I've watched lots of anime, but this show was an education in the passion and art of animation. It's an eye-opener. Its three weirdo schoolgirls celebrate, fight and agonise about subtleties that until now I'd never considered. Fittingly, also, the show's directed by the magnificent Masaaki Yuasa as a love letter to animation. The playful visuals embody the show's discussions. Reality melts as Asakusa takes us on mad imagination trips.
It's based on a manga that's also inspired a live-action movie and TV series that I'll avoid like the plague. Watching a version of this story without Masaaki Yuasa's animation would be wrong, like a radio for the deaf.
We have three heroines, all drawn and animated with a disregard for the anime industry's idea of cute. They're ugly, weird and sometimes androgynous. Yes, even Mizusaki, the poster girl who's also a professional model. The anime staff were told to animate everyone in a gender neutral way and to avoid making the characters' poses and expressions "girlish". (I only realised that Doumeki was female in a late episode when the subtitles called her "she".)
MIDORI ASAKUSA = tiny, froglike, gender-light gremlin. She's a hyperactive small boy who's bad with people, but brilliant at imagining giant robots and explosions. (The manga author has said that he based Asakusa partly on his own experiences with autism and ADHD, although I should emphasise that she's also loud, overconfident and indestructibly optimistic.) I'd love to live in her world. She keeps her imagination going full blast, every waking minute, and can barely walk down a street without telling us about, say, the ground-to-air missiles that would come out of those streetlamps. She's also a born engineer. She can't make herself draw anything that wouldn't work in real life. I absolutely love her nitpicking discussions about giant robots, etc.
TSUBAME MIZUSAKI = she's a celebrity model, her parents are famous actors and her family is filthy rich. Fans approach her in the street. She's been banned from doing what she really wants, though, which is to draw anime. (Unlike Asakusa, her focus is human motion and acting.)
SAYAKA KANAMORI = the show's greatest weapon. She's toweringly tall, has a face like a piranha and the personality of a thug. She can't draw. She doesn't care about anything except money. However she's also Asakusa and Mizusaki's saviour, because she's the one who makes everything happen. She's their producer. She's the one who makes their lives hell when they're disappearing down rabbit holes. She organises a room, equipment, sound, money, a school adviser, assistance from other clubs, sponsorship, publicity, DVD burnings, social media campaigns and... well, everything. If there's an obstacle, Kanamori eats it alive. She threatens people. She scares teachers. She's wonderful.
Every production should have a Kanamori. She's a semi-villainous character in a role that tends to be portrayed in fiction as a buffoon or a nuisance, because producers aren't glamorous. Despite all this, though, she's indispensable.
The show's full of details and insights. Where ideas come from, or how to draw punches, or walking, or holding chopsticks. Ep.4 tells you how to pad out your running time when your deadlines are looming. The show's also aware of the industry's workload and how much Asakusa and Mizusaki are basically letting themselves be exploited. For anyone with even a passing interest in animation, it's a must-watch. (You could something similar of Shirobako, but that's about the day-to-day work of a professional animation studio, whereas this is more about the art and craft itself.) I could imagine animation schools making watching this show part of their syllabus.
Mind you, is it just me or is the gang's final piece in ep.12 a little bit dull? No dialogue. (Hadn't they been doing auditions for voice actors?) Surprisingly little involvement for human-sized characters. It's a visual spectacular, obviously, but I drifted a bit while watching it. (It does have a narrative, though, and it improves on a rewatch.)
This show is great fun, obviously. The art doesn't resemble that of any other anime, not even Masaaki Yuasa's past work. (I think he does that with all his projects.) The show and its characters are enormously expressive, gawky and ugly-charming. It made me laugh. One of my favourite aspects of this show, in fact, is that the girls in the club are as far from stock anime girls as you can get. They're ugly, awkward, and weird in a way that you usually only see with male characters. It feels true because it's cartoonish. This was one of 2020's best shows and won recognition even outside fan circles. Oh, and the title sequence is great too.