Hand Shakers – “I can” doesn’t mean “you should”

Studio GoHands
Genres Action
Source Original
Episodes 12
Season Winter 2017
Director Shigo Suzuki
Music GOON TRAX
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     When Hand Shakers aired, it was more than clear that the show was a serious contender to be elected as the worst anime of the season if not of the whole year. Yet, when the show ended, no one seems to remember it anymore. On one hand it barely deserves to be remembered, particularly so when far better shows are becoming forgotten so soon after the end of their airing. Nonetheless, even if you despise Hand Shakers with your whole heart, the show might have some interesting quirks that should be mentioned. Just for the sake of curiosity let’s try to find some good in this mess.

Is it a cooking show?

     And a mess it really is. Hand Shakers is an original series but, as many have pointed out, it’s mind boggling that originality isn’t one of its distinctive aspects at all. Hand Shakers rather feels like yet another light novel or computer game adaptation, just because of the unending feeling that there should be some coherent story around, the world should be interesting but it just can’t escape its embryo stage. Everything begins with the main guy Tazuna whose only characteristic besides being the main character and having appropriate to this rank plot armor is that he can fix things. Tell me it isn’t similar to Shirou Emiya from Fate. Anyway, Tazuna manages to inadvertently awaken a certain girl named Koyori from coma and it just happens that the two of them now become Hand Shakers. That, as an annoying but very convenient scientist dude explains, means fighting other Hand Shakers. The best pair is said to get an opportunity to ask a god (oh well, that escalated pretty quickly) a wish to be granted. It’s not all, sadly. At first it’s told that because of some circumstances Koyori mustn’t let go of Tazuna’s hand because then she’ll die. Oh well. So yeah, we just have a death-game scenario that doesn’t feel that different from shows like Mirai Nikki or the same Fate franchise. The clichéd premise is only the top of the iceberg as Hand Shakers never tries to move anywhere from it. The concept of Hand Shakers themselves is never expanded that much after the initial info-dump as if it was the least important thing in the story. The whole season is spent fighting pairs of villains, defeating them (how else?), then somehow befriending them, spending some time just randomly chilling out and moving on to fight another pair. I’d guess that if everyone would be so thrilled to get their wishes granted, every other episode shouldn’t be about cooking but that’s not the case. There’s even more stuff that is painful to remember – apart from the story that doesn’t try at all to make sense there’s some sisters crazed for their little brothers, bizarre superpowers, characters even more boring or annoying than the main guy – you name it. I can almost bet that any single trope you despise about anime in some form or another is embedded in Hand Shakers.

Where is the focus in this scene?

     Characters definitely aren’t an aspect Hand Shakers can be proud of. As I’ve already said, Tazuna is noticeable only because of the screen time he gets. Tazuna’s partner Koyori is even worse. She starts as a doll character, for some reason unable neither speak nor do a single thing herself. Her main accomplishments through the series seem to be learning how to make a conversation and eat some ice cream. Watching our main pair is as exciting as looking at a robot taking his dakimakura for a walk. Probably the next important character is the scientist guy. Apparently his personality should be akin to Okabe the “Mado-scientisto” from Steins;Gate but the attempt only proves that Mamoru Miyano has a voice and personality so unique that any copycat is destined to fail from the very start. The temporary antagonists sometimes provide a glimpse of some interesting story (for example about an idol that has to deal with the fact that she doesn’t have any audience) but as with everything else, the execution isn’t competent enough. The show just fails to provide a believable world by making pretty much everyone silly or mentally challenged. I doubt that normal parents would gladly approve of their son bringing home a random girl saying “Hey, it just happens that I can’t let go of her hand, so she’ll live with me”. The sense of humor is also questionable. Just take a look at a screenshot below, explaining why the main pair has to help a school festival by making some food.

Whut?

