Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken

(Welcome to Ani-time Ani-where, a regular column dedicated to helping the uninitiated understand and appreciate the world of anime.)

There have been more than a few manga and anime shows about people who want to make manga or anime. The problem is that they usually fall into the cynical side of the industry, focusing on the hardships of making a living doing hard work with little pay, but not so much on the creative aspect of it, or the huge love that goes into doing the work. But this is not that anime. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a show clearly made by people who know the hardships that come with choosing the animator’s life, but also how rewarding it is to see something you had in your mind be brought to life. 

The latest anime by Masaaki Yuasa and Science Saru follows a trio of high school girls who decide to start making anime. The series shows both the magic of animation to take you to magical new worlds you could have never imagined, but also the struggles creative people face when trying to make their dreams into a business, showing some of the harsh realities animators face in the real world, all presented in what is basically the anime version of Ed, Edd n Eddy. It’s hilarious, surreal, inspiring, and also one of the most visually inventive shows I’ve seen in some time, resulting in the surprise of the 2020 winter season, a strong contender for anime of the year, and the perfect binge for social distancing.

What Makes It Great

In this column, I tend to point out whenever an anime does something new or special with their opening theme. After all, it’s the first thing you see each episode, and Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! features one hell of a killer opening theme. Chelmico’s “Easy Breezy” is not only a total banger, but it perfectly encapsulates everything that makes the anime special: the song itself will instantly get stuck in your head, and it features trippy and gorgeously animated visuals that tease what’s to come in the episode proper while opening itself to endless parodies, homages and memes (just like the show itself) with its Drake-inspired dance moves, including the inevitable SpongeBob version of the opening, and an Ed, Edd n Eddy one.

Of course, trippy animation and a great song only take you so far. You also need memorable characters and oh boy, does Eizouken fill that need. Our main trio consists of the fiercely enthusiastic and lifelong anime fan, Asakusa, who specializes in building vast and complex worlds but also constantly loses herself in her imagination and forgets to actually get work done – which the show makes fun of by making her look just like Hayao Miyazaki at one point. There’s Mizusaki, a rich young model and aspiring animator focusing on the art of movements. And there’s Kanamori, the Ron Swanson of anime high-school girls. The towering, low-voiced, silver-tongued, ruthless, business-savvy, money-hungry, high-school equivalent of a yakuza who isn’t really in it for the art, Kanamori sees an opportunity to make money off the work of the other two girls, but quickly finds herself taking the role of producer and manager, being the unstoppable force that keeps the group together and under deadline. 

Honestly, Eizouken is the rare show that – like The Simpsons – allows you to have an entire conversation using nothing but quotes and memes from the show. And like Springfield, the world of Eizouken feels both larger-than-life and lived-in. There is some bizarre city planning with impossible structures, river canals everywhere, a teachers’ lounge in the middle of an empty pool, and so many school clubs than can fill your imagination, from music, to robot clubs, to a security club equipped with anti-riot gear, and also whatever the hell the Deutsche Neue Härte club is. 

What It Brings to the Conversation

Of course, a show about animation would only be expected to feature great visuals, and Eizouken more than delivers on that front. Science Saru brings to life the barest of sketches made by the girls and turns them into visual marvels, and the anime brings home the idea that animation, in particular, has the power to transport you to new worlds. The show often breaks into fantasy segments that bring the girl’s wild ideas to life as if they were real, like a pitch meeting to discuss an anime short about a giant robot suddenly has said robot break into the room and wow everyone away in real life. Eizouken perfectly portrays why people love animation, but it also serves as a love letter to every minuscule aspect of animation production, with entire episodes focused on the art of animating movement, or the difficulty of making wind and smoke look convincing in ways that are consistently funny and creative, while displaying a deep love for the medium and those who craft it. 

At times, Eizouken feels like Silicon Valley for animators, showing us the entire arduous journey of trying to make money out of personal interests or dreams, all while never shying away from the very real hardships involved in trying to make it in the industry. Over at Polygon, Kambole Campbell wrote about how Yuasa and his team portray the physical toll of working in animation, with shots of Mizusaki’s hands covered in cuts and bandages for working days and nights to accomplish even a couple of minutes of animation, while often using Kanamori to convey how the low pay rates and lack of time often result in having to cut corners and compromise your vision. While this isn’t entirely new in anime, Eizouken puts a twist on the story by always putting humor and a love for the craft front and center. The conditions may be horrible, but the anime has a clear answer as to why anyone would put themselves through these conditions: because of the joy in bringing your wildest dreams to life and seeing other people captivated by the art you’ve made. The high-school setting is key in this, as ultimately it doesn’t matter much that the girls aren’t making huge profits, because they are still girls, their focus is on the craft and their passion.

Like pretty much every other filmmaking medium, anime is usually not very diverse, and when they do include characters of color, the characters usually look cartoonish and culturally outdated. Eizouken is a rare exception in that it features background signs in different languages and a very racially diverse student body, including giving characters of color speaking roles. According to the creator of the original manga, the inspiration came from his own experience in elementary school, which included kids from very different backgrounds. Likewise, the animators of the show have talked about how Masaaki Yuasa gave the specific instruction to ensure that character movement look “gender-neutral.” The reasoning was that the staff would focus on bringing out the personalities of the girls while allowing for the story to feel like it could star any person regardless of gender. The result is a show that avoids unfortunate anime tropes of overly sexualized female characters with lessen characterization and personality. 

Why Non-Anime Fans Should Check It Out

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! truly is animator’s animation. The show brings forth the deep love put into the work by those who dedicate their lives to making art, all while introducing the audience to a strange and inventive futuristic world that’s a little bit brighter than the one we live in now, full of colorful characters you will find yourself quoting all day. Most importantly, Eizouken will make you fall in love with animation, and give you a new-found respect for the craft itself and those who make it. 

Watch This If You Like: One Cut of the Dead, Miyazaki movies, Ed Wood, Ed, Edd n Eddy

***

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is now streaming on Crunchyroll.

Cool Posts From Around the Web: