Michiko e Hatchin: The Great Off-White Hope

You guys remember 2004’s Samurai Champloo, right? T’was the first major production by the Japanese animation studio Manglobe—an incredibly flashy, hip-hop-inspired story of a couple of vagabonds and a teenage girl whose chastity is…

You guys remember 2004’s Samurai Champloo, right? T’was the first major production by the Japanese animation studio Manglobe—an incredibly flashy, hip-hop-inspired story of a couple of vagabonds and a teenage girl whose chastity is continually endangered wandering across Japan in search of the generally ambiguous “samurai who smells of sunflowers.” Champloo was a strong first outing for the studio—brightly colored, goofy, violent and episodic, plus it did pretty well overseas. Manglobe’ve been pretty quiet since then. I guess they did another show, Ergo Proxy, around 2006 or so, but frankly it looks incredibly boring. It’s got that nasty “grimdark” palette of grays and dull splashes of color characteristic of the most tedious of modern low-budget digital productions.

Their latest production, Michiko e Hatchin, just wrapped up a couple of months ago. You might not have realized that—so far, the show seems to have been largely ignored in Western Japtoon fan circles, and that’s a shame.


Browse any vaguely Japtoon-related forum and you won’t be able to go ten feet without running smack dab into the latest thread lusting over insipidly childlike, ditsy and clumsy heroines who act like petulant children to show their affection, appealing to the stunted man-children who consume Japanese animation merchandise. You’ll also encounter threads discussing the latest non-events in your favorite boys’ fight comic which will continue to run for years because it appeals to the actual children who consume Japanese animation merchandise. And we can’t forget the countless series drawing from the everlasting well of quality storytelling that is “light novels,” easy-to-read fiction for children of all ages. But you probably won’t run into much about Michiko e Hatchin, and I can’t say I’m terribly surprised.

I’ve been trying off and on for months to put into words exactly why I enjoy this show so much. I think it’s because it’s one of those productions that’s a lot greater than the sum of its parts.

A quick summary of our premise: Michiko Malandro, a sexy and fierce young woman, breaks out of jail and liberates a young Hana “Hatchin” Morenos from her Cinderella-esque life of humiliation and slavery. At Michiko’s insistence, the two set off across an unidentified Brazil-inspired South American country on the trail of Hatchin’s father (and Michiko’s former boyfriend), Hiroshi, a rather unassuming and soft-spoken gangster who supposedly died in a bus explosion ten years prior. Along the way our heroines dart in and out of the lives of figures from Michiko and Hiroshi’s past and a number of other unfortunate souls who are drawn into the seedy underbelly of society. It’s worth mentioning that unlike Champloo‘s “Sunflower Samurai,” whom the heroes leisurely “pursue” over the course of the series, Hiroshi is an actual character from the start.

While the characters tend to fall into fairly broad archetypes, their personalities aren’t designed to fit fanboy fetishes—a recipe for commercial disaster. A buddy of mine put it something like this: “it’s got strong female characters who have actual flaws, and not cute ones.” Michiko is impulsive and violent, using force, theft and property destruction to get what she wants, but she doesn’t have a good handle on dealing with people. She feuds with her childhood friend Atsuko Jackson (serving as the show’s Zenigata with a righteous ‘fro) more-or-less identically years later, a situation that clearly pains them both. While she tries to do right by Hatchin, the two have some real trust issues. Hatchin, for her part, isn’t particularly meek or inept or scatterbrained (i.e. moé), and tries to work her way through honestly and on her own power even when she’s in over her head, possibly because of Michiko’s unreliability, or because she fears Michiko is using her as an excuse (or bargaining chip) in her quest to track down Hiroshi.

The show’s got a real mean streak, too. It’s quite willing to play characters and situations for laughs in one scene then later turn around and use them for chilling effect. In one episode our heroines get to know a young woman who’s taken to exotic dancing and sleeping with one of the local thugs in the hopes of earning enough money to gain fake identification for herself and her little sister so they can make it to the relative safety of one of the larger and more well-policed cities. But when the inevitable happens, instead of riding in like the cavalry to rescue them, Michiko (reluctantly) leaves them to their obvious fates; “if something happens to me, who’ll protect Hatchin?” Suddenly, the child enforcers of the previous two episodes don’t seem very funny at all.

