This winter has been one of coziness in the unlikeliest of settings. Usually, I spend this season wrapped in layers of sweaters and blankets with no intention of leaving until late March. A few shows this season are challenging that self-defense mechanism by featuring lovable characters living life to the fullest in Nature’s embrace regardless of the temperature or elements. One such series is Hakumei to Mikochi, which admittedly flew under my radar until a dear reader pointed me in its direction.
At a glance, the show falls squarely into the healing category of slice of life; all our characters do, after all, is go about their lives in harmony with one another and their environment. This is a story perfectly acceptable for family viewing, and might even be misrepresented as aimed solely at children due to its art style. Hakumei to Mikochi is so much more than a feel-good, family-friendly anime. There’s ample support for sustainable country living, community involvement, and racial and gender equality. The show’s gentle atmosphere does well to promote these stances without preaching or judgement.
As made obvious by the title, the show primarily follows Hakumei and Mikochi, two women who live together in the forest. The forest setting and animals immediately make clear that Hakumei, Mikochi, and others like them make up a miniature species reminiscent of brownies or pixies.
Much of their time is spent in the woods foraging for food and supplies. Theirs is a highly self-sufficient household; anything edible either makes its way into their own meals, or is prepared for market sale. Mikochi, in particular, bakes goods, prepares herbal tea, and makes scented soaps for local shops to sell. Hakumei, in turn, maintains the integrity of tools around the house, forages along with Mikochi, and also makes a living as a repairer and builder. Even their house, built into a large tree, coexists with the environment.
In an ideal world, I would love to live as peacefully with nature as they do. They gather only what they can consume or sell. They also show off an impressive array of mostly vegetarian drinks and dishes from easy spreads like nuts and berries to more elaborate beverages like persimmon leaf tea.¹
They’re not wholly secluded, though, since they need others to purchase their goods and services. They sell local and buy local. But their relationship with the community isn’t merely one of business—they actively participate in events as volunteers, like when Mikochi sings for the town’s annual harvest festival, or helps cook during the bridge repair. Even Hakumei goes out of her way to do whatever she can to assist the bridge workers, even if it originally means only sharpening her coworker’s tools.
It can be easy to forget how dependent our society used to be on tradesmen and the seasons. Nowadays, almost anything can be ordered online or picked up at a store only one of many within a larger network. We can also eat whatever we want no matter the season thanks to modern technology. But lately, I’ve been holding back from these convenience. I now opt for supporting local businesses and farmers, which means more seasonal dishes and sometimes higher price points; I think it a fair trade to support my neighbors and eco-friendly practices. The arts count, too. While I enjoy my Christmas tradition of attending Broadway plays in New York, I also try to keep track of what’s showing at the local theater as well as perform myself with a community wind ensemble. The joy of performance and sense of belonging make up so much of what I love about my town.
It won’t take you very long into your viewing of the anime to notice everyone in Hakuemi to Mikochi treats each other as equals. There are no gender expectations for professions, and a good majority of the business owners we see are women. Other female professions shown include a “life” researcher, a songstress, and a photographer. I actually mistook Hakumei for a man when I first met her, but was quickly corrected. Hakumei demonstrates considerable skill as a repairer and carpenter, and approaches life with energetic fearlessness.
If you’ve ever read Brian Jacques’ Redwall series, then you’re familiar with his community of animals. As much as I love those books, I was always uncomfortable with the roles granted to different species. Mice were holy warriors, while rats almost always played villains.² Hakumei to Mikochi incorporates animals into its society, as well. They stand on equal footing with the little people. Hakumei’s boss is a weasel, and Mikochi and Hakumei later make friends with a beetle who moves into their tree.
I do get a sense of inconvenience like big versus small settings, but they’re less an issue of discrimination and more an extension of the owner’s preferences. For example, Iwashidani the weasel expresses surprise at a restaurant’s spacious seating. Our protagonists explain that the owner is a stoat, hence the bigger tables and chairs. We also see animals pull carts for mass transportation, but this appears a profession self-chosen, not enforced by others. Regardless of their species, all living things work together towards their own happiness and that of their neighbors.
We’re three quarters of the way through the winter season now, and Hakumei to Mikochi will wrap up after twelve episodes. That’s a shame, since I could easily continue watching the anime for weeks on end; it’s my spot of calm in an often hectic world. In a time of immediacy and convenience, it’s all too easy to overlook ourselves and our surroundings. Hakumei and Mikochi show us how to balance it all: individual health of the mind and body, and harmony with both the country and the city. They know that as important as it is to look after the self, it’s equally necessary to nurture the environment and all its living creatures.
- Not everything is meatless, though, as we do hear them discuss shellfish and dried meat, as well as see what appears to be spaghetti and meatballs served at a restaurant. I’m not sure what type of “meat” formed the meatball, or whether or not sea creatures are sentient in this world, but it does make me wonder why they don’t go fully vegetarian.
- Jacques addresses this concern from time to time, and later dedicates an entire book to the idea: The Outcast of Redwall.