Seis Manos is a Kung Fu anime mixed with a bit of horror, a healthy dash of Mexican history, and a whole lot of feminism. The show, from co-creators Álvaro Rodríguez and Brad Graeber, launched on Netflix with eight episodes on October 3, and is definitely not something you should sleep on. With its muted colors and deteriorated film look, Seis Manos has a throwback vibe—the blood-spatter that hits the screen at one point practically screams “grindhouse.” It’s both very profane and violent, but amid all the fighting and action, the show skillfully interweaves important feminist historical events in Mexico. That accuracy is just one of the show’s many displays of its creators’ thoughtfulness.
Along with its stylistic influences, Seis Manos delves into the 1970s for some of its most powerful story beats—namely, revisiting the feminist movement, led by middle-class, educated women, that was gaining traction. By 1979, the movement’s leaders were pushing for greater intersectionality with women of different socioeconomic backgrounds; they began to tackle issues of domestic violence and inequality in the workplace, issues that sadly remain relevant to this day (though hardly just in Mexico). But Seis Manos remains highly entertaining even as it explores this period in Mexican history; there’s enough action packed into each scene to satisfy diehard grindhouse fans.
Just as importantly, the show delivers fully realized female characters, including Officer Garcia (telenovela superstar Angélica Vale), who is the first woman in her Police Academy class and the only female police officer working in her district. She’s assigned to work in San Símon, a seemingly tranquil town, but soon learns what it means to “keep the town safe” and at what cost. The Seis Manos of the title are a Mexican family: Isabela (Aislinn Derbez), Jesus (Jonny Cruz), and their brother, Silencio, who is mute. Hearteningly enough, it is Isabela who is the moral center and the leader of the Seis Manos. She has the closest relationship to their kung-fu master and father figure, Sifu Chiu (Vic Chao), and works hard to embody his noble teachings. Fighting is not about vengeance but balance and peace; each character uses real martial arts techniques and has their own distinct approach. Isabela’s fighting style is clearly inspired by Taiwanese actress and martial artist Angela Mao, a.k.a. Lady Kung Fu. The sight of Isabela fighting remains incredibly moving throughout the first season—she’s the first martial arts master in an anime who is both Latinx and a woman.
The sheer number of multidimensional female characters in Seis Manos is also incredibly exciting. Officer Garcia and Isabela aren’t one-note “badass” female warriors; they seek justice and balance, not just battle. And, unlike certain depictions in popular U.S. sitcoms, the women of Seis Manos aren’t hypersexualized. Through its female antagonists, who are victims of domestic violence, the show also explores how power can be sought to snuff out power. Seis Manos is a fascinating cultural hybrid, one that deserves another season to showcase its layered and compelling women characters—and to show off its beyond-stylish action.