Den of the Cyphered Wolf

Monday, June 9, 2014

Anime Review: Michiko & Hatchin (Spoilers)

Quick recap. After watching and more or less dissecting Lupin III: A Woman Called Fujiko Mine I became interested in a series by the same Director, Michiko & Hatchin. While there are moments of genuine pathos in the series it is really really really fun and I had a much harder time trying to sauce out its brains. That is until I realized that it's in a lot of ways a critique on two films I hadn't actually watched prior. So I put this on the back burner until I could watch and rap my head around those two films. That being taken care of let's talk about Michiko and Hatchin.




Soo. Michiko and Hatchin basically uses the formula set up by Thelma and Louise, two females on a wild ass cross country road trip, but instead of Texas places it in Brazil and imbues it with the cinematic style of City of God.

All of that allows the movie to up the ante in a number of ways. I should probably stop harping on this but my big problem with Thelma and Louise is that the movie is trying to have 2Pac's or better yet Queen Latifa's voice coming out Geena Davis' and Susan Surandon's mouths.



Apart from the rape scene with which I have problems it's hard to take their rebellion against the system seriously. You have to remember the film frames and celebrates they're rampage as justified revenge against the male patriarchy. And yes I do believe that male privilege exists and that I benefit from it though I never bought into the idea of those two as the hardened criminals the system forced them to be.

Buuuuut.





aannnnd



With that the Brazilian setting also let's the show have a really fun blaxploitation vibe (borrowed from City of God's seventies setting costumes and score style) that at least for me is more visceral than anything in Thelma and Louise.

Of course that makes sense as you could argue Shaft is my Louise. My cooler than cool black empowerment fantasy who can get away with damn near anything through rule of cool.  You just can't talk to a cop like that. Brotha, you'll be eaten pavement in 5 seconds flat. How the hell did he get a gig where he could stare down Mr. Big? If goons are at my door I wish I could leave 'em on the floor.


Of course my strut looks less like Richard Roundtree and more like Pete Parker.

Anyway what was I saying. Oh yeah while, I'm about to explain the set up that's the real hook. Watching Thelma and Louise if it were a City of God style Blaxploitation film. And overall I think the show succeeds in a lot of places where T&L failed. Setting it in Brazil gives the story the authority and authenticity to actually talk about oppression and desperation that T&L can't and the style gives it enough tonal flexibility to be able to do action in a way T&L could only dream of.

The Set Up
Okay so the hook of the film is a Thelma and Louise inspired cross country road trip. How do we get there. Well via City of God. I'm going to try to explain the actual plot later but for now it will be easier to say. It's City of God starring Bernice after escaping from a bid.

Okay okay okay time for back-story.

In the old days Michiko (Personality and looks of Bernice backstory of Angelica) and most of the main cast were a bunch of hood rats in a Brazilian orphanage that sold kids into slavery to make ends meet or for the "retirement fund" of  the heads of it depending on how cynical a mood I'm in. When she was around 16 and on her own she met Hiroshi (Benny) who was the best friend of Satoshi (Lil Z). Satoshi was quickly becoming the lord of the slums and Hiroshi wanted to get out as things were getting hotter. You know how these things go.  His bus explodes leaving Michiko alone and pregnant. A bunch of other stuff happens, mainly a coup in the criminal underworld, leaving Michiko a persona non grata ending with her spending 10 years in jail.

Our plot starts when she breaks out, kidnaps her now 10-year old daughter Hana/Hacthin from a sadistic catholic mission, and heads off in search of Hiroshi whom she feels somehow survived.

From there the show mostly chronicles the pair's whirlwind adventure.





Michiko and Hatchin
What makes the show good are its characters and what makes the show smart are its supporting characters. So right now I want to focus on Michiko and Hatchin. While these two characters have something to say about the human condition  what makes the show work is that they are the odd couple if Felix was a 10 year old girl.

And there is something inherently funny about that.


And it never gets old. Michiko will do something reckless and irresponsible, but also really really reeeeeeeealy entertaining to watch and then Hatchin will explain to her and by extension the audience exactly why it's crazy insane. In their way both are genre savvy but think they're in entirely different shows. And for its part the show itself keeps breaking up the fight and saying you're both right. "Hatchin you're on Telenovela duty and Michiko you're on Blaxploitation duty.We good. We good."