It certainly doesn’t hurt that the series appears to have been written in advance of production instead of using the traditional “wing it once we’ve got a premise” strategy plaguing Japanese cartoons and comics. This means the series can set up foreshadowing and callbacks effectively, even in minor details like the telenovela which the entire country seems to be watching. And since the production team wasn’t pressured to create a franchise and milk it with sequel films and merchandise, they managed to buck another of the worst trends in Japanese animation—the ending of the story effectively wraps up all of the remaining plot threads and doesn’t leave a bad taste in your mouth.

While we’re on the subject of bucking trends and reduced pandering tactics, Michiko e Hatchin is also lacking in star power. Well, I should say, it’s lacking in the kind of star power most Japanese animation fans would care about. This show is Sayo Yamamoto’s first time as a series director, having previously done storyboards and episode direction on Ergo Proxy, Eureka Seven and Samurai Champloo among others. Character designer Hiroshi Shimizu has done a lot of key animation work for Studio Ghibli productions, and he scripted, storyboarded and directed episode 11 of Kemonozume, making him the only other member of the main creative staff with any significant Japanese animation experience. Brazilian musician Kassin contributes the exceedingly catchy score, which is almost a character in itself. Scriptwriter Takashi Ujita and the majority of the vocal talents all come from live-action film and television backgrounds. The performances are generally fine, if not always what one would expect to be “Japanese cartoon” delivery, but I imagine the lack of any of the usual fanboy-favorites contributed to the show’s neglect.

Oh yeah, and the show is consistently good lookin’. Not only does it have a great setting, with colorful and dingy and lively and varied locales, it’s also got some pretty solid character animation week after week, something many other shows with excellent design (like Basquash!) can’t say. It may not always be as fluid as I’d like, but the series avoids the worst of the money-saving tricks of the trade. Rarely will you encounter the dreaded digital slow pan over a still frame, and the series wisely chooses to avoid awkward attempts at integrating poorly rendered 3D graphics for vehicles, crowds and backgrounds. (Plus, it’s fun to see what surprisingly hip fashions our heroines show off each week—guess you can always find time to dress sharp, even on the run.)

Bottom line: this is a good show. Not only is the overall arc of the story good, but like the best television series, it has a number of episodes which can stand up as good on their own. Good animation, good music, good writing, good ideas. I keep worrying that I’m damning it with faint praise, though—perhaps I’m too bitter with Japanese animation as a whole to just come out and say that a show is fun, well made and you’ll have a good time watching it, and you don’t have to feel like a huge smelly nerd while you’re at it. Maybe that’s enough.


  1. I actually disagree with you on Ergo Proxy. True you may not like the colour palette but i think you will be pleasantly surprised once you see the show. I believe you may find the colours to be appropriately chosen. I think it suits the dark distopian sci fi story and its post apocalyptic setting reminiscent of 1984, Blade Runner and Brave New World . It has a strong philosophical undertone and a very strong female lead which runs opposite to most of the watered down Moe influenced shows that are made these days.

    You mentioned Michiko e Hatchin has ‘Good animation, good music, good writing, good ideas.’ Ergo Proxy has all of those things. I picked up the entire series after reviewing the first disc. I’m relieved to see that there is still some strong Anime being made in this period of shallow watered down rubish that is being passed off as animation.

    Looks like Studio Manglobe will be one to watch.

  2. I heard a while back from John (ask John, that John), that this show was just a much-lesser-Bebop, what with the psychological scarring that was just supposed to be implied…or something.

    To above commenter, I’d disagree that EP has good music. It has decent background noise, but would you want to listen to actually listen to the stuff standalone?

    IMO Ergo proxy is just a pretentious pile of poo that makes you confused…but if you watch it with -9000+ expectations, it will be enjoyable for other reasons besides the trite waxing philosophical.

    Or maybe I didn’t like it ‘cuz I’m so stuoopid cuz I’ve eaten too much moe cancer caek?

  3. I don’t think this show and Bebop are particularly trying to do the same things at all. The strongest comparisons between the two would be that the music is very ear-catching and that both shows generally treat their viewer as if they possess some level of intelligence.

