The Winter 2017 Anime Preview Guide
How would you rate episode 1 of
Hand Shakers ?
What is this?
Tazuna is especially skilled with machinery, so much so that his classmates aren't the only ones who ask him for help fixing things – even a college professor is interested in his work. When the mysterious Dr. Makihara at the university asks for him to come by, Tazuna is confused but doesn't really think anything of it. However, once he enters the professor's lab, he finds a mysterious girl in a hospital bed who strongly reminds him of his deceased younger sister Musubu. Remembering his sister's final words, he reaches for the girl's hand and suddenly finds himself pulled into a strange new world. A man bursts in and tells Tazuna that he is this girl Koyori's match, and that together the two are Hand Shakers who must now use their Nimrod in the Ziggurat, because they have received the Revelation of Babylon. But what are Hand Shakers? Where is the Ziggurat? Tazuna is about to find out. Hand Shakers is an original anime work made to commemorate the Animate store's 30th anniversary and can be found streaming on Crunchyroll, Tuesdays at 1:00 PM EST.
How was the first episode?
Hand Shakers is not a very good show. I won't belabor the specifics too much here; almost everything my fellow critics have mentioned in this preview guide falls in line with my own experience watching and reviewing the series. In short, Hand Shakers is a wild misfire, complete with inane plotting, terrible pacing, and paper-thin characters. To top it all off, the animation and art direction is over-stylized to the point of being incoherent and, in the case of at least a handful of viewers and our own writers, even nausea inducing.
I'm not here to talk about that, though; I'm here to tell you about Funimation's Simuldub. Justin Briner gets the lion's share of the work in this first episode and he, along with the rest of the cast, does his absolute best with the material he's given. Unfortunately, the material they're working with is Hand Shakers. Again, Justin Briner is absolutely fine as Tazuna, our protagonist, but the character himself is milquetoast to the point of being aggravating, and the way English script plays up his constant state of congenial befuddlement doesn't help things.
The only other character with much to do is the Class President, Lily Hojo, and Natalie Hoover does just fine in her role; the same could be said of Alejandro Saab and Monica Rial as Break Chain and Bind Chain. Anthony Bowling plays up Professor Makihara's brief introduction with the over-the-top mania his character requires, but he's gone so quickly that it's difficult to know if this will turn out to be charming or annoying. If there's one performer who gets the short end of the stick, it's Lara Woodhull as Koyori. Despite being our ostensible female protagonist, Koyori has literally nothing to say outside of utter barely audible variations on “uh?” That isn't a trend that changes within at least the first few episodes, so it's hard to tell what kind of performance she'll actually be able to give.
All this might sound like I'm giving the dub a pass, but if I'm being honest, it might be the best way to watch Hand Shakers. Removing subtitles from the equation actually makes the chaotic animation a little easier to follow, since the viewer's eyes aren't constantly racing across the screen to read the dialogue before trying to follow the action. Another reason is that the dub plays the silly dialogue and overwrought biblical allusions just straight enough to make the whole experience pretty funny. It's very difficult to make terms like “Nimrod” and “Hand Shaker” sound especially serious or weighty in English, and by the end of the episode, I was laughing each time they came up. I don't think GoHands intended for this series to be received as a comedy, but the dub makes it much easier to appreciate Hand Shakers as a piece of D-grade camp. If watching a really bad series ironically is your thing, then this version of Hand Shakers might just be for you.
There's no other way to say it. Hand Shakers is just not good. Not its jerky animation and awkward camera movements, which gave me a touch of motion sickness; not its trite premise, which our character doesn't seem to question one bit; and not its fan-service, which is mostly just awkward. Watching the chain girl orgasm out more chains was kind of surreal, and we had to sit through it twice. Maybe it would've been less weird if the chains looked less terrible, or if her boobs didn't look like they were going to explode. At least that bizarre attempt at fan service was better than watching some schoolgirl's breasts slowly float up and down as she jammed out to some tunes. Maybe gravity works differently in this version of Japan.
The extent of how mind-numbingly bad Hand Shakers is kind of just leaves you stunned. It's not even the kind of bad that would make you angry. It mostly just makes you question your life decisions up until that point, and wonder if there's a slight gas leak in your apartment. And when the show's not making you scratch your head, it's shockingly boring. You wouldn't think it'd be dull to watch a kid dodge sentient chains, but it might've been one of the most tedious chase scenes I've ever seen. Again, maybe if the show didn't look so awful, it would've been a smidge better.
