Thursday, June 15, 2017

[Anime] Michiko to Hatchin

Michiko to Hatchin – 7-7.5/10

The journey series. A whimsical mixture of idyllic wandering coupled with the hardship and uncertainties of life on the road. The seeking of something that, ultimately, is not as important as the experiences and people encountered along the way.

Michiko to Hatchin is a picaresque entry into this category with a distinct 80s Latin American twist. Taking place in not-Brazil, it follows the escapades of Michiko, an escaped convict, and her abducted daughter Hana (Hatchin) as they search for Hiroshi, their ever-elusive boyfriend/father. Like similar Manglobe productions it has a combination of flippant grittiness, casual violence, and dark humor that make it simultaneously disconcerting and approachable. 

However, despite its unique flourish, Michiko to Hatchin suffers from the general problem of being “good” but not “great.” Everything it does it does competently, but not expertly. Its characters are solid, but not exceptional. The action acceptable, but not amazing. The humor worth an occasional chuckle, but nothing more. Ultimately it’s worth a watch, but not a revisit.

The Good:

If there is one thing that Manglobe grasps well, it is the tragedy of poverty, and nowhere is this on better display than Michiko to Hatchin. At every turn, the specter of want hangs over people. The ceaseless scrambling to get out of the pit, the obscene value of money to change lives, and the subsequent corruption that accompanies that power is all too real. It can only be described as pestilential.

This leads to some of the most impactful, most horrifying, yet understated, scenes of the series.  The one that stuck with me the most was the death of Pepê Lima and her sister Lulu.  What is so terrible about it isn’t the graphic nature, but the subtle treatment it is given.  Michiko sees Lulu being chased by the boys (children, really) with guns, and then it simply shows us no more.   When Pepê is caught, all we see are the muzzle flashes and then black and the credits.  Approaching it this way, it creates a simultaneous sense that these events are both too terrible to be viewed and yet so commonplace they aren’t worth dwelling on.  Afterward, even Michiko is forced to ask herself, “Why didn’t I help?”

Kids with guns, kids with guns // Taking over, but it won’t be long

Michiko to Hatchin 
also bypassed another common hurdle with ease: the ending.  Except for some concerns (below), the final resolution was a satisfying reiteration of the primary themes.  It wasn’t locating Hiroshi that was the climax, but their final embrace.  In fact, he was disappointing, and his later abandonment of Hatchin was true to character.  I thought it was a subtle touch Hatchin didn’t want him to use that name: “Hatchin” is her mother’s name for her, and her father has no right to use it.  It was also very true to form that series didn’t resolve neatly, but with Hatchin committing the same mistakes as her mother.  It left a strange sensation, but overall a positive one that life’s vagaries are not inevitably tragic.

Finally, the Brazilian atmosphere was a nice change of pace from the usual anime fare, with the favela a far cry from the usual Japanese neighborhood. The bright, ramshackle setting gave a frenetic atmosphere to many of the scenes, and a worrisome decay to others. Overlaying this was the racial diversity in people, a rarity in anime. From white to black and everything in between, Michiko to Hatchin is populated with an impressive sampling. I personally found Michiko herself to have an exotic beauty that sadly wasn’t given much exposure due to her flamboyant tendencies. Rita’s design was also striking in its elegance.

This does, however, call into question the curious oversight in naming: Michiko, Satoshi, Hiroshi, Atsuko, Shinsuke, and Yamada are hardly traditional Latin American names. Why the series failed on this point I do not know.

"Satoshi"...he's Japanese, right?"

The Bad:

By their nature, peregrination series must be a certain length to capture the variety and vicissitudes that power their core themes. However, in the case of Michiko to Hatchin there was an oppressive repetitiveness to the events and interactions that made the length feel excessive.

One of the prime offenders is Michiko herself. She has only one way of resolving situations: force. She never bargains, never cooperates. When things inevitably go south, she has not the wits or subtlety to avoid the use of violence. When she is in a pinch she can only punch. While it is fair to argue that this is an accurate portrayal of a woman with a coarse manner and ignorant upbringing, as a viewer it meant that all the situations felt predictably the same.

You could talk it out just once.

This was made worse 
by the predictability by which Atsuko, her childhood friend-turned-cop, would let her off the hook.  Every time Atsuko had Michiko in her grasp she would relinquish control.  It became less about their relationship and more about plot convenience.  It ensured that no matter how many times Michiko brutalized the police, or how effective they were at finally cornering her, she could always just get away.  This was particularly painful in the last sequence, where after their emotional separation, and Atsuko’s insistence that she will not recognize Michiko next time they meet, she still has the gall to tell her fellow inspector to halt.  There was simply no reason for Atsuko to wield that kind of power.

This one-dimensionality also spilled over into the relationship between Michiko and Hatchin. Repeatedly we are treated to the same scenario: Michiko proves herself to be abrasive and immature, Hatchin is disappointed and frustrated by her mother, they exchange a heated conversation and usually at least one slap, one or the other leaves, Hatchin gets in trouble, and the episode/arc is resolved by Michiko riding to the rescue. By duplicating this situation a few times the writers effectively filled out the first half of the series.

However, don't mess with grandpa.

And the Champloo:

As I watched Michiko to Hatchin, I couldn’t help but draw comparisons with Samurai Champloo. Both are from studio Manglobe and are built with remarkable similarity. From the quirky characters to the incorporation of “foreign” aesthetics, it becomes rapidly apparent that Michiko to Hatchin is an attempt to recapture the magic of Samurai Champloo in a new setting. However, in nearly every regard it is less engaging than its predecessor.

Take for instance the dynamics between the main characters. In Michiko to Hatchin the relationship is very simple one of mother and young daughter. There is a pre-existing vision of how this relationship should play out, where Michiko is comforting and supportive and Hatchin is valued and cared for. During the series, then, the interplay of the two is like a tug-of-war along a single axis, where every situation brings them closer or further away from this vision. There is no further exploration of “relationship space” beyond this. From the beginning there is a clear end goal, an ideal state that the series will steadily approach.

Comparatively, Samurai Champloo’s three protagonists have triple the number of relationships (Mugen-Jin, Mugen-Fuu, and Jin-Fuu as opposed to just Michiko-Hatchin). Not only this, but these relationships affect each other, and the shifting focus of the series examines each of them in turn. For instance, Mugen and Jin experience a mutual rivalry and respect. But their antagonism is buffered by Fuu, which gives it another dimension when she is there (and highlights her absence when she is not). Pairs also break off due to circumstance and this gives a variety to the experiences as each of them must figure out what (s)he means to the others. And since there is no pre-set way in which these characters must relate, there isn’t a sense that they are growing toward a foregone conclusion.

By this comparison I don’t intend to demean Michiko to Hatchin. It is an enjoyable series on its own terms. The mother-daughter dynamic will inevitably be different than that of three young adult wanderers, but using this style of series to explore it was simply less engaging and fruitful than it was for Samurai Champloo. If you enjoyed one of them, I would recommend the other due to their similarity of theme and construction (unless it was just for the sword fights, then you’re out of luck).

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