  4. I think the soundtrack music is understated and complements the series really well. I listen to a lot of minimal electronic music and soundtracks so i would listen to it for sure. Not every song has be a pop friendly chart hit.

    As far as the story goes – it makes you think and introduces concepts that are not generally explored in animation. I think it walks a fine line between being accessible and difficult to understand and i believe Ergo Proxy does it’s best not to alienate the viewer while providing something new. Most animated shows can be grasped straight away as they are usually aimed at children who suffer attention deficit disorder. Does every show have to be so simplistic?

    If you don’t pay attention you may miss something and you may even have to watch the show two or three times to get it. I don’t think that’s a problem, it actually tries to do something relatively different by exploring deep philosophical ideas. It still has cool action sequences and mecha which i love. Plus it’s using computer graphics at a more sophisticated level.

    I’ve been watching anime for years now and love some of the cheesier mainstream shows but i still want to see some diversity and experimentation.

    I wasn’t that impressed by Samurai Champloo, however I loved Cowboy Bebop and really look forward to seeing Michiko e Hatchin.

  5. Back when this was airing, it was pretty much my favourite show, so I’m happy to see a piece which appreciates its strengths. It’s also nice to see that you’ve avoided the Bebop comparison, which seems to me to be like some kind of structural observation (‘oh, look, episodic content! music!’)made almost without reference to the actual series.

    Anyway, iirc it also did fairly poorly ratings-wise in Japan, but I don’t find that so surprising. What’s more interesting to me than its lack of mass-popularity is the way that at the same time as clearly not being a crowd-pleaser it hasn’t gathered that much critical praise from what I think of as the ‘better’ parts of the Western fandom. I don’t think that can just be put down to it being not-moe, but I’m honestly not sure why more srs bsns people didn’t love this.

  6. I loved Michiko e Hatchin, and yeah, the excellent female characters and the way it casually kicks aside all the ditzy stereotypes is the main reason.

    Ergo Proxy has horrible, cheesy, gothwank costume design and a dreadfully pretentious backdrop, but as the series goes on, it gets better. Some of the later episodes are surreal, ironic, and brilliantly weird.

    I think the difference between Cowboy Bebop and Michiko e Hatchin is that each episode of Bebop plays on themes drawn from pop culture, which act as shortcuts in the readers’ minds and allow the creators to paint the story in quite broad strokes, freeing up more for character development. Michiko e Hatchin doesn’t have those shortcuts, so it has to build up both the story and characters from the ground, which I think makes it a slower-paced story but perhaps one with a bit more cohesion between its external and internal worlds.

  7. In addition to my swank Otaku USA feature on Ergo Proxy, I also podcasted about it a few years back: http://tr.im/rqtW

    But if the fact that he’s a total pedo weren’t enough, as further proof that Ask John dude is untrustworthy I will state that Michiko e Hatchin isn’t like Cowboy Bebop or Samurai Champloo at all, a fact that becomes clear were you to actually WATCH it. The comparisons will inevitably get drawn because of the music/opening credits and the decidedly non-Japanese overall feel to it, though.

    Both of those are testament to Manglobe’s apparent focus on making shows with the hopes of them catching on here in the US. Sadly, nobody has bothered to license this show, opting instead for weak sauce like World Destruction. The end result is a fairly costly show to make that got watched by nobody. Which sucks, because this show was good stuff.

    Even though Michiko’s character designer ruined her with that awful tattoo. Without it, she would have been scientifically categorized as “bangin’,” but Japan just had to go fuck it all up, just like they did to Revy. Stupid tattoos.

  8. I totally recall John’s epic post detailing his interest in Loli related stuff in his column. I paitiently waited for an epic shockwave of condemnation from the anime community at large which sadly, never came. At least I now know that I am not alone.

    And yes, nothing ruins a woman more than a “tramp stamp”. Either that or a cigarette in her hand.

  9. Ask John’s loli posts are to this day classics of internet anime criticism. I wish I could find them: his argument is that lolicon– specifically the pornographic kind– isn’t in fact about sex at all! Instead, it’s either about the noble urge to protect. The sex is just PART of that!

