Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! has been the talk of anime Twitter for the past few months. Headed by renowned director/producer team Masaaki Yuasa and Eunyoung Choi (DEVILMAN crybaby; Night is Short, Walk on Girl), the 12-episode love letter to animation has provided endless GIFs, reaction images, and a meme dedicated to putting new characters into the show’s catchy intro. But what is it, exactly?
Eizouken is about three high schoolers — daydreaming gremlin Asakusa, calculating Kanamori, and model Mizusaki — who wind up forming the titular club when Asakusa and Mizusaki’s desire to create anime sparks with Kanamori’s eye for making cash. Forced to battle redundancy at every turn (“Eizouken” actually means “film research club,” the trio’s way of sneaking around the fact that the school already has an anime-watching club), the girls take every chance to make art and learn from their own shortcomings.
Eizouken has been deservedly praised for its ability to depict the social and financial maneuvering it takes to get an anime made with a more accessible school club allegory, but just as impressive if not more is how well it visualizes the experience of creating and enjoying art. Asakusa’s flights of fancy are given life on screen with the loose, sketchy detail of notebook doodles, sweeping her friends and the audience along for the ride. A jetpack becomes increasingly complicated mid-flight as the girls argue over the relative plausibility of its design; sewer tunnels become the stage for a giant enemy crab battle; a TV show is so moving it literally sucks the viewer in through the screen. Scenes escalate and expand as friends ping-pong ideas off one another and collaborators clash, letting the characters’ grandest ideas play out in full even as they’re forced to make concessions in reality.
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The show is also surprisingly blunt about the realities of making collaborative art and how projects are affected by time, funding, client requests, and the simple limitations of the human body. Kanamori acts as the team’s producer, and it’s refreshing to see her portrayed not as a killjoy stomping on the dreams of freespirited artists but a necessary source of pragmatism who curbs Asakusa and Mizusaki’s worst tendencies while encouraging their strengths, negotiates for them with outside forces, and makes sure that they have something finished to show at the end of the day. Eizouken isn’t a pro-capitalist series — in fact, the world the girls inhabit is a quietly post-apocalyptic one — but it understands the interwoven, complicated relationship between artistic passion and the realities of wanting to make a living off that art.
All of this is buoyed by energetic, fluid animation that eschews framing its leads in a fanservicey light, a deliberately diversified setting, and a slow-burn focus on character development that reels the viewer in with growing affection for the cast. Longtime anime fans and casual viewers are equally likely to find something worth loving and learn something they didn’t know before. It’s a powerful shot of joy at a time when we could all use it.