Sexy criminal Michiko Malandro (voiced by Yoko Maki) busts out of a maximum security prison, grabbing a machinegun along the way, in search of a little girl named Hana (Suzuka Ohgo). Nine year old orphan Hana lives in misery enslaved by her strict Catholic foster parents and their spiteful kids until Michiko comes crashing through the window on a motorcycle. Hana learns she is the daughter of Hiroshi Morenos (Kanji Tsuda), Michiko’s former lover who supposedly died in an explosion. Since then Michiko has waged a one-woman war against the crime syndicate known as Fantasma. Together, Michiko and Hana - whom she nicknames “Hatchin” - embark on a madcap, cross-country adventure, keeping one step ahead of the cops led by whip-wielding, blonde afro-sporting Detective Atsuko Jackson (Maki Sakai), battling gangsters and bonding as surrogate mother and daughter.
It is wonderful to see a dark-skinned anime heroine for a change - coming after the absurd furore over one supporting character in the otherwise acclaimed Revolutionary Girl Utena (1997) - especially a gorgeous, pouting badass like Michiko. With a superb acid jazz soundtrack by Alexandre Kassin and sublime retro album cover visuals, Michiko To Hatchin is set in a fictional Latin American country but draws heavily upon Brazilian culture. Not just for its sexy imagery but its socially conscious plotlines. Throughout the fast-paced plot, Michiko and Hatchin deal with slum life in the Favelas, underage gang-bangers, Catholic hypocrisy, a child slavery ring, a downtrodden stripper looking to escape her brutal pimp, and a slowly unravelling back-story about warring gangs and political corruption. No matter how outlandish the action gets, the underlining grittiness creates a richly textured story full of vivid characters, complex relationships and moments of pulp poetry that counterbalance some of the bleaker twists and turns along the way.
First-time director Sayo Yamamoto brings a feminine perspective to the central relationship between outwardly tough-as-nails, but secretly lonely Michiko and meek but courageous Hatchin, who blossoms over the course of their adventures into a gutsy tomboy and even gets drunk in one scandalous episode. Although Michiko sports a rather awesome array of sexy outfits, she remains a multifaceted style icon rather than a one-note fetish figure, a woman clearly calling the shots in her own game and nobody’s plaything. Interestingly, almost none of the male villains glimpsed throughout the serial are a match for her, from the child gangsters that make a big mistake in calling her “grandma” to the bloated Russian crimelord who tries to kidnap Hatchin. Her only worthy opponents are equally strong-willed women like childhood friend-turned-antagonist Atsuko, sexy pole-dancing goddess Pepe Lima (Shie Kohinata) whose tragic life with her kid sister deliberately parallels that of our dual heroines, and the series’ most ambiguous character: the old woman who runs the child trafficking ring into which Hatchin falls captive. This tough old dame remains unimpressed by Michiko's bravado, having raised her from childhood. Her blank indifference to the suffering of the street children whose earnings she pockets before she sells them as slaves is among the most harrowing aspects of the series and the scene where she hauls one frightened young runaway back to the orphanage will haunt you for days. The series strikes a delicate balance between optimism and cynicism, wish fulfilment adventure and unflinching attitude towards the harsh realities of life in a Latin American slum. While Michiko and Hatchin remain resilient enough to fight back against whatever horrors life throws their way, they remain vulnerable to attack. At times the tone borders on fatalism, which results in frustratingly vague fates for some supporting characters, but on the whole the series possesses such a raucous spirit it remains a life-affirming watch.
Both heroines are brought vividly to life thanks both to the excellent chara designs and stellar vocal talent of Yoko Maki - who starred in the American version of The Grudge (2004) as well as The Fast and the Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006) - and acclaimed child actress Suzuka Ohgo, who appeared in Memoirs of a Geisha (2005). There are certainly no shortage of crazy crime thrillers in anime with feisty, female badasses (take a look at Black Lagoon (2007) to see it done wrong), but Yamamoto does not fall into the common trap of mistaking posturing cool for potent characterisation. The sisterly bond between Michiko and Hatchin remains the beating heart of this crazed collision between fairytale and frantic action-thriller with a double dose of girl power.