Michiko e Hatchin no Brasil

Brazil is home to the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan. There’s an entire Japanese community of over 60 000 people within the country’s largest city, São Paulo. The city has also played host to an enormous annual anime convention since 2003 which, in 2008, had 120 000 attendees. With such a strong connection to Japan, why are there so few anime about Brazil or featuring Brazilian characters? Is it because, even though the population is ethnically Japanese, most of the anime target demographic are second or third generation Brazilian? Is Brazilian culture too foreign for Japanese consumers, or too difficult for Japanese writers to tackle? Anime has never been too shy to set stories in other countries or feature characters from different backgrounds; many anime are set in Europe or the US (Monster and Baccano! jump immediately to mind).Why not Brazil?

This loaf looks pretty sweet

Michiko to Hatchin is one of the rare shows that grabs hold of that Latin connection and makes the most of it. The story centres around Michiko Melando as she searches for her old boyfriend, Hiroshi Morenos, while evading the police and dragging Hiroshi’s daughter, Hatchin, around with her. While the series never explicitly states that it takes place in Brazil and the cities mentioned are not real, it’s clear from the Portuguese language and the cultural elements that this was the intent: a map the characters use even features Mato Grosso, a Brazilian state.

So how does Michiko to Hatchin do at portraying Brazil? Pretty well actually. The series focuses on groups of criminals and gang members and so largely takes place in the favelas (slums) and poorer areas where these groups operate. The Brazil shown here is run-down and poorly maintained, with a few peaks at the more modern, affluent parts of Brazil. Within this backdrop, the creators managed to capture a lot of the spirit of the country. It is easy to put on some samba music in the background and make the characters looks Brazilian; it’s harder to get the subtle cultural differences that really make a place come alive. While I can’t say I’m qualified to determine if the series represents Brazilian culture at a deeper level, Michiko to Hatchin surprised me with the little details it was able to include without ever making a big deal about it.

Delicious, delicious pastel

One of the first and most obvious things to notice is the food, which in Brazil has both local and Portuguese influences. When Hatchin is at her foster parent’s house, they are shown eating the Brazilian staple, beans. After escaping from prison, Michiko steals a pastel from a man on the street. These deep fried pastries can be filled with any number of things, salty or sweet. Several characters are shown drinking from coconuts (which are the correct green colour) or sipping cachaça (a sugar cane alcohol) or caipirinha (cachaça, lime, sugar and ice).

This cachaça looks suspiciously like the brand 51

Much of one episode takes place in a bar, which in Brazil is typically a very open and social space. Beers in Brazil come in jumbo size with cups since they are meant to be shared with friends rather than drunk alone. This standard street-side bar with tiled walls and a small TV in the upper corner is well represented in the series.

The beer looks just like the brand Brahma

The setting also struck me as very Brazilian in style. One city is a clear double for Rio, complete with glorious sandy beaches and a duplicate Pão d’Açúcar (the iconic Sugarloaf mountain along the coast) in the background. The architecture shows a lot of Portuguese influence, especially in the balconies and window grates. Churches feature the two towers at the front that are standard of colonial era.

Portuguese architecture frames these policemen

One episode features a version of Salvador’s Mercado Modelo, while another shows a bridge which strongly resembles the famous one in Florianopolis and the above photo could be replicated in Pelourinho, in old Salvador. The buildings are generally brick with plaster walls that are often in poor repair. Dogs roam freely around the streets.

Shop at the Mercado Modelo clone!

The series also manages to include some cultural elements directly into the plot: at one point Michiko tries to get government ID for Hatchin and herself. These IDs are issued to every Brazilian and are required for many official activities. Also depicted is the Brazilian novela, or soap opera. Several episodes show locals totally captivated with the intricate plots and melodramatic characters. Anactor from one of these shows even ends up helping the two leads in their search.

Last is–of course–the music, which is written by a Brazilian composer. It does a great job of enhancing the Latin feel of the series and includes not only the more iconic samba but also bossa nova, Brazilian pop and a touch of Brazilian funk.

Do you know The Girl From Ipanema?

