You want to talk about surprises that came completely out of nowhere? Michiko and Hatchin, a series from the studios that brought us Samurai Champloo (loved it) and Cowboy Bebop (could live without it) came way out of left field and effectively took my breath away! This series actually managed to dethrone Space Adventure Cobra and Claymore as my favorite anime of all time (the former of which has been my favorite since I was a kid, and the latter for at least three or four years).
Michiko to Hatchin tells the story of Michiko Malandro and Hana Morenos as they go on a journey to find a man they both have in common; Hiroshi Morenos, Michiko’s supposedly dead lover and Hana’s estranged father.
Michiko escapes for the fourth time from what is supposed to be a completely inescapable maximum security prison, spurred into action when she receives a double whammy in the form of news that her ex lover might have survived the car bombing he was caught in, and that his child was out there somewhere stuck in a horrible environment.
Michiko takes to the phone after her prison break and informs Hana’s foster parents that she’s coming to get her.
“Who are you to come take our child?”
And so begins a heart rending journey that starts with a violently abused and emotionally traumatized little girl alongside a vivacious flirt with a hair trigger temper, and evolves into something magical and completely unexpected over time.
A Story That’s About More than Breasts and Bazookas
At the beginning of her journey, Michiko appears to be a self centered, stuck up, volatile, slutty, self absorbed self destructive brat. She makes a point of going out in bikinis that can barely pass as little more than bra and pantie sets, and heels that would make a stripper blush. She picks a fight with anyone that rubs her the wrong way, so, everyone, and she routinely resorts to yelling and a firm punch in the arm rather than explaining the way the world works to Hana.
Hana, or Hatchin as Michiko dubs her, despite coming from an extremely violently abusive foster family begins the series with a very firm belief that the rest of the world can’t possibly be as bad as the home she came up in. Hana is convinced that in the world outside of the violent Catholic home she was living in, that other people had to be kinder. Even after seeing that Michiko had to take her away from the home at gun point, Hana doesn’t understand that out on the streets the rest of the world can be, and most often is, just as bad if not worse.
Hana plays the part of a Grimm’s Brothers Cinderella back home, where she’s responsible for all of the cooking and cleaning for her adoptive parents and foster brother and sister. When she isn’t making all of the food and crawling on her hands and knees fearfully making sure there isn’t a single speck of dust out of place in the house, she’s routinely being beaten near unconscious by her brother and sister, at one point nearly having her bones broken.
The priest only keeps her around to collect on the child support, and every day Hana dreams of her real father coming to take her away.
When Michiko is the one who rescues her, Hana isn’t sure if she’s hit pay dirt or just traded the devil she knew for the devil she didn’t.
Having come up in the streets and having never been adopted or given a better life, Michiko is used to looking out for number one and no one else. In spite of that fact, there is nothing, absolutely nothing that she isn’t prepared to do for Hana’s safety. Michiko, ordinarily angry and aloof, sexy and aloof or goofy and aloof becomes darn near homicidal whenever Hana is threatened, and throws down with the entirety of Brazil’s special forces, police force and militia for her safety.
Before long, we have a story that stops become a cross country journey to find Michiko’s man and Hana’s father and about something much, much more.
A Coming of Age Story and a Tale of Motherhood Done Right
Michiko may start out rough and tumble, but it doesn’t take long to see another side of both her and the naïve yet not Hana. Hana’s new name, Hatchin, comes about in a touching moment from the first episode when Michiko realizes how traumatized the girl is and all the horrible memories she has associated with her birth name. Hatchin becomes a pet name that signifies a promise between the woman and young girl; that no matter what, I will never abandon you.
Michiko realizes fairly early on that Hatchin, lacking and real role model begins emulating the older former gangster’s behaviors and mannerisms. At first this doesn’t bother Michiko, as she feels Hana is in desperate need of some fire and a healthy dose of “dat act right”, but when Hana’s behavior begins stretching beyond being just as mouthy as her mother figure and begins stretching into the realm of depression, self depreciation and an outright predilection towards alcoholism (Hatchin is only nine years old), Michiko begins working towards some very weighty changes herself.
While Michiko never trades in her trademark red jacket and white shorts, an outfit that makes perfect sense in Brazil’s intense heat, she begins wearing more conservative while still flirty and fun outfits in her down time. And, being a far more realistic story than the countless coming of age tales that have the character have one intense thing happen and suddenly pull a one eighty, Michiko spends a fair amount of time working to correct her behaviors and push towards answering the ultimate question the series asks of each of its main players.
Similarly, Hantchin has to go on a turbulent journey herself to grow and mature as a person. This journey takes her everywhere from having guns pointed at her head to being kidnapped and exploited in a circus to being homeless and separated from Michiko to being in her first all out brawl to falling in love for the first time. Hatchin has to learn to grow up and grow up fast, but is still able to be her own person and retaining the hope that makes her who she is.