     Say what you will about the generic story and characters but what really sets Hand Shakers apart from other forgettable shows is the visuals. There’s no doubt that much work has been put into assembling the series but sadly it looks like the team consciously thought of every possible way of making the experience less enjoyable. Hand Shakers can be distinguished by constantly and needlessly moving camera (especially in the first part), causing serious disorientation to the point of some people complaining about headaches. Each and every surface, be it a character or a background element, looks very glossy and constantly reflects light rays that sometimes move even when the camera doesn’t. The colour scheme is all over the place – you can expect countless colors, hues and shades at the same time, so it’s even difficult to say what is the most important element in a particular shot (in other words, the staging is virtually nonexistent). To some extent the coloring problem had to be expected since it’s not the first time that GoHands plays with this fire – Mardock Scramble trilogy already showed the root of this disaster. You can have insane amount of colors but it works only in rare cases such as my favorite example Mononoke. The same glossiness also creates a cold atmosphere and characters look more like they are fully CG. And CG itself is also a problem because there’s plenty of it, and it’s not good. The moving chains from the first episode is probably the worst thing in the show you can experience in terms of both making sense and appealing visually. The problem of CG not “meshing” (to quote the show itself) with 2D is also aggravated by the moving camera. The characters, CG objects and backgrounds all create a dissonance between themselves, and that may be even worse than the infamous Deen’s dragon. To return to the character designs, I can call them everything but pleasant. The glossiness doesn’t help, but even without that the same (and bland) face syndrome isn’t a disease GoHands if free from. Much attention was payed to the eyes (it’s an anime after all) but it doesn’t help at all sympathizing with the characters. Koyori rather looks like she could easily be taken as a blind person in another show. If I had to say one good thing about the visuals, some crowd scenes were surprisingly lively. Of course it was just a rare occasion before moving to static crowd shots but when it worked, it seriously looked good.

Excerpt from Hand Shakers

     The music is an interesting thing to talk about because it’s probably the only thing about the show that can’t be bashed right away. More interestingly, the credit for the soundtrack is given to GOON TRAX but its site says that it’s a label, so I can’t even name a single human being who’s responsible for the music in Hand Shakers. The soundtrack itself is composed of tracks that make not the worst playlist to listen to when you do something else. Usually there’s some relaxed piano over a background beat, just the thing you’d expect from, say, a music in the background of some YouTube video. The problem is that there’s nothing more to the soundtrack than these laid back tracks. When the show delves into its more slice of life segments (where nothing happens) such a music fits quite well. On the other hand when pretty much the same tracks are played over more serious battle scenes, it doesn’t “mesh” at all. Overall the soundtrack leaves an impression of being absolutely bland and uninteresting as an integral part of an anime series. At least the ED was quite nice, even if I didn’t care about a sad girl that doesn’t know how to do anything.

Excerpt from the OST: 'There's No Way' by GOON TRAX

     What can I say? For the majority of people Hand Shakers is a “burn it with fire” show, others (for the most part myself included) may find some entertainment for the “so bad it’s good” factor and probably no one will find it enjoyable enough. The story is pretty much garbage but it still has the gall to try to tease a second season by the end. Hopefully that won’t be realized any time soon. Or ever. To think about it, a studio that spends so much time for details and unconventional animation techniques just got incredibly unlucky because of the incompetence to play to their strengths right. Such detailed backgrounds by itself look pretty good, and I think a more experienced studio like ufotable wouldn’t be embarrassed to use such art of such level for their productions. To continue the comparison, ufotable also likes to use some CG space and where the action happens (for example Kara no Kyoukai 5 or Tales of Zestiria the X) and while their CG for me isn’t something that seamlessly harmonizes with 2D stuff, ufotable knows far better when to use their arsenal of means. Employ someone who understands what color design is, don’t be that ambitious, and you might become a half decent studio, GoHands. A writer also wouldn’t hurt.

How about no?

     I believe, that you should just

0

Don’t bother

     I can’t in good conscience recommend the show to anyone unless you’d like to laugh at its incompetence and bad choices everywhere. Even then it might be a very difficult task to endure all that Hand Shakers has to offer. Better stay away from it.

     Did you watch Hand Shakers? Can you think of a single positive point about the show?

Scattered Thoughts – laughing at Kite Liberator

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     Western audiences seem to enjoy an OVA from 1998 called Kite. Technically, it’s a hentai, but there exists a shorter version (approximately 45 min long compared to 60 min) that has all that risky stuff cut out. The shorter version somehow ended up being on Crunchyroll, and there’s where I watched it, so don’t expect me to talk anything about hentai stuff. Just for the record, as far as I know from little research, plotwise (not “plot”-wise) the shorter version is as good, and might even be better without mostly unnecessary 15 additional minutes. Well, it depends on your view towards hentai, but that’s not the aspect I want to discuss now.

