Animation is a wonderful medium, isn’t it? The way drawings get put into a consecutive illusion of motion, combining all sorts of aspects of art and color to create spectacles that inspire others to do the same. That’s the power of visual media: creative inspiration. You can look at all sorts of auteurs and visionaries such as Quentin Tarantino and Hideaki Anno, and they’ll tell you their inspirations: anime, movies, tokusatsu productions, etc. It’s the origin story of most in all creative industries. Creativity begets creativity, so it’s all the more wonderful to see works that celebrate it. 2014’s Shirobako was a charming and immersive look into the anime industry from the perspective of 5 friends working in different aspects of that field. 2017’s Re:Creators brought all sorts of fictional creations to the real world to showcase the many sides of what writers and authors are capable of as well as what kinds of influences and intentions their works hold. Now that we’re in the year of our lord 2020, Keep Your Hands off Eizouken provides a charming look at 3 passionate high school girls in different production roles of animation, and how they work with each other to create their own anime.
It’s gonna be difficult not to gush about this show on a level that most of its main characters do, so pardon me. The energy of this show radiates a level of autistic CBF energy I adore to no end as its passion and charm breathe life into me. The eccentric, high-energy nature of Midori Azakusa and Tsubame Mizukashi is precious with how they gush about the technical aspects of animation. Their chemistry with each other and resident penny-pincher and schemer Sayaka Kanamori is a sight to behold. Their no-chill energy might be a bit much for some people, but they alone could be fun in almost any scenario, as the anime shows us. The way they gush over animation techniques and still make it presentable, the way they come up with ideas like a moving logo akin to the Pixar lamp, the way the three casually interact with a mix of hyper and deadpan energy, all make my mind race at a thousand miles per hour! I love how they have to keep thinking about believability in their fantasy before making concessions. I love the theatric air they sometimes put on in their declarations. The show is just a joyous bundle of joy, one with a lot of comedic value such as them praying to the fallen comrade of 30K yen or what comes of filming Azakusa falling off guard rails on the second floor of a building. It also tackles a robot anime while having the characters balance the unrealistic nature of the genre in general with a level of plausibility, coolness, and internal logic in a way meant to harken back to the appeal of mecha in the first place. Needless to say, the mere concept of the arc excited me, and bias aside, the execution delivered!
There are some problems with the show’s pacing. While the arc structure is generally solid, the episodes themselves can feel almost lackadaisical, as if we’re just flowing or cutting from one scene to another with little in the way of escalation. Episode 11 is probably the biggest offender of this, as it ends up feeling a lot longer than it actually is as a result. There are a few examples of episodes that also can’t figure out a good stopping point, either. It’s not the biggest issue in the world, and it being more of a slice of life title does help excuse it a little, but it’s still a problem that exists.
One can argue that these characters aren’t especially layered or complex compared to some of other Yuasa titles such as Ping Pong: The Animation. As true as that is, it might be missing the point as a criticism of Eizouken’s writing. These characters are essentially vectors for this passion for animation that this somewhat dramatic slice of life-esque title presents. On top of that, while one can argue how similar Azakusa and Mizukashi are to the point of being as similar as Carole and Tuesday (from the eponymous disappointment of 2019) are in terms of characterization, they at least have incredible chemistry with one another and with Hinamori. Frankly, this dynamic of friendship is what sells the trio for me, as it’s fun to see them not just talk about the medium or about cash, but about anything else as they just have fun with whatever they’re doing. Azakusa’s definitely a ball of energy who gets too carried away with herself, but one who is otherwise laid-back and socially awkward. Mizukashi’s similarly energetic about a different part of animation --hence the two coming off as similar at times-- but she’s an incredibly sheltered girl at the end of the day, and one who just wants to follow her passions. Hinamori is the tough girl of the bunch, as she’s a schemer always on the hunt for money, and a deadpan hardass to boot. They’re not the most fleshed-out or interesting personalities in the world, but for what they are, the show takes advantage of them and explores their dynamics well. It’s also amusing to see all the little sound effects characters make and that Azakusa is capable of nitpicking and breaking down the believability of settings and ideas in anime, though that’s the aspie and reviewer in me talking, respectively.
The show also takes advantage of how painful being an animator can be. The girls working for free is made for a morbidly humorous comparison to the low wages animators work for. Cuts take absolutely forever and require absurd lengths of time to complete as animators work for what feels like nonstop. Understanding realistic or plausible physics of whatever an animator is shooting for can be downright aggravating, like with smoke, sword movements, or hair movements. Several concessions often end up having to be made for the sake of getting a work of animation done in time, resulting in cost-cutting measures that can look cheap if desperate enough. An example of this is when the characters talk about how to convey the fast movement of a tank rolling around, and they discuss the idea of a background with moving highlights before Mizukashi rightfully calls out how much she hates the technique and they find a better solution. If Shirobako takes a somewhat lighthearted approach to what troubled production looks like, Eizouken does the same regarding the grueling nature of working as an animator, even on freelance projects not commissioned by anyone but themselves.
I’m also intrigued by the strange, sci-fi school setting. We always see new bits being fleshed out with each episode like how clubs work or what getting lunch is like over there. Student council students are a level of hardass even Kanamori has trouble keeping up with, and club presentations can reach a level of violence where armored guards are forced to step in to protect club members with shitty presentations from getting trampled and beaten. The school itself is this strange hodgepodge of inconsistent elements in its design, as Azakusa points out in the first episode. It’s a chaotic mess that vaguely resembles the real world while having the grandiose and almost bloodthirsty attitude present in say, Kill la Kill’s Honnouji Academy. There’s also this semblance of reality and fiction melting together much like Satoshi Kon’s filmography, as the overactive imagination of characters physically transports them into whatever they’re visually brainstorming or whatever gets shown on-screen. The level of immersion characters reach gets to a point where they react and interact with what isn’t even there.
