Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
by Zac Bertschy,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
After their triumphant victory at the student council budget meeting – and their approval for official club status and funding – Midori stumbles upon a room that appears to have giant robot footprints in it, and of course, her imagination begins to run wild. At first she's convinced that she's stumbled upon the warehouse space for an enormous mecha – and the clues certainly point to that, with Tsubame's help – but they're caught by the authorities and make a break for the window exit. Only Midori makes it – and now she's convinced that rather than following the story of your average mecha anime, this must be part of the subgenre “robot crime”, and something sinister must be afoot. So she begins the investigation, and actually does find a giant robot, only to discover that both Kanamori and Tsubame are involved! What could this be?!
As usual, Midori's probably watched a little too much anime and starts speculating wildly on what could be happening based on the plots she's seen before – and it turns out that the robot is basically just a big model belonging to the school's mecha club, a barely-functioning relic that's been handed down to them over the 20th century from their mecha club ancestors. They've been slowly modifying it over the years.
It turns out Kanamori has agreed for the Eizouken to create an anime based on the mecha club's robot (in exchange for a fee, of course) – and has to explain to Midori, who's functionally opposed to this sort of mercenary capitalism, that it's better to be responsible to someone rather than just making whatever the hell you want and not really caring how it turns out. Kanamori represents pure pragmatism – you can dream all you like, but in the end, it helps if you have 1. funding and 2. a sense of responsibility to turn out a quality project. Tsubame responds: “Yeah, but wouldn't it be better to just make anime and not care about money at all?”
Well, wouldn't that be nice?
Naturally, the mecha club is a bit taken aback by Eizoken's response – Midori and Tsubame immediately start excitedly debating over the exact plot, story and technical details, and Kanamori immediately goes deep into the funding process for this whole endeavor right at the same time, overwhelming the lot of them. Nobody can really handle Eizouken's passion and determination – especially not the mecha club's kind but also kinda basic nerds - but that's what it takes to make anime.
“These girls are annoying!”
Maybe, but they're gonna make something you remember, rather than just continuing to modify an old model.
Midori wants to stage the battle between the mecha club's (admittedly, just a touch undersized) robot and a monster, so they head out to scout a location, meaning the cavernous, echoing, scary tunnels beneath the school. Midori's terrified – this is basically an ancient underground sewer – and Kanamori observes that she doesn't really even know why they're bothering with location scouting, since this is animation, after all. Tsubame puts it in plain terms – experience matters a lot when you're making art. You need to actually see something with your own eyes and live in the space for a little while before attempting to make your art. Disney and Pixar do this all the time, for example – they send their artists and producers and directors to wherever the setting for their film is based or, and then hope that experience seeps in to their pores and helps inspire a convincing sense of place, atmosphere, and feeling (alongside story ideas, potentially). Artists having real-life experience informs and enhances their projects, which is what this is illustrating.
And so our heroes explore this underground, with the spooked Midori – who has a stuffed animal strapped to her chest and, as Tsubame points out, the kind of light-up shoes children wear. There's a rotting wood floor that Kanamori and Tsubame just kinda stroll across, but Midori is convinced you need to walk around the edges or else it'll collapse. They mostly roll their eyes at her. This show does not hold back when it comes to characterizing Midori as an inspired creative who just hasn't grown up. But her strength – and genius – shows up immediately once they find the right location to inspire something wonderful. Midori imagines a giant crab-turtle creature that bursts forth, fighting the mecha club's robot with powerful claws, while the robot has a recoil-starter chainsaw on its right arm. It reminded me a bit of something a studio like TRIGGER would make.
Midori is redeemed here – the show is clearly not trying to humiliate her – when the floor collapses on their way back, landing them in a pile of fermenting leaves that she then rescues the lot of them from. I thought this was a great moment. She might be childish, lost in her own imagination, but sometimes that imaginative side – and an obsession with fiction – can prove helpful and meaningful when things go wrong. She's a good woman, even if she does love cartoons a little too much.