It's a shame, because the environments are actually kind of neat. It's just everything that moves that's bad. Not just the poorly rendered chains, but even the characters. Somehow characters move, yet convey no emotion at all. It's the greatest puzzle of Hand Shakers. How can a show look so busy, yet feel so unbelievably stagnant? It's like watching robots recreate life. Things are moving, but there's no heartbeat. Even the show's attempt at humor falls flat. There's a whole scene where some scientist barges in to shove some exposition down our throats, but it's incredibly jarring, and feels lifted from an entirely different show altogether.
Hand Shakers really must be seen to be believed. It's a truly strange creation that manages to suck the joy out of a room so fast, your brain has no choice but to fill the sudden void with confused laughter. But not in a good way. Nothing about Hand Shakers is good.
When I first read the lame, generic-sounding premise for this original anime series, I certainly wasn't expecting it to be the most visually ambitious production of the new season. But that's exactly what we get. The first episode features a stunningly full degree of character animation, with both foreground and background shots of crowd scenes animated in great and exacting detail and movement everywhere you look; even when characters are talking from off-screen, instead of still or panning shots (one of the most common animation shortcuts in anime!) you still see crowds moving around in a natural fashion. Furthermore, the always-active camera zooms around and through the action to promote a vastly deeper 3D effect than anime is normally capable of, and various creative camera angles and distorted lenses are used for visual effect. Character designs are rich and detailed too, even if they do carry over fairly common anime design elements and have a sort of gloss to them. The CG effects with chains and gears may be a little too glaring for the tastes of some, but I allow extra consideration for them since they are manifestations of otherworldly super-powers. As I watched this all play out and listened to the low-key, piano-based musical score, my recurring thought was, “my, this reminds me a lot of K.” And sure enough, a check of the credits reveals that it has mostly the same production team, including the same directors. So the short of it is that if you liked or hated what the K franchise did then you'll probably have the same reaction to this series’ first episode.
The story and characters are harder to parse because we don't get a lot of details. We're shown that Tazuna had his little sister die on him in a hospital while holding her hand, which makes it perfectly understandable why he won't let go of Koyori even in desperate circumstances. We also know that he likes to fix mechanical things and may have the busty class rep interested in him, but that's about it. Koyori, who only barely makes a sound the whole episode and doesn't speak, is a total cipher at this point, and the foe they face is just a garden-variety jerk. The whole Hand Shaker thing is just a bunch of mumbo-jumbo so far, although it does seem like the weapon generation made possible by holding hands is not so much coming from an equal partnership as it is a case where the male character is using ability provided by the female character to generate the “Nimrod.” Doing the reverse might have been more interesting, but then you couldn't have a classic teen male power fantasy that way.
While this episode doesn't have much for overt fan service, it's clearly going to be a factor; the brunette is essentially the villain's S&M toy, full attention is paid in the animation to large, bouncing chests, and the Next Episode preview indicates that Koyori will shortly figure into this, too. That's not really a problem (aside from the appropriateness of the chest size for one character), as the title is being catered exclusively towards male audiences, but definitely be aware of what you're in for if that's not normally your thing.
This series is definitely not going to work for everyone, whether because it's unflattering in the way it handles female characters or because of a visual aesthetic that some have labeled as headache-inducing. I didn't have a problem with the latter, as I'm more tolerant of non-character CG effects than most and I appreciate what it was trying to do with its sometimes-almost-too-busy look. For me, though, the lower-than-average grade is much more because of the uninspired premise.
Rating: the most wondrous 1 that I can give
Alright, you. Yes, you. Drop what you're doing immediately and turn on the first episode of Hand Shakers. You don't have to watch the whole thing (although I dare you to look away), but I feel very strongly that as many anime fans as possible need to experience The Most Hilariously Hideous Anime that I have seen in my entire life. You don't understand. Even the most poorly animated shows, from Bloodivores to World Break, don't have the power to make a visceral "UGH" impression in their first three seconds of screentime. It shouldn't really be possible for anime, because of its low framerate, to start showing signs of horrible decision-making in the time it takes you to blink twice in disbelief. But this, for your viewing pleasure, is the first ten seconds of Hand Shakers.
