Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
by Zac Bertschy,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
Our Eizouken heroes have only 45 days left to finish their next project, an anime short about the uniquely-built town they live in. Midori is meeting with the (infamously picky and kinda wishy-washy) art club to help with backgrounds, but even they're frustrated with the fact that, frankly, she still hasn't... really come up with the story or fleshed out the concept completely yet. So it's time to find some inspiration.
Meanwhile, Producer Kanamori is dealing with the Transcription Research Group, which is complaining that the Eizouken's latest animation isn't nearly close to finished enough and that it takes time to burn physical discs, which is something few people still even do. Kanamori's negotiation style is hilariously blunt - “Isn't your group famous? Why'd you take more work than you think you can handle? Why are you bitching so much? We'll get it done.”
But just then – the Security Club shows up (naturally, with tanks and guns armed with paintballs) to arrest the head of the Transcription Research Group for making deals using school funds without permission. I loved the little detail of Doumeki making sure to capture the exciting audio of the overreacting, militarized Security Club's shakedown and subsequent dramatic tasering of the Transcription Group's leader, who is basically getting busted for making deals to burn DVDs for other clubs. The melodrama here is just hilarious given what's actually at stake, but this show never really holds back.
And just then – the Student Council secretary Sakaki shows up with a posse what amounts to a warrant to take over this case. This is a pretty interesting circumstance – basically, Kanamori found a way to get product made, but given the rules that dictate what's to be done with student club funding, all of this is effectively illicit – and it hints at a larger world of underground student activity between all of these clubs that wouldn't be allowed to exist if they were actually following the rules. (And they probably wouldn't be able to even make animation if they actually followed the rules – another recurring theme in this show).
This is all basically a setup for another showdown between Kanamori and Sakaki, who effectively uses it as a warning to Kanamori – keep doing things outside the strict boundaries of the student council, which were established during their first encounter (back when it was also established that the Eizouken's incredible animation output is basically what's keeping them alive) and you're next. Naturally, Kanamori immediately counters that with a poker face and a list of damages to their building from the raid that she expects the student council to compensate her for.
But this is a warning shot, right across the Eizouken's bow. Sakaki isn't screwing around here.
We immediately see the problem Midori is running in to here – promotion for the short is already beginning, they're holding voiceover auditions, but she isn't even finished with the basic scenario yet. Again a running theme – the Eizouken has the artistic talent, but storytelling typically does need to come first, and they don't really have a leader in that regard. So we get a montage of everyone's favorite art gremlin Midori running around town, taking note of local details – nature and people – to try and figure out what in the hell she's even making. Writer's block sure does suck – and we've never had reason to believe that storytelling was Midori's strong suit to begin with, but given the deadline, it's pretty understandable that Kanamori hilariously just straight-up traps her in a butterfly net to try and drag her back to work.
It's then revealed that their deadpan club advisor has to be present all the time whenever they're doing club activities – which means he's been hanging out in an abandoned car, working overtime and scrolling his phone to kill time while these three tirelessly work on their new project. As usual, the writing in this show is brilliantly compact – their advisor gives them some very valuable advice, something I think everyone could use hearing every now and then. “Don't work more than you have to – and when you don't have to work, play around and have fun. Life is more than just work.” I feel like this is gentle – but needed and totally correct – commentary on the awful life/work balance situation in the anime industry (which this show has been subtly commenting on for a while now), it also applies to virtually everyone I know in 2020, especially artists trying to make a living. Yes, everyone needs to hustle – but modern capitalism and social attitudes now basically demand that if you aren't spending every waking hour of your life hustling, you're a failure, or lazy.
Not true. Make time for joy.
