by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 5 of
Hand Shakers ?
“…it's time put this miserable series to bed once and for all.” – James Beckett – Review of Big Order Episode 10
I think I see what's happening here. There I was, a young anime critic who believed he'd finally put a terrible series to rest. Big Order had dug its own grave with its very first episode, and with every passing week it was my duty to lay shovelfuls of earth over it, one review at a time, until the job was done. It's over, I must have thought to myself at the time. We can finally move forward.
I should have seen it from the beginning. The terrible writing, the unlikable characters, the nonsensical mythology heaped atop a razor thin plot that serves no purpose other than to showcase terrible action scenes and off-putting fanservice – it was all right there, right in front of my face. It tried to disguise itself with more migraine-inducing ways to infuriate the audience on a weekly basis, but the stench of an overturned grave is a difficult one to shake off. I tried to tell myself that Big Order was a rare happening, a misfire of such epic proportions that it could not possibly be repeated, certainly not so soon.
Then Hand Shakers arrived on its pale horse, laughing at how naïve I was.
I should start by saying that this week was technically an improvement over last week's episode. That isn't to say it was in any way good, but it certainly didn't put me in physical pain like the previous episode did, which I'm grateful for. For almost all of its running time, it was content on being merely boring and nonsensical, which is decidedly better than “aggressively terrible.” I don't want to damn the series with faint praise or anything, but after the Hall of Fame level of badness last week, I'll take whatever reprieves I can get.
Honestly, the issue wasn't so much that the plot this week was terrible, but that it was almost non-existent, and what little we got didn't make much sense. Koyori is socializing more, which is a good development; her bout of Not-Yu-Gi-Oh with the class president actually managed to wring a chuckle or two out of Koyori's muteness, which surprised me. I still can't stand how the series is handling the character, but if Hand Shakers is going to stick by its guns, it's at least attempting to imbue her with a bit of charm, which can only be a good thing.
After this though, things go downhill pretty quickly, with the bulk of the episode focusing on Tazuna searching for Koyori after losing her in the middle of a crowd. First of all, this is an exceptionally stupid thing for Koyori to do, because she knows she'll die if she leaves Tazuna's side for too long. The episode later reveals that the two can be separated for up to two hours now, but it still doesn't sit well with me. Ignoring the fact that this comes almost completely out of nowhere, neither Tazuna nor Koyori were informed of this before Koyori wandered off; as far as she knows, she's dead if she lets go of Tazuna for more than fifteen minutes. It makes Koyori seem somehow even less capable of taking care of herself, and it makes Tazuna look equally foolish.
Sloppy writing like this immediately takes me out of any story, and even when Tazuna goes off to look for Koyori, the episode's pacing shoots itself in the foot, managing to have the ticking clock of Koyori's imminent death somehow feel completely boring. This aimless and meandering story is almost the entirety of the episode, as Koyori hangs out with the class president, and Tazuna gets sidetracked by a Mysterious Guy who imparts some ominous insight that doesn't really reveal anything. The latter part of this story is simply boring, and that on its own would make for a bad episode of television, but the former part contains the one moment of the episode that really made me cringe: the focus on class president Lily's “feelings” for her younger brother, Masaru.
I'm not inherently against the presence of incest in anime. I understand that it's a common trope in the medium, and I'm not out to shame any series or its fans for enjoying taboo story elements. My first ever review for Anime News Network was for Selector Infected WIXOSS, and the incest subplot in that series was pretty much the only thing I liked about the show. While it is a difficult tightrope to cross, when incest stories are done with taste and cleverness, I'm willing to give them a shot, even though it isn't my thing.
Incest does not work for Hand Shakers. The biggest reason for this is the predatory vibe it gives off – sixteen-year old Lily is beginning to lust after twelve-year-old Masaru, which immediately raises some red flags. What's worse, I can't tell how aware the show is of the issue here. The fact that this revelation actually stirs up romantic feelings in Koyori makes me think that the show is not only perfectly okay with the situation, but that Koyori's link to Tazuna's dead sister is going to be much more literal than I thought, in all of the worst possible ways. That's what reminded me so much of Big Order this week. It isn't just the fact that there's at least one incestuously flavored relationship on the show, but its depiction is so poorly done and uncomfortable. Attraction between two related individuals that is derived from genuine passion can be compelling. Seeing a sixteen year old girl gush over spying on her twelve year old brother in the bath? Not so much.
We're five weeks into the twelve weeks that Hand Shakers will run, and with each episode, the show finds new ways to undermine itself. The animation was actually decent this week, much to my surprise, but the script simply doesn't work. It's alternatively lazy, inconsistent, poorly paced, and just plain off-putting. When Big Order wrapped up last year, I thought I'd seen the worst of what anime had to offer. It's too early yet to say if Hand Shakers will unseat Big Order from its terrible throne, but it certainly wants to try. Either way, I have the feeling that this is going to be a long winter.
Hand Shakers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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