The Winter 2020 Anime Preview Guide
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
How would you rate episode 1 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
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How was the first episode?
I'm probably one of the few people around here who wasn't highly anticipating this series, in part because Masaaki Yuasa's sense of visual aesthetic has turned me off on his past projects much more than it has impressed me. (If I had to name the ugliest-looking anime that I saw in the 2010s, I would be sorely tempted to bring up Ping Pong.) Hence I approached this effort with a great deal of trepidation. After seeing the first episode, I am still far from being a fan of his visual style, but I also walked away feeling like I had just watched something special. It justified the hype that others were giving the series, and I have to respect that.
Although I immediately found the character designs to be disagreeable, two signs of potential did show early on: the overly-elaborate designs of both the apartment complex that Midori lives in and her later school and the clear homage being made to Hayao Miyazaki's Future Boy Conan in the anime which inspired her. In fact, nods to Miyazaki's works are a recurring theme throughout the episode, whether it's an opening shot of young Midori in a car reminiscent of the opening of Spirited Away or design aspects of later action scenes which have the feel of a number of his movies. The main characters are also appreciable; both Midori and Tsubame display genuine passions for their interests, and while Kanamori may claim that she's just in it for the (potential) money, she conveys the sense that she is actually going along with the whole thing because it entertains her, especially including the way that Midori and Tsubame start bouncing ideas off each other. The dialog exchanges here also seem less calculated and more free-flowing than normal, but that has been a hallmark of some of Yuasa's past works so that's no surprise.
The animation quality is pretty high throughout (and please note that I am carefully delineating “aesthetic” and “animation quality” as separate factors), but the break point for me on accepting the show came at about the 18:30 mark, when the characters are suddenly in the concept art without acknowledging that anything has changed. That is the point where the episode becomes pure visual spectacle, especially as the characters adjust the reality of how things work on the fly as they soar through a sketched-out world or come up with that completely ridiculous way to accomplish the “fly sideways through a narrow gap” feat. The final shot of that sequence, with the meteorites crashing into the ocean, is even a beautiful one. The musical backing to that whole sequence by Oorutaichi (who also did the music for Kick-Heart) also can't be ignored as contributing to the sequence's success.
The end of the episode leaves vague whether that whole sequence was just shared imagination or if something supernatural actually happened there, but at this point I don't think that matters. This is an exciting effort that's going to be one of the most talked-about shows of the new season, and with good reason.
The first episode of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is the kind of premiere that makes you feel a little bad for the rest of the shows coming out this winter. Given Masaaki Yuasa's incredible track record, I went into this adaptation of Sumito Ōwara's popular manga with high expectations, and they weren't just met, but completely blown out of the water. To distil such earnest and unbridled joy into every frame of twenty-two minutes' worth of animation is no easy feat, but the incredible crew working at Science SARU have made it look easy.
Eizouken! pops from the very beginning, thanks to the perfect marriage of Ōwara's charming art stye and Yuasa's directorial sensibilities. The moment young Midori gets a glimpse of her impossibly designed new hometown, it's no wonder that she dedicates the rest of her childhood to honing her instincts as an artist. She is shown being completely transformed by a chance viewing of a real anime called Future Boy Conan, which was one of Miyazaki's most notable pre-Ghibli efforts, and her love of creating detailed and beautiful new worlds is perfectly matched with an equal passion for creating anime. Later, when she and her fiscally minded pal Kanamori befriend local celebrity Tsubame, they discover that the latter also has dreams of working in animation. The group dynamic is wonderfully articulated in this episode, and anybody with even a passing interest in how animation is made will likely be charmed by the way the trio form their own impromptu little studio: Midori is the concept artist and background designer, Tsubame handles the character work, and Kanamori, who knows almost nothing about anime, is basically their producer, keeping her eyes on the capital to be gained while at the same time serving as the engine that keeps the other two moving in the right direction.
