With constraint comes freedom.
Overview (Spoilers Below)
Ekoda-chan has the day off work, and she plans to spend it lazing around her apartment. Her only goal is to eat a special bun she’s been saving. She sets out to eat it but encounters a lizard. She dons a lycra bodysuit, and captures the lizard in a cup, intending to keep it as a pet. Next, she spies a cockroach from across the room. She summons up all of her courage and squashes it. Ekoda-chan thinks she’s finally at peace when a mosquito attacks. Before it can harm her, however, the lizard breaks free from its containment and eats the bug. Ekoda-chan is ready to celebrate but accidentally steps on her bun.
Over the course of the past month, I have seen a new Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan each week, and each week the creators seem to care a little more about their product. These episodes continue to be disposable shorts that play between other shows, and as such, they are packaged with interviews that are six times the length of the shorts themselves. This proportion is annoying but could be mitigated by there being actual educational value in these interviews, with regards to the animation process. Unfortunately, they have mostly been showcases of the directors’ blind spots when it comes to gender. That is, until this week.
Director Yonetani Yoshitomo is the second director to seem to actually care about his episode. We saw the same thing last week. This pair of directors see the short-form animation as an opportunity to try things that they never have before or, in the case of this week’s episode, get back to their roots. During the interview, it is revealed that episode five has the most discrete cuts of any episode in the entire series. This definitely shows, but more than that, this revelation compels Yoshitomo to talk about his process. He relays a story about when he was young, he got his start doing hand-drawn animations by himself. The Rinshi project has allowed him to return to his humble, absurdist, beginnings, and do the hyper-kinetic work that gave Yoshimoto his distinctive directorial personality.
Yoshimoto also references another aspect of the production that he hadn’t been able to focus on since his independent days: the soundscape. Yoshimoto relays the idea that he was able to layer the soundscape in a way that he would have never been able to in traditional anime. This was something that echoes last week’s director, Mochizuki Tomomoi. This directorial focus on the soundscape of a piece taught me two things. Firstly, the mainstream anime industry relies on a very simplistic sound environment, likely to save money and crank out episodes. The other thing this elucidated to me was the degree that directors consider and take responsibility for the sounds of a piece of animation.
I contrast this with a few of the other visual art forms that have directors. Theater directors have some control over the sounds of a piece, but much of that work is delegated to the sound designer. Live action film and television directors are very much subject to rights issues, and they work with a composer and/or a music supervisor, with varying degrees of closeness. It’s interesting how hands-on animation directors are with sound. It reminds me more of a radio play, which makes sense. Like radio, animation needs to create every sound, very few will be natural. So, having to decide on what sounds to Foley into a piece seems to have moved the realm of sound into an animation director’s domain.
I recognize that this kind of information isn’t particularly ensorcelling to most people who watch these interviews, but Yoshitomo is easily the most charismatic, and least oblivious, director we’ve seen so far. It also seems to be because he’s the youngest. While I wouldn’t call him woke, necessarily (he’s deliberately picked a story that doesn’t really come into contact with Ekoda-chan’s sexuality), he’s head and shoulders above his contemporaries thus far.
This is reflected in the episode itself. In addition to its quick-cutting, hyper-stylized vibe, it also has a hand-drawn aesthetic that makes the show feel like it’s the diary of a twentysomething who doesn’t have her life together. The comedic premise is very simple (we’ve even seen the bit about the lizard in a previous episode), but tight control of narrative and pacing makes the jokes land hard and the story feel complete. This is also an interesting episode in the way it portrays nudity. Ekoda-chan is almost always naked, so Yoshimoto acknowledging (and showing) that before putting her in spandex for the remainder of the episode was an inspired way to honor the original character without being gratuitously explicit. We don’t get much of Ekoda-chan’s extended cast of characters, other than a brief flash of Maa-kun, but it works for the story the director is trying to tell.
One thing struck me about this episode, and in the day since I watched it, it’s what sticks with me. Yoshimoto, as well as Ekoda-chan actress Shishido Rumi talking about their own lives at the age of twenty-four. They had both broken into the industry by their mid-twenties. Yoshimoto became a director by the age of twenty-six, and Rumi (easily the oldest of the Ekoda-chans) was already well into her voice-acting career by the age of twenty-four. I think about how most of these actors were idols or idol adjacent before they became voice actors, the pipeline of the Japanese animation industry, and the lifelong careers of some of these filmmakers. This security has allowed them to make more interesting projects, like this episode.
All of this, unfortunately, does not distract from the terrible format this show has (and will have) every week. Luckily, we are halfway done with the show’s ten episode order. I can’t see it getting much better than this week, though, so I am preparing myself for another septuagenarian director and ingénue actress, neither of whom are able to relate to the uncertainty and griminess that Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan demands.