Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 08 – Forward March!

There’s a palpable sense of anticipation in the sight the Eizouken putting the finishing audio touches on the cultural festival preview of SHIBA8 vs The Pistol Crabtle, lit only by a single office lamp and the editing monitor. As director Midori displays a uncanny knack for knowing when to time music and sound effects to the visuals.

Unfortunately they didn’t have time to record the voice actors so they’ll be doing it live in the auditorium, adding another set of things that could go wrong, from both technical and personnel-wise. But the show must go on, and it will. The main challenge is to create sufficient buzz at the festival to lure a sufficiently large audience.

Throughout this episode from start to finish, Tsubame’s rich actor parents loom large, but not as villains ready to undermine the Eizouken, but rather as parents who find they’ll have time to visit their daughter’s school festival. They almost seem eager to do so, well aware of how their careers have made it tough for her to get a fair share of time with them throughout her childhood.

Like just about every shot in this episode before the festival starts, the scene of Tsubame’s mom discovering she never came home is lit so beautifully, with the light of dawn just behind the horizon but already lending a hazy blue color to the sky.

Even more magical is the scene of the Eizouken trio tucking into campfire ramen outside their ramshackle studio. The warm firelight dancing off their relaxed figures as the ethereal purple dawn rises in the background. There’s an intoxicating combination of comfort, coziness, and a sense of impending drama.

The three don’t seem to notice how gorgeous and almost iconic their surroundings are, but that goes without saying: they’ve been working without sleep for who-knows-how-long and are in strict ramen-scarfing mode. Will they remember this meager fireside feast before the premiere of their first large scale effort, or will the day’s excitement cloud these quiet, delicate, hauntingly gorgeous earlier moments? I hope not.

Just as the Eizouken’s robot project dwarfs their gas mask short in size and complexity, Shibahama’s Cultural Festival’s unrestrained chaos makes the earlier budgetary committee look quaint by comparison. Competition ferocity is on par with the Serengeti, and one could see Midori and/or Tsubame getting absolutely lost in the stampede.

Fortunately, both Sayaka and the Robot Club have taken care of everything and are prepared for virtually every eventuality. The Robot Club also breaks a few school rules, using water rockets and megaphones to amplify their cause. This draws the ire of the StuCo and Security Clubs, who initially target Tsubame as the amateur-model-ringleader for arrest.

Thanks to the expert distribution of similar-looking cardboard robot costumes and Sayaka’s birds-eye-view of the premises, Tsubame is able to take direction from Sayaka via walkie-talkie and gradually navigate her way to the designated auditorium where the screening will take place—and where her notoriety is key to drawing a big chunk of the crowd.

Sayaka also successfully blackmails the normally untouchable HVAC club (all of whom are caught wasting A/C on a hot day) into ensuring the auditorium will be enticingly cool for audience members coming in from the outside. Sure, Tsubame enough could be a good draw, but the A/C draws in even those few who don’t know her or about robots or anime.

In another impressive demonstration of intricate planning, logistics, timing, and luck, Robot Club’s Ono takes a zipline across the breadth of the campus, with a huge banner trailing behind him notifying the gawking masses of the impending screening.

Like Tsubame, the cat-and-mouse chase between him and those who would shut them down takes on the feel of a madcap video game, complete with platforms, mazes, obstacles, and end-goals. It’s just a tremendous amount of fun and imagination—and all before we see a single frame of the movie!

Everything goes off without a hitch. The auditorium is nice and cool and the crowd is huge. Even Tsubame’s parents attend, eager to see what their daughter has been up to (turns out using MIBs to discourage her from anime pursuits was her dad’s idea). There are no technical difficulties with the video or audio or the live-voicing setup.

The crowd watches the robot-crabtle battle with stunned looks, the screen glowing in their eyes. Tsubame’s parents admire the animation with prime, and are able to see Tsubame’s love of capturing motion through art in this manner. Pride washes over their faces. They realize this, not live-action acting, is what their daughter loves and excels at.

After the screening, and a brief autograph/handshake session, Tsubame is dispatched to get lunch for Midori and Sayaka, and runs into her parents. The three have a cordial mini-lunch together, and Tsubame draws upon her parents’ careers as artists for perhaps the first time, asking if they’re ever satisfied after a performance.

She’s relieved to hear neither of them are, because neither is she…and we no neither is Midori. They’re relieved Tsubame has been off doing her own thing, and it’s something they’re not going to try to hold her back from anymore. To do so would be to prevent her from “performing” the way she knows best: with pencil and paper.

