Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
by Zac Bertschy,
How would you rate episode 4 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
Midori and Tsubame are hard at work inside their ramshackle production studio, flipping animation paper just like they used to in the old days. Tsubame, stuck doing effects animation – meaning, of course, smoke and fire - checking reference footage of explosions to help their upcoming 3-minute debut short about a schoolgirl with a machete who's fighting a cute little tank. But the devil, as always, is in the details – Midori's not sure her backgrounds make much logical sense, and Tsubame's frustrated with exactly how to animate an explosion. Effects animation, when it's done by hand, has always been notoriously difficult and kind of thankless – most people only really appreciate character animation and backgrounds, because those are the easiest things to notice in a piece of animation – smoke, fire, water, vapor, wind – these things are usually taken for granted by a general audience. Effects animators have historically been the unsung - yet totally invaluable - background players who give the animation impact and an even stronger illusion of life.
Midori starts showing Tsubame some other effects animation – in fine detail, explaining exactly how such things have been accomplished in the past, the different camera and illustration techniques. Tsubame starts to get it – but that deadline is coming up fast, and Kanamori shows up to crack the whip, making sure these two artists with their heads in the clouds can churn something out fast enough to secure the funding – and official club status. As it turns out, Midori and Tsubame are perhaps overthinking this project – producing enough animation in a month to produce 36 cuts, but they're still only working on cut 4 of the finished product. Which basically means they're dramatically overanimating it, given their schedule and what's at stake. This would be similar to having a 3-month shooting schedule and finishing maybe 5 minutes' worth of what was planned as a 120-minute movie. Kanamori thinks they need to basically kill themselves with an entire month of all-nighters to even have a shot at finishing – but Midori has a time-saving solution, which is 10 seconds of a background that's mostly “animated” by the camera rather than actual movement.
What follows is an exploration of these sorts of time-saving techniques, illustrated by another Midori fantasy sequence. These techniques – which pretty much any anime fan is capable of recognizing if you watch enough TV anime to notice where they cut corners - frequently save the ass of whichever animation producer (in this case Kanamori) needs the project to be delivered on-time. If it's a spinning background shot, or a cel sliding in from the left with minimal mouth movement – this stuff isn't intended to compromise the project or suggest that the animators are lazy, it's there to hit the extremely strict deadlines anime is typically produced on. Midori runs them all down – panning, holding a pose for maybe a touch longer than is necessary, even the technique everyone's familiar with – a Flintstones-esque rotating background that's obviously being repeated over and over again.
Once again, this show's deft character development shows up even during what's basically an explanation of technical animation techniques – Tsubame's kind of disappointed in Midori's corner-cutting, admitting how much she doesn't like this sort of thing in the animation she watches (something tells me Tsubame is probably a really big Kyoto Animation and Golden Age Disney Feature Animation fan). But time is of the essence – and a disagreement breaks out when Midori brings up the fact that if they cut too many corners or compromise the storyboards too much, there won't really even be a story, which is something Kanamori and Tsubame both seem fine with if it means they secure funding and the film looks impressive enough to get what they need. Midori isn't happy about that.
But, as always, Kanamori is concerned chiefly with the bottom line – and so she introduces the idea of maybe not doing all of this directly by hand, and instead using a software solution to speed things up. Tsubame, is of course, skeptical – as the team's representative of the Glory And Power Of Extremely Complex And Detailed Animation (let's call her Richard Williams, the famous perfectionist who did the character animation for most of Who Framed Roger Rabbit? for example) – she's not fully comfortable with this shortcut, but the callouses on her fingers tell her that maybe it's time to back down from her hardcore artist principles a little bit, and learn how to work with her team.
What follows is an exploration of the compromises animation produced like this has to make – Midori sums it up perfectly when Kanamori comes into the PC room at 4am, the day before it's time to present their project to the fearsome student council budget committee, and asks her if she managed to finish her scenes. Midori says, directly, “I'd say it's less about finishing or completing the project, and more the outcome of passion crashing against compromise and resignation.” That's the central theme of this episode, and Yuasa's team articulates it flawlessly through these three characters, illustrating wonderfully – and very realistically – exactly what it's like for artists like these to produce what they want on time. I'm still surprised at how well this story is showing you exactly what it's like to produce anime with only three characters.
And then – it's time to face the music. The bustling student council meeting is full of passionate kids begging for funding and club status from a group of very serious and determined young bureaucrats who won't give anyone an inch if they can find a single problem with their proposal. The scene is a total riot (the “security club” - in literal riot gear – is holding back rowdy students seeking the same thing our heroes are). The Eizouken women have a real serious problem here – the student council has receipts on their antics and is prepared to put them on trial for their minor crimes of low-budget passion for creation. Kanamori does her best to deadpan-logic them out of the decision – but they get canceled almost immediately anyway, before they can even show what they've made.
It's up to Midori to save the day by giving an impassioned speech, as a hardworking creative, as to why it doesn't matter what sort of crap they had to do to get this thing made – the only thing that matters is whether or not you, the audience, enjoy and appreciate the finished product. As a statement about the frustration and determined passion of artists – what they have to go through to just get their work done, “the only thing that matters is that you see it” resonates. I'm certain these emotions are what a whole lot of artists feel about how they work and why they work, even if they're sleeping under their desks in a derelict office building, working for garbage wages from an uncaring megacorporation. This, of course, does not excuse – nor is it remotely attempting to excuse – the exploitative practices of the anime industry, but it does go a long way to show you maybe why someone would put themselves through that just to get their art, their expression, in front of your face. They care that much.
Finally, we get to the real deal – it's showtime. Their original short, “Hold That Machete Tight!” is screened before an audience for the first time. In this sequence, our heroes' talent is put on display. Yuasa chose to blend fantasy and reality here, in an attempt to articulate the magic of animation and cinema. Everyone in the room is captivated, with explosions and cannon shells filling the room while they watch. They can't believe what they're seeing – the images are coming to life right before them. If you've ever felt really strongly about the power of film as an art form, the effect it can have on people – this scene will get you right in the heart.
Hilariously – and my favorite moment of this already-stellar episode – the women of Eizouken, in true artist fashion, just start picking their own incredible work apart together onstage, only noticing the flaws after totally blowing away the audience – and immediately planning how to improve it and what could've been done better. If you're a creative or have ever spent time around people who make things like this for a living, there is no more natural response to seeing your own work on screen and following that up by only discussing what you fucked up – and then getting fired up about what's next.
Their application is, of course, approved. And so, the heroes of Eizouken will continue.
I think these 4 episodes would almost work as a film in and of itself. As an exploration of the driven artistic mind, as an articulation of the exact emotion that goes in to creation on this level, I honestly don't think I've ever seen anything that gets it quite this right. This episode's brilliant depiction of the power that your expression can have when you're just given even a ghost's chance in Hell of finishing it, despite the odds, and finally getting the chance to prove yourself by putting it in front of an audience is one of the best emotional climaxes I've seen in a while.
And we've still got more to go.
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