Monday, January 10, 2011

Michiko to Hatchin

So one day you're living with your evil step-family, being abused and not really living that well when suddenly a crazy convict on the run from the police slams through your window on a brilliant blue moped and offers you a chance to reconnect with the estranged father you don't even remember, what are you likely to do? In a perfect world where social services exist, this scenario would probably be impossible. Even so, some folks are probably going to say no simply because they know said convict is probably going to be shot very soon if not captured. However, in this unnamed South American country where it seems like everyone is nearly a criminal (if not already over the line) and virtually no one is a truly friendly entity, this anime explores what might happen if the child faced with this offer gave a resounding yes. So brush up on your Spanish and get out your cheap sunglasses, we're taking a look at Michiko to Hatchin.

The titular characters, Hatchin is on the left.
An anime original series, this show was produced by the studio Manglobe and ran in Fuji TV's "Noise" programming block (a late-night time slot geared towards older viewers) from October 2008, to March of 2009. While it doesn't currently have a release in the United States, the German company Anime Virtual has it under license. I had never actually heard of the show until just recently because of my usual method of deciding on anime to review (which because I am also a gamer involves dice-rolling, and yes this can have volatile repercussions but I am prepared for them). When I saw the first few episodes I wasn't even sure I would like it all that much, as there are many situations in this show that are violently dark and depressing. However, as time went on, I slowly found myself learning to care about the two main characters and their struggles to hold onto hope In the end, I found myself more than satisfied with what the two main characters found, even if it may not have been what they were looking for.

I hope no one choked when the glass shattered.
Our story begins with one of the main characters, the fearsome Michiko Malandro, as she breaks out of prison to search for a child whom she believes to be the daughter of Hiroshi Morenos, an ex-gangster and old boyfriend of hers whom she had believed to be dead until seeing evidence to the contrary. Meanwhile, nine-year-old Hana Morenos is living with her adopted family in some remote town, where she lives a Cinderella-ish existence. She does all the cooking and cleaning and is violently bullied by the children in the house while the parents turn a blind eye as she's only welcome in this house for the government relief check she provides. Then one day, while this unhappy family is having breakfast, the window is smashed open by Michiko, riding on a blue moped. In spite of resistance by the family, she takes Hana with her, whom she wants to use as an excuse to see Hiroshi, saying that she knows who she is because of the unique tattoo on the girl's belly which happens to be the same one she carries. Once away from the family, Hana tells Michiko that she doesn't really like her name, which prompts Michiko to give her the nickname Hatchin, the other half of the titular duo. Over the course of the rest of the series, the two grow close to each other as they face down gangsters, thieves, the police, and less violent matters such as first love and engine trouble, while trying to catch up with the man who left them both behind.

Michiko: According to this map,
we are somewhere between Uraguay and Brazil
Hatchin: But there's no country between Uraguay and Brazil!
Michiko: Exactly!
The world these two characters inhabit is a dark one indeed, as the setting is largely the poverty-stricken, crime-ridden streets of some South American third world country that does not exist. I have to say, I kinda wonder where it lies on the South American map. If I had to guess, I would probably say somewhere near Brazil (although given that practically everywhere in South America borders Brazil except Chile and Ecuador, that doesn't help us much). It's a very vividly imagined world, and yet, perhaps its a little too vivid, as some of the imagery borders on the grotesque, such as the gang violence that takes place in some episodes. Michiko herself is not shy about stabbing guys with the heels of her stilettos at times, but numerous people are shot for the smallest of snubs, and in some places, throwing up with some leftovers on one's face after emptying the contents of their stomach is not uncommon either. Even in early sequences where Hana is virtually brutalized by her foster siblings, and Michiko is beaten into submission at the prison, some of the imagery is nightmarishly brutish (though thankfully not supernaturally so, as with Claymore). Culturally, it's kind of interesting to consider the implications of the world though. For instance, we notice that practically everyone has a Japanese name. This isn't totally unrealistic if you realize that the worlds largest concentration of Japanese immigrants happens to reside in Brazil. But still, it can seem a little unusual to see a black guy with a full blown afro being called Satoshi.

Hatchin: Sure I'm scared, but I also know Michiko
will probably be scarier than he is when she gets here.
The characters themselves are of the kind that earn their likability throughout the series. That being said, they are very complex and well thought out characters at least in terms of background and how they react to things. Michiko would absolutely have to be given all her experience with the gangs and such surrounding the area she used to live. She herself is a very hard-headed individual, driven by this desperate desire to see Hiroshi again, and heaven help anyone who gets in her way, but she is clearly rife with faults, such as a violent temper (often expressed in her saying she'll hand her victims a one-way ticket to hell), and very little patience or self-discipline. She is wolfishly protective of Hatchin, especially later, and the relationship they foster with each other helps to make the negative things that occur in the series a bit easier to bear. Hatchin, as something of a Cinderella character may not be the most original of concepts, however, that doesn't mean she isn't interesting to watch. In fact, it's very gratifying to see her grow as a character over the course of the series, from the beginning when she comes in as a somewhat helpless child, until near the end when she manages to hold her own even when faced with the psychopathic leader of Monstro-Preto, the gang to which Hiroshi used to belong. It becomes even more touching when you start to see Michiko developing in response to Hatchin's development, making their relationship a very dynamic one.