So Midori and Tsubame do – much to Kanamori's annoyance. It's another great way to characterize the difference between the artist and the capitalist, but the club advisor's wisdom even convinces Kanamori to play along for the time being. She's pretty reluctant – convinced that another exploration of the town won't actually make the project more “fun”, but rather just more fuckin' around with her uncontrollable artists. The trio heads down a river in search of fun, and what they find is very odd – a tire swing dangerously close to a precipice off the edge of a concrete river, which of course, Midori and Tsubame can't refuse. There are some very fun and clever exchanges in this sequence that also reinforce the characters quite well – I really enjoyed Kanamori's bit about making sure that if they're going to Hell, they better make sure they pay the ferryman themselves, and Midori's insistence on maintaining her relationship with her comfort animal, that little stuffed rabbit she carries everywhere.
Some interesting worldbuilding wrinkles come up during their exploration – the team discovers a flooded area of town with a bunch of abandoned cars and a road that's basically become a river, with the slogan “Let's All Make This A Solar Town” written on the walls, like a (gently) postapocalyptic scene that inspires Midori to come up with the idea to use submarines in their new project, and in fact, inspires her to come up with an entire concept for the new short that centers around a culture built entirely around submersible vehicles.
And so we're off on another fantasy adventure through Midori's imagination, piecing together what the short will actually be about – this one beautifully illustrates how the entire thing really comes together for both her and the other two, a spinning visual metaphor for that moment in every creative person's life when suddenly, your ideas just click together and you've got it. Once again, this show articulates the creative experience like none other. But of course, just as the story gels, they've got bigger problems. The student council wasn't bluffing with the club funding rules – the Eizouken has been, effectively, barred from working with other clubs to create their animation with assistance from other clubs, as mandated by the vice principal of their school.
What follows is a little bit of an Eizouken origin story – we flash back to 3 years ago, when Midori was in gym class and forced to find a gym partner but is a bit of an introvert. We've all been there. She has a great line - “Being alone is scary, but so are other people.” Of course, the only other person without a partner is... drumroll.. Kanamori, and we witness the birth of their unusual friendship. There's some wonderful character development for Midori in here, who is revealed to basically have extremely relatable and pretty severe social anxiety, but Kanamori sees something in her. The articulation of what their freindship actually is, and how they see it, is really well-written. Kanamori sees it as not really “friendship” - but instead “coexistence” - which in a way, subtly dovetails with Midori's anxiety about other people. It's easier when the social pressure is off, it's easier when people use distancing language to effectively maintain relationships with fragile people. It sets the social expectations low and allows you to still feel like you're not committing to something concrete, but also establishes a mutually beneficial and benevolent relationship. And so, a partnership is born – nakama, if you will – as Midori explains to Tsubame on the train when we flash forward.
As it turns out, Kanamori is laid up sick, but they've still got the Vice Principal to deal with. However, as usual, even when Kanamori is quarantined, she's still got it under control – her social media skills are so beneficial to the school that they basically won't be able to say no, promoting both the school and the town in one shot. But now that she's done her job, she wants to know – is the story ready to go? After all that effort?
Midori's triumphant response: “You bet your butt!”
We're off to the races here. Midori's concept is pretty complex from a worldbuilding perspective (as expected) but ultimately it focuses on caring about other people and their problems, and seeing the shared humanity in all of us. It's about the importance of communication among all living things - coexistence. It's pretty nerdy from a surface perspective, but it's also emotionally intelligent, and again, dovetails with a lot of this show's themes about how important communication, how important living together in peace and with mutual respect really is. Deeply empathetic to everyone – and, of course, totally mirrors her relationship with Kanamori. It is an absolutely gorgeous piece of writing, the way all these interconnected story developments wind up interlacing with one another by the end of the episode. We may all see things a little differently, like Kanamori and Midori both do, but we are ultimately all alike, and that is a cosmically powerful message. And it'll probably make for a great animated short film – which they power through shortly after Midori's creative breakthrough.
Of course, they're not done yet – now the music's fucked up.
Once again I find myself blown away by the writing and production on this show. The emotional details that all interlock by the time the episode is finished is a revelation. I'm not quite sure how much of that I should credit Science Saru with – since I haven't had the chance to read the source material – but a brilliantly-written adaptation, one that just takes my breath away every week with how touching and engrossing it is, deserves just as much credit as the manga in my opinion.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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