While both of these are really fun. They both have stuff to say about oppression, the patriarchy and all that stuff.

Hana starts the show with an extremely low self worth and subtly over course of the show largely due to her arguments with her crazy insane mother gains a backbone.  Though even in episode one her "I'm mad as hell and aint gonna take this anymore" feelings were starting to show.



Her narration in that episode is heart breaking. (I was getting middle school flashbacks) Aaand one of her tormentors is an actual honest to god catholic padre.

For her part although Michiko runs on rule of cool, the show frames search for Hiroshi as delusional, wasteful and sometimes downright pathetic, especially as the search puts her and Hatchin in more and more danger as the show goes on.  She's not as empowered as her action stunts might imply. And that's part of the point. While the show might enjoy it's Thelma and Louise tinged girls gone wildness its criticizing it as a tool for female empowerment. Being "empowered" isn't a free pass to hurt the people around you especially when they're in your boat."

This is made all the clearer since as a 10-year old Hatchin is put into real danger by Michiko's stunts and isn't afraid to call her out on it.

A large theme of the show is the role children have regarding female empowerment as Michiko feels  more and more that Hatchin is holding her back in combat and more or less straight up abandons her more than once.

Pepe Lima
This is more or less stated out right in episode four when a desperate Pepe Lima asks for Michiko's aid in searching for her lost little sister after finally getting the balls to rob her abusive gangster boyfriend and run. While there are a lot of reasons why Michiko says no the final and most emotional answer is that if she goes on this suicide mission and the obvious outcome occurs, "If anything were to happen to me who's going to look after Hatchin?" Kids the downfall of women.

Now is a good time to talk about Pepe Lima. The most obvious condemnation of the patriarchy in this thing and she get's only an episode.  But its probably the darkest episode of the show.

Pepe Lima in a lot of ways is Michiko played straight, the series looking at the audience and going, "Look Michiko can do all the badass crazy shit she does because she's working on rule of cool and this is TV, but in real life being broke, stuck in an abusive relationship and saddled with looking after the welfare of a kid looks like and can very easily end thusly.



That scene rings a bell with me because seems as a straight up retort to D'angelo restaurant speech in The Wire.

But anyway again here the story feels more legitimate then Thelma and Louise as Pepe Lima as a stripper knows what it is to feel alone in a crowd. To be around "friends" that ain't friends.


"The Rain That Falls In Monotone" A. (Anastasia)
The story poses an interesting dilemma. Much of feminism has been an attempt to defy gender roles. Is that such a good thing when defying those gender roles hurts women? Is defying the role of mother good when it means abandoning children. Is defying the role of Madonna good when it means hurting another woman. The show's answer is generally no in the name of female solidarity with a caveat. That caveat is that for us guys there is a double standard. And that's not fair.  That mostly plays out in the ending but since I'm talking about the supporting cast and am thinking about it now would be a good time to talk about episode seven. Michiko's been alone for a while and is starting to get that itch.


And there is guy who starts paying attention to her. The catch, he's married. Even though it's only for an episode his wife Anastasia is a really interesting character. She knows. And she also knows this isn't the first time he's pulled this crap.

In my Thelma and Louise review I said that this show when it wants to be serious, when it wants to make you feel is less cartoony than it's live action counterpart.

The show uses the symbolism of his use of his wife's tobacco in his conquest of Michiko as a symbol for his view of women as tools in general. The audience is led to get this waaay before either woman. Michiko in particular is really twitterpated and this is the only time she falters in her insane devotion to Hiroshi. Get used to the phrase, "Hiroshi isn't worth it."

Hatchin's right there with the audience in figuring out we're doing Funny People except with a shameless lech, but has her own problems in B plot and is pissed that her Mom hasn't noticed them instead spending her time and effort on an affair. I'll talk about those problems in a second.

Anyway back to Anastasia. The entire series frames Michiko's need for and devotion to men particularly Hiroshi who's playing Godot as foolish and pathetic. Anastasia who is self-aware regarding her miserable sapless marriage more or less tells her this to her face.

"Were you hoping Bruno would leave me for you? You are fooling yourself. How much woman do you think you are? He'll go cold. He'll lose interest and forget you're even there. Then he'll do to you what he did to me.  Do you really want to give up everything you are for a man that acts this way?"

