Friday, September 20, 2013

Michiko & Hatchin

I went into Michiko & Hatchin (AKA Michiko to Hatchin, Michiko e Hatchin) not knowing much about it,it got my attention from a few defining traits. It was the directorial debut of Saya Yamamoto, who'd previously had a hand in everything from Redline to Eureka Seven, and is now becoming more well known for her Lupin the Third series The Woman Called Fujiko Mine. In addition,Michiko & Hatchin takes place in a location unique to anime, Latin America (to be more precise, a fictional country heavily based on Brazil), and has famed Cowboy Bebop director Shinichiro Watanabe for a "Music Producer".But these interesting features aside, is the show itself as good as it is intriguing?

Hana Morenos is a young girl who had spent her days living with an abusive foster family, until one day escaped convict Michiko Malandro burst into their house looking for her. As it turns out, Hana is the daughter ofthe man Michiko loves, Hiroshi Morenos, who Michiko is desperately searching for, despite him having been declared dead. Thinking Hana could be useful for getting close to Hiroshi, Michiko takes Hana (who soon renames herself Hatchin to accompany her new life) on a journey across the country to find the man that connects their pasts and find their happy ending.

"Honey, would you please pass the psychopathic escaped convict?"

The thing that makes Michiko & Hatchin really shine, is it's characters, especially the two stars named in the title. The primary focus of the show, after all, is the constantly developing relationship between these two very different, but at the same time very similar characters. First off there's Hatchin, who's a perfect example of a child character done right. With these kind of characters there's always a worry that they'll just be a hindrance, dragged along as comic relief or to be occasionally put in danger for a cheap raising of the stakes, but almost immediately those fears are put to rest. For instance, in one episode Michiko steals Hatchin a new pair of shoes. Believing stealing is wrong, she doesn't just preach Michiko and wear them anyway, she actually gets a job to pay for them. Throughout the show the fact that she always pulls her weight made her more likable and made me more invested in her well being as a result. Another thing about Hatchin, she's introduced in a brutal fashion, with about ten or more minutes that primarily focus of Hatchin being abused (both physically and mentally) by her foster family, and it's certainly hard to watch. Handled poorly this could come off as emotionally manipulative, or in poor taste, but Michiko & Hatchin does it well and makes sure it serves a purpose. As the show goes on, you see how these experiences had an effect on Hatchin, she often doesn't know how to deal with affection, reacts intensely to any kind of physical abuse, and has trouble trusting anyone.

On the other side there's Michiko, who's hard headed, not the brightest, but knows how to get out of a pinch. Sometimes you question how good of a person she really is, it's often implied that she's only using Hatchin as an excuse to see Hiroshi, she on many occasions disregards the feelings of others to get what she wants, and is driven by a blind idealistic obsession with Hiroshi, the man who abandoned both her and Hatchin. But through this rough exterior, you always end up wanting to root for Michiko. In an early episode, Hatchin claims she doesn't have the tattoo that prove she was Hiroshi's daughter, but Michiko continues to stick with her because she says she "believes in her". On the flip side of the blind idealization, there's a burning passion, that she just wants to believe in the people she loves.Is she really obsessed, or just determined? It creates a fascinating character, and makes you believe in their objective in finding the man at the center of all this.

Hatchin is displeased.

Through these two well crafted characters the show's greatest strength emerges, the relationship between them. It's more complex than just "They're different so they don't get along!", their very different traits create tons of interesting dynamics. Like how Hatchin often seems more mature and level headed than Michiko, while Michiko outweighs her in experience. Or how despite Michiko's brash personality, she on occasion shows a motherlike compassion towards Hatchin. It has tons of depth the show thoroughly explores. At the beginning they can't stand each other, but as the show goes on, they progressively start to build a connection. It all feels very natural and genuine, and by the end you really believe the bond they've formed.

And as long as we're on the subject of characters, Michiko & Hatchin has a great cast of side characters too. From Atsuko, the cop with a score to settle with Michiko, to Satoshi, the gang boss with a history with Hiroshi, they're all very diverse and have their own developments and motivations almost as compelling as the two leads. In fact, most of the characters especially the two main ones, are done superbly through the fact that they as many flaws as strengths, they make mistakes and develop beyond them,and it results in likable characters that you really care about.

Observe the Michiko in her natural state.

Michiko & Hatchin's structure is reminiscent to that of Cowboy Bebop and Samurai Champloo, in which nearly each episode is it's own standalone story, to the point they almost feels like short movies. Now depending on your preferences, this may not work equally well for everyone, because while the show has a grand objective the characters are working towards (finding Hiroshi) only about half the episodes actually have them make any real progress in finding him. Now, this didn't bother me at all, as even when episodes like this did come up it resulted in really good, interesting stories that didn't need to be connected to the main focus, and in fact trying to work in finding clues on Hiroshi could have ruined it as an individual story. But, I remember this directionless feeling separating the story from the primary objective bothering me with Samurai Champloo, so I could see it doing the same to people here. Another small issue is that the gang conflicts that went on behind the scenes of the show could have been explained a bit clearer. At times I had a bit of trouble keeping track of who was the leader of which group and such. But still, these problems all felt small with characters and story so terrific.

Michiko & Hatchin also boasts some great animation. The studio behind it is Manglobe, a studio I'd seen a few shows by (Samurai Champloo, Deadman Wonderland) and they seem to be great at delivering high quality animation that clearly had a lot of effort put into it. Character's faces show tons of emotion, action scenes are well done, and the location is beautiful.Speaking of, there was clearly extensive research put into getting the feel of the setting right. I not an expert on Latin America, but you can see in the setting real care was put into accurately portraying the location and culture.

Call her "moe" one more time.

The music fits perfectly with it's locale and tone, with a soundtrack that's primarily samba, with a bit of funk, and hip hop for good measure. All of it's composed by Brazilian musician Alexandre Kassin, and as mentioned earlier on, the music is produced by Shinichiro Watanabe. Watanabe has always had a knack for music use in anime, and it shows as much as ever here. Kassin provides the awesome soundtrack, while Watanabe knows exactly how to present it, whether the scene be action, dialogue, or a wordless emotional moment. Every powerful scene is only made more powerful by the music.

I'd also like to note Michiko & Hatchin has stellar dub. Every voice actor does a great job, and the two leads are no exception. Both of them totally nail their personalities and bring all the passion and emotion the characters demand. Although I never checked it out in Japanese, it apparently features pretty well known actresses not known for working in anime playing the two leads so it's probably good as well, but I can say confidently the dub does the show's great characters justice.

Michiko & Hatchin is one of those shows I couldn't stop loving from beginning to end. It grabbed hold of me with it's well crafted characters and emotionally involving stories and didn't let go until the end. And that's only if the musical involvement of Shinichiro Watanabe, high quality animation,and brilliantly realized setting aren't enough to sell you right off the bat. It's few flaws are so difficult to see through all that's good about it. Plus, with how few people I've come across who've actually seen it, Michiko & Hatchin is an overlooked gem that I highly recommend.
Full Post

No comments:

Post a Comment