Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is one of the most purely enjoyable shows I’ve had the pleasure to watch this year. Released in Summer 2020 by Science Saru, it manages to get to the heart of why people find anime so compelling, set against the backdrop of a high school anime production club.
The show follows three girls, the socially awkward artist Midori Asakusa, professional model and animation obsessed Tsubame Mizusaki, and the money-grubbing ‘intellectual yakuza’ Sayaka Kanamori. Together at their high school, they found a film club in which they spend their time animating various short films over the course of the series. While that sounds like a fairly generic anime plot it’s elevated by the obvious care put into the series. This show is a love letter to animation in the truest sense, the first episode opens on a sequence of Asakusa watching an anime for the first time and the rest of the world falling away around her as she becomes entranced. Throughout the series we get small sections of exposition about particular parts of the creation process, ranging from art design, to editing, to sound effects. Eizouken doesn’t prioritise one aspect of production over another, but demonstrates in detail the ways in which certain parts of animation are dependant on, or enhanced by each other.
And nowhere is this more surprising than the show’s approach to the producer of the group, Kanamori. In any other show about this sort of subject she would be the villain, a hardline capitalist driven only by money forcing the other characters to compromise on their artistic vision and create a suboptimal product. But in every instance in Eizouken! Kanamori is right. When the other two characters are spending too much time producing complicated sequences and risking their ability to finish a project she is the one who brings them back to reality and convinces them to recycle assets in interesting ways. When the club’s funding is threatened by the student representative council, she’s the one who rebuffs them. Kanamori understands the money is the fuel of the world, but at no point does she try and fuck over her friends to get more of it. She understands that her role is that of a director and an organiser, and that it means that her job is to tell her friends that they need to change their plans and compromise or fail completely. It’s a balancing act that not many people could pull off, but I’m not surprised it came from Science Saru
I’ve been a fan of director Masaaki Yuasa for a long time now, but watching Keep Your Hands of Eizouken! was the first time I felt like I properly understood his work. His aesthetic tends to change from project to project, but there tends to be a playfulness and willingness to experiment and go off-model for the sake of conveying a mood, characters will eat something and you’ll see the food stretch out their throat and then bounce into their stomachs as it goes down, or in an awkward situation they’ll turn blocky and robotic as they struggle to seem natural. There’s always a sense of exaggeration or impressionism to his direction that makes him unique among other anime directors, but Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! was the first time I was able to see past that and into his love of the medium as a whole.
The very premise could have been a cliché; stories about passionate teen girls are practically a genre in and of themselves. But while many of them focus either on objectifying their characters, or creating a relaxed, low-stakes, atmosphere to luxuriate in, Eizouken! is able to maintain a sense of wonder and joy of creation. The setting of the school is over designed to hell, full of weird hidden paths and waterways ripe for exploration, and the characters will frequently dive into the world of their projects to demonstrate the effect of certain techniques. It’s also full of incredible character designs, the three main characters are dynamic and refreshingly unique from one another in ways that aren’t limited to hair colour and tit size.
One particular moment that stood out to me was a scene where the girls go to a bathhouse; a frequent trope in a lot of anime that most of the time exists to objectify the female characters and introduce 80s sex-comedy mishaps as the male characters either try and spy on them, or unintentionally blunder into compromising situations. Here it did neither, the camera stayed back from the characters, their designs and proportions staying more or less the same. Even naked they’re the same lanky de-eroticised figures as they are clothed, and I don’t know if I’ve ever seen that in a scene of this type before.
Eizouken! is an absolute joy to watch. From the gorgeous art, to the educational aspects on the creation of anime, to the dynamic characters, the show manages to walk the line between one of those shows that you put on to veg out to, and one that’s full of incredible art and action. It’s early days yet, but this might be my favourite show of the year.