Atsuko, somewhat perturbed by being demoted,
or perhaps because someone was silly
 enough to draw a tiger in a South American rainforest!
The supporting cast vary in the job they do. Atsuko and her partner Ricardo, the two detectives that follow Michiko to try and bring her to justice are very interesting to watch in terms of their relationship not just with Michiko, but with the gang she used to belong to. Atsuko is especially interesting in the decisions she makes because she grew up with Michiko at a local orphanage and thus she is very conflicted about her pursuit of Michiko's arrest. She even gets her own side plot about how she gets demoted for failing to capture the convict one too many times and takes some time to reevaluate things. (On an off-topic note, I think someone didn't study their biology in high school, because someone drew a tiger into the jungle around the ruins she's been stationed close to in that episode. There are no tigers in South America!) However, outside of these two, the number of characters that can truly be called supportive are sparse. Hiroshi only gets a few lines in the show and he's really just a careless jerk. There are a couple of very likable one-shot characters that turn up, one of them being a child circus performer called Rita, whom Hatchin helps to adjust to the fact that her adult partner, whom she has a crush on is leaving soon. That episode sparks a journey to a statue that supposedly answers prayers and the ending to that episode is very heart-rending. Another very likable character that turns up is this amnesiac boy called Lenine who becomes Hatchin's first love. Outside of these though, most of the supporting cast seems very transient and there are even a few I wished would just go away.

Between this and Black Lagoon, you gotta wonder if
the Japanese aren't secretly afraid of South America.
I mean, in this universe, even the pickpockets have guns!
The antagonists are mostly in three camps, the largest of which is composed of thieves. These are extremely common and will do anything to con everything but the clothes off the backs of their targets. Sadly, this camp is mostly composed of children, but what is possibly the most disturbing about that is many of them carry guns. If they don't they are at least very violent kids, and are so numerous that I was beginning to wonder by the end of some of the early episodes how our heroines even managed to hold on to their clothes, because so much stuff had already been stolen from them. These juvenile delinquents are often organized by leaders who are managed by the second camp, which is composed of adult gang members. These are also numerous, but much more threatening as these are almost always armed, and the leaders are usually psychotic nut-jobs who seem to take the utmost pleasure in torturing their victims. I guess I shouldn't be surprised that they are as sick as they are, considering that based on the flashbacks we see of how Satoshi Batista, one of the primary villains, became the leader of Monstro-Preto, he had a ridiculously hard time of it. Still, Satoshi, and his second in comman/rival Shinsuke are both really really messed up. This makes the point where Hatchin is alone with Satoshi even more terrifying as the viewer even realizes that there may be elements of Stockholm syndrome taking affect. I won't totally ruin how that ends, but it is very interesting. The final enemy camp are of course the police, and though I stop short of saying they are incompetent, I have to say they are horribly hampered by corruption in some ways, and in others are made more of a threat because of it. Like in one of the later episodes there is a police officer who is willing to shoot a hostage and pin it on Michiko just so he'll look good catching a criminal who is clearly unarmed!

Hey, it's a flying moped! Didn't know they could do that!
The story progresses with virtually no distractions thanks to being an anime original and therefore being free of filler. But that doesn't mean that interesting randomness does not occur. Some of my favorite points happened early in the series, one of which was Michiko having to escape with Hatchin on her moped over a series streets and roof tops (never mind that mopeds shouldn't be able to jump at all. I invoke the "Laws of Physics don't apply" trope.) Another really cool sequence takes place after Hatchin's been kidnapped and Michiko has to go into a bull-fighting ring disguised as the matador and try to find the person responsible in the stands. There are a few points of dark humor to lighten the mood in places, though it's not really the focus so it will slip through the cracks if you aren't paying attention. There are a couple of points where the two main characters get separated and then get back together but for the most part, the series loyally charts Michiko and Hatchin's adventures together as per the premise of the show as they trace Hiroshi's movements from the point where he was believed to have been killed, through a hot-house that bio-engineers tomatoes, several cities, to a talent agent, and beyond. There's always the question of where he wandered off to next, however, in the end, it is the relationship that Michiko and Hatchin develop with each other that ends up being the true reward. I'm not going to destroy the ending by telling you where everyone ends up, but if you are patient and you're up for this kind of story, then this one will be well worth sitting through.

The art-style has an unreal quality to it, almost dreamlike in some of the calmer moments and almost nightmarish in places. I think this is mostly due to the lighting choices as sometimes, especially around dusk, when the sunlight becomes slightly dimmer, it takes on a nearly sepiatic appearance, while at high noon, the sun's stark blaze reminds us that we are somewhere swelteringly hot. The characters are definitely much less cartoony than some, falling somewhere between the points on the scale of realism occupied by the original Ghost in the Shell and Cowboy Bebop. The music is unique for an anime, incorporating a lot of Latin inspiration, in fact, the writers for the final ending theme for the show "Nada Pode Me Parar Agora" by Aurea Martins and Alexandre Kassin happen to be Brazillian. But even the regular music for the show is very good, incorporating some nice insert songs as well. (It should be noted that Shinichiro Watanabe who directed Cowboy Bebop did the music production for this show.) The voice acting is also very well done, especially that of the two main characters who are voiced by career actresses Yoko Maki (of "The Grudge") and Suzuka Ohgo (of "Memoirs of a Geisha"), rather than regular seiyuu. Overall, I ended up liking this production. It's too bad the show isn't licensed for the the United States, but I guess  given the nature of our country's censors it's not that hard to know why. For one thing, Michiko uses the nickname Jumbo when refering to Atsuko due to her dark skin at times which is Portuguese and translates to the racial slur Zambo in English. Of course the PC police would think this was bad enough, but add the discussions of selling children (though it's never said for what) and they would probably be up in arms. Further, the fact that this is set in South America might have made some companies think there wouldn't be as much of a market in the U.S. With these reasons, and the possibility of it being only of interest to a niche market I can understand why a licensing company wouldn't pick it up, but even so, it's a good story. It's a real shame that they haven't, and that's the tiger's two cents.

Images taken from Michiko to Hatchin.

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