Finally, her parents poke their heads in a shed where the Eizouken 3 are taking a break from all the hubbub, and about to scarf down the lunch Tsubame brought. Her parents ask if these are her friends; Midori responds that they’re comrades. The bonds of comrades, joined not by blood but by common cause and common fate, surpass mere friendship, for even the best of friends can have vastly different goals.

It’s no surprise Midori is donned in full camo combat fatigues. The cultural festival was the Eizouken’s greatest battle yet, and victory was achieved. Not flawlessly, mind you—Midori estimates she’s only 20% satisfied with the product they presented—but enough to get the job done.

The fact Tsubame’s parents can no longer be counted among their enemies is both strategically advantageous and a timely boost to unit morale. On to the next battle!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 07 – Spilling Tea for Art’s Sake

Tsubame’s unyielding passion to capture the motion of the world around her through drawing started when she was in grade school, watching her grandma toss tea into the yard with a precise, practiced motion. The action fascinated her, and she yearned to master it herself so she could capture it in all its glory.

When she ended up in classes on how to stand, sit, and walk in preparation for her modeling career, Tsubame voraciously jotted down all the various motions, even discerning a better way for her infirm grandma to move and walk more comfortably. She carries that passion on in every frame of animation she’s drawing for this robot anime.

She does this in defiance of her mother’s insistence she not get involved in animation, but also in lieu of getting the proper amount of sleep or paying sufficient attention in class. Yet even if she’s sleep-deprived and her grades start to slip, there’s no alternative. Tsubame is gradually learning not to be a total perfectionist, but she’s never going to give anything less than 110% effort.

With Doumeki on board, the trio now have someone with far more audio know-how than the rest of them combined, but that just means she’s able to describe in precise demoralizing detail all of the challenges they face and the consequences of not properly harmonizing visuals and sound.

Meanwhile, Midori is presented artwork that the artists believe was following her instructions, but which she worries will fundamentally change the film they’re making. The artists need to be more flexible, but she needs to be more precise in her direction.

While I’m sure Sayaka considers it another strictly-business opportunity to give her talent a much-needed break, and it is their bathhouse visit after school is closed due to rain turns out to be a nice bonding experience. There’s a familial intimacy to bathing together that the team previously lacked.

It’s also fun to watch Midori dutifully call her very nice parents to let her know where she is and what she’s doing with whom, as well as the very rich Tsubame marveling at every aspect of the bathhouse experience, as well as insisting Sayaka douses Midori over and over so she can watch the motion of the water —much like she asked her granny to keep tossing tea.

The three then dine on crawfish after catching their fair share themselves (though they can’t eat the same fish they caught, as they must be purged of mud first, Midori points out), and Midori and Tsubame whip out their sketchbooks to capture their dinner in all its crustacean glory. Few moments of these young women’s lives seem to ever pass without them capturing it with pen or pencil on paper.

When the rain subsides, they return to their studio, and Tsubame gradually becomes frustrated with her animation of a chainsaw. After discussing possible remedies with Midori, the two bring in Sayaka, who thinks its fine and that they should watch it with sound. Sure enough, it makes more than enough impact for the quick cut…but Tsubame isn’t quite satisfied.

Both Midori and Tsubame consider anime to be the best way to appreciate movement, more so than even live action film, and that comes down to intent. The imagination, passion and effort of a great animator comes out in every frame of their work, lending it greater impact than a mere directed and photographed live-action actor.

Tsubame isn’t looking to “make people smile” with her anime. She wants to be able to wow people like her, who can’t help but spot every potential flaw or revelation; notice every triumph or defeat. By being her own harshest, uncompromising critic, an artiste like Tsubame could potentially problems for a production on a shoestring budget and tight deadline.

But doggone it, the eventual visual rewards of letting her go wild are well worth the pain. It’s why Sayaka is almost always irritated and annoyed, but she’ll gladly bear those emotions if it results in an exceptional—and profitable—final product. When you successfully harness the chaotic energy of special talents and personalities, great things can happen. And like a rocket taking off, the sky’s the limit.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 06 – No Groaning, Moaning, or Excuses

The Eizoken has 96 days to produce a 15-20 minute anime about a robot fighting a crabtle, and its members must contend with a nearly infinitely more complex production. More action scenes, more sound effects, more backgrounds, more of everything they already did with Machete Girl, only they’ll also need more classically epic music and voice actors for dialogue.

Kanamori Sayaka, the ever-steady executive producer, keeps the ship on course in these early stages, knowing when to crack the whip and when to show kindness and generosity…or at least that last bit would have been the case if she’d actually treated the artists to ramen. That said, never carrying more than 1,000 yen at all times is an elegant, effective means of budgeting!

