Every now and then, a show comes along that act like a nostalgic stimulus that uproots the core reasons why I was drawn to anime since my formative years. Seeing Asakusa and her crew dive into their imaginative antics brought back memories of me being 9 or 10 years old – it would be after Toonami ended, and me and my younger brother would zip around the house re-enacting (or maybe LARPing?) our own “prediction” fan-fiction sequel of the DBZ or Naruto episode we then finished. We definitely looked pretty insane stomping through the apartment for a solid half an hour (maybe it was all the sugar in the milk tea we had) but in our heads we were checked in into our own world. I never really fully committed and wrote down an entire fanfiction (thank the lord), but I can relate to the surge of inspiration Asakusa felt when she saw Conan of the Lost Island.

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Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is the latest project from Science SARU, spearheaded by Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi – highly respected profiles in the industry and among fans. It follows a slice of the story of three high school girls as they produce anime films,  and polish their craftsmanship.

While these “love letters to the medium”- type shows, like Shirobako takes a more fleshed-out dive into how anime production works on a bigger scale, and simultaneously explores the psyche of different people in different departments of production, Eizouken is more focused on distilling out the ideals of work ethic and artistic vision, and does it in compelling ways. And that’s sort of a trend I see as I watch more shows directed by Yuasa, it’s that he prefers to focus on a message and make it bleed into almost all departments of the show.

As far as the technical aspects of the anime go, the soundtrack and its spacious sound design are my favorite parts. The soundtrack is other-worldly, mystical at times, and playful at others. It’s refreshing, the soundtrack sounds like spring. It goes well with the reality-imagination shifts that happen often throughout the series. I doubt these transitions are meant to be a device for narrating magical realism, rather it seems pretty clear that are supposed to be visual representations of emotions and thought-processes behind the characters. The fact that these transitions rarely have any visual or audio cues make them feel, weirdly real, as if they are part of the main narrative – maybe they are to some extent. It’s up to imagination.

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While I am not 100% on board with these un-cued and sometimes random forays into “imagination world”, I feel like they add character to the show and they are animated as imaginatively as they are storyboarded. More often than not, these transitions remind me that I really am watching an anime – a visual medium, where tedious verbal exposition and dialogue is replaced by free-spirited animation. Interestingly, the show itself mirrors these elements in the Eizouken girls’ productions – there’s a lot of emphasis on visuals and BGM.  The OP is catchy – the looping bluesy riff and chelmico’s playful verses don’t come up in the short version of the song but it’s still fun. I’m a big fan of the color scheme in the sequence, it pops just as much as the character designs do – maybe it’s the other way around, maybe it’s the OP that gives the designs so much memorability for me.

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Eizouken is a fantastic-looking show. In addition to the neat character designs, the CG rendered backgrounds surprisingly mesh well with the exaggerated POV and character animation. There’s also a bit more control in the fluidity of the character animation, it seems – and while this is a bit off the beaten-path for a Yuasa show, I don’t hold any grievances over it. The visual direction of the show still has its own brand of flair – from cinematic camera movements to panel divisions.

The chemistry between the main trio is… unique. It’s not the cute dynamic you expect in a Doga Kobo-esque CGDCT (I almost forgot the term, it’s been a while), where the girls in a club are working towards a goal, driven with an unbridled passion for the medium; and when shit hits the fan, they join hands and boost each other up to overcome it. Not saying that Eizouken doesn’t share these elements in the character dynamic – there’s a sense of realism to it. Mizusaki is probably the closest to a genki-girl you can find in the group, she’s got a real drive to get things done, but at the same time, she gets stuck on minute details an average viewer wouldn’t care about – she gets too stuck on her craft to maintain a constant workflow. Asakusa starts out as a timid aspiring concept artist, her ambition can pierce the heavens! And Mizusaki’s entry seemed to jumpstart Asakusa’s visionary drill. It seemed that the girls are ready to pour their souls out for their craft.

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But that’s rarely how anything turns out – there are always restrictions. Artistic ambition and talent can only get you so far when it comes to real-life productions in real-time, compromises to your vision need to be made in order to come up with a final product – and that’s a message the show hammers on whenever the Eizouken girls finish one of their shorts. Mizusaki and Asakusa accept that success and failure aren’t binaries (they coexist) and that there’s always room for improvement – ambition is a drill that doesn’t stop spinning because there’s always a wall behind the one you just overcome.

Hard-headed Kanamori is a mediator of the duo’s ambition and work ethic. She is the funniest character on the show for me, but there’s no doubt that she is the pivot of the trio that the show needed to cement their core message of coexistence. Whenever the club’s production runs into a wall, Kanamori steps up and tries her best to get things going again. Why? She wants to have productive profit – good money. She wants to prop up things that she feels other people should pay attention to.

And through this juxtaposing dynamic between Kanamori’s hard-headedness, Mizusaki’s perfectionist drive and Asakusa’s unbridled artistic vision drives home the show’s theme of coexistence. That in order to produce a finished product, the three should find a compromise, passion isn’t supposed to be extinguished, but rather should be supported by level-headedness – with some compromise. A bit of compromise might make your workflow feel a bit easy breezy.

Although, Eizouken’s message of accepting coexistence is strong, it would feel a bit too short-sighted – not all fights are caused through misunderstandings or lack of empathy, there are just purely malicious people out there. Still, I like to think that the message has more weight to it than depth. Another criticism I have is that I wish the supporting characters had a bit more going to them, most of them were just for laughs. Speaking of which, the comedy didn’t always stick, especially when it came to the episode-by-episode student council shenanigans, I became numb to it to some degree over the episodes.

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The head tilt showdown was funny for a couple of episodes

Even with all that said, Eizouken is an exciting show – it feels very much like a tribute to the work ethic and ambition of the people behind anime. It also reminded me of a more fundamental reason for my attachment to anime – an interest in cool alternative realities. The anime also carries a hopeful message that while limitless dreams and mundane reality are seemingly opposites now, we have the power to stitch them together through an exciting piece of work in the future – piece by piece, one stitch at a time.

Thanks for reading. Hope y’all are staying safe.

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