#1 A Tiny Fairy Tale World
Fantasy in anime often entails the heroic sagas of legendary knights, mighty sorcerers, or of hapless youth being transported to magical realms. The anime I am reviewing today is very different, as it brings the fantasy genre back to one of its oldest and purest forms: the classic fairytale.
The story revolves around a gnome-like people that inhabit tiny cities or live in small forest communities. Most animals and bugs can also speak, and choose to live alongside these tiny fellows in friendly co-existence. Hakumei and Mikochi does a surprising amount of world-building, so there is an economy, people work and travel, there is science and magic, crime, culture. It’s an interesting (and adorable) setting with more depth to it than you’d ever expect.
I also just really enjoy the premise of very small people living in a world that’s not sized to them. Having to chop your way through a field of grass or interact with bugs that are the same size as you really speaks to me creatively; it reminds me of childhood games like Bad Mojo and Micro Machines.
#2 Adventures for gnomes
The actual story of Hakumei and Mikochi follows… Hakumei and Mikochi. Two young women who live together in a tree deep in the forest. Mikochi is a responsible and fashionable girl who likes to cook and design clothes, whereas Mikochi is a tomboyish handyman who can repair and build almost anything.
Their anime is a mix of adventure and slice-of-life, because every day is a bit of an adventure when a mild breeze can send your tiny body flying. Some episodes are simple, like the ones that focus on Hakumei’s work as a carpenter or shopping trips around the town, whereas others lean more towards adventure, such as when the duo is attacked by an owl while out foraging.
The tone of these adventures is generally lighthearted and comedic, with even the most intense episodes staying upbeat. It’s not exactly kid-friendly due to on-screen drinking, smoking, and gambling, but it’s a fun story for teens and adults who just want to watch something that isn’t your typical anime fantasy stuff.
#3 Beautiful nature visuals
Much of this anime is set in the thick of nature and the tiny size of our protagonists means we get a close-up view of all these lush locales. The result is honestly amazing, making this one of the few anime where I was constantly paying attention to the backgrounds and surroundings.
Look at the details in this shot. All manners of different plants, slight differences in elevation, and the extravagance with which each leaf is drawn. I wouldn’t be surprised if they took some photos out in the forest and recreated those. Even then, much care was put into showing how characters live in this world and navigate it. You see small paths through the forest everywhere, for example, and Hakumei and Mikochi’s home is kept together by a network of ladders going up and down the tree’s branches to various neighbors.
#4 Adorable character design
Whether it’s the numerous animal characters or the lovable gnomes themselves, Hakumei and Mikochi constantly had me enchanted with its adorable character designs. I mean, any show that manages to make a beetle look like the cutest thing ever has got to be doing something right.
The little gnome character of course steal the show. They are obviously meant to look cute, but the anime achieves this without going overboard with it. There is a dignity to their design. They aren’t cutesy little sprites like the fairies from Humanity Has Declined, but a varied, civilized people with a very distinct culture. I was especially fond of their folksy clothing, which lends a lot of personality even to the most static of background characters.
I was equally impressed with the design for the animals. Even though they kept them as actual critters and beasts as opposed to anthropomorphic people, it’s easy to read and appreciate the subtleties of their design. My personal favorite character ended up being the carpenter Iwashi, a weasel with a rough, unfriendly exterior who goes through a really sweet arc as he begins to warm up to his apprentice Hakumei. A lot of care was put into this design, so even though all the animal characters look phenomenal, he still stands out among the rest.
#5 Directing work by Masaomi Andou
I like going into my anime as blind as possible, but in the case of Hakumei and Mikochi it became very obvious just who was at the wheel. Masaomi Andou of Scum’s Wish and SCHOOL-LIVE! fame took on the directing role once again, and I am now fairly confident in saying that the man is an all-time favorite of mine.
The dead give-away in this case was Andou’s use of panels to play with the flow of scenes. You might be watching a scene play out when suddenly a panel appears showing an animated close-up. Or a cooking scene will have several panels open up that animate different parts of the recipe. It’s endlessly creative and Andou keeps finding novel ways to use this framing device.
Even outside of this recognizable touch of his, Andou is just a really good director. This was always going to be a niche anime, but Andou and his crew still gave it their all and created a memorable, passionately put-together series that never once disappointed me. If you have any love for fantasy or fairytales, then I urge to you to give this anime a try.