Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 12 (Fin) – Such Sweet Sorrow

It wouldn’t be an Eizouken production if it wasn’t completed after an all-nighter, during which Midori, Tsubame and Doumeki modify the ending to omit the dance party, in order to match the only track of music they’re going to get, which has a more somber tone. When their last-minute changes cause them to miss their window for their go-to DVD publisher, Sayaka bails out her creatives by making a deal with the club that got busted by the StuCo.

The dance party is left out as an extra scene to be released when proper music is procured—a necessary sacrifice in order to come in on schedule and under budget. The next day at Comet A (which is held at a very Tokyo Big Sight-looking venue), Tsubame dutifully interacts with customers, until Sayaka deems the time is right for her and Midori to don paper bags, thus increasing word of mouth and social media interest.

Thanks to their genuinely good work and Sayaka’s gift for marketing, the Eizouken sells every last one of their DVDs moments before the chime marking the conclusion of Comet A. Midori, who had to interact less with people and generally took it easy, suddenly has a burst of energy, and suggests the three of them go to her house to watch their finished creation, which for them will be the first time.

The sight of the three comrades gathered beside the warm blue glow of the TV, surrounded by food and drink, Midori safe and content within her hermit crab-like blanket, is just so cozy and beautiful. They slide the DVD into the player just as everyone else who bought one does, and the show begins.

Like Gas Mask Machete Girl and Robot vs. Crab, Shibahama UFO Wars packs an immediate visual punch, with both Midori’s talent for intricate conceptualization and Tsubame’s passion for lyrical motion on full display. The music track wasn’t at all what they expected, but they make it work for the short, and no one outside of the production would ever have suspected otherwise. As people watch, they imagine residential towers like the ones in the short suddenly bursting forth from the ground.

By the time the short ends, Midori has fallen asleep, and Tsubame and Sayaka deem it unnecessary to wake her before heading home. After all, they’re sure she’d say that while it was something they could be proud of, there is always always always room for improvement, and they’ll be working to improve it starting tomorrow, after a well-earned good night’s sleep.

Sure enough, the next morning Midori dashes in and animatedly describes to Tsubame and Sayaka her latest insight into how to improve the short. As she does, the camera pulls out of their studio, past the river to the other shore, and…just keeps going, getting more and more fanciful until an entirely alien world is revealed. Which is only fitting, as Midori might as well not be of our world. ;)

And just like that, we’re no longer privy to the daily goings-on of the Eizouken. They’ll keep at it, but it’s sad we can’t keep watching. At least, not until a second season comes…if it ever comes. I’ll cross my fingers for that, but like Sayaka’s attempt to delay the initial DVD order, it might not work out, and that’s okay. This was a particularly special dozen episodes; a lush and imaginative love letter to anime I almost instantly fell in love with.

It’s been easy-breezy.

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 11 – Ripples of Peace

With 45 days until their deadline, the Eizouken creatives are working furiously while Sayaka conducts business in the same space, giving her the idea for partitions in the future. Things get even more lively when their studio hosts a raid by the Security Club.

The StuCo arrives and expels the president of the Transcription Club for “arranging deals using school funds without permission.” Eizouken is not affected, but the Secretary warns Sayaka not to let something like this happen to her. Sayaka responds with a bill for the property damage. Touche!

While working on the weekend—as they must for all weekends—the trio finally notices their adviser is supervising them at all times, even without overtime. As their adviser, he advises them not to work so long and have some fun from time to time, for “the best work comes from a sense of play.”

This permission to goof off is his highly inconvenient for Sayaka, who is just barely keeping Midori and Tsubame on schedule, but the three go on a fun trip anyway. An underground tunnel leads to a sheer cliff, and the promise of a tire swing leads them to an abandoned, flooded “Solar City” that gives Midori all kinds of ideas about underwater civilizations.

