Part 1 of the 4-part watchalong of Michiko & Hatchin with Amelia, Vrai, and special guests Lizzie Visitante and Jacqueline-Elizabeth Cottrell! They talk about the cultural context of the series, the fraught issue of on-screen portrayal without diverse casting, and whether the show accurately captures the culture of life in Brazil.
Content Warning: This series contains depictions of racism, colorism, domestic partner abuse, queerphobia, police brutality, gang violence, child abuse and implied sexual abuse of adults and children; the hosts will discuss these issues as they arise.
Date Recorded: Sunday 18th March 2018
Hosts: Amelia, Vrai
Guests: Lizzie Visitante, Jacqueline-Elizabeth Cottrell
0:03:19 Production history
0:05:25 Vocal blackface
0:07:20 The sub
0:11:00 First experience
0:15:41 Religion as a tool of violence
0:19:39 Representations of age, race, and sexuality
0:22:10 Colorism, racism, and Mejorando la Raza
0:27:43 Portrayal without representation
0:29:51 Hana as a perspective characters and religion
0:36:01 Beauty as trustworthiness
0:37:42 Gang recruitment
0:39:50 Atsuko and queer representation
0:43:45 Black and brown representation and relationships
0:47:43 Intergenerational trauma
0:53:13 Patriarchy and misogyny
0:56:17 Next six episodes
VRAI: Hello and welcome to Chatty AF, the Anime Feminist podcast. My name is Vrai. And with me this time to discuss Michiko & Hatchin is Amelia, Jax, and Lizzie, who are our very special guests, and we’re really glad to have them. Would you guys like to introduce yourselves?
AMELIA: I mean, I’m not that special, so I’ll go first. I’m Amelia. I’m the editor-in-chief of Anime Feminist, and I’m usually hosting these, so this is really nice to just take a seat and let Vrai do all the work for this one. And I’m involved because I am a person of color—which you probably can’t tell from my voice—and I don’t see myself represented very often, so I was really excited to be involved in this one. You can find me on Twitter @ActuallyAmelia, and the rest of my work is done mostly through my wonderful team at Anime Feminist.
LIZZIE: All right. Hi. Social media, y’all know me as ThatNerdyBoliviane, @LizzieVisitante. You can call me Lizzie. Plugins… I used to write for Anime Complexium until it shut down. You can find some of my old republished work on ShojoPower.com and my newer stuff on Black Girl Nerds and at Anime Feminist. I identify as a Quechua mestize. And I’m so happy that we could talk about this show. And last but not least is my pronouns: they/them, she/her.
JAX: My name is Jacqueline Elizabeth-Cottrell. I am better known as Jax. I work with Noir Caesar Entertainment, LLC. We are a Black-owned company that is dedicated to creating anime, manga, and everything in between for a more diverse audience.
So, you’ve got anime, manga, et cetera created by people of color and featuring people of color, especially Black people, because we notice that there is an enormous disconnect between the amount of Black culture you see in anime, manga, video games, et cetera and actual Black people, so that’s something we’re working to rectify. Plus, we also just wanna bring a lot more to the table as far as showing that, yes, we as Black people are very nerdy. I don’t know why that stereotype is still out there that we’re not, especially Black women.
And as the only female on the team presently, it means everything that I be the voice for nerdy Black women, as well as speak on my experiences and help the company to grow. So, I am very excited to do this anime. And yeah, thank you, guys, for having me on.
VRAI: Absolutely. Thank you so much. Yay. Oh, I forgot to… Quickly, my plugs. I’m on Twitter @WriterVrai, and I co-host another podcast @trashpod. Anyway, moving on.
JAX: Thank you for reminding me. Pronouns: they/them, she/her, he/her, it doesn’t really matter to me. And you guys can find my Instagram @jaxjaxattaxx, J-A-X-J-A-X-A-T-T-A-X-X, and @NoirCaesar, which is just Noir—N-O-I-R—and then Caesar as in Julius Caesar. So yeah, done!
VRAI: Yes, check them out, they’re pretty rad.
JAX: Thank you.
VRAI: All right, so, as I briefly mentioned in the opening spiel, this is our watchalong for Michiko & Hatchin, which I am very excited that we’re finally getting around to doing it. I think previous podcasts have proven that I am a giant Sayo Yamamoto stan, and I think this is by far her most overlooked series, and it definitely deserves some love. So, mostly I am going to turn the discussion over to you guys, but before we get started, a little bit of production history, ‘cause this is something of a weird gem.
It originally aired in 2008 in Japan. It didn’t make it over here until 2013 because it did very poorly in Japan. The DVD sales did not even chart. It was produced by the late Manglobe, which was always the studio that took risks on unique projects that were pushing the envelope in some way or other.
This is the premiere directorial debut of Sayo Yamamoto. She was approached to do a road trip action series and, as she described in her interview with our very own Caitlin Moore on Anime Feminist, this became her way to discuss what she called the “rawness of women,” which I think you see a lot in her portrayals of the main characters of this series.
So, it’s 22 episodes, albeit somewhat unusual in that the three main actresses who play Michiko, Hana, and Atsuko are actually live-action drama actors, who this is for at least one of them their only anime role, and they are primarily known for their live-action work, which creates an extremely different feel if you’re watching the sub. Which does remind me, how are you watching this series?
AMELIA: I’m watching it as dub because we don’t actually have it available through one of the anime streaming services in the UK, so I’m having to watch Funimation’s upload on YouTube, which is dub only, I believe. But it’s a good dub, so I’m quite happy with it actually.
JAX: I have mixed feelings about the dub, honestly.
JAX: Not saying that from a snotty point of view. Not saying that from a purist point of view. Just as a Black woman, I have a couple of issues with the dub.
AMELIA: We will absolutely discuss those, because… Don’t take what I’m saying, “It’s a good dub,” as “It’s entirely unproblematic.” We’ve been talking about it on the AniFem chat all morning.
