Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
by Zac Bertschy,
How would you rate episode 12 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
Tsubame is pissed – their composer kinda fucked up the music for the dance party at the end of their Shibahama UFO Wars project with a somber, tinkly piano piece that makes it sad and downbeat instead of upbeat and fun. Tsubame seems like she's at the end of her rope. This project has been stressful and exhausting for pretty much everyone – and if the ending doesn't work, none of this is worth it. They didn't get the music they were promised, which is music Tsubame specifically timed her careful, detailed character animation to. You know how the cadence of “Once Upon A Dream” in Walt Disney's Sleeping Beauty perfectly matches the rhythm of the animation? Well, imagine if the animators making that got Nine Inch Nails' “Hurt” back from the composer instead, after months of careful timing.
However – as Kanamori explains, this project absolutely has to be finished, and they only have about 90 minutes left. It needs to get to the DVD replicator ASAP or they're going to lose their cost-saving contract, and both the screening and their Comet-A appearance, featuring the famous Tsubame, is absolutely locked in, along with the Shibahama community screening, where people are counting on them to deliver. It's the equivalent of a studio scrambling to finish the latest episode of a late night TV anime series, delivering it moments before it's supposed to air (which is something that happens a little more often than you might think, especially around the halfway mark of the show).
Midori asks if they can stretch that time limit – so Kanamori gives it a shot, but no dice. The DVD replicators don't have a great reason to keep going with this just for funsies if the Eizouken is going to be late, given the impact on their other work, so Kanamori just politely nixes the contract outright (in the hopes of working together again someday – even with her demeanor, she's a good enough producer to know she shouldn't burn bridges).
Of course, Midori's solution to all this is to just change the story and animation to fit the music they have. Which sounds like a tremendous effort that puts Tsubame's hard work to waste – but as Midori explains (after a chokehold from a totally skeptical Kanamori), they'd really only have to do two new cuts, and they can release the dance party footage as bonus content.
Midori suggests a more “realistic” conclusion to their short, which was previously about perfect harmony between the kappa aliens and humanity – something that is more somber, something that reflects reality a little bit more. All living things generally act more in their own self-interest in that, and even in times of peace, they're going to argue for their own betterment, their own resources, rather than the high ideal of perfect coexistence. The way this is illustrated through Midori's imagination is striking – she's riding a purple boat through an ocean of depressing personal issues, phrases like “social media” “monster parents” “sexual harassment” and “death from overwork” forming a rocking ocean for her to try and navigate as she explains her new concept. The fighting doesn't stop – but what does ultimately become of Shibahama and the UFOs?
Well, we have to wait for that.
But whatever it is that Midori's come up with is convincing enough to Kanamori and Tsubame to send our artist heroes off to the races. It's blood, sweat and tears time to finish this thing with the score they have. As an exploration of how crucial both music and deadlines are, this is a really insightful exploration of exactly how all these moving pieces need to come together, and how you have to use your existing resources to get the job done yourself if you're relying on other people for things like sound and media replication. You can't really push those guys if you already gave them a deadline – so you need to improvise with the resources you have, which is, effectively, your bare hands and dedication to your art. As a result, we see our heroes working late into the night, firing on all cylinders – the Eizouken logo is spinning and glowing. They're at max power now – Kanamori most of all, who literally chainsaws the door to the Transcription Research Group (the club handling DVD replication), kicks the door in and tells them they'll actually have it ready in time, maintaining that precious, low-cost contract that will make Comet-A profitable for the Eizouken. But now they've only got 40 minutes or so to finish – and all that does is fire up Tsubame, Midori and Doumeki even more.
And so, we've come to Comet-A, a show space for original creators who are exhibiting – and desperately struggling to attract attention to – their ideas, their crafts, their video games and homemade anime (notably, at a much more adorable facsimile of Tokyo Big Sight). Plenty of people are coming by the booth to shake hands with Tsubame (normally idols charge for that sort of thing, so it feels a bit like people are taking advantage here). Midori stumbles on an existential crisis. Sitting in a chair while nobodies pass by and occasionally stop to complement Tsubame – and even really the act of selling her work like this – is punishing for her. We've known Midori has severe social anxiety, but this feels deeper, as though her soul as an artist just straight up isn't interested in this part of the process. This is very common among creatives. It's one thing to make your art and get positive feedback from the people you know and love, and validation from appreciative audiences, but the hustle is boring and feels empty. It's also completely in line with her character – she'd rather be drawing. It's a nice, realistic touch.
