I have mixed feelings about this show. On one hand it’s very unique. On the other, the art is displeasing to me. If the writers are going for some artistic effect with this kind of artwork, and I’ll try to make that argument below, it nonetheless can very easily be missed in the strangeness and semi-ugliness of the artwork. But overall, I enjoyed this show. It’s rare we get to see an anime about anime. And for that this show gets decent marks in my mind. Plus it has a rather unique aspect about it, which I will note at the end of this review!
This anime is not character-driven. The characters are individually unique and have potential, but because of the way they’re drawn it’s hard to connect with the characters on any level. More on the art later of course. Nevertheless, the creativity in this anime is somewhat reflected in these characters.
Just to confirm, Midori Asakusa is a girl. She is voiced by a girl. I don’t know if there was supposed to be some doubt about this, or what role that could play in this series, but there is undoubtedly some confusion about this as you get oriented during the first episode. It’s kind of funny how it messes with your head without really mattering to the show! But I like this character. She has a lot of personality but is extremely shy around people she doesn’t know. But what I like most is the overwhelming amount of creativity and energy that overflows from her. We all probably wonder at times how artists conceptualize and generate such a massive amount of artwork for all the anime that’s produced. We get a good glimpse of how that might be possible from Asakusa. Everything she sees and touches becomes something imaginative and extraordinary. And often ridiculous. But it’s that sheer amount of unbridled creativity that allows her to germinate and produce the artwork necessary for the three animes they create in this show. This much enthusiasm combined with creativity is a little hard to imagine for some of us who aren’t very artistic (yours truly), and I very much enjoyed getting to see such a portrayal in a character.
Sayaka Kanimori is a businesswoman through and through. This is another fun characterization of a type that might work in an anime production company. She is the producer type, no question. She gets funding, she keeps everyone on task and on schedule, she fights off their enemies, and she secures them a market for their products. And all the while, she doesn’t have a clue about the kind of work that’s being created. She doesn’t care anything about anime! But it’s fun watching her and listening to her as she rips into everybody around her. I loved it when Asakusa enthusiastically questioned her once about how she’d gotten something done, wondering if it was “thuggery.” Kanamori is not to be played around with. It’s funny, I just wrote my review for Miss Kobayashi’s Dragon Maid before I wrote this review, and this is the same VA as Kobayashi. She does a great job. Disinterested, sullen, but often very intense, it doesn’t quite resemble Miss Kobayashi, but I can understand the choice! She’s a lot of fun.
Then you have the animator, Tsubame Mizusaki. Again, I like what this character does. One has to realize that in anime production there is a lot of work that goes into every single frame. Between conceptualization, resulting storyboard, character design, then finally putting it all together to make a scene, there’s a ton of different artwork required. But all of it would be useless without the work of animators themselves. Whether it’s using hand drawings and using a Disney-style camera setup to film the frames or computer drawings using software, the idea is the same. You need a ton of precisely drawn individuals and objects that differ only slightly from frame to frame. This has to coincide with movements in the background and dialogue as well, even with music in many instances. Yet it’s easy to lump all this work together, forgetting that animators cannot possibly spend time drawing all the backgrounds and other supporting art themselves. Mizusaki’s character does a great job giving us a look at how much work goes into this part of the production process. It is her only job in the production.
You have the audio supervisor Domeki, and you have the handful of school officials and the one or two annoying student council members, as well as some members of other clubs, but beyond that there aren’t many characters. Everything focuses on the work of the trio in the eizouken.
I’m not a fan. The appearance is extraordinarily plain. I could characterize it as somewhat ugly even. You will almost never hear me say that about anime. I believe that anime art should do two things primarily. First, it should be beautiful, on some level. Beauty will not mean the same thing in Tokyo Ghoul as it does in Sailor Moon, and that’s a great thing about anime. And not everyone’s idea of beauty is the same. But I don’t think this show’s artwork is anybody’s idea of beautiful. Second, it should portray itself as real while appearing impossibly unreal. No anime would make an effort to draw an exact human face. That would defeat the purpose. But no anime should draw a face like Kanimori’s and expect anything but derision. While the characters’ human emotions are conveyed plausibly by their faces and movements, it’s somewhat unpleasant to watch. And while Kanimori is clearly supposed to be a little bit edgy, almost a gangster type, she really just ends up kind of ugly. I get what her gritted teeth are supposed to portray, and at that rate the design works, but it’s still doesn’t embody any kind of reality or beauty. Such is my general complaint with the art in this show.