  10. Indeed, nothing says “child welfare” like sex with 11-year-old girls.

    I wonder if anyone will ever find this quote when I become famous and use it out of context against me.

  11. I admit that I stopped watching Michiko and Hatchin after ten episodes. Not because it disappointed me, but because it seemed like a show that would be fast-tracked to Adult Swim even in the currently dilapidated anime industry. Boy, was I ever right about that!

    Also, complaining about the mere presence of tattoos on women is a good way of telling all the world that you’ve never had a girlfriend.

    “Ask John’s loli posts are to this day classics of internet anime criticism. I wish I could find them.”

    I’m not sure if this is the best one, but it marked the point where I realized John was beyond conventional help.


  12. I think one of the problems with the Ask John piece on Michiko e Hatchin is that he spends the first paragraph praising the wittiness and intelligence of the title and inferring a grammatically impossible Japanese-language lesbian pun.

    “e” does mean “to” or “toward” but it can’t just be substituted without completely reordering the grammar of the sentence. It would have to be something like “Michiko wa Hatchin e”, which just sounds weird without a verb like “ikimasu” at the end, and which in any case destroys the pun.

    I mean, I like a dodgy pun as much as anyone, but I believe this is what’s called a Freudian slit…

    …I’ll get my coat.

  13. Also, complaining about the mere presence of tattoos on women is a good way of telling all the world that you’ve never had a girlfriend.

    Wait’ll my wife hears about this.

    I don’t quite get this. Where I live in Asia, tattoos are usually reserved for members of organised crime and capricious tramps. Its like a girl with a cigerette in her hand, it screams tramp.

    Anyway, back on to the topic at hand; thanks for the link! I was trying to find the “Ask John” article that I had previously read and this appears to be it.

    Check this doozy out:

    “I believe that lolicon art is a natural exhibition of the intrinsic human instinct to propagation of the species. The male human animal has an instinctive attraction to fertile, young females.”

    Yeah John, the cast of “Kodomo No Jikan” sure is fertile. They probably know as much about Tampax as they would about Friedrich Nietzsche.

  14. I had no idea that one little tattoo could cause such an uproar. Seriously, people automatically assume she is a tramp, but out of any anime I have seen she is the least annoyingly slutty female character. I come from a Latin background so I think this show attracts me even more to it due to my familiarities with the culture. Manglobe did such an awesome job of capturing the poverty, youth, fashion, and spirit of Brazil. It was so refreshing to be taken into a completely new and exciting setting. I really wished this show would gain more popularity. I love everything about this show and its crazy free-spirited characters.

  15. “I paitiently waited for an epic shockwave of condemnation from the anime community at large which sadly, never came. At least I now know that I am not alone.”

    Yeah, you’re not alone. If being in “the anime community at large” means saving the outrage for when people criticize lolicon, then I’m happy to be outside that “community.”

    “I don’t quite get this. Where I live in Asia, tattoos are usually reserved for members of organised crime and capricious tramps. Its like a girl with a cigerette in her hand, it screams tramp.”

    Wait a minute, in the series Michiko has the tattoo on her lower belly, not on her lower back a la “tramp stamps.” Another character has the same tattoo as a *baby*, kinda like how Navis in French comics had her tats since infancy too.

  16. BTW, does Michiko e Hatchin kinda remind anyone else of Central Station ( http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0140888/ )? 🙂

    “and liberates a young Hana ‘Hatchin’ Morenos from her Cinderella-esque life of humiliation and slavery.”

    Yeah, the word that came to my mind was restavèk (shit like that happens to some kids IRL!), not Cinderella.

  17. The most depressing thing about is this show is no-one ever talks about it. When I do one across someone who also watched it they tend to call it “terrible”, “boring”, “stupid main character” etc. I guess making good shows isn’t enough to please anime fans.

  18. Of course no one liked it, they can’t relate! So many viewers are white, sheltered, privileged teeny boppers. What disgusted me the most about this demographic’s dislike was that they were surprised, and didn’t like how the ending came for Hatchin….They just don’t understand that in a world like that (which is very much real) stuff like that happens!
    I LOVED it, because I can relate and it was just phenomenally appeasing to me culturally.

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