Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan adapts a 4-panel manga about a free-spirited woman in her twenties into something truly avant-garde. This week, Micchy and Steve explore what makes this collaborative anthology series so special.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed by the participants in this chatlog are not the views of Anime News Network. Spoiler Warning for discussion of the series ahead. [Not Safe For Work warning for content and language.]
Micchy, I'm sure you're as excited as I am to finally talk about puppets again
this winter! Who knew we'd be so blessed two seasons in a row?
Unfortunately, none of these puppets decapitate each other with swords, but otherwise they're just as terrifyingly anime as the Thunderbolt Fantasy
Anime is an incredibly vast medium, and it feels like its breadth has gotten even wider with Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan airing right now. We've covered some weird stuff on TWIA, but I don't think there's been anything quite as unprecedented as this.
Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan is an anthology project brought to us by twelve of anime's veteran talents, each tasked with making three-minute short films inspired by a 4-panel manga that ran from 2005 to 2014. It's far from the first anthology anime project to air on TV, but it's probably the first to feature a segment that is, in the director's own words, "Thunderbirds meets La La Land."
Naturally, you'd think the 3-minute runtime would mean the show is only three minutes long. And you'd be half-right. But it airs in a full half-hour slot, so the remaining 20+ minutes is taken up by an interview with both the director and the voice actress playing Ekoda-chan that week.
And it can get pretty wild.
But more often than not, this segment ends up being a fascinating look behind-the-scenes of anime production, and anybody interested in stuff like that definitely needs to check this out for the edutainment appeal if nothing else.
Absolutely! Some of the interviews can get awkward (one time they got a voice actor
over a camera-shy director for his own interview), but they're generally quite informative, and the material itself is neat as hell.
I haven't read the manga, but from what I've gleaned from these adaptations, Ekoda-chan is a somewhat autobiographical manga about a woman trying to survive her mid-twenties, presented in a refreshingly candid, funny, and relatable way.
It's all about this woman dealing with the ennui of her mid-twenties, struggling to make connections with other people, and generally being done with the fake acts people put on around each other. Each episode zeroes in on a specific aspect of that frustration: some are about her limbo of a relationship with her not-quite-boyfriend, some about her irritation with the women she calls "birds of prey," and some about the pitfalls of sitting at home naked when the damn windows don't keep bugs out. It's all very down-to-earth and sympathetic stuff.
For me, it really captures that transitory feeling of being out of college but not really tied down to anything new yet—simultaneously freeing while also deeply existential. It mostly seems to address this stuff through comedy, but I think my favorite episodes lean harder into the edge of Ekoda-chan's writing.
I think it works well as an anthology because of how strong the source material comes across; every director can find a different facet to focus on, which in itself is fascinating. Also one episode has Ekoda do the meme Fortnite dances, so you know, something for everyone.
Ironically, I think that episode (Akitarō Daichi
, ep 1) is one of the weakest ones! It works fine as an introduction to the series' premise and Ekoda's character, but it's little more than a collection of random strips in a row.
I agree. It definitely caught my attention as the season was beginning, which led me to pick up the show, but it's been overshadowed since then.
Meanwhile, Yoshitomo Yonetani
's episode (5) expands on some of the strips adapted in the first episode, and it is a thing of beauty.
Yeah, that is one of the standouts for sure. The whole thing is illustrated in this avant-garde arts-and-crafts colored-pencil-and-magic-marker style, which is immediately wonderful.
It also contains one of the most Big Mood panels of the whole show.
Most of the episode, which centers on Ekoda's "epic battle" with a lizard and mosquito, is an extended comedy sequence, but we also learn some interesting things about her. At one point she modeled for an artist boyfriend (no longer in the picture) and was part of a dance troupe. She's had myriad experiences, bouncing from one weird occupation to another, with none of them seeming to last. The one thing that remains constant is that nature is friggin gross. So the only joy she has to anticipate in this episode is this sweet bun snack—but not even that goes her way, because life can be garbage.