One day, Midori and Tsubame arrive to find a sign posted on the studio entrance strongly warning against acquisition of outside-of-school funds. Sayaka is home sick(!) so Midori and Tsubame catch a train to visit her. We learn how Sayaka and Midori met: they were the only two loners in middle school P.E.

Having endured partnering up with a stranger, Midori follows Sayaka around and even makes money collecting special leaves for a restaurant that serves grilled fish on them (a very Kanamori Sayaka hustle), and even rides a train for the first time. Sayaka’s thoughts about how people temporarily allying for mutual benefit doesn’t automatically denote friendship.

It’s probably why Midori to this day considers both Sayaka and Tsubame “comrades”, not “friends” (or, in Japanese, nakama, not tomodachi). More importantly, it gets to the heart about how people see things in different ways. Where once she saw leaves, Midori now she sees cash, thanks to Sayaka.

When Midori and Tsubame show Sayaka the threatening sign, she tells them not to worry about it; she’s secured another checkmate against the commerce-ruining adults of the school in the form of widespread and overwhelmingly supportive publicity for their Shibahama film project. They’re now virtually bulletproof against the school’s retaliation.

That again underscores the concept of people seeing things in different ways; the school sees the Eizouken’s activities as “anti-educational”; Sayaka considers them the exact opposite. Then, when asked about her progress with the story and ending, Midori is ready with a full rundown of the film, which she gives in a gorgeous illustrative scene.

In the process, Midori utilizes the concept of different perspectives by having the human and kappa societies be a mirror of one another. She also integrates all of the weird and seemingly unrelated ideas she came up with during their adventures! Ironically, the skeptical vice principal planting Cosmos (a symbol of peace) may have been the spark Midori needed to tie everything together.

It looks like an exciting film with no shortage of action and battles, but the central theme of peaceful coexistence and understanding will certainly play well with the city officials. Making the humans and kappa so visually alike is both thematically on-point and a time-saver, indicating the creatives have gotten better at managing their creative ambitions and embracing shortcuts when appropriate.

Armed with a strong story and all the leeway they’ll need to execute, the Eizouken gets to work, and even manages to complete the animation with time to spare (though not much). That’s when they hit an unexpected snag: the music track they acquired for the film’s score is nothing like the demo they heard, and doesn’t match the animation at all.

Assuming there’s no time to draw anything new, they’ll need a musical miracle. Maybe one of them knows someone who knows someone who could bail them out…

Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! – 10 – Watch the Tan Lines…and the Tangents

You can’t get much past Kanamori, her business sense forged as it is in the fires of her family’s past failure. Eizouken relies almost solely on Tsubame’s fame right now…but her sock has created a tan line on her leg, and she hasn’t been taking any modelling jobs recently.

Neither Tsubame nor Midori see what the big deal is, but thankfully they have Kanamori to explain it to them: if Tsubame’s star dims, so will the Eizouken’s. She has to take on the occasional job to keep her star bright.

As if Kanamori didn’t have enough problems herding creative cats, the StuCo stops by the studio personally to drag them before a conference with the teachers, who have found out about the festival they’re attending and the Eizouken’s intentions to turn a profit.

Kanamori, head turned arrogantly skyward at all times as a sign of protest and disdain, tries her best to justify the model, but the decision has already been made by the adults. As a school club, they can attend and participate in Comet-A, but they can’t accept any payment.

In the following montage, the Eizouken carries on with their big, complex  Shibahama-funded project. As Tsubame indeed continues modelling (though her face almost betrays a certain annoyance about it), Midori churns out drawings and paintings, sounds are recorded, and all of it cataloged on the computer.

I just hope they don’t run into any technical problems wherein they lose vast chunks of work. This fortunately doesn’t seem like the kind of show to drop cheap sandbags like that. Instead, the challenge comes in Midori actually being able to craft a cohesive and satisfying story from her myriad crazy concepts, and is able to “perform” her intentions to the team they’ll need to pull it off.