Then again, with how great the visuals are, hard not to gush about and get immersed in them as much as the characters do. Masaaki Yuasa and his team at Science SARU do a beautiful job of taking the strange and creative world of the manga and bringing it to life. The absurd and extremely emotive facial expressions characters have all of the time are all amusing and ever-shifting. The character designs all feel distinct from one another with different head proportions that still feel grounded in the same world. The colors all pop while still feeling somewhat cool, almost akin to Tokyo Godfathers. This is most exemplified by the drawings the characters make, which radiate this endless, unbound youthful energy to them. Of course, where the show tries to flex its muscles the most outside of its character animation is when the characters immerse themselves in a setting. The beautifully unfinished setting models are just adorable, as pencil marks remain on models that haven’t been fully colored. It captures the setting and design sketching phase beautifully, and it does so while keeping the models consistent. It’s fun to see how the outfits our characters wear change in response to these scenes, and models such as the dragonfly plane sketch our characters envision themselves piloting in episode 1 make for the best use of 3D CGI in a 2D anime I have noted in years. Of course, the level of detail in the animation itself is impressive in terms of fluidity, about as much as when the show tries to recreate Future Boy Conan, one of Asakusa’s favorite shows. The way she gushes over the physicality of the characters’ movements and other aspects of animation are represented perfectly in this recreation of an anime classic. This is all just gushing about episode 1! I haven’t talked about a single thing about the rest of the show’s visuals, the stellar animation showcases that make up the climax of each arc, or about the vibrance present in the OP and ED. That should tell you just how visually stunning the show is, and I didn’t even talk about my favorite moment from the first episode.
There are several gorgeous scenes thanks to Masaaki Yuasa’s directing as well as due to lovely art direction that works perfectly with the strange school setting our characters find themselves in. Perhaps nothing is quite as artsy as say, Berserk 1997’s shots, but there are still gorgeous moments such as the space scene at the end of the big imagination setpiece of episode 1. Sunsets are as warm as they can be without ever feeling plain like most other anime, and the CG water somehow looks both photorealistic and capable of usually blending in with the environment of the show. It doesn’t always work out and there are a few awkward CG moments, but this is still a joy to look at. There are other details, such as at the end of episode 2 when Azakusa and her family are shocked at a video of her falling that got filmed earlier in the episode. She’s so embarrassed that she’s literally malformed and shittily drawn compared to everyone else in the shot. A lot of the techniques and explanations this show employs get nice visual representations as well. I’m not entirely sure if this is my favorite Yuasa work from a visual perspective, but it is certainly one of the best in this regard. Not every episode quite lives up to episode 1, as there are a few CG problems and several moments that do admittedly look plain. This is to be expected from a contemporary anime production, and what they get away with on a regular basis is still vibrant and imaginative enough to properly convey and live up to the intricacies of the medium it puts on display. The series captures this overactive imagination that I envision every day given that I often think visually, and I love that.
As you can tell, this show is hyper and that energy has rubbed off on me.
If I had to find the weakest link, it would be the OST. This is the first anime OST done by Oorutaichi, and while it fits the setting and vibe of the show rather well, little of it is particularly memorable. The show also overuses certain tracks, as if there is one specific piece meant to be used every time the characters go into their visually-driven imagination setpieces. That said, I did notice how each arc of the show introduces new tracks, all of which are nice enough. I also like the brash and peppy energy presented by the OP, “Easy Breezy” by chelmico. The visuals of the OP have been memed to death thanks to the Drake-inspired dance moves the girls show off, but the song itself is still what I like most about it, though it isn’t especially remarkable. I’m less fond of the ED so that’s all I’ll say about it.
It’s hard to avoid spilling everything I love about the show and what it tackles in detail. This review needs to maintain a level of coherence, after all. The show isn’t this 10/10 hype beast that I adore from beginning to end, but it resonates with me on a level that makes it difficult to get bored or find much to complain about. I didn’t even get to touch on the main conflicts much like with how beautifully and earnestly Mizukashi’s conflict with her actor parents concludes, or go into scenes like when the characters travel to a location for inspiration. The final arc involves the show’s understanding of social media marketing and how star-power gets many interested in a studio’s body of work so that the more invested can follow it thoroughly and deep-dive their catalog. I also never got to talk about the decent supporting cast and how interesting the scenes where they and our main trio come to an understanding are. Barring minor contrivances, everything feels natural rather than forced. All of the conflicts and interactions have this genuineness to their execution.
There’s so much love and passion for the medium oozing out of Eizouken, and it’s hard not to get invested. Sure, the high-energy nature and how specialized it is in this field can turn some away, but it’s hard not to appreciate just how much about anime the series covers. Its heart isn’t just with animation, as the show has a few beautiful character moments and emotional climaxes of its own. The likable characters and wonderful visuals accentuate the joyful feeling of this show and how much it cares about what it covers. The show does not shy away from the darker and more complicated aspects of being an animator, even though it doesn’t dwell on the grim nature of it all. Eizouken’s simply a treat to watch, and certainly a contender for anime of the year moving forward. It understands, and that’s what allows it to shine so brightly.