The writhing, copy-pasted CGI chains that just end arbitrarily without intersecting the background. The unsuccessful attempt at forced perspective panning up the off-putting character design of our protagonist. The garish bloom-heavy color palette with indiscriminate light sources slathered everywhere. Those Basic McBitch fire and explosion videos ripped from some decades-old effects pack! And to cap it all off, a butt-ugly font that rolls across the screen in the style of mid-2000s karaoke fansubs. This is not the kind of ugly you can get from a lack of budget or time. This is not accidental or unavoidable ugliness. This was all deliberate. The production team thought this looked cool, and it only gets worse and worse and worse as the episode wears on. Not everyone is going to find this as brain-breakingly funny as I did, but I was laughing so hard I couldn't breathe through the whole first five minutes, so I can only hope its badness gives joy to someone else too.
The story is equally unredeemable in far more ordinary ways, with a standard eye-rolling light-novel plot about chosen boys with superpowers given to them by female companions they can exploit as slaves (but our hero won't do that because he's a nice little dude), packed with lore-babble terms like Nimrods and Ziggurats. It's badly written and dumb and slightly confusing and definitely gross when it comes to the moaning sex-slave villainess. But all of that pales completely in the blinding glare of just how awful every visual choice in this entire production is for every second you're watching it. I could literally pause the show after every new shot to add "bad ideas" to a list it seemed determined to overflow. If you enjoy watching movies with awful visual effects and painful directorial choices for fun, this whole episode is catnip, and I will probably continue to watch this show until it stops finding new ways to make me whisper "WHY...?". I pray it never does.
So yeah. Hand Shakers. I now have a new benchmark for inconceivable aesthetic catastrophe in anime. I hope the rest of the show manages to be a "so bad it's good" adventure, but even if its disastrous visuals start becoming boring next week, this first episode is irony-watch gold.
“Unwatchably bad” is generally meant as an exaggeration, a figure of speech. Few bad shows are actually unwatchable - there are certainly shows that are physically unpleasant to sit through because of their narrative choices or worldview, but most bad shows are simply boring. A show's “watchability” normally isn't that relevant; some shows are easier on the eyes than others, but your average low-quality anime generally just looks poorly animated and visually bland.
Hand Shakers is not content simply to look bland. No, Hand Shakers' visual awfulness implies intent - building on GoHands' sturdy reputation as the studio behind the most hideous, over-filtered, utterly colorblind anime imaginable, Hand Shakers ascends to such storied heights of unwatchability that it actually hurts my eyes to look at the screen.
GoHands' generally strategy for achieving their awful look starts with their oppressive love of color filters. Any natural colors that might imply a steady tone, believable world, or (heaven forbid) beauty are discarded in favor of tie-dye technicolor madness, woozy gasoline-pool colors that bleed across objects without rhyme or reason. These colors do an excellent job of making their shows both ugly and entirely lacking in a sense of place, and these color atrocities are generally accompanied by a sense of direction and composition inspired by the sensation of being tossed drunkenly out of a bar. The specificity of that inspiration is important - GoHands shows don't just look drunk, they look like they are drunk while falling down a set of stairs. The GoHands experience is like being beaten to death by a Lisa Frank trapper keeper.
Hand Shakers improves on the usual GoHands formula by filling every shot with such cacophonous and discordant visual noise that the ultimate effect is somehow more abrasive than any of their previous shows. When you don't believe a cohesive and eye-pleasing color palette is necessary for a successful aesthetic, it's apparently just a short step to believing low-resolution CG chains and outlines that emphasize characters' displacement from their environment are a happy addition to any show. Any given Hand Shakers screenshot will look like five shows at once, all of which seem unpleasant individually and none of which have any right going within miles of any of the others. The show's significant animation actually makes this effect seem even worse, because every pan across the environment emphasizes how the heavily filtered characters, flat pattern costumes, CG foreground objects, and traced photo background objects need some kind of collective restraining order.
I haven't talked about Hand Shakers story yet, but there's not much to say - it's mostly just a run-of-the-mill “people have powers in an alternate version of the world” urban fantasy, where Hand Shakers literally hold hands to unlock their powers. I only wish the subtitles had offered a more arresting distraction from the madness going on in the middle of the screen. My eyes will not soon forgive me.