JAX: Okay. But for the most part, I like to balance it out. Certain things I can watch with the show. I’ve been able to go back and forth with it, but I definitely say I prefer the subtitle, as far as the dub.
VRAI: Mm-hm. Actually, honestly, as long as we’re talking about it, if you wanna bring up your issues with the dub, go for it.
JAX: With anything that portrays women of color, I always get frustrated when you don’t actually have a woman of color voicing her, so then you get a very whitewashed and almost insulting kind of tone. You’ve got essentially what is known as vocal blackface, and that’s what I don’t like.
And that’s upsetting because Monica Rial is one of my favorite voice actresses. I follow so much of her work, and so it was a bit frustrating to hear. And the one who voiced Atsuko—I can’t think of her name to save my life right now, but I was really listening to see… I’m like, “Okay, let’s see how they think Afro-Latina women sound.” And it was kind of miss with me, because I’m so used to hearing just overexaggerated accents when it comes to trying… because essentially what you’ve got is, like I said, it’s vocal blackface.
You’ve got a white voice actor trying to portray a person of color character, and it loses its authenticity and it almost feels insulting. It’s just like, “you guys couldn’t find a single voice actor who fits this role instead of just going with somebody generic, who’s got a ton of things under their belt.” No disrespect to Monica Rial. But that’s honestly one of my biggest issues with POC characters in dubbed anime, which is why I try and stay away from it, because I just have not been impressed with it in the past.
LIZZIE: And yeah, I’ve been watching it subbed just because when I did hear the dubbed version, it sounded really odd to me, mostly because the way the characters talk is not how I often hear folks of community ever talk to each other. I mean, yeah, we curse and all this crap, but it just didn’t sound as authentic to me. I felt like a lot of nuance was lost there.
To be honest, I don’t know much about dubbing work because most of the stuff I watch is mostly subtitled anyways, because I like to listen to stuff in the original language as much as possible. But yeah, the voice actress for Michiko, I don’t remember her name now, but I was watching the extra about it. I was kinda surprised to find out… she’s Spaniard, right?
VRAI: She identifies as Hispanic, yeah. She’s done some interviews about apparently this role was quite close to her.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Yeah, that’s the thing. And that’s the thing.
VRAI: Of course, she’s not Afro-Latinx.
LIZZIE: This is where I feel all kinds of way about folks who are Spaniard. They’re not considered part of Latin America and the Caribbean, because there’s a huge distinction between that. I mean, there’s a whole conversation about Spanish, Hispanic, Latino, Latina and the variations of gender neutrality.
But typically speaking, oftentimes Spain always wants to be included in the conversation, but they’re not. Like, we have a relationship with you guys through our history of colonization, right? But thanks to that we have really, really fucked-up current socioeconomic, political histories that we are trying to deal with.
I always feel really kinds of way when I hear Spaniard folks always try to get themselves involved in a conversation that they shouldn’t be a part of, you know? But that’s just me. I can’t speak on her voice acting work. For all I know, she’s a really great person.
LIZZIE: But for me, it always feels kinds of way, like you really couldn’t find anyone of this diaspora to voice-act the character Michiko in this show? Really, you couldn’t do that?
VRAI: No, yeah, I’m really glad to hear you guys discuss that. I have ended up watching the dub this go-round because just for me personally, I don’t have that connection, that understanding to be put off and hear the wrongness of it. But for me personally, I found the sub really hard to watch purely because it is so naturalistic. And for me at least, the livelier acting of the English vocals made the brutality a little bit less gut-punchy.
This first episode is really hard to watch subtitled. I was watching it with my partner, and I felt just horrendous because I had forgotten that the first episode of this show, it needs really strong content warnings for child abuse. And that somehow came through as a lot more very serious with the very naturalistic subtitled acting. Which is amazing—they’re all very good actresses.
LIZZIE: Are we gonna get into that now? Okay.
VRAI: Yeah, so I guess that does lead me into… Amelia, you are the only one who is watching this for the first time, yes?
JAX: Oh, no, no, I’m watching it for the first time, too.
AMELIA: Oh, thank goodness!
LIZZIE: Okay, so who wants to go first?
VRAI: Well, let’s start with Jax and Amelia, since this is your very first experience with this. How are you feeling with these first six episodes?
AMELIA: So, I first of all wanna put my cultural context really clearly, because it probably isn’t to anyone who hasn’t met me, doesn’t really interact with me on Twitter. I’m mixed-race, from a white British and South Asian background. I don’t even have the South Asian cultural context: my mother immigrated at a very young age, and so I am fully from a British perspective. So, there is gonna be a lot here that’s really new to me.
However, just the experience of seeing someone brown on screen, specifically a brown woman who looks remotely like me… Not to flatter myself, because, you know, she’s an anime character; she looks amazing. But she is actually the same skin color. I could hypothetically try to do a cosplay of her without feeling really weird and uncomfortable about myself. So, that experience is very unusual for me, and that has absolutely been what’s stuck with me these six episodes.
It’s really enjoyable to watch. I’m looking forward to the next six. It’s really hard to watch at some moments, but in a way that feels earned and relevant to the story. So, I’m having a great time watching it so far. How’s it been for you, Jax?
JAX: Well, with any anime I go into that has a woman of color in it, especially a woman of color if she’s supposed to be Afro-Latina or what have you, I really look for stereotypes, I look for continuous misconceptions… I always put something under a microscope because I feel like there’s so much, when it comes to being a woman of color in anime, that you have to be like: “All right, what in here is likely to offend me?”
I can’t go in there just blindly, like “Oh, my God. Yeah, it’s gonna be dope! I’m gonna watch this with no prejudices!” because then I see certain things and I’m just like “Oh, my God, I can call that out as anti-Blackness” or “I can see that this was maybe a bit insensitive.” If I feel a certain way about it, it’s not me nitpicking and picking and choosing; it’s just me looking for the same elements in any anime that’s featuring a woman of color that I’ve seen have been offensive in the past that have been repetitively problematic, while at the same time being able to enjoy the show.