Fun characters and a solid meta-artistic premise alone make Eizouken! worth recommending, but the real draw here is, well, the drawings. The way this show incorporates all sorts of different artistic styles to reflect its heroines' teeming imaginations is something to behold. From the sketchy first-steps Midori makes as a child, to the gorgeous pencil-and-watercolor world that the trio create together later in the episode, the best parts of this premiere are when the girls get lost in their own creations, immersing themselves in a fantasy they've crafted with their own hands. We absolutely feel the passion Midori has for the mechanics and logic of the settings and objects she designs, along with Tsubame's knack for imbuing those worlds with motion and personality, and the end result is the thrilling fun dragonfly-ship chase sequence. Whether or not these flights of fancy are meant to be taken as a literal dive into a fantasy world or merely a very vivid group hallucination is beside the point. Ōwara, Yuasa, and Co. are here to give these girls a chance to hone their skills and come together to make something greater than what any of them could have produced on their own. This is animation both as art, product and an act of play. The rest of this Winter's premieres have a lot to live up to, now that Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! has arrived. I cannot recommend this one enough.
Masaaki Yuasa is, without question, one of the greatest anime directors of all time. From the heady cross-media experimentalism of Mind Game through the polished yet endlessly inventive artistry of shows like The Tatami Galaxy and Ping Pong the Animation, his works demonstrate a creativity and ambition that has consistently placed him at the very forefront of the art form. His works segue fluidly through diverse visual styles, with each shot treating his worlds not like sets to be populated with characters, but canvasses to be unified by a singular artistic vision. And in addition to the gorgeous animation and creativity of art design that gives all his works such unique flare, his works also tend to eclipse most anime in narrative terms, too; he adapts only the most prestigious source material, and treats both his chosen works and his audience with fondness and respect.
Though Yuasa has always been an “animator's animator,” and basically all of his works feel like love letters to animation at large, Eizouken! takes Yuasa's reverence for animation's potential to new and beautiful extremes. Adapting a manga about three girls who are determined to create their own anime, every scene of Eizouken's premiere is bursting with visual wonders that all speak to the transformative power of art. Early scenes feature heroine Asakusa breathlessly exploring her labyrinthian new home, and then gleefully translating her findings into maps and secret bases and mental adventures - a universal childhood experience, here smartly illustrated as the first building blocks of creative passion.
Over and over again, Asakusa's passion for creation are echoed by the vibrancy of the world around her, her creative passion seemingly spilling over into her enchanting, maze-like home. Art can teach us many things, but Eizouken specifically seems determined to teach us just how much a passion for art itself can move us, redefine our world, and drive us forward.
Asakusa's old friend Kanamori and new friend Tsubame are both equally lively and endearing in their own ways; Kamanori's grit-teeth smile felt like a tidy encapsulation of one particular high school experience, while Tsubame's own passion for animation and the world around her naturally plays off Asakusa's enthusiasm. The scene where the two meet is a particular highlight, at least for a nerd like me; Asakusa's understanding of animation's unique power is illustrated through a sequence where she talks over an extended clip of Future Boy Conan, Hayao Miyazakia's directorial debut from 1978, here lovingly recreated to inspire a new generation. But even that sequence is ultimately overshadowed by this episode's breathtaking climax, where the joy of discovering a new creative partner is illustrated through Asakusa and Tsubame literally taking a flight in the flying craft they invent together. Eizouken's metaphors for the creative process are clever, funny, and poignant all in one; when Tsubame laughs deliriously as the wind rushes past her face, I can truly feel the joy of at last expressing your truest self.
Eizouken's first episode is a charming and beautiful spectacle from start to finish, one that playfully conveys the almost indescribable joy of truly connecting with art, and of expressing yourself through your own artistic creations. The character animation is consistent and lively, with each of our leads possessing a physicality and posture that emerges naturally from their personalities. The direction is active yet purposeful, combining mangaka Sumito Ōwara's delightful, intricate design work with Yuasa's recent expansion into Flash-facilitated 3D movement. The soundtrack and sound design are terrific; I loved the opening song, and loved even more that Asakusa provides her own sound effects for her dragonfly craft. I'm delighted to have Yuasa and his incredibly talented team back, and still reeling from just how much I loved this episode. 2020's first must-see production has arrived.
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