For all that it does right, the series still misses a few key elements. Most of the characters have Japanese names instead of Brazilian ones for reasons that elude me. The creators also did not utilize the language as much as they could have. Just as the Japanese have suffixes such as -san or -chan, Portuguese features the diminutive -inho or -inha. Only one minor character was called Juninho (Junior) when it could have easily been applied to Hatchin as well. Another thing missing was the typical Brazilian greeting, which involves kisses on the cheek or, in the case of two men, a handshake. It would be fair to say that most of the meetings in this series were not friendly, but the ones that were more social and casual were lacking this standard social practice.

Typical payphones plus the iconic black and white tiled sidewalks

Overall the creators did a commendable job of including elements of Brazil without letting it interfere with the plot. Many of these details are not, in the strictest sense, necessary, but lend a lot of realism to the setting. Michiko to Hatchin seems to have been a moderate success, andonly time will tell if it will lead to more series based in or on Brazil. I’m sure anime fans in Brazil will be eager to find out as well.

20 Responses to “Michiko e Hatchin no Brasil”

  1. Brazil is home to the largest population of Japanese people outside of Japan. There’s an entire Japanese community of over 60 000 people within the country’s largest city, São Paulo. The city has also played host to an enormous annual anime convention since 2003 which, in 2008, had 120 000 attendees. With such a strong connection to Japan, why are there so few anime about Brazil or featuring Brazilian characters? Is it because, even though the population is ethnically Japanese, most of the anime target demographic are second or third generation Brazilian? Is Brazilian culture too foreign for Japanese consumers, or too difficult for Japanese writers to tackle? Anime has never been too shy to set stories in other countries or feature characters from different backgrounds; many anime are set in Europe or the US (Monster and Baccano! jump immediately to mind).Why not Brazil?

    Brazil is a poor non-white third-world country with no perceived prestige; much the same way you see an absurd number of half-French characters in anime, and the same way you see an almost complete absence of Korean-descended characters – there may be 60k Japanese descendants in Sao Paulo but there’s like a million Koreans or Korean descendants in Japan proper.

    If you’re curious, you can verify this for yourself by looking through a few hundred half-Japanese characters I’ve compiled at http://www.gwern.net/hafu#list – you’ll see tons of Germans and French and English (despite the absence of such people in real life), plenty of Americans, and maybe 1 or 2 Brazilian characters and 0 Koreans.

  2. I often felt like Michiko to Hathin was a poor man’s version of the movie, City of God, in many ways. It is still nice and all, but the characters have too many Japanese mannerisms that contrast badly with the obvious Brazilian setting. For example, pay attention to how much the characters will bow like Japanese citizens.

    Of course capturing their culture is a difficult thing for an anime to do, but this never seemed like the sort of title to appeal to your average Japanese otaku anyways, so why did they not fully commit more to capturing the culture?

    This series is refreshing, but it ultimately falters due to some disappointing characterization which kept going around in circles. It was always 1 step forward, 2 steps back with them and it kind of grew frustrating by the end. I also failed to gain a meaningful message from the show in many ways.

    ANYHOW, I think it might be interesting to ask why anime doesn’t go outside Japan more often in general, and not just Brazil. How many anime do you see taking place in America? Something like Monster is all too rare in this industry and I blame the practically incestual practices of the industry. They don’t venture off into other mediums for other ideas but copy each other. Light novel writers basically copy each other and there is no growth. The world is an interesting place, but much like Japanese culture is in general, they tend to stay very close to home.

  3. Clearly gwern has never been to Brazil.

    (1) 2 million Japanese descendants, 700k of whom are in the city of São Paulo.
    (2) “white” is a relative term, but according to Wikipedia, 48% of Brazilians are white and “Brazil has the 3rd largest white population in the world”. ‹‹ Another autosomal study carried out by the geneticist Sergio Pena showed that the overwhelming ancestry of “white” Brazilians is European, but there is Native American and African ancestries as well (an average of 80% European ancestry) ›› ‹‹ According to another autosomal DNA study (from 2009) conducted on a school in the poor periphery of Rio de Janeiro the “whites” (who thought of themselves as “very mixed”) were found out to carry very little Amerindian or African admixtures (generally about 90% European in ancestry on average) ››
    (3) Rankings of per capita GDP place Brazil right around most East European countries.