Now, years ago, interestingly enough—and I noticed that there was some whitewashing in the series in the first several episodes, which I was getting really excited about—prior to me being more conscious and being more aware of looking for that sort of thing, I would’ve just got into this blindly, thinking “Oh, my God, this is great! This is a woman of color. This is exactly what I was looking for. This is perfect.”
And it means a lot because I know that I’ve also seen several sources say that Michiko’s inspiration of her design was inspired by Aaliyah, who is one of the most famous Black R&B artists, so of course I was all on top of this, because, you know, when we lost Aaliyah, it was a huge, huge hit.
And Aaliyah was a nerd. She was an anime and manga nerd. One of her music videos is in anime format. And it was just such a refreshing blast from the past, so that was something I could carry with me, being excited, something I could look at without judging it too harshly. But it’s been a very interesting experience.
I love it; it’s so upbeat. But at the same time, I’m keeping my eyes open for the same things that I am used to seeing when it comes to portraying anime women of color. So, it’s something that I’m keeping an eye out [for] without trying to entirely spoil the series for me.
AMELIA: I kind of want to just raise the matter of the phrase “woman of color,” because I think you’re talking specifically about the way that Black women are represented, and I think that’s really important to distinguish between, because “woman of color” technically refers to Japanese women as well, right?
So, I want us to be really clear, when we say “woman of color,” who we’re talking about, because there are certain tropes that… Absolutely, Black women are treated very unkindly in media representation in general.
For me, from my perspective, because I don’t have that cultural association, I’m probably in the same situation you were in, what, five, ten years ago, where I’m just like “Yes, brown woman on screen! Somebody I actually like! I’m so pleased.” But I do not have that cultural baggage. So, I wanna make sure that we bring people along with us when we address these things.
JAX: Yes. Okay, then I will definitely be referring to… When I mean “Black women,” I’ll just outright say “Black women.” I am so sorry. Black women—
AMELIA: No, no, no, no. Please don’t apologize. I think this is something that I’ve seen come up within [the] community of people of color talking. The difference between “person of color” and “non-Black person of color” is pretty huge.
AMELIA: So, I wanna bring people along on this with us and make sure that they’re all able to participate in that conversation themselves, because I’m hoping this will spark some conversation.
LIZZIE: Yeah, I feel like that’s an important [distinction] to have, because this whole show takes place in a fictional Brazil. And I feel like it’s important to distinguish between people of color and Black women and brown women, because from the very beginning of the show, you really see the socioeconomic disparity between upper-class folks, and the upper-class folks in the show are predominantly white-passing Brazilians, and the ones who are marginalized essentially are the black and brown folks.
And I think for me what really caught me in the first six episodes was the use of religion to really perpetuate abuse and violence on not just Hatchin herself, but this priest—I think his name is Father Pedro?
LIZZIE: Yeah. He not only did it towards her, but even some of the stuff he has at home. He would go into marginalized areas with predominantly Black and brown folks and would take advantage of… Especially, there was that one guy who got shot in the head or something like that. He took advantage of this guy, who’s clearly incapable of making decisions for himself in order to take from him for his upward mobility.
For me, I often see this so much whenever I visit relatives in Bolivia specifically, because Catholicism is still really prevalent all over Latin America and the Caribbean. And oftentimes, historically, religion has been used as a form of perpetuating violence against Black folks, Indigenous people. So for me, all of that stuff hails back to how much was really taken from communities, whether it be religion, culture, language—because Indigenous people and Black folks were forced to stop speaking their language and were forced to learn how to speak Spanish, Portuguese, and what have you; European languages that came into Latin America and the Caribbean.
So, going back to Vrai’s question about the child abuse, I feel like what I was seeing through Hatchin was a callback to me of the constant violence in particular Black and brown children have been through under the church and all this other really awful systemic violence against them. And we don’t just see it with Hatchin. We see it throughout the first six episodes. We see that happen on all these kids.
I don’t know how far ahead we’re getting to in the first six episodes, but those two kids with that dine-and-dash from the restaurant Hatchin is working in. She’s being exploited, but… These two kids, they’re from marginalized areas of the favelas, and they can’t afford to pay for that food, so they dash and dine. So, I just feel like we see so many different levels of abuse that happen towards kids in particular in this show, that’s interesting to just pay attention to.
VRAI: Yeah, it definitely seems like a very deliberate decision to… like, Hatchin isn’t just a kid; they explicitly state her age, which isn’t always seen in anime. She’s nine turning ten, and there’s a particular focus on dates and this passage of time here.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Yeah, I noticed that each episode lets us know. It’s like, this is March 9. And I kept tally of the dates. The first six episodes focus from March 9 to March 31 so far. So, a lot has happened in just… this whole thing takes place in almost a month.
JAX: That was something else. When you brought up Hatchin’s age, something that blew me away from the beginning was one of the first couple of episodes’s first seconds in, when they’re transporting Michiko back to the prison, and I’m thinking that I’m looking at the present Michiko. I think I’m looking at the 20-something-year-old, the present, grown-ass Michiko.
And then I go back and I realize, “Oh, my gosh, she was 12 in that scene.” But she looks so adult. And that’s something else that just made me cringe, because it was like, wow! It was really a triggering moment for me.
LIZZIE: And I think it also highlights somehow, unfortunately, Black and brown folks, even in real life, unfortunately have to grow up much faster than white kids in some aspects. Like for example, getting heavily policed and the prison. We see that the police Michiko is escaping from are predominantly Black and brown women who are in the prison system.
Even when they’re transporting her from whatever police station she was at to the jail, she’s in this steel militarized kind of car while they’re transporting her. I was just like, wow. It just reminds me of how heavily militarized Black and brown communities are, not just in the context of North America, but down south now.
JAX: And I think it also greatly draws attention to the fact that that’s exactly… I mean, think about the implications of that armored thing that she was in. I wanna say it dehumanizes, very much, Black women and brown women and makes us look very animalistic, and that’s something else that I was gonna play on as far as her being so young, and especially Black women being hypersexualized from such a young, young age!
