by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 3 of
Hand Shakers ?
One reliable rule to observe in the Land of Anime is the Three Episode Rule. This oft-repeated maxim refers to the general tendency of an anime's first three episodes to have the most lavish and consistent visuals, with quality often dipping or becoming inconsistent afterward until things pick back up in the series' final weeks. Unfortunately (and unsurprisingly), Hand Shakers fails to live up to that standard, as this third episode offers easily the show's ugliest visuals to date. What is surprising is that the visuals aren't the worst part of the episode this week.
This week's episode was an absolute slog not because of its bad animation, but because the script was devoid of any remote traces of intrigue or drama until its final few minutes. This is a problem carried over from last week; when our protagonists aren't fighting other Hand Shakers, they aren't doing anything of consequence at all. The second episode devoted two-thirds of its runtime to awkward and unfunny shenanigans with Tazuna's parents and schoolmates. This week, our Hand Shakers spend a vast majority of the episode talking to another pair of characters, who couldn't more obviously be telegraphed as rival Hand Shakers. Chizuru and Hayate are partners who run an odd corn-themed eatery together; Chizuru's gimmick is that she's a working adult with the body of an eight-year-old, while Hayate is meek for his age, apologizes constantly, and gets comically mistaken for being Chizuru's boss. I use the word gimmick here because for all the many minutes we spend with these characters, they never become anything more than stock anime clichés.
To make matters worse, Tazuna and Koyori are two of the least engaging protagonists I've encountered in a long time, so it's not as if the other characters have anything to work with. The only three things I can confidently say I know about Tazuna are that he's good at repairing things, sad that his sister died, and nice in a generic sense. Koyori has less going for her, since she's not even really a character yet. This has nothing to do with her being mute; she literally doesn't seem to have a personality, interests, or goals to speak of. She's just a vaguely cute girl who stands around holding Tazuna's hand. This episode could have been about Tazuna and Koyori doing anything and it still would have been boring, because there's nothing about them to invest in.
Then there's the animation. Contrary to the first couple of episodes, this week's entry isn't an overproduced eyesore; it's just incredibly sloppy. Character movement is rough and janky, and even simple animations like hand movements and head turns look off-kilter. The color palette is still not doing it for me either. Every episode has this really persistent green and purple color gradient arbitrarily slapped over every scene, which is combined with the actual objects in the frame already being colored in different shades of purple and green. I have no idea what the reasoning behind this decision could be, but any kind of artistic effect that individual color choices might have is immediately drowned out by this obnoxiously pervasive color scheme.
When the episode did go into battle mode, I was a bit relieved to see that the studio's camera control has gotten somewhat better; it's no longer erratic and overdone to the point that shots would induce nausea, at least. Still, “better than terrible” doesn't equal "good", and while GoHands is improving at their too-flashy camera tricks, the direction still doesn't work for me. Individual beats are so focused on getting in a flashy shot or interesting camera pan that they fail to mesh together into a coherent whole. Blows are traded and weapons are waved haphazardly without any sense of gravity or momentum. The terrible CGI background and weapons make it so that the characters don't even feel like they belong on the same plane of existence as the weapons they're holding or the buildings they're jumping over. It's somewhat less of a mess than the premiere episode's bombastic failure, but it remains a mess all the same.
If you came into this week wondering if Hand Shakers has somehow miraculously improved, the answer is an emphatic “Nope.” Every step forward the animation makes only emphasizes the gaping holes in the scripting and storytelling, and I don't know if those can be easily fixed. What's more, this week of Hand Shakers wasn't all that entertaining in its badness. I'd honestly much rather the show be a glorious trainwreck, because this was just boring. If the show doesn't get any better in the coming weeks, I'm at least hoping it can get more ridiculous.
Hand Shakers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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