again for another great recommendation!

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    • I agree. And for me personally, it was also really nice to get a series with some decent action that wasn’t designed to appeal specifically to a male audience for a change. I’m sure there are exceptions but generally speaking, action-orientated titles often tend to be targeted towards guys. I enjoyed Michiko to Hatchin just knowing that it was a solid action/adventure series that for once wasn’t designed with the male viewership in mind.

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