The Winter 2018 Anime Preview Guide
Hakumei and Mikochi
How would you rate episode 1 of
Hakumei and Mikochi ?
What is this?
Energetic Hakumei and quiet Mikoshi live together in the forest, in a house built into the side of a tree. While Mikoshi would rather do domestic tasks, like cook or shop, Hakumei encourages her to go on adventures in the woods, tracking down a rare bird or exploring the nearby town of Arabi for more than just provisions and helping her not to panic when she loses her wallet. Together they bring out the best in each other as they live their lives in the tiny world that exists far away from human eyes. Hakumei and Mikoshi is based on a manga and streams on HIDIVE, Fridays at 8:30 AM EST.
How was the first episode?
What the heck is with this season? Not only does the percentage of slice of life shows seem far higher than usual, but virtually all of those slice of life shows are really good. We are apparently living through some kind of brief and extremely comfy renaissance.
Not that I'm complaining. Hakumei and Mikochi slots neatly into this season's exemplary slice of life catalog, offering its own distinct pleasures. The appeal of this show rests heavily in its wonderfully realized world, a backyard fantasy of tiny people sharing single peanuts for lunch and riding around on friendly beatles. This first episode's gentle narrative mostly just offers reasons for its title characters to first climb a mountain and then visit a local market, all while the charming and vivid details of their lives draw us further into their world. Not many slice of lifes ride so heavily on the strength of their worldbuilding, but that's clearly key here. From its lovely background art to its charmingly diverse population and variety of confident lifestyle assumptions, the world of Hakumei and Mikochi already feels like a place I'd like to sink into.
Hakumei and Mikochi are also likable enough characters in their own right, though this episode didn't give them all that many ways to distinguish themselves. Their relationship is unclear outside of the fact that Hakumei is a recent arrival in Mikochi's life, but their rapport is relatively strong either way. Their dialogue almost felt a little too realistically mundane to give me a clear picture of their characters; that is, their voices were similar enough that it felt like almost any line could have come from either character, though I did get a general overall impression of Hakumei being the brash one and Mikochi being the more subdued and proper one. This episode's first half also felt a tad slow for my taste, with its story of Mikochi's childhood pet not really justifying a twelve-minute running time. The second half fared a lot better largely on the strength of its setting; the sea port the two of them visit offers ample visual rewards and cute ideas, and my hope is that the story going forward will continue to mine satisfying payoffs out of exploring more places within their charming little world.
Aesthetically, Hakumei and Mikochi is well above par design-wise. The characters' rounded designs are very endearing, the background art is warm and richly detailed, and the overall colors and aesthetic stick to a pleasing rustic palette. The show suffers from a lack of character animation, which would work very nicely for its everyday, chore-focused narrative, but that lack is never truly debilitating. More distracting for me was director Andou Masaomi's heavy reliance on screen-in-screen panels, which felt just as ostentatious and often out-of-place here as they did in his earlier Scum's Wish. But on the whole, Hakumei and Mikochi offers a fine slice of life template with a uniquely fantastical hook. If the image of that cozy home nestled at the base of a tree seems appealing to you, absolutely give this one a shot.
Another day, another laid back slice-of-life show. I'll give Hakumei and Mikochi credit where it's due; it is one of the most creative anime to come out this season with regard to its visuals and presentation. While I'm personally feeling over-inundated with all the soft-and-cuddly series getting dished out this winter, Hakumei and Mikochi holds its own against the bevy of competition. It won't blow anyone's minds, but it could definitely make for a nice and cozy watch.
Focusing on the lives of two diminutive creatures that live in a world of magic, talking animals, and general fairy-tale whimsy, the show goes hard on the Western-inspired picture book aesthetic. While the character designs themselves aren't especially for me, I really dug the way comic-book panels and borders were peppered throughout the episode. Sure, more often than not they felt mostly like an easy way to mask the fairly limited animation, but it worked well enough to lend the premiere a nostalgic vibe that definitely works in its favor.