What makes it that she does it so matter of factually. She's not angry or even bitter. She's just trying to save a compatriot from making the same mistakes she did. Or that could all be coping denial.

"Bruno likes to think of himself as a fish swimming freely wherever he wants but what he really likes is for me to come along and swoop him up in my net."

She's floating around the entire episode with those thoughts and it's clear that in a lot of ways she's an older wiser more worn Michiko.

By the way Michiko's need to be attractive, need for male attention and her established vanity/insecurity (depending on the episode) are character traits that justify and lampshade her more fanservicy get ups.

"What's wrong with your cans!? They ain't got no jiggle. Shit don't quake. (Said to Pepe Lima while she was on da pole)"

"The Rain That Falls In Monotone" B. (The River Rats)
One problem I have with a lot of feminist texts including Thelma and Louise  is that most misfortune is seen through the lenses of hatred towards women. This show is clear that what makes women and children vulnerable might be the patriarchy but the reason people pray on women and children isn't always because of misogyny.  You didn't get mugged because you were a woman you got mugged because you were a 10-old girl alone with what looked like valuable stuff. A gender swap wouldn't have helped, Hatchin.

Yeah so the B plot of "The Rain That Falls in Montone" is that Hatchin got robbed on her way to the store on a dinghy and is trying to confront the guys that did it. Damn is Michiko love blind in this one.  "Hey Hatchin, where are your shoes" would be a good que... you know Hatchin get's her shoes stolen a lot in this show. In retrospect I can see how that might be a sore spot for her.

In the process confronting her muggers Hatchin makes an incredibly reckless bet that amounts to who can swim best in the river gets her stuff.

She almost drowns. But the twist is that the moment her muggers who are also kids realize she's in a life or death situation they go get help, return her stuff and apologize.  Taking the entire thing down from a men who hate women robbery to stupid kids doing stupid kid stuff and getting in over their heads.

Especially in contrast to the last time her shoes were stolen and she went after them. Even though kids were the thieves things didn't end so amicably. Let's just say gun play was involved. And it wasn't Hatchin with the trigger finger.

Rita aka Chocolate Girl
Again a one  episode wonder.  Though she gets a few good scenes after her introductory episode.

Okay so by the middle of the show plot starts to happen. Not the plot advertised. But shit starts getting real. As I've said Michiko has become more and more aware that a 10-year old isn't much help in a fire fight. And splits up with Hatchin partially to keep her out of the impending trouble and also partially so she can go all out in the blackploitation tinged gunfights without having to worry about a kid. It's the second time it's happened. Again the show frames that as absolute selfishness on Michiko's part as she's doing all of this crazy insane stuff in pursuit of Hiroshi. Spoiler for the end, it aint worth it.

The show has a running theme about women pining for unobtainable men.

Rita meets Hatchin while the later is sleeping on a park bench. Damn it Michiko.  First off she's friend to Hatchin when she needs one. Like I said Hatchin is more or less at her lowest point here having no one. Rita can't be a magic bullet to all of Hatchin's problems as she's also 10 and has problems of her hown but she can lend emotional support. Being alone in a crowd sucks. And sometimes your defense is true solitude. Because you don't think you'll ever find what you need a kindred spirit.

Her main arc is about ...pining for an unobtainable man. But she's also probably the first character in the show to actually get over it.

Also its interesting that Geno's unobtainable is portrayed as a vice on his part. There's a 10 year age gap, he views Rita as more of a little sister, and has a pregnant girlfriend he's trying to do right by.

Unfortunately for the two of them the circus they join is actually a front for a child prostitution ring. Man Michiko is an idiot.  To be fair she does come back before anything happens but Hatchin is justifiably pissed about being dumped...again and doesn't realize the danger she's in.

That arc manages to be heartbreaking, heartwarming, and funny all at the same time. Most

Deus
So Thelma and Louise generally frames the trails of the the eponymous pair as the result of Men's general hatred of women. This story takes a different tact. Most of the time the trials and tribulations of Michiko and Hatchin aren't because the misogony of the offending party but because for whatever reason they were the easiest mark in sight.