  4. Kaikyaku, I congratulate you.
    I’m impressed with the amount of detail that you could identify and to point out. You had some help from some local or did your own research? Anyway I could not help but notice that while you noticed small details, also ceased to comment on a very serious flaw in the series…. “OEEE! TOURO!”

    An arena of bullfighting… and it is a popular show… no, NO!
    At first I was excited to watch a series that is set in my country, but when this episode came the magic vanished all at once. That was absurd and even today I think, was just a mistake, a misconception, a wrong decision, or was it a conscious choice by producers? Replacing a popular sport, the national sport, for a bullfight?! Even though we have a great Rodeo show in SP (Barretos), and some minor traditions in a handful of small towns, the vast majority of the population is inimical to spanish bullfighting. I can not swallow that.

    In general, the series does a good job of ambience. After the bullfight we can not expect real fidelity, then the result is very satisfactory, the soundtrack has some sensational songs lyrics (Calcinha de Ginástica!). The biggest problem in the series is simply the script. Malandro is unfortunately a annoying character. We like in her in her own way, for an occasional chat and pour some blondes, but not for friend… fucking not!
    All thar search for Hiroshi is kinda meaningless. In the end he proved a hollow shell, what Michiki saw in him after all? And on the road she still has lost in love for another man, for no apparent reason, just because she was lonely? This weakened the goal.
    In the end I hoped that Michiko were have an bad end at the hands of Atsuko, because she deserved.

  5. I would argue that Brazil isn’t a particularly huge place for regular cinema either, Hollywood or otherwise. Why? I don’t know. I’m not even sure Brazilians use Brazil for a setting in their movies.

  6. Reckoner:

    I think it might be interesting to ask why anime doesn’t go outside Japan more often in general, and not just Brazil. How many anime do you see taking place in America?

    How many American TV shows take place in other countries? Answer: None that I can think of. Though the practices you were talking about are relevant to the industry, I don’t think it really applies here. It just happens to be much easier to write about the culture that you live in than writing about a country where you probably have never been to before (or at least for an extended period of time). When they do try a different country, it either tends to be in a historical period (Baccano) or in a stereotype-filled fantasy land that doesn’t exist in reality (Steins Gate OVA). Of course Monster and this show, from what I’ve seen of them, seems to be exceptions to the rule, but for the most part, I don’t think we will be seeing shows that take place in different countries very often.

  7. Thanks for the comments!

    @gwern I don’t like your suggestion that the Japanese don’t feature Brazilians because they are not good enough.

    @Reckoner City of God is a very good film and a much better story that Michiko to Hatchin. In City of God the stakes felt much more real whereas Michiko to Hatchin never felt like much more than a fun ride.

    Writing about a culture other than your own is extremely challenging. I would say they did commit quite well to capturing the culture, but it does still feel like an outsider looking in, which is why even though the logistical details are well done, the social aspects didn’t come through as well.

    @Gustavo, thanks for the additional info. It seems there are even more Japanese Brazilians than I thought.

    @Panino Thanks. I lived in Brazil for 7 months so most of the observations come from my own experience, though I did have a Brazilian friend read it over.

    I also thought that the inclusion of the bull fight felt off, but since the series takes place in the 70s I wasn’t sure. I imagine it was included because the sport is perceived as dangerous and exciting, though the episode ended up being neither.

    I agree with you about the ending being weak as well. I didn’t want a magical happy ending, but I wanted something more satisfying than what we got.

    @TIF I can’t say I’ve seen a LOT of Brazilian movies, but all the ones I have seen have been set in Brazil (Cidade de Deus, Tropa de Elite, Olga). I think the local film industry is growing quite a lot.

    @The Big Guy I agree that it’s rare for TV series especially to venture outside their culture of origin. Movies tend to be more adventurous. Even if it’s unlikely, I’ll still keep my fingers crossed for more Brazil showing up in anime.

  8. […] over at Behind the Nihon review, Kaikyaku writes about Michiko e Hatchin’s depiction of Brazil. Check it […]

  9. > @gwern I don’t like your suggestion that the Japanese don’t feature Brazilians because they are not good enough.