Now they have to convince the mecha club that their creative ideas will work – Kanamori knows what's up (and has a pretty devastating take on why Midori is the way she is, “quirky as a defense mechanism” probably makes a lot of people feel very seen). They need to take it slow, gradually getting the club to commit to all of their concepts. This is a pretty common issue for artists and animators – and a really fun way to illustration just how difficult production can be, with the creatives trying to get their ideas past the production committee in just the right way without being steamrolled by money and compromising their work. Thankfully, Kanamori knows just how to massage this situation – let them think they're in control. It's the equivalent of letting your boss think your good ideas were actually his good ideas, so he greenlights them, and you get what you need.
Unfortunately – the Eizouken has a new enemy in Ono, the fired-up, self-obsessed member of the robot club that immediately begins screaming about how these women know nothing at all – contradicting himself during his obnoxious ranting about how it should be realistic but also just fantasy, the kind of wannabe-creative dickhead with anger issues, someone who describes their emotions as “logic” and routinely terrorizes people in the anime industry. Our heroes, arriving for a creative meeting, catch him in the act of nonstop bitching and yelling about how “unrealistic” their anime ideas are, and so naturally Kanamori catches them in the act and photographs it as collateral.
Kanamori – she's a smart one.
Ono's confrontation with Eizouken is absolutely hilarious. He's screaming his head off about how their creative concepts for this anime befoul the sanctity of “real robots”, an obsession many mecha fans have, while our heroes are like “OK – real robots? You mean like the military dog-like one or a steamshovel?” So this guy starts yelling about how “real robots are a giant robot that's piloted by a human and fights! It needs to be realistic!”
Midori's response - “seeing someone stump for such a typical contradiction is disheartening”. Don't we know it – everyone who's ever gotten in to mecha anime has probably been yelled at at one point by some self-serious nerd who's decided they know what's “realistic” in a genre where absolutely nothing is actually realistic. They get into the weeds about what giant robots could actually do, and it's just great. The direction here is flawless. Yuasa's music selection, a comical, slow twang, his cuts to mundane details about the room – it's telling you that this shit is boring. The Eizouken just want to make something that's good, something emotional, something with impact. The speculative “technical” details don't really matter because it's all fantasy anyway. Which it is. Also – as Tsubame notes - nobody even makes giant robot anime anymore, really.
Ono breaks – he reveals, in a crying fit, about how this is actually all about his personal fantasy about piloting a giant robot, his nose dripping with snot. Kanamori, of course, can't stand this – and just wants negotiations to be finished so they can get to work, but Midori and Tsubame are touched by Ono's passion. They all start to admit their embarrassing, passionate fantasies about how much they want to live in a dream world, how vast the universe is – it's a touching scene, one that empathizes with Ono, and shows us that maybe this guy isn't so bad. Collaboration truly brings out the magic in a project like this.
And so we're off on another adventure – designing the coolest robot that also helps Ono's dreams come true, something they can actually get funding for. This kind of creative compromise is rarely illustrated in anything at all. Ono is introduced here as a sniveling villain – but he calms down once it becomes clear that his own creative ideas will be listened to, and together they wind up developing a concept for brand-new mecha that does, literally, stand on its own. It's a glorious articulation of the entire idea behind creative collaboration. Ono might be kind of an asshole, but if you just listen and work together, you can make something beautiful and special. Which is how it works for a whole lot of creative people trying to make something, but can't do it entirely on their own.
You may not love your coworkers - but sometimes you do need them, and need to empathize with them.
This is another wonderful episode. I'm continually impressed by how sharp the writing is – every character's personality is truly distinct. Midori might not agree with Ono on everything, but she doesn't judge - she feels his passion, his fellow spirit, and works together with him to make something both she and he are happy with. Tsubame complains when they suggest removing the robot's legs – that would take away the beauty of making it move with your hands, which mirrors her love for character animation. Kanamori, as usual, rules the episode with her deadpan focus on the bottom line. Although it's a little subtle, it's surprising and lovely to see anything with writing that's this careful and snappy while also being so specific to a certain, very particular love of animation. I really do love the way this show uses its score, as well – the music is truly evocative, and in addition to the opening and ending themes, I always love when the smooth, Pillows-esque guitar piece starts. That's when you know it's time for a fantasy design sequence.
Are you watching this show? Why wouldn't you be?
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