What’s the coolest thing you made, in school?
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is an anime that came out in what I think is the the 2020 spring season, meaning it was lucky enough to launch in January and finish in March, in that last time before things got weird for the anime industry.
Set in a nearly-now future of 2051 Japan in an architectural labyrinth called Shibahama, the story follows Midori Asakusa, an artistically expressive little toad gremlin of a girl. Imbued with a love of anime at a young age, she grows up drawing worlds upon worlds in sketchbooks, imagining all sorts of concepts and settings for stories that she never works out a way to tell. She has a small circle of friend, composed of the seemingly extremely money-focused Sayaka Kanamori.
One day as they check out the school’s ‘Anime Culture’ club, suddenly into their life bursts Tsubame Mizusaki, an actual literal rich and famous fashion model who wants to make anime, but her parents forbid her from it. Because – look, I’m not about to say how realistic or sensible that is, the point is, the story has a chase sequence with the anime cops.
She’s an autistic art gremlin. She’s a rich model character artist. She’s a project manager who likes money.
They make anime. Said like they fight crime.
It’s one thing for me to tell you that I really liked this anime. It’s funny, the characters are likable, and as with this particular genre of Some Kids And Their Niche Interest, I find the niche interest interesting. It helps that I’m married to an animation nerd who could also appreciate the depth of the emotion behind sentiments like the importance of unrealism in animation, the importance of flexibility with the illustration.
This genre often thrives on being able to give you a fantasy it’s easy to imagine yourself into. Since the fantasy is important, let’s instead try reframing this around Asakusa’s experience.
You’re in high school. You have almost no friends. You have your hyperfocus, you are neurodivergent and absolutely not medicated.
Into your life flits the coolest girl you’ve ever seen and she has exactly the same hyperfocuses as you do, the same irregular sleep patterns, and the focus on your interests that overlaps with your own. She slides into your life, with an adventure on a plate and then leans in to whisper, “Hey there,” meaningful pause, “Wanna… hyperfocus on a project with me?”
This isn’t to say that the fantasy is outlandish or somehow strains credibility. It’s just that it’s a really reasonable fantasy that I imagine a lot of queer folks can feel thud in their chest: Imagine if someone who understands me and wants to do things with me just drifted into my life and then my other best friend helped kick us into action.
It’s a fantasy of making, and once the fantasy is kicked off, the story is about yes, some day to day concerns, about getting inspiration, about the challenge of storytelling, but also expresses itself through conversations about how these stories should happen. The competing wants of how these stories get made are expressed through people who are literally the competing needs: This needs to be cheaper, this needs to express character better, we need more time, we don’t have the time to give, these things that result in how anime (a surprisingly inexpensive medium) gets made happen.
The slightly forward future setting is cool as well because of how it lets recent-ish technology fall down in dilapidation down to the tier of ‘school supplies they can forget about.’ It also shows a vision of Japan that continuing its current trajectory of urbanisation and development meaning that the city is built the way it is because it’s largely built on itself: the school is built atop the school, the flats and apartments extend out of older flats and apartments, abandoned buildings are left to grow grass and quiet decrepitude, and old highways become new canals.
I’ve spoken about autistic media before, and it’s not my term. It’s the term specifically for a kind of media that deliberately sprawls, and is generally seen as being both the product of and for autistic audiences (autiences?). These things have always existed but thanks to the internet and its demotic systems it’s been way easier for this kind of stuff to both get made and found and then noticed by people who aren’t aware of it. It’s like you find that that closet you never open has a theme park with ten thousand daily visitors inside huddled up like Narnia’s concession stand. A classic example is Homestuck, the webcomic-musical-forum-thread-ongoing-argument-roleplaying-game-universe. What’s normally implied by autistic media is that it’s media whose vastness rewards cataloguing and where that cataloguing is treated as satisfying itself, but also, it doesn’t imply that it’s media created by autistic creators. If nothing else, you’ll find that the kind of people who revel in cataloguing all the appearances of different Maiar in each of the Lord of the Rings books would consider those big sprawling landscapes satisfying in that way.
Keep Your Hands Off Eizouken is autistic art in a parallel form: The creator, Sumito Ōwara has both ADHD and Autism, and he’s talked about how Asakusa’s experiences in school reflect his. It’s rare for me to find art of this type where I can point at work about a clearly neurodivergent character by an explicitly stated neurodivergent creator. Knowing that, caring about that, isn’t necessary to enjoy or appreciate the piece, but it’s something worth knowing.
It feels condescending to say it, because this kind of knowledge isn’t to legitimise autistic creators. It’s at best a rhetorical point like that – like, autistic people don’t need neurotypical people to go ‘look, see, autistic creators are making good stuff.’ Rather, it’s that these are experiences and identities that the typical cultural view makes invisible, so it can be hard to answer the question ‘hey, does this author have any particular insight into this experience?’ It’s treated as if it shouldn’t matter, which means that The Default gets to rear its head and assert itself over who we assume is involved in any given creative work.
And it shouldn’t be.
I like the opening a lot. I like the characters a lot. I like enjoying this fantasy of imagining a high school life where you have friends and work together on projects and get to do cool things that your peers and friends can see and respect. It’s exciting and it’s sweet, and it’s a great experience of seeing skills refined over time, and the way that making a small thing is a stepping stone to making a bigger, more complicated thing.
There’s always development, always new steps to go through, new ways to improve. There’s always stuff you can do on the next thing you make, developing the last thing you made.
And sometimes the last thing you made is you, yesterday.