by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 8 of
Hand Shakers ?
Lately I've been reflecting on the fact that reviewing Hand Shakers might be one of the most challenging writing assignments I've ever had. I'm not complaining at all, mind you; I genuinely love getting to share in this wacky anime experience with readers, no matter how much I might despair at the depths to which series' like Hand Shakers are willing to sink.
I mean “challenging” in the sense that finding new ways to critique this series can be a genuine puzzle to sort out, because rarely does an episode of Hand Shakers tell a story where anything of importance actually occurs. Sure, it will dally occasionally with weird inexplicable plot points, but these don't make much of a lasting impression because Hand Shakers is in such a hurry to move Tazuna and Koyori on to the next Big Fight. Ironically, for a series that can't seem to stop and settle into any one plot direction for longer than an episode, remarkably little has happened even seven episodes in. From day one, the pattern has been predictable: spend an episode wandering aimlessly through slice of life scenes that introduce the next set of Hand Shakers, and then spend another episode having them fight our heroes. Once the fight has been won, Tazuna and Koyori move on to the next pair.
Even just going through these motions though, we have learned next to nothing about the forces at work pitting the Hand Shakers against one another, and no character has progressed beyond their clichéd roots. Tazuna is a “Nice Guy,” Koyori is “Cute,” Chiziru is “Short,” Hayate is “Also a Nice Guy," Lily is “Ditzy and Incestuous,” and Masaru is “The Sole Voice of Reason in an Insane and Incomprehensible World.” We're over halfway through the series at this point, and the most growth we've seen from anyone is Koyori's newfound ability to dress herself and text people.
This is not good writing.
Even the series seems to realize it's stuck in a rut, since it does try to switch things up a little bit. This week, the Hand Shakers' introduction and their Big Fight happen in the same episode, which is a certain kind of progress, I suppose. Unfortunately, this adjustment in pacing doesn't land all that well, because the series' core flaws are still in full effect. The camera work is still obnoxious and, combined with the series' insistence on throwing random CG artifacts all over the screen whenever anyone touches anything, it becomes hard to follow anything but the simplest of action beats. There are a couple of flips and jumps that look okay, but whenever any of the characters have to physically hit one another, it all devolves into meaningless flashes of colors and lights and dreadful fire effects.
The new characters feel similarly cheap and poorly thought-out. Kodoma Azawa is a pop idol whose only defining characteristic is that she quotes random authors and philosophers whenever she speaks to people. Is she secretly a learned and scholarly young woman? Does she have secret aspirations to artistry that her candy-sweet pop idol image won't permit? Or did somebody gift her a “Quote of the Day” calendar that she's taken a very strong liking to? I certainly couldn't tell you, and I doubt Hand Shakers will go out of its way to enlighten us any further.
Kodoma's partner is her manager, but the only interesting thing about him is that he moves with a weirdly cheap-looking visual effect that is supposed to imply speed and efficiency, but more resembles somebody dragging an icon around the desktop of a very old Windows computer.
Outside of that, there isn't too much to talk about. The entirety of this episode's second half can be summed up in one sentence: “Tazuna gets hit by a rock, and it makes Koyori sad.” While I am appreciating the show's desire to sell Tazuna and Koyori's relationship, their lack of charisma and chemistry makes it all feel completely forced. Why do Tazuna and Koyori like each other? Because they're the protagonists, and they hold hands a lot, that's why.
So all of this begs the question: “What do we talk about when we talk about Hand Shakers?” I can only get so far by telling you about the bad animation and screenwriting every week, and I don't think I can just keep recapping the story and making snarky comments for the next five weeks. Hand Shakers needs to shake things up, pun absolutely intended. We need some villainous betrayals, some shocking character deaths, or a nonsensical twist involving Tazuna's dead sister. At this point, I'd even take an out-of-nowhere Fish Machine Gun attack like in Big Order. I'd welcome it, even! If something interesting doesn't happen soon, these reviews are just going to devolve into me seeing how many awful puns I can make using the words “hand” and “shaker.” And nobody wants that.
Hand Shakers is currently streaming on Crunchyroll.
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