by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 11 of
Hand Shakers ?
This week's episode of Hand Shakers falls into one of the riskiest kinds of anime stories: The Extended Flashback. I don't have any inherent prejudice against revealing character or plot information with flashbacks; it's just that there have been so many occasions where these kinds of episodes threaten to kill a series' momentum and pacing. Instead of dynamically incorporating bits of information as they become relevant throughout the story, Extended Flashback Episodes opt to hit pause on any present-day plot motion so everything can be laid out in excruciating detail. Some shows, such as Puella Magi Madoka Magica, are able to take this abrupt shift in focus and use to devastatingly potent effect, but oftentimes these episodes end up feeling clumsy, especially when they come so late in a season.
Case in point: Last week, we left off with Tazuna and Koyori meeting Nagaoka, the Mysterious Stranger who has popped up a couple times before. Nagaoka is not only Makihara's former Hand Shaker, but he also has Koyori's hitherto-unmentioned twin sister Mayumi as his new partner. There's a lot of information needed to explain how all of this ended up happening, so of course Hand Shakers decides to spend this week with everyone just standing around and doing nothing while Nagaoka tells a very long story that will supposedly answer all the audience's questions. Hand Shakers has already done a poor job of balancing set pieces with plot development, so cramming everything in one week before the finale feels less like deliberate plotting and more like the script rushing to fill in the blanks at the last minute.
The catch is that this episode doesn't even do that. Not only is it a failure of story execution, but this particular Extended Flashback Episode does nothing but make things more confusing. Despite ostensibly addressing a couple key points, such as how Makihara and Nagaoka became involved in this Hand Shakers business, this week's script doles out so much frivolous nonsense that it comes across as utter gibberish. The writing this week was so bad that my notes for the episode ended up just being a list of things that happened but don't make any sense. These are just some of the highlights:
1. We learn that Makihara and Nagaoka were partners and worked alongside Koyori and Mayumi's parents, but we don't learn anything about how they became Hand Shakers or what their relationships are like. Koyori and Mayumi are actually born Hand Shakers, but no explanation is given as to how that's possible.
2. Koyori and Mayumi are born with a condition that means they will die if they ever let go of each other's hands, but Makihara is somehow able to prevent this by keeping them in a coma. Nagaoka even mentions that he uses a combination of drugs and implanted memories to keep Mayumi alive, somehow.
3. The twins' father goes from caring father to scenery-chewing mad scientist in the span of about two minutes.
4. Makihara mentions that an organ donor saved the twins' lives when they inexplicably become emotionless, comatose amnesiacs. Is this Tazuna's sister? Do these girls have bits of his sister inside them at all times?
5. Makihara reveals that people become Hand Shakers when they share a goal or love one another, because the chemical reaction in their brains unites them, while also becoming some kind of magical wunderkinds created by a mysterious and omniscient God. Sounds about right.
The sad truth of the matter is that I can't foresee any future where Hand Shakers saves itself from its own tangled web of muddy storytelling, empty characterization, and nonsensical worldbuilding. It's only fitting that the show's single most concentrated attempt at storytelling falls apart just as spectacularly as anything else the series has produced so far. What few moments of pathos and intrigue the series was able to develop this week centered squarely around the plight of Koyori and Mayumi. Even then, the show can only do so much, because these girls aren't realized characters. Hand Shakers is an anime populated with cardboard cutouts who engage in hideously animated battles while navigating a silly, paper-thin plot. If there's one thing that's remained consistent about Hand Shakers over the past eleven weeks, it's the consistent inability to grow and overcome its failings. I have absolutely no idea how the show plans to end, but if this week is any indication, it's going to be just as much of a debacle going out as it was coming in.
Hand Shakers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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