DVDs are moving slow – until Producer Kanamori's marketing scheme works out great, hiding Tsubame's face beneath a paper bag mask that only reveals her eyes to get people wondering why she's hiding her face, which creates online buzz. The gimmick works beautifully, and suddenly, they're sold out. But Midori realizes she hasn't even seen her own animation in full yet – so the team gathers at her apartment for pizza, snacks, and a team viewing party, with Midori cuddled up in a warm blanket and her bunny, ready to watch her hard work. It's adorable, frankly – and relatable. This is clearly her happy place.
We get our first glimpse of their hard work, seeing the short in full – just as everyone else in town who bought it is putting it in their DVD players at home, getting the popcorn ready. It's a gorgeously animated short that doesn't feel compromised at all, even with the new ending. They made the visuals match the music, and you can tell who animated what, thanks to how carefully this show has outlined which artist would be responsible for which cuts. The basic framework of the story we've been expecting is still there, but it's been rearranged a little bit to meet the needs of the other people they had to work with – another major theme of this show.
The important thing is, it's good, touching, a little abstract, and deeply engrossing and beautiful science fiction that was made for the people who live there. And the locals who bought it? Their imaginations are ignited by the Eizouken's work, visualizing the fantasy concepts about Shibahama, seeing Midori's passion come to life before their very eyes after experiencing her team's art. A job well done – that's what animation is supposed to do, after all. As an artist, that's exactly what you aspire to. A glorious conclusion.
But – as Midori says, they've still got work to do. So she picks up her bunny and rolls headfirst right back into the Eizouken building, ready to get back to it with her nakama.
And so that's it for our team. I'm going to miss this show so much – but before I go, I wanted to explain a little why exactly this show hit me so hard, why I've given every episode a perfect score.
I've been a diehard animation fan since I was a child, and I never gave up on it. I recognized it as an art form – not just “something for children” - when I was a teenager, and it gave me a lifelong obsession with both animation and art, classic and modern. I poured through archival animation books by the artists at Disney Feature Animation and books that taught me about art history, learning the names and visual styles of both painters from the Impressionist era through the Modern era and the people drawing cartoons at Disney, Sullivan Bluth Studios and more. I went to art museums constantly (and still do). I couldn't ever get enough – I would race to the movie theater to see pretty much anything new that was animated (ask me about seeing the weird butchered Miramax cut of Richard Williams' The Thief and The Cobbler in theaters!) and honestly, I never let up. Again, I still do that. I discovered anime for the first time in 1996, when I started renting VHS tapes and went to a double feature of the X/1999 movie and Slayers Return at my local anime club – and it changed my life forever. I have since dedicated a 20-year career writing about anime, obsessing over it, learning about and interviewing the artists who make it, with an intense focus on the way they express themselves through their art. But to me – it's not only about anime itself, even if that's my professional focus. It's always about art in general – and recognizing that animation is just as much art as a Renoir.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is, to date, maybe the only show I've ever seen that actually talks about art and animation from the specific, brilliantly articulated perspective of the creative. It balances that with Kanamori – but even she is doubtlessly, relentlessly on the side of her creative friends. It is a celebration of the harmony art and animation can bring people, a succinct and concisely written discussion about the frustrations of trying to express yourself with your hands in a world that seems to only value your work if it's worth money. It does this entirely through densely-layered character writing that, in my opinion, is basically flawless. For someone like me, this show is an absolute gift – expressing things I thought I'd never see on screen. There are lots of people like me, and I would imagine they're being hit by this show just as hard as I was.
They say in the art world – at least since the time of the impressionists – that what matters is whether or not you can see the artist in their work. That means something special. Can you see their brushstrokes? Can you see what they're trying to express? What is the artist trying to show you, what are they trying to say to you? If you pull back, it's one thing, an image – but if you look closer, you'll see the human hand trying to get their feelings out, trying to place you inside their imagination, inside their feelings. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! articulates that in such a divine way. It is a magical and wonderful thing. Right now the story isn't finished, per se – but what we have is brilliant, and I hope Yuasa comes back to give us even more of this beautiful thing.
Until next time – easy breezy, my friends. Easy breezy.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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