An exercise in perfunctory slot-filling.
Through a dozen shorts and the same number of behind-the-scenes interviews, Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan presents a Rashomon effect, or perhaps a Rorschach test, to the psyches of twelve veteran anime directors. The series contains a three minute short, wherein the director is given free rein over the Ekoda-chan character, followed by eighteen minutes of explanation thereof. On his journey to recount his process, the directors are joined by the actresses that play Ekoda-chan, usually pop stars. The pair discuss their relationship with each other, as well as what inspired their particular creative contributions to the piece. Each episode then ends with a sped-up drawing of a single frame of the episode.
The character Ekoda-chan is one without much agency in her life. She has a spunky attitude, and she refuses to let the world get her down for too long, but her time is rarely her own. The moments that are not robbed from her by this or that soul-crushing job are often wasted by the ineffectual man-children she dates due to her fear of being alone. She is an empowered character, but not what I would call a very free one. On this axis in particular, I think that Rinshi!! Ekoda-chan has perfectly encapsulated Ekoda-chan. It would have been nice if they got any other aspect of this rich character, though.
There are a dozen episodes of this anime about a female millennial, but the show’s producers did not see it fit to have a single one directed by a woman or a person under fifty. The result is very similar to what you might expect. Ekoda-chan is examined to some degree, but with a particular lens. It is hard to not see the judgments many of these directors hold about the character and to notice patterns between them as they portray her in a number of styles and mediums. It’s also easy to notice what is missing from these pictures. Ekoda-chan spends very little time with her friends, she spends very little time as a sex worker (one of her many jobs), and very little time conversing with her mother and sister.
Where we most often find Ekoda-chan is either alone or on dates. These are the places that these directors seem to understand young women: either as Cartesian cogito, contemplating and bathing in their own failures, or in relation to the men in their lives. It’s difficult to not feel robbed of a more honest and holistic look at this nuanced character. How does someone in the gig economy feel about their supervisors and those who have managed to escape it? How does a woman who has grown up in a country undergoing a decades-long recession feel about that? How does a woman dating in a nation with one of the most rapidly declining birthrates on Earth still manage to mostly date losers? The age difference between the protagonist and the writer/directors has effectively flattened the particularities of what could be an interesting series into a parade of evergreen issues of loneliness and untapped potential.
If only, then, that was the worst thing about Rinshi! Ekoda-chan. With the above, I have barely scratched the surface of what ails this particular anime. As I stated in my recap of the season, the anime portions only cover just under one-seventh of the series’ total runtime. The rest is filled with the interviews with the directors and their ingénues. The women are nearly all pop stars, and more than half of the men are not particularly interested in either the source material specifically or the project in general. The conversations are banal, and in the case of the Ekoda-chan actors describe a performance that was dubbed over! Thus, the issues hinted at through the animation’s limited focus are put into stark relief in these talking heads.
It’s difficult to blame anyone involved with the original production, however. These shorts were originally aired between other anime as a segue back into programming from a commercial break, and judged on that merit, it is very easy to see why these would be of wildly varying quality. In such a presentation, it would be quite easy to shrug off a bad short as just that and move on with my day. I’m reminded of watching Cartoon Network as a boy and seeing the little proprietary shorts they put on between their Cartoon Cartoons. They were responsible for turning me onto some of my favorite bands (They Might Be Giants, Pain, and Soul Coughing) through their Cartoon Groovies, and the less memorable shorts were consigned to oblivion as far as I was concerned. I can see how a Japanese child might see a few of the shorts (particularly in the middle third of the season) and become inspired to love the character or animation in general. There is something to a few of the shorts, and they are at their best when they are independent exercises in formalism or platforms to show off particular musical acts.
Them being saddling with the interviews, then, is a death sentence. I cannot fathom a person not being paid to watch the series having the patience to seek out the shorts each week, watch them, and then turn off the show before the interview, all the while retaining their excitement for the series. I don’t think I can overstate the sequence of feelings that was the surprise, confusion, and ultimate disappointment that came from watching the first short end and the first interview begin. I am often disappointed with television, but I rarely feel betrayed by it.
And so, as we come to put the series to bed, I can only blame Funimation. They decided to purchase a package of shorts and portion them out in three-minute increments, buoyed by their special features, not caring how relevant those features even were to their dubbing. They marched this series out in front of us knowing we’d hate it. They even tried to trick us by not advertising the show’s true format. Now, I know that owning a streaming service is hard, and Funimation dubs a lot of quality programming, but this is a disappointment of the highest order, and I hope the fan response I saw on their site will keep them from making a similar mistake in the future.