Michiko & Hatchin is a unique story set in a fictional country that bears a strong resemblance to Brazil. We’re introduced to the criminal Michiko Malandro, who escapes prison to rescue 10-year-old Hana ‘Hatchin’ Morenos from her abusive foster family. Michiko’s steadfast determination to find her old flame Hiroshi Morenos (Hatchin’s father, thought to be deceased) draws Michiko and Hatchin into a country-wide fugitive chase. Michiko re-engages with Hiroshi’s violent gang Monstro to try and gain leads on his whereabouts. The South American style setting provides a dynamic and vibrant backdrop for the story. As a sidenote, the blurb on the back cover of the DVD case says:
“After escaping from prison, the sexy criminal Michiko rescues an abused girl known as Hatchin.”
I found that sentence to be kind of awful in terms of describing Hatchin’s character. Yes, she came from an abusive household, but essentially she’s a young girl looking for a sense of belonging and love, and she has a strong moral compass. Michiko can essentially be boiled down to ‘sexy criminal’ though, I can’t really nitpick that one. But she does have her own motivations, feelings and backstory and she’s a realistic, well rounded character. Michiko has absolutely no regard for the law and, like most characters in the series, is quite rough around the edges. She’s a little like Lupin III except she’s a bit of a terrible person, all said and done.
Michiko & Hatchin packs a ton of style and beauty into every episode. The backgrounds show painstaking attention to detail and clearly convey the individual feeling and atmosphere of every scene. Each town they blast through is colourful, depressingly grungy and has a real lived-in feel. The side characters seem to be leading lives of their own behind the scenes, rather than only existing for the moment that they’re on-screen. I even noticed a tribute to Quentin Tarantino’s ‘Reservoir Dogs’ in one of the scenes, with the iconic setting from the movie being rendered in perfect detail. Sharper eyes than mine may notice other references, so it’s worth keeping a lookout!
The character animation is consistently beautiful and features plenty of dynamic action and playful perspective. Every character’s features are emphasised and exaggerated with wanton, gorgeous stylisation, and I especially liked Hatchin’s design because she reminded me of a Ghibli character. The Japanese voice acting is powerful, and the English dub from Funimation was actually surprisingly good.
However, I have to admit that despite the praiseworthy visuals and animation I did have a hard time finishing this series. The reason was the story itself. This is a roadtrip anime, going from town to town in a seemingly endless search for Hiroshi Morenos. It’s a fairly episodic series, with each town on their journey strung along like beads on a string. The problem is, none of the events feel like they really matter. You could watch the first few episodes and then just skip to the last few episodes and you wouldn’t feel like you’d missed out on much of the story or any particularly noticeable character development. I never really managed to get on board with the gang rivalry subplot either as it failed to really capture my interest. (Just not my thing I guess, but your mileage may vary.)
It also felt like occasionally the creators threw in random South American things for no real reason, e.g. Michiko and Hatchin versus a bullfighting ring, an ancient temple, etc. It did break up the endless procession of slums and marketplaces but didn’t make much sense overall. Despite the ‘middle’ section dragging on, I’m happy to say that the ending was quite satisfying and tied up all the loose ends, which tends to be unusual in anime.
Michiko & Hatchin’s animation studio Manglobe was also responsible for Samurai Champloo and Gangsta, so we get to see the masters at work again in this series. A sad footnote is that in late 2015 Manglobe closed their doors and filed for bankruptcy, but fans of their previous series would probably really enjoy this one. The DVD series collection is packed with features like commentaries and interviews and is well worth a watch for the style and visuals alone, if not the storyline.
A review copy was provided by Madman Entertainment to the author for the purpose of this review