She can forsee that this production could easily drain their finances, and the student council is keeping a watchful eye, so Sayaka decides to play ball, acting both as council enforcer and interested party with the delinquent Sound Club.

She gives its only member Doumeki an offer she can’t refuse, offering protection in exchange for access to her ridiculously vast collection of sounds, plus her own expertise as audio advisor. Doumeki is also compelled to sell much of the collection for club funds, and Sayaka and the Eizouken will get a cut of that.

Sayaka can’t do it all, however. She can only create a stable enough environment in which Midori and Tsubame can work. But there’s more work than the two of them will ever be able to complete in time, so they need to delegate some of the work to a willing art club (who like the robot club were impressed by Machete Girl).

In their first meeting with the art club, Midori constantly needs help from both Sayaka and one of the club’s members to get out what she’s trying to say. She’s simply not good at telling people what to do, but if she doesn’t, there’s no giant robot anime.

While recharging her depleted brain with some late afternoon sketching, Midori falls down a well of self-doubt, worried there’s no way she can make a robot anime that will satisfy everyone. Sayaka delivers the tough love speech she Midori in her moment of vulnerability. It’s not about satisfying everyone, but making a final product on time that she can be satisfied with and proud of.

As evidenced from their reaction to Machete Girl, Midori and Tsubame are their own most exacting critics, so it sounds counterproductive to tell her to trust in her own sensibilities. But Midori is eventually able to reconcile some of the inconsistencies (or as Tsubame calls them, “crimes” committed in order to field a giant robot anime), and regains her motivation.

Hands Off the Eizouken! has beautiful, terrifically imaginative art and a wonderfully novel way of visualizing its artists’ creations, but besides all that one shouldn’t overlook its devotion to what makes a good anime: characters you care about overcoming obstacles internal and external to achieve something great.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 05 – Blue-Collar Giant Robot

The newly-validated Eizouken could be forgiven for taking it easy in the shadow of their triumph. They worked their butts off with very little sleep, and it’s never mentioned how badly it affected either their academic studies or Tsubame’s modeling schedule. However, Sayaka puts them right back on track for their next project, which will be bigger and more ambitious.

She’s secured a commission from the school’s robot club to create a giant robot anime, a key promotion for both clubs to be presented as the centerpiece of the upcoming cultural festival. During their initial meet-and-greet, Midori’s imagination gets the best of her, as she finds herself in the middle of a drama involving dark, secret facilities and brainwashed friends.

Never ones to stare at blank paper, the girls explore the sprawling underground network beneath the school, where the setting takes on a distinct Girls Last Tour look and feel, in order to stimulate and feed their imaginations. The trip is a fruitful one, as Midori and Tsubame work out the concept of a crab/turtle hybrid with a heat attack and shockwave-creating claw as the robot’s opponent.

Midori is the scaredy-cat of the group, but also the most cautious and prepared for contingencies. Sayaka and Tsubame would have been SOL had their friend not brought rope and a shovel when the three fall into a pit. Meanwhile the show’s real-life setting continues to amaze with its whimsical complexity.

The next step is ostensibly where Sayaka will shine: the negotiations that lead to the official start of the project. However, in this case she’s unable to secure any blackmail bait for negotiation purposes, and one of the robot club’s members is both passionate and obstinate in his vision.

His problem is that while he knows what he wants, he can’t visualize it, so he was liable to reject anything that deviated from that impossible ideal. Sayaka is bailed out from this ordeal when Tsubame and Midori relate to the stubborn member as comrades in frustration with the mundaneness of the world, its lack of real giant robots, spaceships, and hadokens.

With that obstacle removed, the girls collaborate with the robot club members in brainstorming a direction for the design of the robot and its weaponry, which will include a chainsaw, pile driver and metal drill (not wood!). All of its camera and sensor functions are streamlined into a sleek retro-style head.

This marks the first time others have borne witnesses to Midori and Tsubame’s visualized flights of fancy, but the extra input results in a complex final model that Sayaka is worried will be a bitch to animate. Even so, with official standing, additional resources, and a more realistic timeline, I don’t doubt Tsubame and Midori can pull it off, and it will be loads of fun to watch!

 

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 04 – The Advantage of High Standards

With only a month to go until the budget committee, we open on an Eizouken in crisis. For all the work Midori and Tsubame have done, they only have a few seconds of finished work to show for it. Midori can get los in her detailed worlds, while Tsubame is a proud perfectionist. Sayaka knows they’re dead in the water at such a slow pace, which means corners have to be cut somewhere.

