Hand Shakers (TV)

For those of you who are not familiar with me (Which is 99% of you, most likely), you'll know during the days when we were doing hard-core seasonal coverage, I tended to either have terrible luck with drawing the worst shows (Super Lovers), took fliers out on real stinkers (Chaos Dragon), or took responsibility for titles I knew were going to be bad but I had some sort of fandom connection to them (The Disappearance of Nagato Yuki-chan). Over a half-a-year later and I'm back in the fray.

Not that I want to be the angry guy yelling at bad things for your entertainment like half of the people trying to make money on the internet. I've actively stayed away from terrible anime since seasonal reviews hit hiatus and my blood pressure's been all the better for it (Or worse, given my blood pressure's extremely low and nurses have commented about how I should be dead right now). But I also haven't found any new stuff to talk about. Fuuka removed all of the insane content from the manga and became every single middling romance anime. Sakura Quest is fine so far, but like its predecessor Hanasaku Iroha, it's so light, if I don't keep a close watch on it as it comes out, the series will float away and I'll forget all about it. Then one night, I had some alcohol and the urge to watch last season's bar-none worst series Hand Shakers, and I knew I had to see it through to the end.

The opening few minutes lets you know this is going to be an epic disaster and they are PROUD of it. The production team got their names translated into English to run in huge, flashy font, obscuring the in media res opening sequence where our hero is trying to avoid chains that spawn from a woman's private area. That isn't even the biggest tip-off. The graphics are mostly 3DCG done by studio GoHands in a manner to bring attention to the visuals and their "amazingness." The walls look great, but what you'll remember is how garbage the animation performance is. Anything in action that's not the characters lacks texture and the actual fighting is extremely choppy. Camera movements (of which there are many) absolutely tank the frame rate until all the people are jumping around like Speedy Gonzalez. It's like a PlayStation One cutscene given a glitzy remaster for the PS3 and then scaled back down to the PS1 for kicks. This is going to be AMAZING.

This is where I tell you what the series is about, which is a more difficult task than it should be. The concept is easy to explain: It's 2-on-2 Highlander where the ultimate winners get to talk to God and possibly get a wish granted depending on if what these competitors tell each other is true. The winners continue on and the losers are stripped of their abilities if they manage to survive the onslaught (Actual injury is less severe than it appears, but you can still die if your opponent is vicious enough). It's when the Japanese crack open the reference books that the eyes start to glaze. The Hand Shakers are people who've received the Revelation of Babylon. With this, they can summon Nimrods, powers gifted from God that usually relate to their personalities. They're called Hand Shakers because two Nimrod users have to hold hands to charge their abilities. When two groups of Hand Shakers meet to quarrel, they open a fighting arena called the Ziggurat which is an alternate dimension that looks like the real world with cool moving paintings projected on the walls. The worlds are supposed to be slowly rewritten by the competitors as they get better, but I couldn't tell except when they go out of their way to point out a building in the background and the final episode where they get completely unsubtle with it. Even if the Biblical references vaguely make sense tied together, it still binds it as a series that focuses on terms and rules to feign complexity.

The main character is one of those dopes who stumbles into his powers. Tazuna is a mechanical whiz of a teenager who is always fixing things. He gets invited to the lab of Dr. Makihara where he finds a girl in a hospital bed who reminds him of his dead sister. Through circumstances, he holds her hand, simultaneously awakening his powers as a Hand Shaker and the girl, a very silent Koyori with wide eyes who looks like she'd rather be in Clannad. Her long slumber has made her weak to the point that he has to hold her hand constantly or she will die, and she doesn't have a Nimrod so Tazuna has to do do all the fighting. A rough spot to be in for sure, especially considering right around when this happens, a guy and his, um, abused partner arrive on the scene and start with the smashing. He does manage to summon a sword made of cogs that can dismantle itself and turn into a shield, so there's that.

This is where we catch up to the woman who shoots chains out of her hoo-haw and the 3DCG's graphics processor gets overwhelmed with fighting to an extent not seen since the ill-fated SNES adaptation of Street Fighter Alpha 2. This would be so hilarious if the bad guy didn't step on his lady partner multiple times to force more chains out of her while her boobs wobble. Yick (By the way, the breast animation is extremely awkward. They're like actual racks, like you can hang your coat on them). They're re-occurring characters, too, though thankfully after this, they don't invoke the catastrophic level of misunderstanding the makers have about a BDSM relationship.

There is something truly fascinating about watching an anime that goes all-in with ambition without having the skills to pull off even half of what it wants to do. It's like the people who graduate college who now think they know all the SECRETS. They've been imparted with the knowledge of what makes something good and how they should approach a project and they're going to WOW the entire world with these mind-blowing revelations. Alas, they don't have the experience or the innate skills to refine anything, leaving transparent stabs at creativity with a dull butter knife from the dollar store.

