by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
Hand Shakers ?
One of the reasons I volunteered to take on Hand Shakers is for the unique challenge it would represent. It isn't just that the show is entertainingly bad, or that its faults make it easy to riff on week to week. What makes shows like Hand Shakers so interesting as subjects of criticism is just how many problems they have. Plenty of shows will have bad animation, writing, direction, or acting; only once in a while do you find such a perfect storm of disorder in which so many things have gone wrong in so many different ways. Writing about Hand Shakers is akin to training a different set of muscles every week at the gym. Every episode brings something new to the table, and the fun lies in figuring out just how to explain what went wrong.
This week, there's one moment in particular I'd like to zero in on. This scene was astounding and baffling all on its own, but I also want to hone in on it because so little else in the episode warrants discussion. Tazuna and Koyori help a friend out with making food for the school festival, and almost nothing of consequence happens. It's as filler as filler can be, and in a twelve episode season, it sticks out even worse than it would already. Most of this episode isn't bad so much as just boring; it's a series of vaguely connected scenes with characters talking about the specifics of setting up a food stand, which is about as exciting as it sounds. In a series that lives and breathes overwrought bombast, this drastic change in pace is both noticeable and unwelcome. At least when the show is making its audience nauseous, they have something to talk about afterwards.
However, this one scene is a perfect example of the little things that Hand Shakers struggles with the most, despite its notoriety for more large-scale catastrophes of animation and direction. It happens about halfway through the episode, when Tazuna and Koyori have finished helping their friend set up a food stand. As it turns out, all three of the chefs who were set to work the food stand have broken their arms. When asked for some kind of rational explanation, the only response they can offer is “Training in the mountains was a mistake.”
Now, I think I understand what this is. This moment appears to be a joke, wherein a series of absurd contrivances have forced our heroes into cooking food for the stand. The lack of explanation is supposed to highlight how silly the situation is, in theory. It's also part of the joke that Koyori, a girl who can neither talk nor consistently feed herself, has used online video tutorials to train herself in the culinary arts. On paper, I understand how this bit works, both as a joke and a plot device.
In execution though, it's completely bonkers. The delivery of the joke is somehow too over-the-top and too understated at the same time, so the humor falls flat on its face. As a plot contrivance, it's somehow both insultingly lazy and makes absolutely no sense at all. Lampshading a half-assed shortcut does not excuse the shortcut, and it only further highlights endemic flaws within the writing. It forces the audience to consider all the other times Hand Shakers has just thrown its hands in the air and said, “Eh, who cares?” whenever pesky things like “logic” and “basic cause and effect” have threatened to intrude on its freewheeling power fantasy shenanigans.
Seven episodes in, and the entire universe of Hand Shakers rests on a foundation of old playing cards and half-baked ambitions, so even relatively small misfires like this weird cooking scene threaten to bring the whole thing tumbling down. The flaws in this episode are the same problems that first showed up in episode 2. When the show isn't assaulting the senses with its ludicrous animation, its numbing them into submission with some of the most inane plotting that anime has to offer. With the animation taking so many dips into “blurry slideshow” territory this week, the script is under an even bigger microscope than usual, and its shortcomings are even more glaring because of this.
I will at least say that this episode didn't anger me. It didn't make me actively frustrated, or confused, or grossed out. It didn't even give me a migraine. There were even a couple of moments with Koyori that bordered on being sort of cute. She's still too much of an infantilized blob to engender any real affection from me, but she isn't creeping on any twelve-year-olds, so that earns her points by comparison in my book. This episode compels me to dig out my “Pity C-Minus”. It isn't a good episode, and I wouldn't recommend it to anyone, but it hasn't actively offended either my moral or aesthetic sensibilities relative to the rest of the show. Every series has to peak at some point, and for better or worse, this is the Least Bad Thing that the series has delivered since the beginning of January. I don't really see it getting much better than this.
Hand Shakers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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