It’s always “Oh, my God, you’re so fast.” That’s something that you hear a lot, addressed to young girls. There are certain things that Black women will not allow young Black women to do because they think it’s too grown. You’ll often hear in the community, “Oh, that hairstyle is too grown for her” or “That outfit is too grown.” It’s not too grown; it’s just Black women and brown women have been taught to be hypersexualized from such a young age.
So, to see Michiko be all out and about like this was very liberating, but I was also, again, paying a lot of attention as to how Black and brown women’s sexuality is viewed and how they’re viewed as just simply sexual creatures.
LIZZIE: Yeah. And you know what? This goes back to the topic of the kids. Later on, in episode five to six, we get the backstory of where Michiko and Atsuko come from and the orphanage that they grew up in. That moment is very triggering, because I think a lot of stuff is happening, when we get flashbacks of the orphanage and the current-day aspect of the orphanage.
In general, the selling of children is awful, right? It’s awful. But I think what the whole thing highlights for me—and it comes up later in the series as well—how even though this whole thing is really fucked up, I notice that one of the things that Director Zelia Bastos does is that, instead of selling Black and brown children, she sells the white children. And I think that’s something to really, really highlight.
I don’t wanna get too far into the series, because this does come back later, right? But it does remind me how, back then, often either white-passing children in general were often sold to the highest bidder or are often deemed more desirable. I just think of the social hierarchies, because depending on where you look in Latin America and the Caribbean, racial hierarchies are very different. But it’s always this preference for either white-passing or lighter-skinned folks than, let’s say, darker and Black or brown folks.
So, I just feel like the whole thing for me really highlights how sinister not just colorism but the grander scheme of—there’s a term called mejorando la raza: bettering the race. And the whole point of that was to make sure if, let’s say, you are Black or brown, you marry someone of lighter skin or white-passing or white in general to better your children. That way, they can have a fairer chance of social mobility.
So, in general, that entire scene is really fucked up, but for me, I feel like it just really highlighted all the sinisterness of that kind of mentality that goes on in the community.
JAX: It really does, and it’s just so sickening and upsetting to get it from your own people. I’m sorry, but that’s exactly what white supremacy has done. It’s gotten marginalized groups of people like people of color—Black women, Latina women, just women of color—thinking that they have to aspire to Eurocentric beauty standards.
So, within that, there is a sense of self-hatred, I wanna say, that we have just all been naturally taught, where darker people are just seen as unattractive. That was why Black Panther was such a big deal. The closer you are to white, the better off you are.
And as a matter of fact, I would’ve had an issue talking about this a couple of years back, but now I don’t: the colorism is so strong within—I’ll just go ahead and say—in certain general brown communities, especially for Black women, that the one thing that I used to do is I would play up the fact that I have English and white Irish genes to make myself seem more appealing as a model. I would absolutely make sure, “Okay, I don’t wanna get too dark. I don’t wanna do anything that might wreck my chances of losing whatever light-skinned privilege that I might have,” which is totally a thing. But that just gives you an insight into that type of toxic mindset of what it means.
So, of course, if you’re a woman of color, Michiko & Hatchin is really something I absolutely would recommend, definitely; but also, be prepared to be triggered a lot throughout the series.
LIZZIE: Oh, yeah. And when I think in the context of Latin America and the Caribbean, there were literal policies of blanqueamiento, policies by the government to whiten the population. I forget which year in Brazil this happened, but I think it was in the ‘70s or ‘80s—but don’t quote me on that—that there was a huge migration of folks from Europe to come to Brazil, you know, to get land and stuff, but really this was a ploy by the government to whiten the population because Brazil has the highest rate of Black Brazilians.
And in the context of Bolivia, a lot of Afro-Bolivians were put into Las Yungas. And Las Yungas, it’s a really nice place, but to get there, the road I think is called literally the Road of Death. I just recently looked it up, because I was like, “How hard could it be to get into Las Yungas?” And I saw, wow, that road is really narrow; I will die. I died looking at the picture. [chuckles] It’s sad.
These are just two examples, but even in the D.R., there was, oh, my God, under Trujillo, there was really awful violence against the Haitian community under his dictatorship. But these are just examples of how systemic this all was. These are government genocidal policies to try to whiten up the population and to eliminate any Black or Indigenous origins that we have.
I’m trying to be more vocal about stuff, but this is why I have a lot of issues with the movie Coco. The movie Coco touches on a lot of—I think—good stuff, but one of my things with Coco is a lot of Indigenous folks have been saying that “you want our culture, but you don’t want actual Indigenous people in it, or Afro-Indigenous people in it.”
This is where I have an issue with Latinidad, ‘cause oftentimes Latinidad often just is synonymous to “You want mestizos” (which is lighter brown, mixed-race folks) “or white-passing folks to be the representation of all of us”—which is not, because we’re not: there’s Indigenous people, there’s Afro-Latinas… For me, that whole thing falls into the whole ploy of trying to mejorar la raza.
And this is why, when it comes to representation, I always feel all kinds of way, because Latina folks are always demanding representation, but you only want a certain kind of representation. You want essentially the same people that are celebrated in Univision and Telemundo to be celebrated in the North American market. And that’s fucked up. A lot of folks are calling that crap out.
I mean, Amara La Negra thankfully has really brought this conversation to the forefront. I hate that she had to go through a really dehumanizing moment with that DJ guy in the show Love & Hip Hop: Miami, but that moment really highlighted that this is the kind of crap that goes on, on a daily basis.
And when I think back to the show for a bit, I feel like the show touches on all of that. How the adults treat the children, in particular Black and brown children… It just reminds me so much of the real-world history of what constantly goes on in the community and of course global-wise, too.