However, having seen the show and therefore realizing the author’s love for manga and anime, they must desire their work to be beautiful, on some level. If this artwork is beautiful to them, well, okay. But I want to make a different case. A more artistically motivated case. I’ll take two routes.
First, this is an anime (originally manga) about making anime. If you think about it for a moment, how would you handle such an endeavor in your own mind? What if you were a Hollywood filmmaker and were making a movie about making a movie? While live action has limits on what you can do to character design, would you be inclined to make every character look like characters typically look in movies? No, you’d have to show them in a way that’s either more ordinary (they’re just ordinary people being their ordinary selves) or at the very least in a way that’s obviously different. So perhaps the author in this show was simply attempting to portray character in a less-anime kind of way. If that is the case, I admire the thought and the attempt. As most of you know, I dislike the ordinary, even though I will acknowledge that it can be used to great effect. This anime tries not to be ordinary. Let me put it another way. This show wouldn’t be as effective as it is if the characters all looked like typical anime characters. So in that sense, it succeeds at its goal.
Second, what if it’s something as simple as an attempt to minimize the role of the characters? By that I mean putting them as far from the main focus of the show as possible. Most animes are character-driven. What if this author doesn’t want that? What if this author, and the writers of the anime, want something else to drive this series, to be the focus of this series. Argue whether that’s the case or not, nondescript characters would help attain that goal. Maybe the author doesn’t want the beauty of his creation to reside solely in the appearance of the characters. That would make his work quite unique. Sure not all animes are character-centered, but the characters have an inescapably important role. By making the characters less “beautiful,” or perhaps the better word is “attractive,” the author can involve them minimally, reducing their role in the show to it’s barest minimum, thereby forcing viewers to search for beauty beyond the characters. To force them to see that there’s more to artwork in anime than just the characters. If this was the author’s goal, I doubly admire the attempt. It would be quite an artistic touch.
And that other artwork in this anime is very interesting. The creativity, usually portrayed by Asakusa, of the author is put on full display. Creating ridiculous structures out of ordinary, everyday objects, seeing extraordinary things in surroundings that are so ordinary to us that we often don’t even observe these objects with much thought ourselves, it’s all quite remarkable. Not only does the author create these fantastic objects from ordinary ones, but such visualizations create a cascade of other fantastic objects and scenery that then cascades into a storyline and so an entire feature. Sometimes it’s borderline ridiculous, but such is the nature of pure creativity. It doesn’t know when to stop. And it shouldn’t, lest something extraordinary be missed. You have the Kanimoris of the world to put a damper on things lest it get so crazy that people can’t understand what’s happening anymore. But I love how this is handled in the show. Ordinary scenes become alive with fantastical objects amid a swirling of energetic motion. It’s a little “artsy,” as they say, but it’s effective. It lets us peer inside the creative mind, and that in itself is a beautiful thing.
That being said, as I laugh to myself at this thought, it takes a lot of thinking to get that far. If you weren’t careful, you would just think this show is bizarre and all over the place and has ugly characters. Art is an exercise, and at times can be too much for any particular viewer for any number of reasons. It sometimes takes some thought to see that artfulness in some works. But when that’s the case, you will inevitably lose one powerful aspect of art, and that is the ability to instantaneously impact everyone that sees it. Who can watch Violet Evergarden and not be immediately and continuously amazed by the visual and emotional beauty of it all? Who can watch Attack on Titan and not immediately and continuously feel the misery of the situation these people find themselves in? Who can watch, and listen to, Monogatari and not immediately and continuously feel the surreality of the series? There is a power in that kind of art that cannot easily be described, even in our minds, but must be purely experienced. To sum up this section, I will simply say that Eizouken lacks this impact, losing it in, perhaps, a different artistic attempt.
