I am the king of procrastination. Now, if it’s something important or someone needs me, I’m yer only man (as we say in Dublin). But left to my own devices, I flitter away my time. Strange, how I find a show that I promised to watch ages ago but never did and find the main characters going through the same thing. Equal parts road movie, crime drama, comedy, and farce, Michiko and Hatchin is a great introduction to Studio Manglobe and director Sayo Yamamoto.
Michiko Malandro is a hardened criminal. She’s been in and out of prison for various reasons — mostly gang-related incidents. But now, she’s busted out of the joint and has a mission: she’s going to find Hana “Hatchin ” Morenos and bring her to Hiroshi, Hana’s father. The only thing standing between her and Hana reaching their goal is an army of cops, a former friend of Hiroshi gunning for Michiko, crooked business owners, gangs, jealous singers, brothel madams, psychotic circus owners, and, of course, Michiko’s arch nemesis cop and former friend Atsuko Jackson. So the two girls set out to find Hiroshi and solve the mystery of why he disappeared all while trying to avoid being arrested or killed.
I'd seen Sayo Yamamoto’s later work, Lupin III: The Woman Named Fujiko Mine, but only discovered a few weeks ago that she is the main director for Michiko and Hatchin. She seems to fill this show, at least from what I read into this, with two characters burned by relationships, their aspirations, and how they grew up. Michiko is stubborn, and she doesn't tolerate people getting in the way of her plans. That's not to say she becomes overtly violent, but it seems to be maddening for her whenever somebody tells her something that she doesn't want to hear. This role almost exclusively seems to be ocupied by Hatchin, although other characters do find themselves dumb enough to get in front of this tall, dark-skinned, pistol-whipping mama. There's an almost Roger Corman-esque feel to Michiko, a throwback to a bygone age of cinema when female characters could be who they wanted to be without having to explain themselves. While there is a sleazy angle to some of the male characters seeming to think that Michiko is there to simply service them, please them, or in some way, shape, or form be subservient to them, the males who she associates with, for the most part, recognize or are forced to recognize that she’s not to be trifled with. Yamamoto usually has her older lead character standing absolutely still in a scene, squaring up the situation while looking through shades, gritting her teeth, and then unleashing hell. Michiko looks like a runway model with an expletive-laden mouth and a penchant for pulling guns on people. Hatchin, on the other hand, is the voice of reason.
After Hatchin endures hell at the hands of her foster parents and foster siblings, Michiko bursts her scooter through a nearby window and tells Hana that she’s the daughter of a dead man and this is her chance to be saved. With little choice, Hana accepts the offer. Pretty soon, she realizes that Michiko is a drunkard who doesn’t know what she’s doing half the time and struggles to deal with a ten year-old girl. This leads to a lot of conversations, and by conversations I mean blazing arguments, in which one of them will walk off — sometimes in the middle of a dangerous situation or an unsafe area. But at the heart of it, Hana really does care for Michiko and comes to rely on her when it comes to adults (and even kids) threatening harm. Whenever Michiko appears in front of them, you can really sense that this is a human lioness stalking her prey. Having said that, Michiko also comes to rely on Hana. She is, quite simply, a ray of sunshine in the older woman's life. When we learn Michiko's backstory, it turns out that she really did struggle in early life to escape the clutches of gangs. It's the fact that she got arrested by Atsuko that saves her. If she hadn't, Michiko probably would have gotten herself killed in a back alley somewhere.
Michicko and Hatchin prides itself on having a Hunter S. Thompson type of story. The two girls don't seem to mind coming across a mixture of weirdos, trophy girlfriends, wannabe gangsters, criminals, trigger-happy cops, and the assorted paraphernalia that you find in run down apartments or dilapidated favelas. Except for the multi-story arcs, almost all of the stories take place in a different location, although always within the same general South American setting. For the first couple of episodes, the show seems to take a rather sanguine — neither corrupt nor competent — view of the police. After Atsuko becomes a major antagonist, the police in various departments across the country shoot first and ask questions later. I also found it curious how the show seems to differentiate between the countryside police and the metropolitan divisions. The country police seem to take life easy and don't seem to want much trouble, however they are not inherently corrupt. By comparison, anytime we are exposed to the city police, the results are always disastrous for our heroines. More complex is the story of Monstro, the gang Michiko, Satoshi, and Hiroshi were part of.
While in the gang, the three of them commit some major criminal acts. Of that there is no doubt. It was a gang fighting for control of a corner in an unimportant criminal war. Tantalizingly, there appears to be bits of the gang's story left out. It seemed to be fighting multiple enemies but we are never told exactly who outside of a Russian mafia gang. Add to this the fact that, in their earlier lives, the three friends' roles were never fully defined. Whatever their reasons for being in the gang, once Hiroshi and Michiko get together, things fall apart. Hiroshi seems to have left because of Michiko (although there are actually multiple reasons given), and Michiko left because she got caught and jailed. Only Satoshi stayed, and he does so because of a sense of respect among the criminal elements … not that it helped him. Satoshi can't seem to forgive his friend and especially not the girl for whom his friend left the gang. That inability to forgive is what drives him as a primary antagonist, sets off the chain of events that will end the series, gives rise to new adversaries that will face off against Michiko and Hana, and ultimately sheds light on the gang’s early life. The show really shines when Michiko is struggling to connect the dots so that she can reunite with Hiroshi and Hana and has an epiphany. Instead of being disappointed, she helps her surrogate sister get over this hill she's made for herself to see the brightness on the opposite side. In the beginning, Hana would have been content to find her father, but as the show goes on, she and Michiko bond on such a level that it would have been worth the journey whether or not she found him.
The show's setting is wonderful. It's almost like Brazil but not quite — full of deserts, forest plantations, sparkling cities, coastal party towns, and sleepy border towns. I like how the show makes a distinction between the upper class, who seem to be predominantly descendants of Caucasians, and the lower class, who are made up of Caribbean and African descendants. The lot of the lower classes is simply to survive, join a gang, or at least have enough knowledge about how the world really works to be able to avoid any unnecessary entanglements. For a Japanese show, it has an amazing talent for representing Michiko — physically, with her skin tone and looks, and socially through her use of fashion to dress up for the upper classes and dress down with the lower classes. For my money, Michiko seems to be happiest amongst regular people. She seems to understand them the best. Hana, after separating from Michiko for a period, struggles initially to find her way. In doing so, however, she learns that she can get along in life just fine and that her life is more interesting with Michiko than it is without her.
For me, the ending of the show was unexpected. It wasn't the ending I thought it was going to be, but I wasn't upset either. I commend Yamamoto for having the courage to give the characters what they actually wanted and still not achieve what they started out wanting. Even the show's antagonists Satoshi, Shinsuke, and Atsuko have their own growth as characters and their own crisis of faith. Some of them survive it, and some of them don't. I guess the journey itself is (and should be) more interesting than the actual destination.
Michiko and Hatchin is available right now in the US from FUNimation and from MVM in the UK. It's about to get a complete Blu-ray and DVD collection release in Australia from Madman. I'd recommend that you pick it up or, if you live in the United States, stream it from the FUNimation website.