Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken!
by Zac Bertschy,
How would you rate episode 9 of
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! ?
Producer Kanamori has a problem – the malevolent student council is on to her.
Turns out she's been selling the Audio Club's sound library online – in a not particularly subtle fashion, and she's made enough money to get the student council cops to take notice. It doesn't take long to find out why.
It turns out the Robot Club anime was good enough to inspire pretty much every other club to request a commissioned anime short – but the money's just not there. Kanamori explains it pretty clearly. They walked away from the robot club with a little under $200, and these things take forever to make. In her estimation, they should've raked in about $17,000 based on the labor involved. If they continue to take on school club projects – especially if the club isn't all that popular and doesn't really stand a chance of turning a profit – she has to turn them all down.
Which, of course, she did, because even though she's a little rough around the edges (which is putting it mildly) she's a responsible producer who's looking out for her staff. “We can't make this – it's not going to get you paid” is a tough pill to swallow, but even Midori sees her point almost immediately. Thankfully – as always – Kanamori has a plan. There's an upcoming festival (Comet-A, which is a play on a similar real-world event called COMITIA) that basically functions as a craft fair for artists who produce their own manga and anime. They're going to bust their asses trying to sell their DVDs at this thing and raise enough money to start a new project that might actually make more money.
I love the way this show articulates the production process – you can immediately see the bind they're in, and this is absolutely nothing new in the anime industry. Did your last project technically succeed? Yes. Did you feel good about that? Yes. Did it make enough money to enable you to continue creating art?
Kanamori takes the others out for a suspiciously remote location for lunch, and we spend a little time just watching Midori and Tsubame take inspiration – and notice all the little details – around town. Midori might be kind of a space case, but her mind is sharp as a knife when it comes to dreaming up concepts that would work in animation. Naturally, Kanamori finds this obnoxious, but it gives you a great look into the active mind of a creative person, which is something this show excels at and empathizes with. Everything is a source of inspiration.
As it turns out, Kanamori has led them to a ramen shop in a derelict underground shopping district that just so happens to be run by one of the Eizouken's superfans, someone who saw their Robot Club short and got all fired up about it. He couldn't wait to praise them – and I loved the interplay here. Just like we saw the Eizouken team immediately start criticizing their own work after their blockbuster debut, Midori's uncomfortable with his praise. Tsubame, who's used to being complemented all the time, soaks it up – but Midori knows the work was flawed. “Yeah, thanks, but it wasn't that good” is such a common sentiment among artists with deep interior lives who can't help but be their own harshest critic.
The ramen place they're in turns out to be quite unique. This superfan is serving fruit ramen – effectively both savory and sweet. As Kanamori observes, this combination only works if the balance is exactly right. You can't notice the sweetness too much, or it'll ruin the flavor – but you also can't smother that uniqueness out completely. Something tells me this is a metaphor for a specific attitude toward anime production – and of course, the Eizouken superfan can't help but pitch our creative heroes on his own idea for an anime, a self-insert show where he's a humble ramen shop employee by day and a secret agent by night. The sheer number of times I've been having dinner with creatives who get recognized and then immediately get pitched original ideas by waitstaff or customers sitting nearby made this scene especially hilarious to me. Happens all the time.
On their long walk back, Kanamori reveals that she's been doing (advanced and very shrewd) social media promotion for Eizouken, carefully managing their online presence to generate an emotional attachment to their work with the careful use of Tsubame's face, which right now is still their #1 selling point. She's got detailed plans for merchandise – and notes that while you can only sell a DVD for about $10, if people grow a fondness for their logo and their image, they'll buy a t-shirt with the logo on it for $20. If that ain't the truth! I like how Kanamori's cynicism is couched – always – in respect and admiration for the Eizouken's work, a genuine desire to see them succeed and achieve their creative dreams. She isn't trying to sell Tsubame – but she is trying to build this into something, and right now, Tsubame is the fastest way to do that.
All of this is, of course, leading to Kanamori's backstory – which we all knew we'd get at some point, and the writing here is just perfect. Her ancestors owned a sake brewery, but their perfectionism killed it (and lack of understanding what the locals wanted, which was to just get drunk for cheap), turning it into a general store. And thus begins the tale of Lil' Kanamori (Minimori as Midori adorably calls her) – a hard, shrewd worker with a perfect head for business. She helps clean the store, and convinces the owners to open it during a snowstorm – a good decision that leads to a lot more business. It's revealed she's not very good at math – but as the store owner says, you can be an expert at math, but if you don't have a head for business, it's not going to mean much.
Tell that to every failed startup in the country. Which is a lot.
Lil' Kanamori learns that the store is about to close due to the pressures needed to keep a remote location like this one open efficiently, especially with a convenience store open right down the street. What we're learning here is how Kanamori's sense for business evolved. She always had one, but this experience changed her – and so much of what we see here is mirrored in her decisions throughout the series. The lesson we learn is that obsession with quality just isn't enough for success – you need both a good product AND a keen sense of how to help promote it. People won't just magically know you have something special, you have to sell it to them – and in order to stay in business and keep creating your art, you better make sure they're paying for it.
Midori comes up with a new concept, one based on her observations about the strange, seemingly half-finished town they live in, Shibahama. Thanks to Producer Kanamori's effort with the ramen shop superfan, the town itself was convinced to provide funding, so that's all wrapped up. The story isn't quite fleshed out (Midori never seems all that interested in characters or people – just cool sci-fi concepts and vehicles) but they have the setting down, and we get a rare production montage that speeds things up. Normally this show takes a slower pace to explain the entire fascinating process behind everything, but they've done such a fantastic job explaining everything to you at this point that every step just makes sense immediately. Production is a little shaky, though – the story isn't there yet, and Kanamori notices that once again Tsubame is creating extra animation work thanks to her obsession with overly-complicated concepts and perfection (which we just learned is exactly why Kanamori is the perfect producer to rein someone like Tsubame in).
What follows is a breakthrough moment for Midori. She's been so obsessed with the world inside her head that the story can't quite break through – she's just too up in her own mind on the technical details. “Normal people are going to watch this, remember?” Kanamori says during a disagreement over the exact technical specifics of a laser cannon in the short – but one word breaks through. Performance. “Everything I do, everything I show people – it's a performance.” You can't articulate the world inside your head if you're not willing to perform, to show people in a meaningful and easily-understood way what you're thinking. It's showmanship as opposed to purely creative self-indulgence. Midori's new short – and their stab at Comet-A success – is on its way, even if all the details aren't quite ironed out just yet.
There's a way the writing in this show fits together and dovetails with itself in a way I haven't seen very often – it's special. The characters are wildly relatable and hilarious and human, and yet also the way they're written locks in flawlessly with what the show is trying to articulate about the process of animation production in such smart ways that it's hardly believable. Everything about this episode recontextualizes previous episodes in a subtle, emotionally intelligent way that just paints a richer and richer picture – of both the characters and the world of anime production - with each passing episode.
It's like a magic trick.
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