Most of what it has to say about the patriarchy is in that vein. The patriarchy apathetically creates and capitalizes on their vulnerability

Don't get me wrong the guys are skeezy as all hell but generally they're portrayed as a bunch a JDs rather than a bunch of Harlens willing to exploit people in thier weakest moment and in thier own way Michiko and especially Hatchin are weak.

In a lot of ways the story frames Michiko as being weak because she's saddled with caring for Hatchin who can't help it because she's 10 and for various reasons (she's 10) has a hard time figuring out  when people are taking advantage of her.

Michiko is nerfed because of her obsession (as long as Hiroshi's not involved) with being a good mother towards Hatchin.

As I said before however these two are leads in compleatly different shows and there is an episode demonstrating Michiko's dependence on Hatchin .

Michiko is also emotionally vulnerable for most of the whole show. Remember she's on an epic quest basically to get back with her boyfriend regardless of how much danger it puts her or her daughter in. Her entire persona is a construct to keep herself from feeling emotionally weak in the process. Louise as a defense mechanism.

I said it before but Hatchin is the emotionally stronger of the pair. Even by the end of the first episode she's more naturally confident about who she is than  Michiko.  But she's still a 10 year old and is physically vulnerable.

As the series goes on she much more quickly is able to figure out when someone is taking advantage of her duo and much less likely to deny it than Michiko but what's she going to do, she's 10.

Episode 12 swaps thier general role. Michiko comes down with a flu. Oh this is some flux. Hatchin doing the math realizes they don't have the funds to stick in one place too long and takes Michiko to a shady doctor, Deus.  He's nothing more a con artist street magician in a lab coat and Hatchin is the first to figure this out and try to do something about it while Michiko so desperate to get back to being her ass kicking self (again largely because she needs that image of herself) is still willing to play along while Hatchin is outside demanding a refund with a rusty pipe.

Satoshi Batista
The rest of these guys are going to be borderline main characters but since they don't show up until the second half I held on them. Most of what needs to be understood about Satoshi is that he's Lil Ze. He just is. Same basic backstory. Same basic personality.


The difference here is he's at a bit of a existential crisis. In City of God Lil Ze's brother Benny dies. Dispite how much of a rat bastard he was Lil Ze really loved his brother. And as such his brother was able to talk him down in some of his crazier moments. Until he got shot that is.


In this story the closest we have to Benny is Hiroshi who remember is MIA. When Michiko manages to convince Satoshi that Hiroshi is still alive. A good chunk of the show is him processing and dealing with that information along with his abandonment issues. If he manages to get to Hiroshi first even he doesn't know what he'll do to him.

Not only that but he's got other problems I'll talk about with another character. Beyond that he along with Atsuko form Michiko's dysfunctional family.

Atsuko
Pam Grier. Take every role she's played put them in a funkified blender and you have Atsuko. At least her personality and general aesthetic.



What makes both Atsuko and Satoshi and for that matter Michiko interesting is that the show makes very clear they are a dysfunctional surrogate family that supports but can't stand each other. Both Satoshi and Atsuko feel that Michiko is fucking up their shit. Satoshi blames her for Hiroshi going soft but since he's dead (in theory) and Satoshi's got other stuff going on, running a criminal syndicate he's is mostly ambivalent until Michiko shows up talking about how Hiroshi's alive. And also get's caught up in a plot to kill him.  How do you think a crime lord would respond to that?



But Atsuko's in another place. Her view is that her entire life has been spent on Michiko clean up duty. While Michiko is a walking id Atsuko became a cop as a direct reaction against Michiko's craziness.


And still views it as her job to reign her in before things get really nuts. 10 years too late for that.

Atsuko more or less has Orlando Bloom's arc from the first Pirates movie.  While she may be absolutely insane Michiko, her sister, is essentially a good person. (What about the bank she robbed, and the cars she smashed, and dudes she shot) And she has to get beyond the fact the's always left holding the bag.

So after a particularly nerve-racking family reunion where she let her sister get away Atsuko get's busted down from detective to Ranger Smith duty... Ranger Smith duty in the fucking Amazon.