A Long, at Times Slow Road
Despite the show’s explosive first episode, Michiko and Hatchin is not an action series. Don’t let the name drops of Samurai Champloo and Cowboy Bebop on the back of the box fool you; this is a slice of life story about motherhood and growth. Fight scenes are few and far between, and you’ll generally spend a good five or so episodes focusing just on the story before you get another one.
Much of the journey is spent with Michiko and Hatchin searching for Hiroshi and always being just one or two cities behind. Things start heating up as the pair gets closer and closer to the man they seek, especially when the gap between the Hiroshi in Michiko’s memories and the Hiroshi they keep hearing about grows more and more vast, but if you’re coming into this show expecting the same high octane big fight every episode action Bebop gives you’ll likely end up disappointed.
The journey is well worth it, but there are at least a few occasions that will leave you scratching your head wondering where the gun fights with the policia that had Michiko riding a motorcycle across barrio rooftops and punching out cops went off to.
A Mixed Bag:
Inconsistent Shows of Power
Part of the problem with the pacing is exacerbated by the fact that Michiko’s physical strength tends to yo-yo throughout the series. There are fights where Michiko is capable of throwing down with half the police force with no problem, and other times where one man can beat her unconscious and then some.
One thing I picked on a few yo-yo’s in was that the fights that Michiko gets beaten so badly in tend to be for a reason, it’s just hard to divorce that reason from what she’s capable of.
Michiko is nothing if not pragmatic; if getting beaten and battered and degraded means Hana’s safety, she’ll do it in a heartbeat. She’s also not a super human, and so when she gets her ribs cracked in one episode, that injury will follow her for the rest of the series.
Even so, when Michiko does decide to cut loose, it is truly a sight to behold.
A Mixed Bag
Not Every Question Gets Resolved
One of the glaring mysteries in the series is the mysterious tattoo that both Michiko and Hatchin have on their stomachs. The tattoo is brought up as a really big deal, but…never…really addressed in any way shape or form.
Another mystery is whether or not Michiko is really Hatchin’s mother. At the beginning of the first episode she says that she is, and at the end of the first episode she does the math and is shocked to realize that the years don’t add up right. Now, given that Michiko is shown to not have had any real education after running away from the orphanage as a child, plus having admittedly lost track of time in prison the series tends to roll back and forth between making the question wide open and then locking it in tight.
Another matter that sees too little treatment until towards the end of the series is an explanation for the love hate relationship Michiko has with Atsuko, a police officer from the same orphanage as her. The series waits till the halfway point to begin to explain anything about their relationship, kinda drops it, and then tries to rush it in your face in the last few episodes. While finally understanding what their relationship is and where it went wrong makes the whole beginning three fourths of their interactions make a lot more sense, it still made it kinda hard to really get invested in their big moment when I learned why I should really care about it only a handful of minutes prior.
The reason why I’m listing all of this as mixed rather than bad however, is that I feel all of this is done for a reason. “What’s more important, your desires or your family?”
“Is it worth getting your desires, if you have to harm your family to get them?”
These are the two prevailing questions that are asked throughout the entire series, and once Michiko and company reach their own conclusions you begin to see that what feels like a cataclysmic event that needs to be addressed suddenly just doesn’t really matter anymore. This is not unlike how in life something can seem so important to us for so long until we finally make up our minds and make our peace, realizing that it’s no longer worth all that fuss anymore.
A Series that Doesn’t Pull It’s Punches
Michiko and Hatchin go through hell both before the series begins and during. Michiko is a strong, confident and charismatic female lead, but the series isn’t afraid to show her soft, weak, and even scared. One scene that sticks out in particular is when Michiko’s pain gets to be so much that she drinks herself to sleep shortly before getting involved in a situation that defies her own moral code just to grab that small bit of self destructive peace that pushes the pain away for that precious short while. Just long enough to breath.
The show doesn’t shy away from showing how abusive Hana’s home is either, and when she’s abducted by figures like that gangster Satoshi Batista the series makes it clear that the fact that she is a child does not give her a pass. Expect to have to see the nine year old get the hell beaten out of her by grown men every so often.
These scenes are never gratuitous, they simply portray a truth that so many coming of age stories like to sugar coat for the Hallmark audience.
Characters that Truly Need Each Other
The resounding question asked throughout the series is “What’s worth more, your desires or your family?”
A strong constant throughout the series is that no matter how much they bicker and fight, no matter how ugly their arguments get or how vastly different yet wholly similar the pair is, Michiko and Hatchin need each other. The series very accurately portrays how much of a trial such huge traumas to overcome and personalities to change are, with nothing getting resolved in a Leave it To Beaver end of episode conversation. You’ll watch Michiko and Hatchin grow, both together and as people, and you’ll love it every step of the way.
In spite of taking it’s time in some spots when it ought to rush, and rushing in some spots where it ought to have slowed down, Michiko and Hatchin is my absolute favorite anime at the moment. The music is amazing, the story is phenomenal and touching, it’s just all around bloody beautiful.
If you don’t mind a story that takes it’s time to make sure you truly feel everything worth feeling when the time comes, and a show that doesn’t shy away from the violence of group homes and the streets, you’ll find something special in Michiko and Hatchin.