The writing is where this show falters a bit, which isn't to say that it's bad, it just doesn't do much of anything to stand out in the same way its visual presentation does. Hakumei and Mikochi play up the familiar buddy tropes of the genre, with Hakumei being the adventurous counterpoint to the more reserved Mikochi. The girls themselves are the weakest aspect of the show, managing to be functionally cute without ever graduating to being compelling or interesting. Their adventures are admittedly more outlandish than what most slice-of-life shows get up to, given the nature of the fantasy setting, but even when the girls are flying on the back of a giant bird or taste-testing soup for a gaggle of gourmand animals, the strange events are always grounded in a very low-key atmosphere.
Put simply, if you have a keen hunger for explicitly fairy-tale-themed slice-of-life stories this season, then Hakumei and Mikochi might do enough to edge out the competition. This is a very crowded season when it comes to feel-good anime though, and I'm not convinced that we don't already have shows that are cuter, funnier, and better written than this one. That being the case, I'll almost certainly be leaving Hakumei and Mikochi behind as the season progresses.
Welp, it finally happened. After weathering a fearsome torrent of adorable shows about cute things bein' cute this season, at long last I reached my limit.
Not that I'm blaming my lower score entirely on cuteness fatigue, mind you. I do think Hakumei and Mikochi comes up a little short amongst this season's mighty bounty of sweet slice-of-life options. While the art is indeed beautiful and immersive in a childhood storybook kind of way, it's also so consistent in its detailed aesthetic that the show allows for little animation, slowing the pace to a crawl for pure wallows in atmosphere throughout this premiere's run. In that sense, this series is the purest possible version of an iyashikei experience, meant more to lull the viewer into a soft and safe place that sponges away the day's hardships than to tell a story with engaging turns or enriching character arcs. It's too soon to say of course, but I get the impression we'll spend this series mostly learning about the world of the little people and not much else.
And to be honest, that was the deciding factor when it came to weeding out a few cuteness-driven shows from the pile this season. While the talking beasts and bugs do help break up the potential monotony a smidge for an animal-lover like myself, "world of little people" is kind of a boring fantasy to me. The Secret World of Arrietty was kinda boring, The Borrowers is kinda boring, The Rescuers is kinda boring (Rescuers Down Under is fire though), and so on. If you're seeking a truly calm and hypnotic experience that stands apart from the slightly more hyper or comedic flavors of cuteness this season, I would still definitely recommend Hakumei and Mikochi, and I can totally respect the cohesive environment Studio Lerche was able to pull off with this production, but I like my sugary sweetness with just a little more pep, and this premiere was already beginning to slip off my brain like butter before the credits had even started rolling. Your mileage may vary. The katydid mailman was great though!
Hakumei and Mikochi is the kind of idyllically pleasant little series that will undoubtedly find an audience to adore it. Heck, if this were dubbed, it could probably be successful with a broader American audience as a kid-friendly show. That audience won't include me, however. While I respect how well this is made, I found myself getting bored with it halfway through each arc, and I can't say that about some of the other cutesy fare that's come out this season.
One thing that sets this series apart from its competition is how strikingly different it looks from everything else. The visual aesthetic shows far more of a Western influence, with many shots being reminiscent of stuff I saw in picture books as a kid. In fact, an animated picture book is precisely how I would describe it. It features loads of impressive and sometimes creative visual details, whether it's the two young ladies' house, the forest, or the randomly-stacked architecture of the town, so it absolutely works as an exercise in visual world-building. Supporting all of the great visuals is a nicely colloquial musical score which keeps the tone playfully light and harmless. The difference goes beyond easily quantifiable values, though; this is just generally a different style of cute from what anime normally does.