Here about she meets a young girl, Vanessa,  that reminds her of a young Michiko. The experience makes her reconsider their entire relationship. Apart from rule of cool, Michiko is the way she is because she had to be self-relient. Both Atsuko and Michiko grew up in the gutter.  Michiko realized earlier than Atsuko no one is going to help them. The rules were not built to help them.  So why bother playing by them. You're not going to get a gold sticker but a boot in your ass when the next guy over breaks the rule without consequence.

Oh and Vanessa is pining over an unobtainable man.

Stuff happenes and I've spoiled the show enough. Let's just say a spirit quest in some Incan ruins is a good tool for character development.   And helps Atsuko get her swerve back.

Still she just can't quit Michiko who refuses to give up her forlorn quest to find Hiroshi (He's not worth it!)
In a wierd way Michiko is Atsuko's (yes there is Lesyay) Hiroshi. Michiko is completely clueless about all of this even though Atsuko's shadowing of her saves her life a few times.

Atsuko can see what Hiroshi is doing to Michiko and what Michiko is doing to her. "Of course like always you don't care what I think. ... Just look at you. Know what I wish? I wish I never met you. (Right hook to the jaw) You like that? You asked for all I got this is it. Forget this shit! All of it!.. Don't Atsuko me! After this we're strangers."

The Real Plot
So the plot the story advertises is really just a setup, a reason to get these characters to interact with one another. Which is  fun. Around episode 9 we get an actual plot. Despite the show screaming at her to stop and think about this Michiko has has been hunting Satoshi A CRIME LORD for the whole series as he's probably her best lead for finding Hiroshi. Satoshi's second in command, Shinsuke, think a coked up, fucked up Tiago  is ordered to bring Michiko to Satoshi after they cross paths.  He's feeling a little under-appreciated so after beating her half to death gives her a gun with a single bullet and then delivers her to Satoshi fully expecting her to perform his coup for him.

Or being crazy ass coked up Shinsuke he probably just wanted to bust Satoshi's balls for taking him for granted. He's not exactly a clear headed person and has been on thin ice with Satoshi for a while.

Regardless, his plan doesn't work out and Satoshi, who is a sadistic bastard is planning revenge on Michiko, Shinsuke, and Atsuko who was there in pursuit.

It didn't occur to Shinsuke that trying to 86 him might but him on Satoshi's shit list which unlike you're normal shit list doubles as a hit list. You know that scene with Marcellus Wallace and the car after Butch's match. We get a remake of at least a few shots of it.



Shinsuke feels hurt and betrayed by the incident and decides to get revenge by destroying the gang. There's a war in the pit.

The only thing keeping Satoshi from going full Nino Brown at this point is the complication of Hiroshi. This show runs on emotional abandonment issues and Hiroshi is the largest piece of luggage of the show. Before his "untimely demise" Michiko and Satoshi were competing for his affection and yes the show does occasionally have him sound like a jilted lover about the whole affair. Though that's left mildly ambiguous as is the Les Yay between Michiko and Atsuko. But it's there.
He had a good thing going (at least by his standards) and Michiko fucked the whole thing up. When it becomes clear Hiroshi might be alive the game is a foot. And because of the type of show it is that game won't be group therapy.



The rest of the series at least between those two is played like a a cat fight with AKs and mercs (I keep saying it but it bears repeating Hiroshi is not worth it.)



Elis
Back to one episode wonders for a while.  3/4's of the way into this thing the show stops with the subtext and starts screaming at the audience aaand an oblivious Michiko  that the quest for Hiroshi is a farce. Hiroshi is not worth it. We meet with the woman he hooked up with and subsequently left AFTER he faked his death.

Despite Michiko's impotent rage and jealousy Elis is walking proof of what Anastasia was talking about and knows it.

And she's bi. "You could have just kissed me back. It would have been nice." She's laying it on pretty thick and it's not clear if she's doing just to get a rise out of Michiko who's in full on "You stole my man!" mode  this episode or just gets a kick out her own sexuality or both. "I find you adorable, a silly little lovesick fool."

Either way she's the character who feels the most beyond all of the, "pining for an unobtainable man" stuff and as a result seems the most free, mature and well adjusted.

She's walking around as if she gets something all the other characters don't because she does. She had some fun with Hiroshi but she's not going to be broken or even jilted by some "you complete me" delusion. Her first scene is watching a romantic soup opera and going "What a crock."