Three different kinds of students find themselves together trying to do what they love individually. For Asakusa, that’s creating anime. For Mizusaki, that’s drawing animation for anime. For Kanimori, it’s making money, in this case by helping produce anime. Through obstacles real and imagined, they work together and manage to produce three high quality products that make them fame and glory. The end.
The story is almost purely dictated by the situations the characters find themselves in. I guess part of the story is how the characters get into those situations. Hence I don’t give a zero rating for this story. But it very much is just thrown about wherever it kind of goes, with only the common thread of creating anime in a highschool environment running through the whole. There’s not much too it. The author is clearly not overly concerned with story being a driving force in manga/anime. It’s pretty clear that’s the case, as we see Asakusa creating story as she visualizes different scenery and objects throughout the city, often going on excursions simply for the purposes of this kind of inspiration. I like how the story is treated in that regard. Rarely are animes story-driven, and the story has to be really good if it is at the center of a show. This show portrays the story as being derivative of the other creative processes that go into the creation of anime, and that’s how it ends up in this show. So it’s effective enough at that rate. At least it knows what it is!
By the way, does anybody know what the word “eizouken” means, if anything? I’m still researching about that, but I’m beginning to wonder if I’m being made a fool of, wondering if it actually has no meaning at all.
I didn’t mention this earlier, but there are times when this show is really funny. I can’t remember some of the one-liners now, but I remember there were a lot of moments where I just had to laugh. It wasn’t even always so funny what they’d say but how I realized it could be funny given the situation. Some of the dialogue is really creative and it fits really well. It’s a little overshadowed in this crazy show, but it’s worth mentioning.
I should mention the audio side of this anime. In my subconscious search for what force drove this series forward, I listened more carefully that usual to the music and sound effects. I was pleasantly surprised by the focus the writers placed on the sound components of producing anime. We know about dialogue syncing and we can imagine about sound effects and music editing, but we hardly think much about how important all of that is. Imagine if it didn’t fit! What if a foot stomping sounded like drops of water? What if dialogue was unsynced from lips (we’ve probably encountered that in our often frustrating streaming experiences!)? Suddenly the importance of the audio work is apparent. I loved the part where Asakusa was visualizing the mechanics of the fan blade with the clock across the water from their school. That made me stop and think “Wow, I’ve never thought this much about the sound in anime before!” That was a unique kind of anime experience for me, and appropriately eye-opening.
This anime is not character-driven. It’s definitely not story-driven. You could say it’s art-driven, but then you see Kanamori. I mentioned audio above; I even wondered if the audio side of this series was some sort of motivational force! But no, I think this anime is driven by the fact that it is about anime. It’s kind of weird, but it would fit with the idea I had above of minimizing the role of the characters. With all that superficial part of anime cleared out of the way a little bit, we have this process and product we experience as anime. Perhaps it’s incapsulated in something as simple as “it’s the journey, not the destination, that important.” While the “destination” of course is everything for anime (Kanimori leaves us no uncertainty about that), we should not forget the “journey.” The great success of this anime is that it shows us that journey. We watch this thing called anime day after day, and it enriches our lives and makes us feel things we might never otherwise feel, but we can easily forget all that goes into it. We can easily forget the efforts of all the people involved. Sure we see the characters, and we hear their voices, but what about everybody else? Without them, where would our characters and voices be? Nonexistent. Our anime experience is further enriched by realizing how much work this creative process entails. And this show, for all its quirky deficiencies and unusual strengths, highlights that in a way I’ve never seen done before. It’s stimulating in a way that is unique in our experience. And so I applaud it for what it set out to do and, ultimately, just like our three friends, successfully accomplished.
Definitely feel free to counter any of those points. I know some people loved this show! I know some probably hate its guts. I’d love to hear any points you all have either way, and about anything I said above.