It feels wrong to swing the hammer at a show made by Masaki Yuasa. Everything the distinctive director has been responsible I’ve enjoyed immensely, and even his messier works like Kaiba and Kemonozume were full of heart and punch.
Last season’s Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! was different though. I had to drag myself to the finish line on this one, forcing myself through the final few episodes. It really shouldn’t have been this way. Every piece of Eizouken is incredible: the animation is distinctive and evocative, switching styles with a grace that demonstrates great understanding of the medium. The central trio all have powerful, unique personalities not often found in anime–Asakusa, the imaginative gremlin, Kanamori, the stern pillar of willpower with a love for money, and Mizusaki, the bubbly, popular idol who really just wants to make anime. Their dialogue is well-written, their various strengths and weaknesses well-defined. And if you look at Eizouken at a glance, the story is completely functional, following our artistic trio as they embark on their maiden attempt to create their own anime. It’s an informative and passionate tale of the many challenges faced by budding creators, and a lot of the specific aspects that go into making an anime.
So what’s the issue, you ask? Well, at first I wasn’t sure. All I knew is that by the time I got about halfway through I was bored. Even though the quality of the show hadn’t dipped, my interest had plummeted. After thinking about it a bit though, I noticed a pattern that hung through to the finale.
Every conflict in this show has an immediate, easy resolution.
There’s no tension! The show throws a non-stop barrage of problems at our protagonists, but they shrug off every single one after a minute of deliberation. Eizouken sometimes starts an episode with the group being presented with a conflict: a lack of funds, a story idea that hasn’t come together, censorship from the student council, whatever it may be. Then, Asakusa will go on a walk, or see something neat, have an idea, and that idea will fix the problem. Queue fifteen minutes of the main characters going to the baths, or wandering around looking at the town. Look, I have no problem with slice-of-life stuff, but even this show’s fucking title is aggressive: Keep Your Hands of Eizouken, a bold challenge towards anyone who would meddle with our trio’s project. I can only assume this title is supposed to be about the student council, who consistently attempt to stand in our protagonist’s paths, but rather than building towards any sort of meaningful conflict where the practical nature of the administration clashes with the creative-driven soul of Asakusa and Mizusaki, the student council functions more like the show’s Team Rocket, popping in to stir things up and then easily being bested, often off-screen.
All throughout the show Eizouken provides signs that it wants to be about creative perseverance, not simple, easy living. The show brings up the financial viability of anime, the social taboos of being implicated in creating it, the restrictions imposed on the mobility of minors, the struggle of working for a deadline, and more. But rather than delve into these roadblocks the show seems content to wave them aside with ease. None of our main characters are forced to really grapple with anything difficult. Everything they do takes two sped-through tries, if not one. Asakusa is supposed to be lazy and easily distracted, a fatal flaw for the director of a production, but everything gets done on time anyways and she’s never forced to face it. Mizusaki initially worries about how to not disappoint her high-society profile while working on anime, but then everyone just immediately accepts it and she moves on without having to make any difficult choices. Kanamori resolves financial problems by waving her hands. Where are the sparks? Where are the moments where the characters fail and face consequences, or have to take a real step back to dig deep and do some growth? We keep getting told that the club is always on the verge of being shut down, but they continue to do whatever they want and nothing comes of it. It’s an ethereal threat, just like the rest of the threats in the show, one that has no weight, and as the show goes on and the audience starts to realize that none of the so-called conflicts have any bite behind them and the show gets boring. This is the A-grade Yuasa show equivalent of a maxed-out shonen hero who always wins easily.
I could see an argument that the merits of this show outshine any issues with lacking tension: after all, it’s a show about making anime first and foremost. But the fact that a show about the conflict of creation lacked any actual tension feels pretty damning to me, and the fact that it was straight-up a chore to watch by the end when it should have been magical and addicting… well, I can’t really overlook that. I love Yuasa and even in this project you can see many of his countless strengths exemplified, but for Eizouken in particular…
I guess it was just too goddamn Easy Breezy after all.
5/10, pretty and pointless.