VRAI: I did want to ask you guys, then, your thoughts on the fact that Hana—as the show goes on, Hatchin—becomes the focal character for at least the first three or four episodes and the only white-passing character, in what I assume was an ethos similar to Orange Is the New Black, where attempting to put a character in this ostensible forefront that the Japanese audience would… So, I would love to hear your thoughts on that and how you think that was handled, in tandem with the colorism.
LIZZIE: [sighs] That’s tough. I mean, you wanna go for it?
JAX: The one thing that made me upset in general about what you were talking about was that often you put a white-passing child in this hardcore urban, ghetto type of situation and expect, “Oh, my gosh, they know exactly what it’s like to experience that or have that particular experience.”
I cannot stress to you enough how frustrating it is to have white friends who come up to tell me that just because they grew up in the ghetto, they know what it’s like to be Black. That was something that bugged the hell out of me watching the first couple of episodes of Michiko & Hatchin, especially the ones that were focused on Hatchin herself.
And it’s like, listen, I kind of get what you’re trying to do, but at the same time, you won’t get the same experiences, no matter what. It seems very shoehorned to me. It just seems kind of shoehorned in.
Now, as far as the violence and everything against her, I’ll go back to playing off of religion and what it’s done to Black, Latino… just the result of colonization in general. Just seeing that forced upon her—I guess, just any child, regardless—is frustrating, but just seeing how deep religion has its claws in her, being a young girl. I’m sorry, but religion is just not kind to women and femmes, period, which is why, as a Black woman, I’ve always had issues with religion. And it’s very difficult because very much a good majority of my family are Christian and practicing Christians, where my views are quite different.
When it comes to the general mistreatment of her, being a child in general, seeing the violence that is shoved upon her, how she’s treated by adults in this world around her is just so reminiscent of how Black children and brown children in this world are violently, violently treated from a young age. Because, like you said, I feel like if she had just been completely a straight white child, her route in life might have been a little easier in the show, is essentially what I’m trying to say. I have a lot of thoughts, and I’m still trying to get ‘em together, but that’s just where I am for right now.
VRAI: No, no, I think you communicated the ideas quite beautifully.
LIZZIE: To tail off of that, in talking about the themes of religion, I find it interesting that later on in the series, when Michiko goes to—now, I had to separate these into three categories because I know they’re different—the lady who does brujería or curanderismo or santería. I know they’re very different. I know santería has very strong African roots. I just found it interesting that Michiko really believes in what this lady is saying for emotional guidance, spiritual guidance, and everything. And it kinda made me [feel] all kinds of way.
I feel like Hatchin was just that character who was looking outside within, kinda laughing at it and thinking it’s funny… I don’t know. I just think back to that scene a little bit, in regards to how oftentimes I feel like outside viewers really make fun of different forms of spiritualities that kinda help Black and brown folks, and children as well, get through some really tough shit in life.
I mean, in general, I do feel really bad for her and what happens to her as a child; I don’t wish that upon any other child. But I think you touched on some really good points about how… in the end I feel like she’s this outsider looking within, even though she’s grown up essentially in marginalized areas.
In a lot of ways, I feel like she’s still that character who’s looking at all these things and judging, in a way. So, that was my take on her in the first six episodes, because that’s how I viewed how she was looking at Michiko in a way that was kinda like… you know.
VRAI: Did you feel like there was a shift in that two-parter, episodes five and six, where they’re separated for a while and Michiko is kind of a protagonist on her own, as opposed to this figure upending Hatchin’s life?
LIZZIE: Well, I really liked Michiko on her own for a bit because you really get to know her. One of the things I really like about her is that we see her as a strong woman at first, but as we get to know her, we see that there’s a vulnerability there to her.
I think I brought up in the notes about dream versus reality, and Michiko is always dreaming. And I feel like she has every right to dream for a space to fantasize, when things are better than her current reality. And I feel like she emulates a lot of that through this dream that she has on having this safe, warm place with Hiroshi and Hatchin.
We see how hard Michiko, Atsuko, and her other friends—oh, my God, I forgot his name, but the brothers that own that bar. But you see how hard life is for them, growing up in the favelas. And so, for me, that theme really resonated with me about the concept of wanting to dream: dreaming where the world is much better than your current reality, imagining safe spaces for your communities.
VRAI: Yeah, on the show notes, you brought up—or, we had on the notes, in tandem with that idea of dreaming, this idea of portrayals of ugliness and Yamamoto’s stated intention that this was about women as raw beings. It struck me watching these that there was a little bit of a “Beauty is trustworthy” kind of coding with the character designs in that there are women here who are overweight or who are non-traditionally attractive, but they are more likely to be side characters or villains or… There’s a problem with fat-shaming in Yamamoto’s work. It’s in Yuri on Ice, too, and it makes me sad.
LIZZIE: Oh, my God, if we’re talking about the character Lula, the little chubby brown girl… Oh, my gosh. What breaks my heart is we never really find out what happens to her.
VRAI: [crosstalk] That episode is rough. That episode is a tough sit.
LIZZIE: Yeah, her older sister, Pepe Lima. She’s talking to Michiko. She’s like “My sister didn’t come back.” And we just never find out. We know what happened to Pepe Lima, but we never find out what happened to her little sister. Was she caught by the leader of the gangs, or was she killed? We never know, and that’s the most harrowing thing, the really awful kind of violence Black and brown children go through in this show.
JAX: Yeah, it’s scary to think about what honestly could become of her because she is a young brown girl. It’s terrifying to think of, because nobody will look for her. That’s something else that’s terrifying. When you don’t get closure on a character like that, it really makes you think, “Okay, they will not look for this girl.”
LIZZIE: Nope, they won’t. And going back to community and children, a lot of these kids, for the most part, belong—it’s really frustrating to see how—and this happens in reality, too, where a lot of these leaders look towards young Black and brown children and recruit them into gang violence.
And I feel like the show didn’t touch on this a lot; you see it there, but a lot of these gangs play into a lot of these kids that really want a home and a family and a community that will care about them. And they’re willing to do anything to still be part of that community, even if that means they have to kill someone with a gun.