    Why not? Do you have some reason to think that the Japanese consider the Brazilians fabulous, some of the greatest people on earth, almost as good as the Japanese themselves? Simply look at how often Brazil is featured in Japanese media and how it is featured, compared to France or England or Germany. Brazil just isn’t important or high-status to Japan, no matter how many expatriates or descendants there are.

  10. I would argue that Brazil isn’t a particularly huge place for regular cinema either, Hollywood or otherwise. Why? I don’t know. I’m not even sure Brazilians use Brazil for a setting in their movies.

    WHAT?
    This is so unbelievable stupy!

    Well… I could indicate some movies, to whom it may concern:

    A Máquina
    Abril Despedaçado
    Cinema, Aspirinas e Urubus
    O Palhaço
    Casa de Areia
    O Cheiro do Ralo
    O Ano em Que Meus Pais Saíram de Féria
    Cidade dos Homens
    Não Por Acaso
    Meu Nome Não É Johnny
    Nina
    O Que É Isso, Companheiro?
    Tropa de Elite 2
    O Caminho das Nuvens
    Lamarca
    Mauá – O Imperador e o Rei
    Vidas Secas
    O Auto da Compadecida

    (I had named the movies with links to the IMDB, but the anti-spam system is barring the comment.)

  11. @Panino

    Easy boy, it was an intentionally hyperbolic joke.

  12. Now that I think about it, there truly seems to be a ridiculously amount of japanese around here in Sao Paulo.

    lol.

    Anyway great article, will be sure to check this anime out now, it has been on my plan to watch for a while.

  13. Gwern: are you saying something along the lines of: a people’s worth, whatever that means, should be measured by their GDP per capita? Is this something you really want to be saying?

    As for MtH, I think it’s fundamentally a different kind of story than city of God, though it obviously appropriates some things. I liked AC’s review of it, or what I can remember, that is, it’s about the titular characters and relationship thereof. The Brazil thing was sort of an added bonus maybe. In a way the setting goes well with Michiko’s character and the story, so maybe that’s why they chose it, as well as a fictional version, so they could take artistic liberties at will.

    That is, the director’s interest in Brazil possibly stems from her attraction to this free wheeling aspect of it’s culture, so her purpose is to appropriate that for her work, not necessarily to replicate it.

  14. gwern just raging because no one give love to the koreans, get over it man, no one gives a fuck.

  15. @gwern I think the motivators are much more likely to be economic, cultural and artistic than having to do with a social hierarchy.

    @DrIdiot You raise a good point. I would be curious to know which came first, the visit to Brazil (which someone from the production obviously took) or the concept of the story. Brazil may be incidental to the central themes, but was still clearly a major inspiration for the series.

  16. @Kaikyaku
    Shinichiro Watanabe came here in 2011 to attend “Anima Mundi”, an animation festival.

    Something we forgot to mention, the look of Michiko and Atsuko was inspired by the actress Taís Araujo.

  17. @Kaikyaku
    Shinichiro Watanabe came here in 2011 to attend “Anima Mundi”, an animation festival. But… was Yamamoto Sayo who directed this. She came here?

    Something we forgot to mention, the look of Michiko and Atsuko was inspired by the actress Taís Araujo.

  18. > Gwern: are you saying something along the lines of: a people’s worth, whatever that means, should be measured by their GDP per capita? Is this something you really want to be saying?

    -_- Yes, that is a totally reasonable interpretation of what I said; I’m not making any kind of quantitative point about how Japanese choice of character nationalities and what this might indicate about how they see their world, no, I’m trying to assign ethical worth to everyone in the world based on how much money they make. Obviously.

    > gwern just raging because no one give love to the koreans, get over it man, no one gives a fuck.

    I don’t care about the Koreans. (I’m white, in case you thought I might be Korean or of Korean descent and that’s why I was ‘raging’.) It’s just am obvious anomaly in the data, and one which I was not expecting when I started compiling characters; so it’s interesting.

  19. As a Black Brazilian woman I was so happy to see an anime about black brazillian woman this is like a dream come true I loved it

  20. Correct me if I am wrong, but the show takes place in the fictional country Republica de Diamandra and NOT Brazil. The director did, however take a trip to Brazil and probably shot tons of reference photos for use in creating her world, but at no point is it specified that they are IN Brazil.

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