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.
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.
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.
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?