And even in real-world stuff, I’ve heard a lot of even the gangs in favelas in Brazil, instead of going to the police—because who the fuck trusts police, right?—they go to these leaders, and they’re like, “Hey, do you have money I can borrow to buy medicine for my kids?” or “Can you fix my roof?” They often go to these folks because these folks, at least, they were born and raised in the favelas, so they can go to them and trust them.
It’s so hard to see, but this is the reality, unfortunately, and it’s hard to really wrap your mind around it: of how much violence really happens on young and Black and brown kids in this show, and so [sSighs] even leaving is hard. Oh, my God, let’s not even get into the issue how hard it is for folks who want to leave.
JAX: Yeah, that’s something that I’ve always noticed, particularly because it’s such a trend in Black and brown communities where… you have these kids who just lavish the idea of family, of having somebody who will have their back. It’s a very warped perception of family.
LIZZIE: Ooh, yeah.
JAX: So, that’s just what draws these kids into that lifestyle even more. And the hole goes deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper and deeper.
VRAI: History seems to be more or less the major thematic tie across these first six episodes. You have, between the gang issues, the orphanage that Atsuko and Michiko grew up in, that Michiko then brings Hatchin to as a safe place, the tension between Michiko and Atsuko, which we haven’t talked about, and the fact that they have history that’s undefined, except that Atsuko is really hella-gay and it’s amazing. I love her so much.
LIZZIE: [crosstalk] Yes! We can transition to her. I find it interesting how Atsuko chose a different path from Michiko. She joined the police force and has moved up in the ranks. I really like her. She’s this cool character who kicks ass, but at the same time, there is so much levels of vulnerability to her, and she cares for Michiko a lot, despite all the crap that happens to Michiko.
VRAI: At least as far as… This show is riding a very fine line, at least for me, in terms of its depictions of queerness, which I think Yamamoto gets better with over the years. But here it’s like Atsuko clearly has feelings for Michiko, but it’s also tied to her maybe being a kinky person and that Ivan is Michiko’s friend and he’s also a little bit of this swishy archetype later on. I’m not mad; I find these characters very endearing on that front, but you’re riding on that line of stereotype, at least a little bit.
LIZZIE: I really like how the depiction of queerness is. I mean, yes, there is the danger of stereotyping, but I also know so many people like Ivan in real life. These characters are queer, but I like that at least that’s not the only thing they are. They’re explored as well-rounded characters, and despite everything they find community with each other. And I think that’s one of the aspects I really liked.
Ivan is very close to Michiko and he’s very upset with her, of all the stuff that’s happened when she confronted that gang, and after that ensued a long string of violence in the community. So, yeah, he has every right to be mad at her. But despite all this crap, they’re still there for each other. And I think that’s the part that really hit me the most.
When you look at real-world history for communities of color, especially the communities of color that are queer and trans, we try so hard to find safe spaces for ourselves. And if the world is not gonna be there for us, we have to be there for each other. I guess that’s what I took away from that, mostly.
I felt like there was so much history between Ivan and Michiko. And there was clear anger. All facets of emotions went on there. But in the end, he still was willing to help her, and I like that tender moment him and Michiko had in—I forget which episode—when she apologizes and she puts her head on his shoulder. It’s such a tender moment for me, because how often do you really get that kind of tender moment when real-world stuff is being thrown at you in a really harsh and violent way?
VRAI: That for me is where the series finds this tonal balance that I remember it for, where it has these very harsh elements that it doesn’t shy away from, but it’s very tender, and it’s also often really funny with great slapstick and really triumphant. I just like that episode a lot.
JAX: Yeah, I agree. Going back to the sexuality real quick and how I thought they did a good job with it. As a queer woman, I was really, really, really impressed with how they did it. I knew from the get-go that Atsuko was a queer woman, too. I knew it. I could just sense it.
But the dynamic that I love between Michiko and Atsuko is something you see in a lot of Black and brown communities. You’ve got the girl who never quite left the streets, and then you’ve got the girl who kinda moved up and out of the hood.
There’s always this contention between them no matter what. It’s like, “Oh, you think you’re doing so much better?” “Well, not really.” “Oh, you’ve gone soft.” “Well, no, not really. I’m just trying to do better for myself.” So, they’re always going back and forth with that dynamic that is so realistic. I think that is probably one of my favorite dynamics of the show, is their relationship with one another and just how realistic it is. They’re so great together.
They really play off of, I think, a very realistic relationship—and maybe in a not-so-positive way—but the relationship that can be between Black women and brown women. And I think that’s kind of a stereotype in itself that’s negative when I really start to think about it, because they really don’t have positive interactions. And as far as the relationship between Black women and brown women amongst themselves, it’s always, always, always, always, always… they’re always butting heads—
LIZZIE: Tough love, I would say, right?
JAX: I would say it’s tough love, but I would also say it’s an unnecessary form of tough love. It doesn’t need to be there. I like seeing Michiko in her softer moments. I really do. She’s hardened in a lot of ways.
I mean, let’s go ahead and play with one of my favorite tropes: the Angry Black Woman. No Black woman is born angry; no brown woman is born angry. But Black women get the Angry Black Woman thing more than anything.
And I don’t think what people realize is that there’s a progression to that. That builds up over time, to the point where it’s just, yeah, we don’t have any choice but to be seen as hard when this “strong Black woman” stereotype is actually very much realistically killing Black women, and it’s killing brown women. We have to be strong all the time and stuff like that, not realizing we’re so busy trying to care of—not ourselves—but take care of everyone else and make sure that we’re still intact and be that independent sort of thing, that it’s weighing down on us.
So, when I get to see Michiko in her softer moments, when I get to see Atsuko in her softer moments, when I get to see those two women working together despite the banter, I really feel like that is the reality of the show. It’s what’s below the surface, and if you have enough awareness to dissect it along with the cultural experience to dissect and to see, “Okay, well, how does this make me feel, and does this pertain to a bigger problem within the series?”
