Michiko to Hatchin is as good as Cowboy Bebop. There, I said it. It’s also as good as Serial Experiments Lain and Neon Genesis Evangelion, but Bebop is the important comparison here. Did you enjoy the interplay we saw between Eastern and Western culture in Bebop? Did you enjoy the (now iconic) soundtrack? Did you enjoy the way the show linked together its episodic approach with an emotionally-driven, overarching plot? Did you enjoy Bebop‘s portrayal of lost love, the world of organized crime and the bonds that grow between the lonely, scattered refuse of an indifferent world? Yes? WATCH MICHIKO TO HATCHIN.
I make the Bebop comparison not to imply that Michiko cannot stand on its own. It does. I watched it as it aired in 2008 and it is still one of the best shows to come out in the last handful of years. Mind you, there’s a lot of anime I love on that list–Tiger and Bunny, Puella Magi Madoka Magica, etc–but nothing was, or is, like Michiko to Hatchin. I make the Bebop comparison because this anime is criminally underappreciated and I am desperate to get people to give it a chance.
For 26 episodes, Michiko to Hatchin follows the adventures of the titular two as they journey across a stylized Brazil. Michiko is a savvy, fiery, somewhat violent woman who begins the story by breaking out of prison and spiriting Hatchin out of her abusive foster home. Hatchin, we learn, is the daughter (by another woman) of Michiko’s lost lover Hiroshi, who allegedly died in a bus accident ten years prior. Hatchin is a serious, practical little girl who is appalled by Michiko’s cavalier attitude towards violence, theft, and the law in general, but is swept up onto her sweet turquoise bike regardless and pulled along for the ride. I hesitate to call the series episodic, because it is all driven by the search for Hiroshi, but most of the episodes do orbit around a discrete location, character, or conflict that we never really see again. I like this format, personally–it echoes the nature of road trips themselves and gives the story a real sense of sweep and scope.
This cursory overview of the story establishes the very basics of what sets Michiko to Hatchin apart from other anime: it takes place in a thoroughly realized Brazil, where the signs and letters are in Portuguese and the characters are a range of skin tones and ethnic backgrounds (Michiko herself is Afro-Brazilian, as is Atsuko, the primary antagonist). It’s a rangy story that indulges in tangents and vignettes more often than not. And its character roster, in addition to being limited, is dominated by two women and the mother-daughter bond that grows between them.
I love the setting and format of the anime dearly, but it’s that last part that launches Michiko to Hatchin into greatness. This is an anime about an escaped felon, her lover’s abandoned daughter, and the hard-won love that blooms between them. Can you think of another anime built around the bond between mother and daughter, let alone one that contains no sci-fi or fantasy elements and takes place in a foreign country? I don’t point that out to degrade those genre conventions–I am a big, big fan of giant robots and magical girls–but to highlight the massive exercise in risk-taking that defines Michiko to Hatchin. And it succeeds so brilliantly. The relationship between Michiko and Hatchin is one of the most stirring I’ve ever encountered in anime–it’s strained at times and broken at others but in each other they find a stability and comfort they had been denied all their lives. I’m not even talking about the pure, fun novelty of their bond, of this stylish, badass mama bear and her leather-jacketed, dandelion-headed cub–though I love that, and it’s what got me to watch the show in the first place. It’s the bedrock emotion of this story, the thing that would shine through even if Michiko weren’t such a babe and the action scenes weren’t so great and the soundtrack wasn’t so catchy. It’s the moment after Hatchin’s first crush forgets her and Michiko cradles her wordlessly on the kitchen floor. It’s the shoes Michiko steals for Hatchin when her own disappear. At the risk of sounding cheesy, it’s the soul of this anime.
And that’s to say nothing of the other characters, most of whom could power entire spinoffs. Atsuko is the police chief who pursues Michiko and Hatchin relentlessly, who grew up with the former in an orphanage and finds herself unable, for reasons she can’t even admit, to bring her former friend to justice. Hiroshi is the boy we glimpse in memory, the one who made Michiko feel loved and wanted and safe for the first time in her life but has disappeared for reasons we can’t understand. And the one-off characters, from Pepe Lima, the stripper who’ll do anything to save her little sister from the street to Rita, the cheerful little acrobat who yearns for an adult world she doesn’t really understand. This is an anime spilling over with emotion, an anime driven by the longings and dreams of the underground world it explores, the cavalcade of whores, gutter children and ex-cons clawing–shyly or not–towards their passions, despite where they’ve been and what they’ve done.
Michiko to Hatchin was recently licensed by Funimation and a DVD set will be released in the fall. I was lucky enough to attend the premiere at Anime Boston and I can tell you that the dub, if you are a dub-watching person, is solid. The people behind the acquisition and translation of this anime are extremely passionate about it and fought hard to bring it overseas. It’s also on Hulu right now, and there are a lot of decent fansubs out there. Watch it. Please. If you’re an activist-minded fan, you’ll appreciate its focus on women and its ethnic diversity. If you like stylish anime, with gorgeous background animation and a sexy soundtrack and costume changes every episode, you’ll like this. If you love anime that reaches beyond the common tropes of the medium, give this a shot. If you like character-driven stories and emotional climaxes and thoughtful dialogue, watch. This. Anime. You owe it to yourself.