That said, Midori and Tsubame wouldn’t bother making an anime, no matter how short or shallow, without showing off the skills they’ve amassed. Sayaka must always walk the delicate line between keeping the girls on schedule and not crushing their dreams. The three exhibit the flexibility needed in such a venture to agree to compromises they can all live with.

Yet even with a good final product (and the episode is coy about how much progress they make in realizing their vision), the Eizouken is up against a circus-like atmosphere the day of the committee, and a hostile student council intent on suspending their activities before they even have a chance to show their work. When Sayaka’s lawyering scares the adults but not the StuCo, Midori insists they at least see what they’ve been working on.

Then their anime plays out more or less in real time, and the animation, while simple and rough, is so dynamic that everyone in the auditorium reacts like they’ve been flung in the middle of the kinetic battle between the Machete Girl and her tank nemesis. Everyone in attendance is bowled over…except for our perfectionist creators, constantly critiquing the work and coming up with improvements for the future.

Having witnessed just how much the Eizouken can accomplish without a budget or a fair deadline, the StuCo has no choice but to see what they are capable of with both. That could possibly backfire—having backs against the wall is a common motivator—but I doubt it.

The enthusiastic fires in Midori and Tsubame have never burned brighter than at the end of their presentation, and Sayaka seems pleased that other outsiders saw what she saw in these two: they’re special, and they are capable of great things no matter the conditions.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 03 – Gas Mask Girl vs. Personal Defense Tank

The accident video turns out not to have any adverse consequences (for now) but did net the Film Club 30,000 yen, most of which was spent on repairs. It’s a good thing Sayaka is around to keep the wild-eyed dreamer and the rich girl in line, monetarily speaking.

While Midori and Tsubame are easily distracted by a butterfly or tanuki, Sayaka makes sure they take this seriously, because the school will only promote a serious association to full club status. First order of business is repairing the roof, a task the animators visualize as EVA on a spaceship.

Once they’ve had a meal and a discussion on what’s physically possible in the 55 days they have until the budget discretionary hearing, the trio take the train to Midori’s place. Most of the ads happen to feature Tsubame, attracting a couple of fans and reminding us of her notoriety.

One also imagines she’ll likely have a modeling job or two during those 55 days. When it’s clear that a 3600-frame 5-minute animated short will be too much work for the two of them, they shorten it to three minutes.

Once at Midori’s modest apartment (with its neat checkered carpet), the brainstorming commences. Midori has books full of cool concepts, and they settle on one that’s relatively simple, as most of the structures are cubes. More elaborate environments can wait until they’re on sturdier organizational and financial ground.

Watching Midori and Tsubame bounce off each other and create worlds before our eyes is never not thrilling, but it’s also rewarding to see how the enterprising Sayaka reacts to their “creative rampages,” by finding a way to combine the two artists’ disparate visions.

Sayaka exhibits emotional intelligence by ensuring neither of the animators are discouraged to the point of adversely affecting their enthusiasm and productivity. She’s also pretty sure they can save money on paper by simply buying a hole punch!

By episodes end, the broad strokes of the short have been hammered out. Tsubame’s efforts will center on a high school girl in a gas mask (to limit the need to draw full facial expressions) armed with a machete, who battles an adorable “Personal Defense Tank” designed by Midori in a low-gravity environment.

If what they end up animating looks anything like the concept story-boarding they made in their minds, they should be on a one-way-street to acknowledgement as a full film club. But that’s a big if, and there’s still the possibilty of butting heads with budget adjudicators who aren’t okay with the concept of a second anime-related club, or simply aren’t into animation.

In the battle to come, Midori, Sayaka, and Tsubame are Gas Mask Girl, while the school is the tank. Somehow, they must find a way to prevail.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 02 – Tilting at the Greatest Windmills

Midori, Sayaka and Tsubame head to the faculty lounge, which is whimsically located inside a giant empty swimming pool, to make their case for an animation club. When one teacher says there’s already an anime club and that they should focus on live action, the group decides to simply say they’re starting a film club, and let the fruits of their labor redeem the white lie later. The spacey, heavily-bearded Fujimoto-sensei volunteers to be their adviser.

Their digs are essentially a two-level ramshackle storeroom built of cheap corrugated steel filled with holes that let the elements in. The place is filthy, but full of potential, at least when armed with the powerful imaginations of Midori and Tsubame, who conjure various furniture, luxuries, and equipment for creating anime.