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     It’s plain to see why Kite managed to earn some fan-following. There’s a certain charm that 80s and 90s OVAs have – that of dark settings, lots of violence, and, in this case, girls with guns. The animation itself with its roughness gives a nostalgic feeling, something distinct form that lighter computer-enhanced art nowadays. And Kite in all these respects feels very much a child of its time, especially knowing that certainly not all old OVAs were good. The idea of having an assassin girl stuck with some pretty bad people might have been developed into something meaningful, but Kite rather spends time for the content that got deleted in the shorter version. Certainly the OVA doesn’t just state the fact “the protagonist Sawa is a killer” and illustrate it with buckets of blood – there’s some stuff to make you think, but in the very end I don’t find it that satisfactory. Why a girl that can shred her opponents to pieces would do nothing and keep getting used in all sorts of ways for some years only to rebel at a random moment? It might have been an interesting character study, but Kite doesn’t bother to offer the slightest idea what really happens in Sawa’s head.

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And then, 10 years later, there comes a sequel of sorts. Kite Liberator is another OVA, also about an hour-long, but its essence is completely different from its predecessor. Well, I might end up only reciting all the weird plot elements, but as there’s little to talk about characters or themes and I don’t recommend watching it in the first place, I guess it’ll be fine. The director Yasuomi Umetsu probably wanted to make the sequel more diverse to capture more audiences, and in the true 80s and 90s fashion he chose to add some space adventures as well as some cute girls because that’s what people like now. You won’t be the first to question whether space and assassin girls really complement each other that well, but apparently at the time nobody objected.

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     Going on a little tangent, the animation actually might be the best part of the OVA. Some CG space stuff was so incredibly animated that it can easily best many anime projects that use CG even now, almost 10 years later. Even a Hollywood production might get away using something of this caliber. 2D stuff also most of times worked well, action scenes were done at least competently, though for instance two guys shooting at each other dozens of bullets while being completely unshielded and not even grazing one another is a bit annoying. The character designs are clearly aimed at being as moe as possible and it was also more or less a success. On the other hand, there are some definitely weird cuts that feel like they came from a completely different decade compared to the incredible CG.

Excerpt from Kite Liberator; animation by Keita Matsumoto

     But most of times it’s not the animation that the sequel fails at. As a successor to Kite, the later OVA also features a killer girl, and one that looks somewhat similar to Sawa of the original. Sadly, Monaka of Kite Liberator doesn’t have even the implied depth of Sawa. Can an assassin that appears at the right second to save someone from getting killed be taken seriously knowing that other times she dons her dojikko personality and trips and stumbles and falls down a lot while playing a good student as well as a part-time employee at a maid café? Does killing people during spare time and getting embarrassed over being asked on a date by a policeman twice as old seem normal? There’s a scar shown on Monaka’s back while she changes (the only scene to feature the tiniest bit of nakedness), but that as well as the key question of why did Monaka became a killer in the first place never gets any explanation or even a slightest mention at all.

Excerpt from Kite Liberator

     All the maid stuff and playing clumsy has some charm, and some credit definitely should be given for that because in its own right the cuteness and some light comedy aren’t the worst. But does it mix with assassin stuff well? Definitely not, as neither the space stuff does. In its own right it feels a bit ridiculous, but that’s only the top of an iceberg. It’s known that zero gravity and just the general conditions in a space station affect human physiology, causing some bone and muscle atrophies among other things. So that’s no surprise that some special food forms are being developed to counter that. And then there’s the best part – some specially enhanced curry, paired with the effects of solar radiation have a pretty bad effect – some crew members transform into giant bony killing machines! It just happens that one of them is in fact Monaka’s father! And, of course, he ends up travelling back on Earth only to meet his daughter who has been instructed to kill that weird monster! She succeeds in the end, but wait, no, the dad regenerates, and… that’s the end. Oh boy…

Excerpt from Kite Liberator; animation by Nozomu Abe

     I don’t even have the words to explain how weird, nonsensical and laughable this mess of Kite Liberator really is. The ideas on their own can work, as the original Kite has more or less shown, but one can only guess what food poisoning made the creators make such a mishmash of a plot, mixing every possible idea that can be “cool”. Kite Liberator  for me doesn’t make the slightest sense no matter how I think about it. Also, why name such a project a sequel to the original Kite in the first place? The only thing that connects them is a gun both Sawa and Monaka use. It can be argued that a coworker of Monaka might actually be Sawa, and one policeman also might be a certain reappearing guy but that’s just a random theory from someone who believes that a project and its sequel should have some common points even if they have absolutely no effect on the story.

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     Kite Liberator is one of its kind, and thank goodness that it’s only one. I don’t deem its predecessor particularly good but this OVA is just ridiculous. Watch it only if you aren’t afraid to lose an hour of your life in exchange of the possibility to get some laughs at how incompetent a story can be.