The pair of half-episode stories told here are simple ones – perhaps too simple. The first half is a pleasant little tale which establishes the personality dynamic between the protagonists, somewhat reminiscent of a milder version of the dynamic is Girls' Last Tour. The “adventure” involves going to a mountaintop to seek out a special bird. The second half involves exploring a town that Mikochi has apparently never been to before, though why she's never tagged along with Hakumei is unclear; presumably that will be explained at some point? It's all very pleasant, with many endearing little moments that also somehow managed to try my patience. I dunno, maybe I'm just cuted-out for this season?
Whatever the case, I'm giving it a middling rather than lower score to encourage people to check it out despite my resistance to its intended tone and effect.
Help me, you guys! The winter season is closing out and instead of my queue being full of action-packed psychological series, I've somehow ended up with at least five very adorable slice-of-life shows. January is jam-packed with options if easy-watching is your thing, or even if you're like me and it's not usually your thing. Case in point, this goddamn adorable fairy show with lush background art by Lerche and Kusanagi.
Hakumei and Mikochi are the dumpling-faced leads who trapeze through a magic forest, ride around on beetles, and visit fantastical versions of the Tsukiji Fish Market. It was that moment in the second half of the episode that firmly sold me on the show. Imagine going to an open-air market and chatting it up with a fishmonger who's also a tanuki or trying the latest marinades concocted by a friendly frog. My own experience at Tsukiji was pretty dang stellar, and I got to see some fish I could not identify, but I did not get to hang out with magic animals. I'm not sure if this fact is endearing me to the show or just pissing me off because of how mundane the real world is? Why can't this world be real?!
Sorry, I'll pump the brakes on that tangent. What really sells the show is its mood which, beyond just being cute, has a picture book-like quality. More accurately, it reminds me a bit of a pop-up book from childhood. The thick character line work makes Hakumei and Mikochi “pop” off the detailed backgrounds in just that way. That isn't to say the art isn't cohesive, but it's a pretty unique feeling that really taps into Takuto Kashiki's original art.
This series is putting me into a conundrum of how I want to wind down each week, be it with a tiny mummy, camping girls, puppy love classmates, or tiny fairies. Do I have to pick or can I just spend the next three months in a smiling stupor?
If winter 2018 isn't the cutest season for anime in a long time, I'm not sure what is. Hakumei and Mikoshi joins quite a few other shows as another adorable, slow-paced slice of life story about cute young ladies, as well as a couple of others in the “How Can This Be Half an Hour Club.” The hook here is that the girls are tiny forest creatures, possibly inspired by Ainu koropokkur stories. It's a pretty good one, and it definitely sets the show apart if only visually – the girls inhabit a lush woodland that is well thought out in terms of how they function for both food and shelter, as well as their height relative to features of the landscape and other animals – they can ride on the backs of beetles, for example, and wild tomatoes have skins that are too tough for them to eat raw.
That said, this really could have been a five-to-ten-minute episode. The two stories told within it are both self-contained and not necessarily chronological: in one Hakumei convinces Mikoshi to climb a mountain in search of an evening kite and in the second they go shopping in the nearby town of Arabi. While both halves allow us to understand the differences in their personalities and do some world-building, they also feel like they suffer a bit from inundating us with both of those things as well, largely because the two stories are so unrelated. There's also some really confusing world-building going on, with no clear reason given why bugs can talk and the evening kite can't, or why some animals can be “pets” (both the beetles and the kite are referred to in that context) but others run shops in town and speak in full sentences. It doesn't seem to be a question of city vs forest, nor are there any other major distinctions; neither set of animals wears clothes, for example. It's the kind of detail that gets more annoying the more you think about it, all the more so because the episode does such a nice job of implying that Mikoshi lived in town before meeting Hakumei, as well as of leaving their relationship ambiguous enough that you can either see them as friends or a romantic couple depending on your preference.
Despite these issues, Hakumei and Mikoshi is visually gorgeous and has some of the best elements of previous shows like Ronja the Robber's Daughter in its use of nature or The Secret World of Arietty in how tiny people manage to live in a great big world. These girls aren't just cute for cuteness’ sake, and that helps as well if this kind of show isn't necessarily your thing. It's worth checking out.
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