Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
by Zac Bertschy,
How would you rate episode 6 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
The women of Eizouken have a brand-new project: creating an animated short featuring the Robot Club's giant model mech, and now they're in pre-production. Producer Kanamori, having brokered a deal with the Art Club to help with backgrounds, and the increased headache of herding all these different cats together to get the project finished, tries to convince Midori that they'll absolutely need help if they've got even a remote shot at getting this project finished on time. Midori would rather do it all herself – but realizes she can't dedicate all of her time to production. After all, these women are still in high school.
Tsubame, ever the impassioned animator, is finally starting to feel the crunch too. I greatly enjoyed her speech about how difficult it is to actually produce mechanical animation by hand – if you mess up even a little bit, you have to go back and do hours of work all over again. It might look like magic on the screen, but the animators themselves have to push themselves to the limit to make it happen, make it look good. As Kanamori observes – since they're high school students who can't spend every waking moment working on this stuff, it does basically seem like the entire idea of Eizouken is unworkable. This whole thing seems like it's about to completely fall apart.
It's hard not to agree with her.
So – in a move that is quite common in the world of overworked, underpaid, underfed animators in crunch – producer Kanamori takes everyone out for dinner (in a crappy little ramen place that smells like gasoline) and bluntly tells them this is basically an advance on their overtime pay (which they aren't getting). Midori's line - “There's nothing scarier than a free meal from the Yakuza!” sums it right up – this is what producers do when they're effectively bribing you for overwork, and the deadpan Kanamori, who always cuts right to the chase, makes that pretty clear. "Kill yourselves to finish this animation on time and your reward is a free bowl of noodles" is likely something hundreds of animators have dealt with.
We get an in-depth look at Midori's elaborate storyboards for their commissioned Robot Club anime, including the opening sequence and the robot's launch. I love how the crushing realities of production are clearly – slowly, but clearly – teaching Midori to be more economical in her vision, taking into account when it's better to plan scenes that require less animation, rather than going totally gonzo every time. Her storyboards for the action sequence between the robot and the crabtle (that's a crab combined with a turtle) are, uh, lacking – unfinished, vague. Thankfully, Tsubame – our character animation specialist – is ready with some tests on her tablet, and now the plan is finally coming together.
Kanamori's in a pretty bad mood in this scene, and I've noticed as her character develops, she's getting crankier and crankier with each passing episode. Given the real-world realities this show is attempting to mirror, it's not hard to see why – producers typically have the least-understood and most underappreciated role when it comes to creating art like this, and even though her deadpan no-nonsense outlook is effectively her personality, it reflects the way real producers slowly narrow their eyes (so to speak) during a rough, low-budget, understaffed project where they have to answer to a production committee. I wonder how much grumpier she'll get over time.
The mission this week is to figure out how to provide music and sound effects for their Robot Club animation without paying a fortune for it, a task any low-budget production will find difficult without just using generic royalty-free tracks. Thankfully, the school just so happens to have a Sound Club (currently on the wrong side of the student council's budgetary board) that Kanamori can totally extort for access to their incredibly huge sound library. The Sound Club kid – Doumeki, truly an audio otaku - is backed into a corner, forced to help the Eizouken at the risk of having his whole organization dissolved. But it isn't the threat of dissolution that motivates him to help – it's Midori's articulation of how incredibly crappy their existing audio is, in a brilliant sequence that illustrates Midori on a fantasy treadmill, running through stone, grass and mud with the exact same “hard shoe on tile” noise. It literally makes the Sound Club kid vomit. Audio engineers and anyone who's ever tried to come up with sound effects for their personal projects (and I say this as someone who regularly produces silly openings for our podcast on this site that regularly needs sound effects and background music) will find this particularly relatable – sound is so important when it comes to animation, a crucial aspect of bringing moving images to life, and when it's wrong and lacks impact or depth, it can totally ruin a project. It's something you might not think about when you're watching a piece of animation – but sound is an enormous hurdle, and thanks to Kanamori's hustle, they've not only secured a massive library of effects, they've also got themselves an audio engineer in Doumeki.
This one wraps up with a meeting with the Art Club, who the Eizoken are relying on to draw their backgrounds – but one member of the club doesn't seem to know jack shit about animation production and keeps asking stupid questions, and another one has a whole bunch of unasked-for creative input that would make work harder for everyone. It's a really great way to articulate what it's like needing help on a creative project from people who have no idea what you're trying to make, and mostly just need to do what they're told, but have strong opinions on it anyway – and it makes poor Midori's brain melt, who starts to question the entire premise of their short.
See, if the giant robot doesn't make “sense”, the robot police (anyone who's dealt with super hardcore mecha fans knows exactly what she's talking about here) will criticize her work and call it “unrealistic”. This is something a tremendous number of animators, directors, designers and producers deal with all the time – is it even possible to please everyone? You'll lose a lot of sleep worrying over whether or not everyone you show your art to will enjoy it without any criticism whatsoever – and so Kanamori tells her to basically knock it off, make what you want, just don't suddenly take a huge left turn and make something boring because it's “realistic”. I can only imagine how many people in the anime industry have dealt with – and hopefully defeated – this exact type of creative anxiety. I'm pretty sure I've seen several shows that maybe compromised on this concept a little too much.
Tsubame kinda gets the short stick in this episode – we see very little of her, with the focus being almost entirely on Kanamori and Midori, particularly the latter. Midori's inspiration comes seemingly at random, but Kanamori is shown to be an expert at exactly how to handle her. We'll probably get a Tsubame-focused episode pretty soon - the scripting and pacing on this show feels like it's almost breakneck, powering through plot developments with compelling speed that makes it impossible to look away for a moment. It'll be fascinating to see what comes next for our heroes.
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