One key player is Doumeki, who finds herself napping for the first time—and making amazing weapon beam noises while she’s doing it! This leads to the four comrades meeting up on bikes for a “sound hunting” trip.

Kanamori (stunting AKIRA-style) is dubious about Midori tagging along when she has so much work to do, but I’m with Midori when she says it’s a director’s job to sometimes witness the work she’d normally delegate firsthand.

Besides, the resulting trip pays more dividends than simply collecting the sounds Doumeki wanted, including the latest iteration of the town’s famous bell across the water. Like the trip to the undergound restaurant, the trip fills Midori’s head with new ideas.

Some of these ideas are unrelated and can be filed away for future projects, irking Kanamori, but still other ideas help her to connect her disparate concepts into something resembling a story. That only Midori knows what that’s shaping up to be also irks Kanamori. She wants to see concrete results, and soon.

Still, she can’t put a price on the bonding that takes place between the Eizouken members on a trip that’s equal parts work, wonder, and fun. As the sun starts to fall, Midori gets one more crazy idea about the early origins of human clockwork mechanisms, and the StuCo secretary is along for the ride.

I particularly enjoyed seeing this girl, who seems very much like Kanamori, simply sitting by the river with her, asking how she’s dealing with the new restrictions. She doesn’t seem there to gloat or shove the Eizouken’s problems in their faces. Indeed, it even brings a smile to her face to watch one of Midori’s patented flights of fancy, which again isn’t immediately related to their current project.

The secretary (whom I assumed was the president until this week) had just warned Kanamori that the school is its own world, with special protections for its students, and to leave that behind. But when they’re creating, Midori and Tsubame are in a third world, neither inside nor outside the school; a world of their making. As for Kanamori, she can handle the outside world. It’s really more a question of whether it can handle her!

P.S. As pointed out by ANN’s Zac Bertschy, the Eizouken is basically an early Studio Ghibli analog. Midori is Miyazaki (hence the beard), Tsubame is Takahata Isao, and Kanamori is Suzuki Toshio. Love it!

Eizouken ni wa Te wo Dasu na! – 09 – Creating the Greatest World…While Turning a Handsome Profit

This may sound like hyperbole, but Hands Off the Eizouken! may be in the Anime of the Decade conversation, despite airing in the very first season of that decade. It’s also deserves serious discussion as Yuasa Maasaki’s masterpiece, as clever and creative and self-reflexive and realistic and human a series as I’ve ever watched. It just keeps getting better.

The Robot short was a success in every way except the way that matters most to the third member of Eizouken: financially. Part of that was due to the school limiting the money they can spend and charge, but Sayaka also sees ways in which the creative side of things can be greater optimized. Dreams are nice, warm, and fuzzy, but they’ll wither and die without cold hard cash.

Sayaka turns down all the requests from other school clubs, knowing none of them would be financially worth the effort; effort she knows she can only limit so much before her creatives buck. She takes them on a brainstorming tour of the infinitely whimsical and cool Shibahama town, and Midori and Tsubame’s imaginations snap crackle and POW across the screen.

All along, as we’ll learn later in the episode, Sayaka was selling her comrades something without them even knowing it, something at which she is exceedingly effective: Shibahama is to be the setting of their next project, and the town itself will finance it because it will not only be art, but a promotion of Shibahama’s uniqueness and charm.

We see no shortage of that charm, both in the eclectic and often contradictory architecture, nor shortage of a need for something to stir things up in a town on the decline. Heck, the underground fruit banban noodle restaurant is litterally on a downward slant, which means they don’t serve the noodles with broth lest it pour out.

There is something pouring here, thought, and that’s potential. For the Big Deal Sayaka has been longing for most of her life. When the young proprietor reveals he’s a big fan of their anime (calling them prodigies, which they are) and wishes they could make an anime about a noodle store owner who is also a world-saving secret agent, what was previously-planted seed in Sayaka’s hyper-capitalist brain starts to sprout and flower.