Though her reaction to his abandonment after Michiko blows past is still a deadpan "That just wasn't right."

Queer Theory
And this is a good time to talk about the show's LGBTQ characters. This is something I struggled with because although there are couple of them the first the story presents is flaming. We're talking Dangle levels here.


Of course that's Reno 911  so that gets a pass... from a more or less (let's just say I've had some bizarre not strictly hetero sexual fantasies and leave it at that) straight dude but still here I wince a bit. That said apart from his mincing Ivan is probably the most benevolent and sensible character up to that point in the show, telling Michiko how "cray cray" her actions are looking from the outside in and still going to bat for her when they cause Hatchin to be kidnaped with nary an I told you so. "Damn it! If you want in, smile and tell me you're sorry." (The first time she abandoned Hatchin to ask stone cold killers what happened to Hiroshi. I keep saying this but HE'S NOT WORTH IT)

I've already talked about Elis. And vibes most of the main cast are giving off.

Ah Nei Feng Yei and his daughter/son Babel.

So Hatchin is alone... again and is saved by Nei. Who looks at this kid wandering around this hive of scum and villainy and mentally pulls a "WTF This kid is going to get herself killed walking out here alone like this." Michiko has gotten herself kidnaped and Hatchin charges Nei who is probably the most street smart character in the whole show to get her back.  What the episode waits a bit to tell the audience is his profession. He's a chinese opera singer. His job requires him to dress as a woman. That said when he's not "on" you wouldn't know it. His kid looks up to him and more or less wants to do his job when he grows up and as such spends most of the episode really screwing with the audience's and Hatchin's heads dressed in drag.

It shouldn't throw Hatchin off as many times as she's been confused for a prepubescent boy with her chop hawk look designed to be a miniature gender swapped version of her dad. She met Rita as she was trying to dodge the advances of a guy by claiming a half asleep Hatchin as her boyfriend.

But it does.

Nei's back-story is a direct parallel to Michiko's. Except his priority is doing whatever he can to provide a life for Babel rather than pining over his beau.  His knowledge of the local landscape allows him to wager the same way Hana did earlier, but it's Michiko's rule of cool imbued strength that saves the day. Seriously she pulls him out by her teeth. AH EH EH. Even his light frame has to weigh a buck fifty and that's not counting the leverage involved.

HIROSHI IS NOT WORTH IT!!!!!!
So as the series closes and we find Hiroshi he's a double deadbeat dad.  Michiko tracks him down and leaves Hatchin in his care figuring that's the best possible option abandoning her again, and after not long after he leaves as well. Making the whole series kind of pointless. The series ends with a kind of brilliant epilogue.  Hatchin is 10 years older with her own kid who's dad left but despite it all she's happy. She's got a life and a spirit. To top it off it feels honest, as though the show was written as way to get to this place. While Michiko may be the driver of plot the story isn't really about her as Michiko never feels like a real character. She's the fantasy.Or rather the empowerment fantasy. Which is heavily deconstructed.  Hana. Hatchin. This is her story. Her reactions, her dilemmas, her choices they're what reflect the reality of being naive and vulnerable and growing as a person in spite of it all.

And seeing her smiling at peace on a beach playing with her kid is a happy end and probably the most happy end the show could have divorced from the empowerment fantasy of Michiko though the show does hint at "The Journey Continues"

And before I close I want to be clear. It's not that she has a kid that makes the ending though that is a nice tie to the show's themes about parenthood. Nope what makes the ending is that its clear Hana is happy. She's not defined or mired by whatever misfortune she's suffered. Her narration here parallels her narration in the first episode which again was rough. Here doing a lot of the same stuff but by her own choice in her own way and for herself she has a kind of freedom and self actualized identity that not even Michiko the walking female empowerment fantasy can claim. And in a lot of ways especially with Fujiko Mine as a back drop that's the point. For woman (or minorities) forging an identity in opposition to the privileged and the social structures upholding them still means that that identity isn't fully determined by the unprivileged.  And finding that identity is important.

P.S. You know after 6 hours of sleep I know am in a position where I can say the series makes a reasonable argument that Michiko is Hatchin's empowerment fantasy.  Basically her Bueller.


No wonder I relate to her so much. I'm working through some father issues at the moment. You know I could use a "day off".

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