LIZZIE: And I love the transition to this. And I think the show also talks about how it’s often our elders, Black and brown women, who are the ones that take care of the family and the communities. And I think that’s the relationship of Michiko with Hatchin and all the other characters in the show like Pepe Lima, how much they really, really put on themselves to take care of their children, their communities.
And as admirable as all that is, it’s such a heavy burden because then you don’t take care of yourself. And it’s often very damaging. The amount of stuff I’ve seen my elders do in my communities… It’s been like, wow, we ask so much of our elders, and yet they don’t even ask for anything in return. And they’re the ones who often face the most violence.
And I think that’s one of the things that really hits me with Michiko’s character, Pepe Lima’s character, and other characters that we’ll see in the show later. And I often felt like it’s so unfair, too, that they’re the ones that have to take on all this work.
JAX: I definitely wanna go ahead and follow up on that and bring it back to the treatment of children in Black and brown communities, because something… I saw this very recently on a post—and I’m actually experiencing this firsthand—is the treatment of children by their own Black and brown caregivers, parents, family, and stuff like that.
I think with all that pressure on Black women to be the caregiver, to be the provider, to be everything else, to put herself last, what you wind up with is a relationship with a child—just going off personal experience—where it feels like “You should be grateful that I raised you! I did all this. This, tha-da-da-da-da-da! I busted my butt to do all this, yadda-dadda.”
Meanwhile, nowadays what I like is that Black and brown kids are going like, “Okay, but nobody ever asked y’all to bring us here in the first place, so why are you making it seem like we’re your problem? We are a conscientious decision that you made.”
Of course, I am excluding children who are products of rape, sexual assault, and everything like that. I am clearly not addressing them; that is not what I am saying. I am talking about the Black women and the brown women who do in fact have children and then see them as nothing more than a problem, see them as a burden. The children feel like a burden…
It’s such a vicious cycle when you really think about, but then at the same time it’s just like, also as a Black and brown woman, I can understand that progression of where having a child would lead to you spiting the child, and in turn that will lead to the child spiting the parent.
No matter what, I always look for the Angry Black Woman stereotype or Angry Brown Woman stereotype in just anime, media, general media, but I also look for the progression up to that, and you can definitely see that dynamic at work when it comes to the treatment of Michiko coming up. And in Michiko’s treatment, you see how she would raise the metaphorical Hatchin as her so-called daughter.
It’s just interesting to watch that dynamic because the dynamic between Black women and their Black daughters and brown women and their brown daughters has always been just so interesting, but it’s usually and often portrayed as combative. I never not see that.
LIZZIE: And I really like that point, because it goes into intergenerational trauma. How do you heal from that, especially when it’s such a systemic and cyclical issue in families?
Speaking from personal experience, my paternal grandmother was a Quechua Indigenous woman. She raised nine kids by herself because my grandpa was a loser. And I think of folks like her and her community and how much violence they faced from either the men in their lives or the outer world of experiencing racism and sexism, but also trying to make sure her kids survived a society that was not kind to folks like her.
And as a result, there’s alcohol issues in my family; there’s mental health issues in my family. There’s all these things, and how do you really heal from that? Because eventually, our elders do so much to take care of their children, to the point where their own mental health suffers, and by the end of her life, she was a very miserable person by the end of it.
And it’s fucked up, because I look at all the work that they did, and I’m just like, it’s not fair, all the stuff that they’ve been through, but at the same time, I look at my tías and tíos, and I’m just like, “Y’all are messed up,” and then I look at myself. In some aspects, I’m like, I’m messed up, as well, in a lot of ways. But how do we heal from that? How do we stop [perpetuating] that to the next generation?
JAX: That was, honestly, perfectly beautifully said, because it lays a lot left to be seen what has to be done. Something interesting that I do wanna say is that… You brought up the relationship between the men in the family. Everything you’re saying is so relatable to me right now. It’s like, “Yes, thank you. She understands. This is wonderful.” And something that I find very interesting is Michiko’s fixation on—what is her honey’s name?
JAX: Thank you. Hiroshi. And somebody I was really paying attention to was at times, she can almost have this blind dedication to him, which is so interesting because at the same time she’s kind of at odds with that. You can see that she’s trying to keep her independence, but at the same time, she just has it so in for him. And it’s sad to watch because, unfortunately, Black and brown women are taught, “Make a man the center of your world, and everything will be okay.”
And I’ll speak from personal experience. I said I wanted nothing more in my early 20s than to find someone to settle down with, to have a kid, and to do everything that was expected of me as a Black woman—or what I thought was expected of me or what my family expected of me as a Black woman.
So, the fact that you’ve got Hiroshi here is an interesting dynamic, as far as how men are looked at in the Black and brown community. I thought that was something very, very interesting. And then, of course, there’s the overall patriarchy of the series and the misogynoir. I love looking at that dynamic, and I definitely would have to say that is just what makes the series so phenomenal. You can draw all of these attentions and look at all of these… It’s just relatable to Black and brown women. I think that she did a fantastic job conveying it.
LIZZIE: Yeah, the patriarchy in this show is so in your face; the machismo. We have wonderful characters like Michiko, Atsuko, and Pepe Lima. But at the same time, we also see how much violence they are subjected to by the men in their lives, in particular Pepe Lima.
Her character and her relationship with—I forgot the name of that guy, the leader of that gang—as great as she was, she was also under his control. She worked as a stripper in his bar. He got a cut of her money, all while she was stripping. So, she only got maybe a percentage of what she should have earned doing the work that she does. And when she tried asking for more of her money, ‘cause she deserves it, he slapped her.
JAX: That’s something that rang very profound for me, especially— Okay, I’ll be perfectly honest with you: as a sex worker, I used to work under a pimp. I know what it’s like to have to give your cut of the money over to the man that is controlling you.
And I’m sorry, but this series is very hard to watch. But I like that it’s hard to watch. I like that it’s difficult, because it makes me address these sort of things that I can relate to, any Black and brown woman can really relate to. So, that’s what I like.