Midori gets a bit carried away when proposing they add hinges to the roof to make it a hatch from which they can launch personal helicopters. While messing around the rusty railing gives way and she takes a one-story spill. The always-enterprising Sayaka captures the accident on camera and swiftly posts it online for sale in hopes of raising club funds.

Fujimoto later tells them the school will pay for repairs to the building, and to keep the video for themselves lest it go public and cause trouble for the school. Sayaka also makes a verbose federal case for the tightwad teacher to get him to allow them to do as they please. The trio then explores the storeroom’s underbelly and find a windmill connected to a generator. The storeroom is full of animation production equipment in decent shape.

Totally geeking out on their wheelhouse stuff, Midori and Tsubame explain the details of how one makes a series of drawings then films them to present the illusion of motion. They find a crude animation of the windmill and complete and improve upon it, adding visual flair, transforming their environment into a wondrous fantasy spectacle.

There are no accidents as a result of this flight (or rather cruise) of fancy, but that evening Sayaka gets a deposit of cash for her footage, and both Tsubame and Midori (and her family) catch footage of her fall on TV. Such a development threatens to torpedo their Eizouken dreams in their infancy, before they’re able to create a frame of finished work.

Obviously, their efforts aren’t about to be permanently shut down after just two episodes, but it will be interesting to see how they navigate the stormy waters of what I’ll inelegantly call Dealing With People Who Want To Hold Them Back. One thing’s for certain: independent those outside factors, they have the talent and means to do what they want. Now all they need is the freedom to do it.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 01 (First Impressions) – The Greatest World

From the hypercosmic brain of Yuasa Masaaki (The Tatami Galaxy) comes a new brilliant, awe-inspiring adventure in a down-to-earth, lived-in world where the mundane is extraordinary. As soon as she moved to Shibahama as a little girl, Asakusa Midori was obsessed with adventuring and world-building.

Now she sits above her island high school’s social fray, taking in not the people but the absolute batshit crazy architecture. The pint-sized, husky-voiced Midori’s only friend is the tall, toothy Kanamori Sayaka, for whom everything is a transaction.

When Midori forces Sayaka to attend the screening of a Miyazaki-style anime, they encounter Mizusaki Tsubame, fashion model, socialite daughter of a megacorp tycoon…and unapologetic anime fangirl. She’s also on the run from her two bodyguards, who have been ordered not to let her join the anime club.

Tsubame may be a stranger in unfamiliar territory, but Midori and Sayaka join forces to rescue her. Midori, because Tsubame shares her love of anime, and Sayaka because there could be money in it. In the process, Tsubame spills strawberry milk all over her blouse, but Midori knows of a discrete laundromat in the neighborhood.

As Tsubame’s clothes wash, she and Midori become fast friends, swapping their notebooks and finding they complement each other perfectly. Midori has always loved creating worlds and gizmos with elaborate concept art, while Tsubame has a strong grasp of the human figure (she is a model, after all) and as such is better at characters.

As the two overly characters over environments, Sayaka hatches a plan: she’ll get these two talented girls to make a beautiful—and profitable—anime together. Both Midori and Tsubame lack confidence, but Sayaka assures them she’ll be there both to push them and support them…in any ways not involving artistry.

Earlier in the episode the younger Midori creates a whole black-on-white pencil line drawing world complete with sound effects. That’s taken to the next level when Midori spots a small, unassuming contraption in Tsubame’s notebook, draws a hanger bay around it, and the three are suddenly immersed in the drawing and interacting with it (complete with those same sound effects, likely made by the seiyus).

The two eventually complete the development of the dragonfly-like flying machine and with Sayaka’s help manage to take off before the bodyguards (in this world the villains) can catch Tsubame. A dogfight ensues, but their dragonfly squeaks between two skyscrapers and emerges on the other end, an otherworldly, fully-rendered realm Midori calls “the greatest world,” something she’s always seeking to create with her art.

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! is a DELIGHT from start to finish. While it can get a little trippy at moments, it is always grounded by its trio of quirky, rootable characters, only one of whom employs a classic “anime” voice. The creators’ own love and passion for art and animation is plain to see in every frame, be it a crude line drawing or a gorgeous painterly city vista.

More than anything, Eizouken is a powerful imagination simulant. It does what any anime should: swell the heart and expand the mind’s eye to consider new worlds and machines and explore them beyond the surface. Speaking as an artist, it was a very rewarding experience to see such a wealth of creativity on display.

It was also gratifying to watch two kindred spirits from totally different social backgrounds coming together through their shared love of putting the fruits of their imaginations to paper. Eizouken stands out from the crowd of cookie-cutter anime in the best way. You’d be wise to give it a close look this Winter!