Whether it’s selling the school’s audio collection and exacting rent from Doumeki to making social media posts of their lunch and of the popular Tsubame, Sayaka never wastes an opportunity for profit. That’s because she learned the hard way from the slow deterioration and death of her relatives’ liquor, later general store. She regales Midori and Tsubame with that sad story, and the three are plunged into a wonderful watercolor flashback.

There, the others watch with glee as a much younger “Mini-Mori” exhibits her keen enterprising spirit and natural knack for business despite struggling with math. Her relatives even note how it’s a shame they didn’t have her business sense back before it was too late to save a business that couldn’t evolve with the times. It’s as if Sayaka was born just a decade or so too late.

In a passionate speech that complements those both Midori and Tsubame have made (though theirs were about animation), Sayaka impresses upon her comrades the importance of having a profitable product at the right time, in the right place, and keeping such a practice going. That means sometimes quality will have to take a backseat to satisfying demand.

The fact she is able to talk so saliently about such a wide range of commercial and economic concerns neither Midori or Tsubame have the headspace to have ever thought about cements the absolute necessity of having someone like Sayaka on their side, keeping them in line, and giving them opportunities they’ll always be to busy drawing to see on the horizon.

Sayaka has been giving the Eizouken a robust digital footprint that will serve as the foundation for a marketing network they can rely upon so no one interested in their work will ever be left out of the loop. Just as Art cannot survive without business (at least if you want to make a living with art), business cannot survive without promotion.

As if inspired by the speech, Midori and Tsubame continue brainstorming, and determine that Shibahama itself will be a fine setting for their next project. It will depict a battle between the city and its various hidden weapons systems versus a fleet of UFOs. They have an idea, and Sayaka will ensure every stage of that idea will be shared with interested parties on social media.

The fact Midori and Tsubame took to Shibahama as the setting so organically also serves Sayaka well, for while the StuCo managed to grab Doumeki’s rent from the Eizouken’s coffers, Sayaka is already frying bigger fish. Letting out the same cool toothy smirk as when she received sundries to sell instead of cash tips for cleaning back at the doomed liquor store, Sayaka finalizes a deal where the Shibahama Chamber of Commerce will fully finance the short.

Showing that she’s growing when it comes to her methods (as an adult businessperson must if they wish to avoid future legal entanglements), Sayaka reached out to the president of the town’s Young Person Association: the proprietor of the fruit ramen joint. His group has been working on local revitalization projects, and they “ate up” the idea of revitalization-through-animation.

Because of the heightened stakes, Sayaka will be keeping that much closer and eye on the creatives’ flights of fancy lest her flights of finance go into a tailspin. That said, at this early a stage she allows them to glom onto details here and there that jump out at them, and in the process, Midori manages to convince her that they won’t have to draw any scientifically inaccurate laser beams!

She manages this thanks in part to the addition of Doumeki, who joins the flight of fancy by adding audio to the drawings around them. But the sound isn’t quite right to Midori, and since she’s the director, she has to offer clearer direction to Doumeki (and Tsubame, and all the other creatives they’ll need to pull this off.

Midori directs Doumeki by simply acting out the sequence of sounds with her own voice and then explaining her specific specifications. This is an extension of the flights of fancy throughout the series, where Midori’s voice made most of the sound effects. But it’s also an epiphany to Midori that what she is doing is a performance. As in, performing in front of people, through her concepts and animation, but also in person.

It’s something both Tsubame and Tsubame’s parents already came to grips with, and it is simultaneously exciting and terrifying to the normally shy, meek Midori who only truly comes out of her shell with her Eizouken comrades.

Tsubame may be the pretty face that puts butts in seats and followers online, but as Sayaka continues to expand their digital footprint and the scope of their business, Midori will have to become more comfortable with her performance being seen by all.

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!