I’ll put it this way. Something that I did notice was how people would talk about the treatment of Pepe at the hands of her boyfriend, whatever he is to her. And it’s just like, “Well, why didn’t she get out from under him? Why can’t she just run away?”
Prior to the experiences that I had had, when I was still innocent and sheltered and stuff like that, I’d have thought the same thing. But living through these experiences, it gives you a type of mindset where it’s just like, “Well, why couldn’t they just leave? Why couldn’t she just leave? Why don’t they just walk away? It’s so easy to do that…” Not really.
And this is what Black women face, and unfortunately there’s a lot of that amongst other Black women and brown women, where they’re just like, “Well, you could just leave; you could do so much better.” And it’s just like, “Well, you know what, if she stays, she gets everything she deserves to her,” et cetera, et cetera, et cetera. So, it’s just like, “Wait!”
But then you’ve got the thing where it’s a Black and brown community’s expectation of women: “Put up with everything your man does.” It’s like, “Wait a second! Where’s the balance? Where’s the common ground?” There is none. It’s like, what are you expecting of us? It’s like—what is it?—a devil’s choice. There is no choice. It’s like, what do you expect from us as Black and brown women? And that’s the conundrum that is perfectly played out in this show.
VRAI: I’ll definitely be interested to hear about your thoughts on Hiroshi going forward, and Michiko and Atsuko’s relationship, as well. We’re heading on towards an hour here, so I wanted to ask you guys to close. What are you hoping for in the next six episodes?
JAX: I wanna see the progression of a strong brown character—because I’m enjoying the series immensely—I wanna see the progression of a strong brown female character make her way and get what she wants. She has every right to wish and dream and hope for that safe space. I don’t know of a single Black or brown woman that has grown up in her conditions that doesn’t, and I wanna see more progress towards that.
I know she’s gonna have to struggle more, absolutely. Probably we’re gonna see a lot more struggle from her, and of course Hatchin as well, but my focus is Michiko. 1000%, my focus is Michiko right now. And I wanna see more progression of her character. I wanna see them get even more deep inside of her as a character.
LIZZIE: As for me, I have two things to say. Since this is my second time watching the show, I’m looking forward to really picking up stuff that I didn’t really catch before. So yeah, I’m excited for that. I’m excited to pay attention to Atsuko’s character more, because I will admit I didn’t do that as much the first time around. I was more focused on Michiko and Hatchin themselves.
And the second part I want to say is I just wanna have a moment to name… because on March 14, 2018, Marielle Franco, a queer Black Brazilian, was assassinated in Rio de Janiero. And it’s really hit not just Brazil but all of us really hard in the communities both in Latin America and the Caribbean and abroad. And I feel it’s really timely that we’re talking about Michiko & Hatchin, a show that’s about fictional Brazil, and then we have this real-world event of what happened to Marielle Franco.
Since we just had a really great discussion about the awful violence that Black and brown folks go through, I feel like we have to remind ourselves that this violence is still ongoing. It’s happening, and I hope we can all do better to stop this and help each other, especially when we’re down. I don’t know if we can change the world, but at the very least, I hope we can hold space for each other.
JAX: Beautifully said.
VRAI: Absolutely. Amelia, you’ve been kind of quiet. How are you doing?
AMELIA: I’ve been listening. This is such a great discussion. [laughs] I feel really privileged to be able to hear it firsthand.
Honestly, I think everything that I’m really looking forward to has already been covered. I’m with Jax: Michiko is a million percent my focus. I’m thoroughly enjoying just watching her on screen. Just watching her is a delight. And again, for me, it’s less the cultural context. Just doesn’t connect with me so much. So, it is just seeing somebody who looks somewhat like me represented on screen. Her fashion’s amazing.
I’m looking forward to seeing more of that, and I’m just also really excited because I know the reputation of Yamamoto as a storyteller, and I know there are some big surprises ahead. I know there are some big character steps and development ahead, and I am so looking forward to all of that, but I don’t have any specific hopes. I’m quite enjoying just taking a backseat on this one and watching it more passively and just enjoying an experience I don’t get to have very often.
VRAI: I’m really looking forward to the next podcast ep, honestly. Ah, this has been great.
VRAI: Thank you—
LIZZIE: Glad you enjoyed it.
VRAI: Yeah, thanks to both of you for agreeing to be our guests on this watchalong. I think this will make for a really special series.
JAX: No, thank you so much for having us. This was such an engaging podcast, and I loved it. Oh, my gosh. Thank you so much for allowing us to do this. This was a great conversation.
LIZZIE: Yeah, thank you very much. This is my very first podcast ever, so I’m really grateful—
AMELIA: You would never know.
LIZZIE: —to be invited to have this really great discussion. I was super nervous, but thanks to good company, I was able to just let it all flow out. It just came out.
VRAI: Yeah. No, it’s great. And thank you to all of you out there, listeners, for joining us. If you liked this episode, you can find more episodes of our podcast on Soundcloud. Or, if you want to read more of our stuff in print, both Jax and Lizzie have contributed articles to this site before, and you can find lots of articles—I don’t think we have anything on Michiko & Hatchin—but by our special guests as well as other contributors at www.animefeminist.com.
If you’d like to help us do what we do, we have a Patreon, patreon.com/AnimeFeminist. Even $1 a month is something we really appreciate. Every one dollar adds up and helps us pay our editors, our contributors, and the people who are going to put together this podcast. If you want to get a hold of us on social media, we’re on Facebook at facebook.com/AnimeFem; we are on Tumblr at animefeminist.tumblr.com; and we are on Twitter at twitter.com/AnimeFeminist, where at time of recording, we’ve just passed 3,000 followers, and we’re very excited about it.
LIZZIE: Whoo! Ooh.
VRAI: So, if you are watching along with us on this one, next time we will be watching episodes 7 through 12. So, do that and in the meantime, we’ll see you there.