A Love Letter to Animation – A Review of Keep Your Hands off Eizouken!

In 2015, P.A. Works produced what would be remembered as one of the best shows of the year, Shirobako. The series was, funnily enough, an anime about making anime. It was praised for its depiction of the hardships of working in the industry as well as the optimism with which it approached its story of overcoming hardship.

There have been a few shows that have dealt with similar subjects, usually in a business-type setting. There was New Game, about game development, Girlish Number, a cynical comedy about the darker side of anime production, and all-in-all, plenty of shows about working women in creative fields.

However, no other show quite retained the same popularity and acclaim over time quite like Shirobako. That is, until now. After ONA’s like Devilman and films like Ride Your Wave and The Night is Short, Walk on Girl, Masaaki Yuasa returned to TV anime for something truly special.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na, or Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken, might very well be one of the most uplifting, insightful, and inspiring shows I’ve seen in a very long time. It does for the industry much what Shirobako did, openly disclosing the ups and downs of the business, but in a way far more imaginative and stylistic than it’s predecessors.

Midori Asakusa reminds me a lot of myself, not just when I was younger, but the person I continue to be today. The story begins already establishing her overactive imagination as she moves to a new town that just begs to be explored by our curious protagonist.

She goes around, exploring every nook and cranny. She draws elaborate maps and imagines and sketches all kinds of action-packed scenarios, making all the sound effects herself. One rainy day, she decides to watch anime while home alone, and in an instant, one creative mind clashes with a creative medium. You get to witness her fall in love with animation.

Fast-forward to high school, where Asakusa and her cunning friend Sayaka Kanamori cross paths with popular teen model Tsubame Mizusaki. Turns out that Mizusaki is a huge anime fan herself, which helps her and Asakusa get along quickly. Soon enough, they’ve already combined Asakusa’s skill for backgrounds and concepts with Mizusaki’s skill for character design to make some cool stuff.

The more money-minded Kanamori sees an opportunity for profit and the three of them team up to create a club to make anime. But with an anime club already existing at the school, they start a film club, or eizouken, to disguise their work on animated short films. From there, the three girls go through all of the hurdles found in the real-life animation industry.

In a word, the series is educational. Processes associated with the craft are laid out in detail, but done so in a style which emphasizes the magic of art form. The early episodes tend to end on elaborate and musically rich sequences of animated concepts explored as if the characters were transported to an imaginary sandbox.

Through such sequences, you get a sense of just how intermixed the story, world-building, and aesthetic are in producing anime. The characters are creating a fight between a lone girl and a mech and construct believable concepts to ground the fight. The narrated interchange between the creators paints a portrait of the kind of conversations that result in the action we see in every anime we watch.

The unabashed honesty with which the show approaches the child-at-heart attitude of Asakusa and other characters lends the series a big advantage in character building. The kinds of wacky and silly adventures which we go on at a younger age are shown in all their splendor. What we might look back on embarrassed later in our own lives is embraced with such confidence it’s hard not to see yourself in the characters.

Of course, the struggles are also an integral part of what makes the show informative. It lets the viewer savor that childlike enthusiasm but has no qualms putting the less ideal elements of the craft on display. Things like crunch time and overwork are tackled early on and are ever-present elements to consider when overcoming big challenges from beginning to end.

Personally, the moments which resonated with me most were when the characters doubted themselves or found the parts of the craft they love most being challenged. Asakusa finds herself increasingly concerned with both her ability to explain the cool shit she has created and the logic of said creations. She doubts herself and her work, something I relate to on a spiritual level.

Additionally the logistics of the animation process demand sacrifice and compromise in ways that go beyond crunch time. Each character serves to embody components of the animation pipeline which couldn’t exist feasibly without each other. Asakusa is a director who struggles with the cohesion and logic of the myriad ideas she has. Mizusaki loves traditional animation to the point where she finds it difficult to take shortcuts even when they are necessary.

Finally, there is Kanamori, who understands money, but more importantly how animation as a business requires savvy planning to survive as a creative brand. While she isn’t a fan of anime at the start and is more business-minded for the sake of the club’s continued existence, she isn’t a greedy or unreasonable person. If anything, she understands that the goal of business isn’t just money, but sustainability and helping the people behind a business thrive to the best of their ability.

Continually, our three heroes find themselves in front of roadblocks which could be seen as analogous of many real-world hurdles for animation companies. They are constantly at odds with other clubs, the student council, and the school administration, who see them as competitors, nuisances, or simply don’t understand their work and its benefit as an art.

Eizouken is an adaptation of an ongoing manga and with all the good publicity the show has gotten, I don’t doubt a second season could happen. However, this is one of those shows where I might be content with just one season. The only thing which arguably was left unresolved was the rivalries with other clubs.

That being said, I trust the team behind this season to make even more quality entertainment going forward without the formula running stale. There are plenty more stories that can be shared to better inform people about the kinds of work that goes into shows some of us take for granted.

I’ve been a hardcore fan of sakuga for as long as I can remember and I gotta be honest, seeing a show like this get popular warms my heart. It is practically designed to get people interested in the inner workings of the medium. It helps that the show is generally well-animated throughout.

Most of this is thanks to the art style, which is colorful and adorable beyond belief. Every character has a distinct look to them and is a total mood unto themselves. Kanamori and Asakusa are especially fun to watch. The former has the confidence and swagger of a yakuza thug with a degree in business. The latter animates so sporadically and adorably as to be the very essence one with an overactive imagination… and social awkwardness.

Character animation is consistently eye-catching regardless of a scene taking place in the real world or someone’s imagination. The sequences showing off their animated concepts are drawn in a completely different, almost watercolor style. Of course, the animated short films themselves are also very well done. But fitting with the story, they aren’t perfect. And fitting with the story, even more, that imperfection makes them special.

Performances across the board are great, though I must give a special shoutout to Asakusa’s VA, Sairi Itou. This is her first credited role in any anime ever and oh my god she is incredible. Asakusa’s voice is so unique that it felt like it came from a bygone style of voice-acting. She has the voice of someone who has played shonen protagonists for decades.

Speaking of new talent, the music by Oorutaichi was similarly unique. A lot of reused tracks, but they changed things up enough that it never became tiring. Besides, the tracks themselves were great, so it isn’t like I was complaining when I got to hear one again and again.

Just as 2019’s Winter lineup gave us Shield Hero, Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is the first must watch of 2020 and an early contender for the best of the year. 2020 was already looking to be a treat for anime fans, but now I’m just looking forward to see what might top this going forward.

Eizouken is the kind of show that builds a special bridge between the audience and the creators making the art. It will make you appreciate animation in ways you may not have before and will win your heart with one of the most ecstatic trios of characters I’ve seen in quite a while.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is available for legal streaming through Crunchyroll.

If all things went well over the weekend, this is one of two reviews posted this week. I’m gonna be going on hiatus for April so enjoy a double-feature:

My Review of Psycho-Pass 3: First Inspector

I’m taking a break to work on other projects absent from my blog. I will be doing some writing, as well as turning some of my old essays into videos for my YouTube channel which you can find here.

Did you love Eizouken as much as I did? Were you hoping for a bit more? Let me know in the comments below and let me know what you’d like for me to review when I get back from hiatus!

I hope you are all staying healthy and safe! Thanks for reading and I’ll see you next time!!!

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