Hand Shakers
Episode 6

by James Beckett,

How would you rate episode 6 of
Hand Shakers ?

To say that I was proud of Hand Shakers this week might be damning it with the faintest of possible praise, but I have to admit that the series legitimately impressed me this week. Granted, the bar is so low at this point that almost any display of functional direction or writing would be impressive to me at this point, but that's where we are, and I'm going to be positive this week darn it! To keep myself in working order over the next six weeks, I'll have to dig into the deepest recesses of Hand Shakers' mediocrity and find those momentary gems that all series occasionally have to offer. Even a show as frustrating as this one has to have something about it that works, right?

So here we go. Near the very end of the episode, as the fight between our four Hand Shakers is reaching its supposed climax, Masaru runs out of Precious Memories cards to use in battle, so he takes some of Lily's Tarot Cards to use instead. Using one, he earth-bends some stone missiles to launch at Tazuna and Koyori, which send them flying through the air in an effort to dodge them. The entire sequence lasts about twenty seconds, and it's the single best scene Hand Shakers has delivered so far. The animation is fluid enough to communicate a sense of weight and speed, the incessantly repeating score has looped to its most appropriate and engaging point, and the camera actually manages to use its non-stop panning to maintain a focus on the characters and the action surrounding them. In that single twenty second sequence, I could see what Hand Shakers was trying to accomplish in its action scenes every week. Though its reach is perpetually exceeding its grasp, Hand Shakers finally revealed a little of the show it wants to be; it was as if a sliver of the universe had been chipped away, allowing me a brief glimpse into a version of reality where Hand Shakers is actually kind of decent.

The other twenty-three minutes and twenty seconds of the episode were complete hokum though, so it's all sort of a wash in the end. Still, I can't ever say Hand Shakers didn't do something right, even if that something was only a twenty second chunk of what amounts to over eight thousand seconds of anime so far.

What doesn't work this week hasn't changed from the previous five weeks; the script and direction for this series just do not work. When the animation doesn't look sloppy and unfinished, the writing fails to produce any kind of meaningful characterization or plot development. When the script does attempt to imbue the characters and their world with a bit of personality, the camera decides to do a 900-degree revolution and throw some ugly color filters on everything in sight. It's a vicious cycle that constantly feeds back into itself, a rot that undermines Hand Shakers to the core, and it isn't something that can be fixed by the occasionally well-directed action beat.

In keeping with the pattern set by previous episodes, this week is all fisticuffs to payoff last week's “setup”, but the fisticuffs just aren't interesting. Scene transitions take just a couple seconds too long, CG elements fail to merge naturally with the two-dimensional world, and the editing just can't establish a consistent pace. At one point, Lily gets stabbed in a manner that looks absolutely grave, but then the scene smash cuts abruptly to Tazuna and Koyori, so by the time we get back to Lily and her brother, it seems like they're just fine. How is the audience supposed to invest themselves in a battle if they can't even tell what a devastating blow looks like?

When the episode isn't throwing lame CG fire or preposterous Giant Arms at the screen, it's attempting to squeeze some sympathy out of Lily's lust for her brother. I'm sorry, but a dysfunctional home life doesn't really make her behavior toward Masaru feel any less predatory; if anything, the reliance on cheap melodrama makes the whole relationship feel even more forced and out of place. This makes Masaru's seeming acceptance and “noble sacrifice” at the end of the episode play even worse, because it's casting the twelve-year-old boy as the sole source of emotional and romantic support for his obviously troubled high-school sister. This is a story that would be difficult to pull off even if it was being taken seriously, but Hand Shakers is so flippant about the conflict that it falls apart instantaneously.

So about 90% of this episode was just as bad as anything else Hand Shakers has produced, and even if it isn't quite as outlandishly ugly as it was in its first few episodes, I am disinclined to award the show points for merely being “less terrible”. I will admit that for twenty glorious seconds, Hand Shakers managed to rise above its own worst qualities. Somewhere, buried deep down, is an anime that might actually be worth watching unironically. Twenty seconds of quality is hardly an accomplishment compared to most other anime out there, but Hand Shakers isn't most other anime, is it? Right now, I'm taking what I can get, and until next week, I'll be recalling that twenty second clip on repeat, in the hopes that Hand Shakers might be able to will itself into goodness someday.

Rating: D+

Hand Shakers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.

James is an English teacher who has loved anime his entire life, and he spends way too much time on Twitter and his blog.

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