Case Study 64: Michiko & Hatchin, Episode 17–“Buckets of Blood! Opera that Stirs the Heart”

Original Airdate: February 11th, 2009 on Fuji TV

Hey, it’s been a long time since I’ve covered any anime on this blog. It’s not due to lack of interest—there’s tons of weird anime out there that would be perfect to immortalize alongside the likes of Manimal and Shnookums & Meat, but deep-cut anime is hard to find and is presumably of limited interest to an English-speaking audience. (Whereas every God-fearing man, woman and child is deeply invested in Manimal.) The good news is that every year the nice folks at Adult Swim dig up dubious truffles in the form of anime series that may or may not be suitable for children, including recent installments of the previously discussed Dragon Ball Z and Gundam franchises.

Strengths

  • Strong, compelling protagonists. Michiko (Monica Rial, Dragon Ball Z Kai) and Hatchin (Jad Saxton, Wolf Children) are a mother-daughter duo on the run from the law. Michiko has the street smart acumen of a hardened hustler combined with the tenacity, bravado, strength and sheer good luck of an action movie star. Minutes into the first episode, she escapes from prison and peppers a chopper with machine gun bullets before luring it into the path of a wind turbine. But the picaresque journey she embarks on over the course of 22 episodes is driven by sentimentality: after rescuing Hatchin from her luckless life in foster care, she’s determined to reunite with Hatchin’s father Hiroshi (Christopher Bevins, Dragon Ball Z: Bojack Unbound*) despite pesky rumors of his demise. She’d be a worthwhile heroine on her own, but when paired with the innocent and timid Hatchin, she’s dynamite. You could call this a coming-of-age story for Hatchin, but this usually implies a transition away from the innocent idylls of youth, and while Hatchin may be innocent, her youth was far from idyllic. Her foster family was in fact cartoonishly evil. Despite her hopeless situation, she was beginning to show signs of rebellion when Michiko literally crashed through the wall on her bad-ass motor scooter. (You can tell Michiko is cool because she makes a motor scooter look bad-ass.) By joining forces with Michiko, Hatchin is forced to reinvent herself all over again as Michiko’s sidekick. In fact, Hatchin isn’t even her real name—it’s a nickname Michiko gives her. Hatchin restrains Michiko to a certain extent, and Michiko draws Hatchin out. Together, they make an excellent pair, and protecting one another’s welfare consistently gives them a powerful motivation, especially in installments like this episode, where they’re temporarily separated. The upshot is that any given episode of this show builds on a very strong foundation.
  • Gender trouble at the Chinese opera. For no real reason other than to delight me, this episode hinges on one Nei Feng-Yi (John Burgmeier, Blue Gender), a Chinese opera star known for playing divas on the stage. (Chinese opera has a long tradition of cross-dressing.) Nei takes on the role of Good Samaritan when he intervenes on Michiko’s behalf after she runs afoul of the Heike Syndicate. Nei leaves Hatchin in the care of his son Bebel (Alexis Tipton, Fullmetal Alchemist: The Sacred Star of Milos.) Bebel wants to follow in Nei’s footsteps, which is the closest thing we get to an explanation for the fact that he dresses in girl’s clothing. He still identifies as male, and indignantly exposes himself to Hatchin when she thinks otherwise. Naturally, he’s preoccupied with the performance of femininity, and proceeds to beat Hatchin with a reed due to her mannish haircut and unladylike posture. So I guess I didn’t need to worry about whether this anime would be weird enough. I love how this show sits comfortably with the ambiguity and that no one is really bothered by Bebel, especially after Hatchin asserts herself in light of the reed-whipping. They could have chosen any type of character to rescue our heroines, and they chose to tell a deliciously queer story in that incidental space.
  • Thrilling action sequences. Of course, in the end Michiko ends up rescuing Nei. When Nei pleads for Michiko’s release with the Heike goon Edward (Chris Smith, Lego Batman: The Movie), Edward agrees to let Michiko go if she wins a game of chance. At first, they try a rock-paper-scissors deathmatch, but Michiko spoils that idea in a predictably violent fashion. The next idea is more insane by several degrees of magnitude: a game of chicken involving running as fast as you can on a steel beam welded to the roof of a building stretching out over the empty air. Nei bravely offers to do this in Michiko’s stead, and Edward agrees, but there’s a catch—Michiko is bound to him by rope as a counterweight. If Nei goes over the edge, they’ll both die. And he does go over the edge—but Michiko avoids going over by clinging to the girder with her assuredly rock-hard thighs. The rope snaps and Nei starts to fall—and Michiko catches the rope in her fucking teeth. The medium lends itself well to this kind of bravura. No stunt double has to put her life at risk and it costs just as much to animate as a sedate conversation in a quiet cafe. The great thing is that every episode has something equally outlandish, and it makes for exceptionally fun viewing.

*Sadly, this is not a Bojack Horseman cross-over.

Final Judgment: 8/10. You might be wondering how something with no weaknesses could have failed to achieve a perfect score. I usually watch a couple of episodes of any given show under review, and the thing is that Episode 16 was even better. I’d give that one a 10/10. So what’s missing? It’s really just that there was potential for more. There are no real thematics on this show and the stories are simplistic. This episode also spent a few minutes on a scene developing a larger story arc, and while that can pay off in dividends down the road, it can short-change an individual installment. Regardless, I wholeheartedly recommend Michiko.

NEXT TIME: I continue analyzing anime by taking on yet another super-franchise: Pokemon. Before you ask, this is not a several-weeks-too-late attempt to cash in on the Pokemon Go craze. I just do what the computer tells me, baby.

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Case Study 64: Michiko & Hatchin, Episode 17–“Buckets of Blood! Opera that Stirs the Heart”