Story and art by Sumito Ōwara
Translated by Kumar Sivasubramanian
Lettered by Susie Lee
Published by Dark Horse Comics
Okay. What happened was the weird kid in the bucket hat that carries around all the notebooks and the tall one who knows how to hustle every person she ever talked to meet a teen model falling out of grace because of her anime problem. Asakusa loves to world-build, draw backgrounds and techs and mechs and tell you a million facts underlying each art decision. Mizusaki loves character design, costume concepts, and the poetry of figures in motion. All they need is Kanamori to be herself, an agent, ruthless, or maybe a producer to set the schedule, acquire the hardware, scan the art, and handle all the money. Scratch that, all they need is to meet. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! That’s the “moving image studies” group, and a manga by Sumito Ōwara, and that’s the girls; an avalanche.
It’s not the anime club. Not here to fawn over a culture while contributing nothing to it. Here to make something. That happens to be an anime. These aren’t excuses made to the student council’s budget board, the real group you need to watch your hands around, they’re truths. Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! is a fantasy story where woe befalls those who stand between making art and the production budget. Fate brought the girls together to make their mark on the world of animation.
They might break stuff and yell a lot and there are occasionally body guards but it’s not like Eizouken is all that dangerous. Just don’t try to stand in their way. You can’t stop an avalanche, you can only buy it more animation paper.
So you have one story, the three young artists struggling to interpret inspiration through the meat grinder of animation production. Sublime boss math that has you drawing 48 hours a day. But Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! isn’t satire or criticism, it’s a genuine love letter to the blood, sweat, and tears that go into animation. The rose colored glasses the girls wear don’t effect their deadlines- they just make the book fun. Sit back and enjoy the show that is people getting deep into their geek.
There is definitely another story being told. How Animation Works. When they aren’t getting into trouble, the characters are typically explaining every aspect of animation as they encounter them from the tools of the trade to the way ideas are communicated visually. Having an unstoppable ever-talking overexplainer in the friend group anyway makes things a little more natural maybe, but expect a lot of hey! this is what we’re doing! It’s a complex and fascinating subject, an earnest approach on the work behind the medium we all love.
Then there’s another story, which is an intersection of the first two. Getting lost in the process as only fiction can portray. As the anime gestalt of Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! brainstorm and work out on the page how to make their anime look compelling, the perspective of the manga segues into the world of their work. The girls drive the tank, fly the jet, plant the explosives themselves and then run like hell. Everything from gear to the cityscape is refined to look maximum cool through practice. It’s kind of explained from the outside, it’s kind of experienced by the characters, it results in the scanned pages, plates, models and whatnot that become their pitch reel. Real? Dreamed? Neither one matters unless deadlines are met.
Sumito Ōwara’s art can get quite detailed, like labeled cross-section schematic detailed, but not so much that the borderline-cartoony characters feel like they’re out of their environment. The players and stage dressing have a vintage Slave Labor Graphics alternative comics look, but the sets they’re on are straight out of a RPG sourcebook. The subject provides a flexible framework for switching styles and veering off of the plot to explain in visual sequence how good cartoons get made. The girls are simple, extra blobby when the humor hits, cat caught the canary grins found within. It falls on the serious scale between Keiichi Arawi and Jon Bogdanove.
Hats off (just kidding, Asakusa could fall off a ledge and not lose her headgear) to the translator, Kumar Sivasubramanian, for making Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! understandable to readers who haven’t studied animation. Sivasubramanian juggles the story, accurately documenting the history of an art form, making kids sound like kids, and landing jokes. The lettering by Susie Lee and Studio Cutie is also above and beyond in this book. Lee uses angled fonts that mimic the sight lines inside panels, giving the speech bubbles an eye-twisting depth and dimension. Optical illusion lettering. On top of that, you have a ton of animation explanation going on, and almost all of it is back-and-forth between three people rather than extended monologues. Lee and Sivasubramanian produce distinct lines and voices. The Dark Horse team brings Sumito Ōwara across.
Playful. Sharp witted and funny, some ha ha funny and some groan along to familiar pain comedy. Nice to see something in a post-Satoshi Kon world that layers and shuffles what’s real so effortlessly, but also something with so much sunshine and earnest nerd passion (instead of manic cyberpunk darkness). Ōwara still packs a mighty wallop into a pocket read with Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken! A manga that teaches a subject as well as tells a story can be delicious, and Eizouken! offers a fresh take with the construction and subsequent regular removals of a fourth wall within the book itself. And yet characters who are free to address the story as a story is as within the mainstream manga wheelhouse as breaking panel sequence for dialog reaction inserts, which yeah, lots of those, too.
It is a dense book with many tones. Mostly goofy and starry-eyed. You don’t really have to tell anyone about Eizouken and what to do with their hands, nobody who sees what they make is trying to stop them. We can’t wait to see what they do next