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.