by James Beckett,
How would you rate episode 7 of
When engaging with a sequel series like W'z, it's only natural for the primary concern to be whether it will try and live up to the original that came before it, or if it will attempt to do its own thing and break off in risky new directions. We're halfway through the season with this sixth episode, “Get back boys”, and at this point I think we've seen enough of the show to identify its strategy of choice. W'z is attempting to be both a slavishly faithful sequel and a unique vision of the Hand Shakers universe that deals in unique tones and themes.
This approach to crafting a sequel is not without promise – the classic example of the movies “Alien” and “Aliens” comes to mind, where a moody horror film and an action-packed popcorn spectacle can both share equal space in the same science-fiction universe successfully. The problem is that in order to pull off this kind of gambit, you need a masterful level of direction and artistic consistency—and this is Hand Shakers we're talking about.
The original Hand Shakers was primarily an action-adventure show. Granted, it consistently failed to be a good action-adventure show, but its intentions were always clear. Spectacle and melodrama came first, and character development tended to only happen on accident every once in a while. For all of its cliffhangers and protracted setups, W'z is decidedly not an action show, or at least it's really bad at demonstrating that as a goal. For the past six weeks, W'z has felt like a slice-of-life show masquerading as an action show, but it isn't good at being either of those things.
The central fight scene from last week ends the same way every action beat in W'z has; after taking an entire episode to belabor the setup, it takes mere moments for Yukiya and his Partner-of-the-Week to obliterate his foes in one hit. “Get back boys” makes a weak attempt to inject Gai and Masataka's defeat with some pathos, but all of the flashbacks in the world can't hide the fact that W'z fight scenes have generally sucked, and not even for the same reasons that Hand Shakers's fights were bad. In Hand Shakers, the show went too far with its crazy camera and awful CG effects to make the fight scenes feel kinetic and badass. In W'z, the fight scenes barely exist at all – it feels like the only reason they're here is because Hand Shakers had fight scenes, so W'z must have them too. Like Senri and Hana before them, Gai and Masataka are quickly and unceremoniously recruited to Team Good Guys, and then the remaining twenty minutes of the episode indulges in more long scenes of dialogue.
Of the roughly two hours of W'z we've gotten (not including the OP and ED), I'd wager that about 110 of those 120 minutes has consisted of characters just standing around jabbering. Not only that, but their conversations have lacked any sense of momentum for the plot. Sure, there's Koyori's search for her sister and Nagaoka, but all W'z has ever done to keep that thread alive is just have a character mention that they're looking for Koyori and Nagaoka every now and then. We have no idea how much closer Yukiya and company are to their goals, we don't know how or why the Composer is related to any of this, and since the previous Hand Shakers cast primarily exist to act as references to their earlier appearances in the franchise, the only character arcs that really matter are Yukiya and Haruka's, and they haven't had much of anything to do beyond mope about their respective Hand Shaker-related troubles.
What's even more frustrating is that there's promise in W'z new character-focused approach to storytelling. After Gai and Masataka exit the picture, most of the episode is devoted to Yukiya and Tazuna getting to know each other better, and while their platonic date comes across mostly as time-killing filler, its also the first time Yukiya and Tazuna have felt like real characters. When the two compare their passions for technology and music, their gimmicky quirks almost started to resemble personalities. Seeing one minute of Tazuna and Koyori being terrible at karaoke together gives the couple more charm than they ever received up until now. Haruka reveals she's been lying about not remembering Ziggurat for years, and while this development is head-smackingly obvious, it also gives her something more to do than just crush on Yukiya from a distance. Heck, when Yukiya opens up to his parents about his feelings of guilt and fear over being a Hand Shaker, W'z gets rather close to making its protagonist compelling and likable.
If only I could be bothered to care about the story itself. W'z has six episodes to go, so there's every chance it could gain enough momentum to result in an acceptably mediocre series, but that day is not today. When I ask myself whether W'z is better or worse than Hand Shakers, I'm torn between “It's absolutely worse!” and “It's maybe kind of better sometimes!” The characters might technically be more developed, and the action is less nauseating, but how much does any of that matter when the story has yet to justify its own existence?
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