The other thing I love about ep 5 is that all of the music and sound effects were dubbed verbally by the director and seiyuu
. Animation-wise, it's also one of the more ambitious segments. You can tell Yonetani just wanted to get away with as much as he could in three minutes, and that's admirable.
One of those cuts is an absurdly long shot of a mosquito flying around Ekoda's body, and it's a lot.
It's so much. You get the impression that the producers let the directors run wild, which strikes me as unusual for anime. Well, as long as they didn't draw a cigarette.
Bunny Ekoda did turn out pretty cute, so I can forgive his cowardice somewhat.
I wonder if it was the best idea to only hire male directors for a project that's so intrinsically about how a woman sees the world though?
Yeah, that's the big elephant in the room during pretty much all of these interviews.
Like, as cute as bunny Ekoda turned out, I'm not sure you should be sugar-coating her experiences with a cutesy pastel aesthetic. You lose that stark honesty that makes Ekoda-chan such a fascinating narrator. To me, what makes Ekoda remarkable is that she's so unremarkable. She has her quirks, but at her core she's like any other mid-twenties woman: looking for a sense of purpose, a career, stable relationships, and just trying to navigate a world that's not friendly to her. Her life isn't glamorous or artificially attractive. The cutesy character designs just betray the realism she brings to the table.
I mean, the gender imbalance makes sense given that the producer is an old veteran using his connections with other old veteran anime directors, who would skew male because of industry-wide sexism that persists to this day, but it's still pretty absurd to see it play out.
It's honestly kind of funny to see almost every director say some version of "I didn't know why I was chosen for this project, because I couldn't really relate to the manga as a man" when the solution is so obvious. I'd love to see a version of this anthology with an even gender split, or even better, just twelve female directors. Can you imagine Sayo Yamamoto
's take on Ekoda-chan?
Ughhh I would kill for that!
Right? It'd be so good!
I mean, I could do with a lot more shows that are just like Michiko and Hatchin tbh.
So I guess it's no accident that the most biting episodes in Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan
are the ones where the directors stepped back and let their female colleagues do the heavy lifting. I am, of course, talking about the Hiroshi Nagahama
episode that's really more the Yuriko Sasaoka episode.
It opens with this helpful disclaimer:
We deliberately held off on covering this show until Nagahama's episode, and god that was such a good decision. He had a clear vision of what he wanted to create, and somehow that's what he got!
Thunderbirds is a classic in the televised puppet genre we're so fond of. Also I only know about it because my mom watched it growing up, so thanks Mom!
Hell yeah, puppets! Anyway, the episode is a vaguely unsettling, grotesque puppet show set to a raw musical number about how Ekoda-chan represents a fairly universal experience among women, getting at the heart of why the manga resonated with so many.
Like damn, leave it to the one woman-led episode to explicitly say what Ekoda-chan means to its readers, while being unapologetically ugly the whole time.
It cuts to the quick in a way none of the other episodes do, because instead of adapting a specific part of the manga, it condenses the manga's core essence. Yuriko Sasaoka being a big fan of Ekoda-chan definitely helped.
Nagahama's approach is easily my favorite out of all the directors so far, because he recognized his limits and decided to use this opportunity to mentor a woman who had never worked in the anime industry before. From the interview, it seems like Sasaoka had free rein to really project her creative voice, and she also got the experience of working with others on a big project like this.
Nagahama's also possibly responsible for this project's existence in the first place, which is just the icing on the cake.
LOL yeah. A single conversation he had with the producer 13 years ago planted the seed that sprouted into three minutes of marionettes singing. What a guy. I met Nagahama at Sakuracon a few years ago, and it was nice to see my positive impression of him validated by this entire interview, especially with him and Ai Kobayashi
ribbing each other throughout.
While I'm sure he's just as complicated a human being as the rest of us, I'm half convinced he can do no wrong after this and Flowers of Evil
. The man just wants to play with his Spider-man action figures, and I respect that.
He's the biggest nerd and I love him. And I hope we see more of Sasaoka in the future! She had some really great commentary too.
100% with you there. Anime's cool stuff, and I live for the kinds of projects that test its limits. And if nothing else, messy women represent.
Okay, maybe not that messy.