Keep Your Hands off Eizouken: A Passion Project about Passion Projects

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Keep Your Hands off Eizouken! is an anime about making anime. The meta potential here is obviously off the charts, and people who know more about the industry than I do are having a whale of a time gushing about the stylistic inspirations, the obvious homages to famous works, and the general technical prowess of the show as it sets out to be a celebration of all things animated. But Eizouken can be enjoyed even if you’re not deep in the anime paint. While it’s clearly a love letter to the animation medium, above all else it’s just a love letter to the very concept of the passion project. It’s a love letter to creativity itself, to the magical act of collaboration and creation, to taking in inspiration from everything around you and transforming it, via the alchemy that is art, into something amazing.

The story begins with our protagonist, Midori, as a kid, moving to a new apartment with her family. Within moments of arriving, Midori forgets her carsickness and is enthralled by the neighbourhood. The higgledy-piggledy waterside town might look like an ordinary place to the adults in her life, but for our tiny main character, it instantly becomes a labyrinth of possibility and the setting for Some Sort of Grand Adventure. A railcar here! A mysterious market here! Ladders leading to impossible heights! Creatures and characters dotting the magical landscape!

This was instantly familiar. When I was a kid, I found stories everywhere too. I have a specific memory of arriving at a rented holiday house and discovering with glee that it had a bunk bed—sure, I had to share the room with my little sister, but I could also hang off the metal ladder and pretend I had leapt onto a great moving city or was piloting an airship (I’d just read Mortal Engines, and the idea of such things was fresh in my brain). Hiking through local national park with my family became a game of spotting colourful cat-like creatures peeking out from between the trees, which I would later document with all the precision of Darwin himself with felt-tip pen in a big scrapbook. Even chores like packing and unpacking the dishwasher could have some character drama injected into them, if you thought about it right.

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I’m definitely not alone in this—childhood for most folks, even if they don’t grow up to be Creative People™, is a time of rampant imagination, fuelled by whatever last captured their little hearts. Watching little Midori start reimagining her new home into the site of a grand adventure gave me all sorts of warm fuzzy feelings. The animation style of the show itself switches to her hand-drawn fantasy, with a little sketched-out, stick figure adventurer traveling through the labyrinth. It gets us inside her head, and shows the vast potential of the world as she sees it… even if it seems a little limited by her current level of art skill. Lucky for us, Midori falls so deeply in love with art and animation that she continues to practice, and by the time she’s a teenager in the main timeline of the show her fantasies are able to be rendered in beautiful intricate watercolour (and we, the viewers, are able to celebrate how far she’s come, inspired by the works she loves so dearly).

And, importantly, Midori can now share her creations and invite friends into her world. Watching baby Midori discovering her favourite anime, starry-eyed, felt sweet and true, reminding me of the movies I’d watched and the books I’d read as a kid that gave me that same floaty-feeling of inspiration and possibility. Watching grown-up Midori bonding with her new friend, runaway rich kid Tsubame, over their shared love of animation and art, tugged at my heartstrings too. Creating can be such a personal thing, and such a lonely thing, too—showing someone your work, be it writing or art or music, can feel a bit like baring your soul. Finding someone you click with, who gets your vision and thinks your ideas are cool, can feel a bit like finding a soul­mate.

The latter part of Eizouken’s first episode shows us this process in motion, depicted with love: Midori draws a lot of concept art and backgrounds, Tsubame draws mostly figures and character studies. As they swap sketchbooks, gushing over each other’s work, there’s this light bulb moment for each of them: what if they put them together? Holding the pages up the sunlight so their drawings overlap and become something new, greater together, they have a moment that was just as dramatic, yet somehow much more satisfying, than the moment when two characters realise they’re in love. They realise they’re creatively compatible. And their imaginations fuse, and the show takes off into a watercolour daydream where together they build a flying machine and set off on an adventure that neither of them would have been able to take alone (dragging their third friend, and producer, along for the ride).

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I think I had a big dumb grin on my face throughout this whole premiere. Watching this show made me want to break out my pencils again and draw like I did when I was a kid—all those rainbow cat-creatures peeking out from between fence posts, and bunk bed ladders that were attached to the backs of moving cities, and dishwashers that were ready to fly into space. It made me want to grab my friends and talk about stories, about what makes them tick, about what we love about them, those beautiful swooping conversations that can go for hours at a time and leave you feeling hyped up and fuzzy inside, itching to create something of your own.

If all this sounds sappy, that’s because this show genuinely had that effect on me—it reminded me of the intense, world-altering joy that can come from imagination, from creating, from sharing, from making things together. It’s a story about creative passion that’s clearly had a lot of creative passion poured into it, and the end result is a show that’s just a delight to watch, for the pure visual splendour of the shifting art styles and the metaphor they represent. Art is magic, art can take you places, and above all else art can make you happy.

A rundown shed becomes a secret base and top-tier animation studio. A simple cleaning and repairing task becomes a high-stakes quest to save a crashing spacecraft. A regular school becomes a fantastical city full of secret tunnels and impossible creatures. An afternoon drawing and bouncing ideas off each other transports you to soaring heights, making you forget all about your laundry or the downpour of rain outside. Logistics might hound on you—as they will for the duration of the series, I can only presume, as the would-be animation studio faces roadblocks from every direction—but in those stolen moments of inspiration and creative vibing, anything genuinely seems possible. It speaks to that childlike glee found in the process of creativity, which is something we can all relate to, and something that Eizouken captures with such fervour and delight… and, I’d say, encourages us to hang onto, even as we grow up.

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3 Comments

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3 responses to “Keep Your Hands off Eizouken: A Passion Project about Passion Projects

  1. Pingback: Easy Breezy: February ’20 Roundup | The Afictionado

  2. Pingback: Creativity, Discipline, and Eizouken (or: Everyone Needs a Kanamori in Their Life) | The Afictionado

  3. Pingback: A Big Ol’ Pile of Anime Recommendations (2020) | The Afictionado

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