GoHands knows anime tends to be a little stiff and static when it comes to animation and wants to make something more dynamic; they're trying to make something that moves and pops out out at the viewer. They can make insanely detailed backgrounds and since it's mostly done in 3DCG, they can also make the camera move however they want in ways shows built on standard animation can't without a whole bunch of extra cash and time. Unfortunately, they call attention to their visuals in all the wrong ways. Rather than bringing the audience into the experience with the visual splendor, it takes the viewer out at all times, waving its hands furiously in the direction of the craft whether it should or not. Vital, dramatic moments occur, and the only thought that passed by was, "Wow, that hardwood floor is FANTASTIC!" Shifts in distance and perspective are also mostly shoddy. One critical scene that takes place on Tazuna's bed inspires seasickness rather than empathy in the way it sways and tilts unnaturally. The framing of some scenes is thrown into chaos with dodgy compositing where the layouts make it seem like an average sunny day and the sky is actually clouds endlessly marching in a manner that resembles a screensaver set at 2x speed. We've already covered the fighting animation which feels like letting Crunchyroll buffer a bit would fix matters, but no, it's nothing Crunchyroll can do but accidentally start running Etotama. I was hard on that series because its humor mostly annoyed me, but its 3DCG fighting is pristine and they put some real thought into how to integrate it into the rest of the series.

The point is they're trying to be fancy and:
1) It's not fancy.
2) It's supposed to act in the service of the story and it does the exact opposite.

The writing is in a similar pickle, though much more grounded in the standards and practices of anime hack writing. I mean, it KNOWS you shouldn't drop massive amounts of plot information straight out, but they give the "entertaining" info dumping to a scientist who is supposed to be a charming dork in his eccentric that delivery just comes off as annoying (And he even says so, giving way to the anime trope where if your character is self-aware he's doing an anime trope, it's supposed to make it okay. It does not). As the series barrels through its villains of the week, they start off promisingly enough with a duo who've been essentially shunned by the business world, one for a being a short woman who is always mistaken for an intern, and the other because he is the definition of being an unassuming salaryman who dared to ask for more out of his life. They're decent characters, they've had to fight tooth and nail to get every inch of ground in their lives, and even when they're defeated and they become friends with the heroes, they have a sincerely human moment when they have to admit they're angry about losing their golden ticket. The next opponents are a brother and a sister who want God to make it okay that they're brother and sister and in love each other in THAT way. You give them an inch....

The rest of the series is amateur hour where it slowly adds more chunks of awfulness into the usual recipe. Tazuna meets the main villain while walking the streets and they have a conversation that's either stretched ten minutes to choke out about one sentence a minute, or they hit a pocket of space-time that made them go slower than the rest of the universe. The main villain is one of the least gripping antagonists to the point where I don't think even he's that invested in his ultimate plan. There's a herky-jerky fighting scene with a wannabe pop idol where she's going through an endless string of Bartlett's quotes (It's her one character trait besides wanting to be an idol) and her lips aren't even moving as she's going through moves that would push the limits of even a superhuman to simply breathe, and the makers even have her mug at the camera while she's talking to make the failure almost awe inspiring. It's also a huge visual clue that much of the opening animation is mostly scenes that has already been made for the series edited together rather than an actual opening. The ending episode tries to go in every direction possible with the most uninspiring production (Parts of the epilogue are still images of events that should be for all intents and purposes in motion) and the lamest attempt at teasing for a sequel ("Oh yeah, we didn't really finish the story, did we? Quick, throw a character design together in five minutes and write something threatening for him to say"). It almost doesn't need to be said that unless this becomes a The Room type of cult disaster, this is the last you'll hear from Hand Shakers. 

What stops it from being a laughably terri-awesome show can be blamed on the pacing. The episodes switch off from being entirely plot to being completely focused on action until they have to throw together the full backstory and ending because they're so not getting a second cour. This overloads the viewer on either boring, talky scenes with awkward humor or visually abysmal action. The lack of balance makes it numbing instead of keeping the awfulness fresh and inventive. Okay, fine, one moment with Tazuna having to constantly hold hands with Koyori where he has to go into the bathroom with her works. Then they make most of the episode about having to to do things such as bathing her after a trip to professor exposition. I've had to watch too many icky sequences like this in anime over the years that I have no energy to yell at it. It's just... dull, making the same jokes and having the same reaction of every everyman nice guy of the Tenchi variety going through it. It's only an extremely small consolation Koyori actually becomes somewhat of a cool character when they stop forcing her to be the typical silent anime girl. She quickly learns a Yu-Gi-Oh knockoff and morphs her quietness into giving her lines a calm importance. She never gets to be a full character, but she tries.

Finally, what brings this piece together is how terribly NOT together this title is. I was reminded these were the same people who made K, maybe known to you as that series you instantly skip while checking Netflix's anime. K seems made to be like one of those intellectual properties that only exists to be available at Hot Topic. The logo, the outfits, and the feel are trying too hard to be dark cool while taking a stab at a wider audience. But at least it HAD a unified style, a focus, and while the perspective shifts in the animation are jarring and poorly executed, all the imagery looks like it's a part of the same show. Hand Shakers exists because they wanted to make a series and all the vision they had is their 3DCG setup and spare parts from other mediocre series. Hell, the music is credited to Goon Trax, which might not make you bat an eye. It sounds like they got some DJ or musician with a professional name to lay down some uniquely jazz-influenced hip hop tunes. Then you realize Goon Trax is a RECORD LABEL. They couldn't even get a person to oversee the music, instead throwing in some cues from a company that may or may not fit what's going on (Mostly, it doesn't).

When they first fired up this cursed alchemy of anime, it instantly exploded in as grand of a misfire as I've seen in some time. Following the fireworks, though, all you're left with is being surrounded by a whole bunch of junk.


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