The first episode of Hand Shakers made my head hurt. I don't mean that it a snarky, figurative way; it literally gave me a headache. This is one of those shows that goes out of its way to be bizarre and trippy on a visual level, and its combination of moving backgrounds, restless visual direction, and unconvincing CG was more than my brain wanted to process. This show is so intent on being visually distinctive that it even incorporates sweeping “moving camera” shots into mundane conversations between characters. That shifting visual perspective can make a big impact if it's used sparingly, but throwing it out there every other minute renders it merely annoying.
Speaking of annoying things, let's talk about the characters. Tazuna is as bland as protagonists get; you know he's a good guy because he likes fixing other people's stuff for free, and he's just so gosh darn uncomfortable around pretty girls. There's an obnoxious professor who dumps Tazuna into a crazy alternate world, and a tragically lame baddie who I think is supposed to be evil in a punk rock kind of way. The female side of the cast includes an obligatory mysterious mute girl, a busty classmate who fawns over Tazuna, and a girl whose sole function appears to be getting beaten up by the punk rock baddie. Let's go ahead and drop a meteor on the whole darn bunch, shall we?
The story itself is full of Big Mythological Words, the clunky Nimrods and Ziggurats that are most at home in a second-string light novel. After a lengthy introduction to Tazuna's hobby of fixing machines, we're whisked off to a parallel world that just happens to look like the real one with all of the background characters taken out. Cue the baddie attacking Tazuna and his wordless new girlfriend for no apparent reason, which eventually forces him to fight back by summoning a sword made out of gears. I'm sure there's a convoluted mess of lore that will explain what's going on in an episode or two, but I won't be sticking around long enough to find out.
I give Hand Shakers some credit for trying to do something a little different on a visual level, but its aesthetic is more jumbled and alienating than stylish or artistic. The story lacks any sense of originality, and most of the characters are either bland or irritating. Count me out.
Do you ever get that nagging feeling that a first episode is trying way too hard to hook you? Hand Shakers is likely to bring it on. Throwing in Babylonian architecture, Biblical references, and a random Aztec god's name written on a car door, as well as a hero with a tragic past and some impossible boobs thrown in for good measure. The episode is screaming, “Look at me! I'm edgy and awesome!”, kind of like that kid in elementary school who shoved carrot sticks up his nose and called himself a walrus – in gym class.
Part of the problem is that the episode, and quite possibly the series, is playing fast and loose with several different historical and mythological references. The so-called “hand shakers,” which are apparently a boy/girl duo who can do supernatural stuff while holding hands; it's never explained, are able to travel to an otherworld known as “Ziggurat,” which is a kind of multi-level structure that Babylonians used in their temple compounds. When they're there, they can summon a “Nimrod,” which is a reference to a Biblical (Old Testament) king who is known for rebelling against God and is associated with the Tower of Babel. This ties into both the fact that Tazuna receives the “Revelation of Babel” when he initially touches Koyori's hand and that his boobtacular classmate Lily randomly pulls out a Tarot card when he fixes her ipod: The Tower. (Reversed, so this doesn't get too dark.) Tarot has its origins in late Medieval Europe (around the 15th century) and is largely associated with things that are decidedly not Biblical. As if this isn't enough, we see two clear shots of a car with the word “Centeotl” written on it, a reference to the Aztec god of maize. It feels like the episode is a couple of myths away from a World Religions class.
The plot makes about as much sense as the mythological components. Apparently the Hand Shakers are supposed to fight, but we don't know why. Koyori seems to have been dying previous to Tazuna touching her – of what? Why did being a Hand Shaker save her? Could his sister have been saved if someone else had held her hand? While some of these questions will likely (hopefully) be explained as the series goes on, I feel like we at least should know what's up with the nasty Hand Shakers who are trying to kill Tazuna and Koyori with CG chains.
The chains aren't the only CG in the show, either. The animation is a stilted mix of CG and traditional, or at least appears that way in places, and the character designs appear amateur, especially when compared to other shows this season. Breasts are consistently too big for the females' frames and function as though they are filled with foam; Lily's bounce in time to the music she's listening to as if they were speakers reverberating with the song's bass. The other team of Hand Shakers also appear to get something sexual out of using their Nimrod, which requires the woman to be tied up in chains and occasionally stomped on, which is pretty uncomfortable all around; I don't think she says anything that isn't a moan or a gasp of pleasure, which is at least better than Koyori, who doesn't say anything. That may be the best approach to this show actually – don't say anything and just move along.
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