When I say Hand Shakers is probably the worst anime I have ever seen, I say that having thought about it a lot as well as having experienced Mars of Destruction.
Tazuna is an ordinary student until he visits a research lab and meets Koyori, a comatose girl who wakes up when he takes her hand. The pair become Hand Shakers, destined to fight other pairs of Hand Shakers, whether they want to or not, for the chance to ‘meet God’. The series follows Tazuna as he tries to protect Koyori from various foes all with dreams of their own.
In fairness to the writers of this show, that premise doesn’t sound all that bad. I mean there doesn’t seem to be an end goal anywhere in sight and the Hand Shakers fighting without any choice thing also doesn’t sit well with me, but surely things can’t be all that bad?
Well that is where you would be wrong.
Tazuna is your average student in your average anime world. His little quirk is that he’s quite good at fixing things – a bit like Fate’s Shirou Emiya but shorter and with scarier eyes. He also has an obsession with helping people (oh look, Shirou again – I wasn’t planning to make these comparisons but hey…) which leads him to the Makihara’s lab. Before I go any further forward here, I should let you know that Tazuna used to have a younger sister who passed away – at no point are we told what happened, though we are led to believe it hit Tazuna pretty hard. Now, in the lab, Tazuna finds a girl who is asleep hooked up to some machines – he takes her hand and she magically wakes up, like something out of a fairy tale. This is Koyori; she can’t speak or show emotion at the moment, but at least she’s awake now.
Makihara returns astounded to inform the two of them (but mainly Tazuna) that they have become Hand Shakers, and that they will have to fight other Hand Shakers in order to meet God. Tazuna, obviously isn’t fussed about that, but after learning that if he lets go of Koyori’s hand she will die, he decides to live with the situation in a frankly ridiculous arrangement.
My main problem with Tazuna is how self-absorbed he becomes throughout the show. While I initially tried to overlook this, putting it down to the similarities between Koyori and his sister, it’s hard to ignore as the story progresses further. The fact that Koyori could die if they lose a fight is naturally frightening, but from half way through she can show emotions that he could at least attempt to respond to.
Koyori herself is a more interesting character to talk about. After initially awakening from her coma and becoming a Hand Shaker along with Tazuna, she doesn’t show any emotion which sort of makes sense within the concept of the plot. However, before too long she is able to show emotion, even if she doesn’t say anything until episode nine, which should be a trigger for others to change their attitudes towards her. And in some brief instances we do see that – for example, one of the other Hand Shakers, Masaru, shows her the card game Precious Memories, which Koyori takes to quickly. Masaru is surprised but praises her for her ability. Now, I’m not saying this would be better if other characters praised Koyori more, but it would be nice if characters acknowledged her a bit.
The true fault with her character however comes in episodes nine-twelve when she is able to speak. After finally regaining the ability to speak, she remains largely passive towards Tazuna – for example, the amount of times she replied with ‘Mhm, Tazuna’ in those four episodes is incredible. After taking so much time to build her character up to that point, she deserved a little bit more agency than she was given.
There aren’t many adult characters in the series, but chief among them is Makihara, the researcher/ex-Hand Shaker who was looking after Koyori before she woke up. I’ve never understood why people with important information don’t share it with other people from the get go. If you want a little example from Makihara: ‘that girl whose hand your holding, um… well… she has a sister that got kidnapped by my old partner three years ago, oh and she may or may not be asleep anymore because I suggested this idea to my partner before he left’. Or something. There’s no rational justification for not telling Tazuna and Koyori that Koyori has a sister – but rather than do that he lets her just appear before Koyori alongside someone she has never before without saying a word.
The concept of ‘Hand Shakers’
I’m not entirely against the concept of ‘Hand Shakers’ that GoHands have created, but, damn, are there loads of problems with it. Firstly, what I liked about the idea: becoming Hand Shakers isn’t a random event – rather than being born predestined to be a hand shaker with someone who you are equally predestined to meet, you only become a hand shaker when you connect with someone who you deeply care about or find a person with whom you share the same goals.
Now what I don’t like: for some reason finding a person who you share a goal with or, even better, care for a lot, means that you are hell bent on fighting anyone who is in the same situation as you. Tazuna and Koyori go through the show defeating pairs of Hand Shakers before their defeated opponents all seemingly open their eyes to the pointlessness of having a stupid fight over something. The idea of ‘confronting God’ is mooted at several points throughout the show (at the end we might even see him? Please, someone, don’t let this continue), though not one pair fighting for this goal once provides anything to back it up. There’s nothing to say God will grant any wish for people mindlessly fighting each other, it’s just supposed by the whole cast from start to finish.
The lack of female agency
This point may well get fleshed out in an article of it’s own at a later date but I wanted to make sure I covered it here. Throughout this show, people in positions of power – Makihara, Daichi and even Tazuna are written as if the women in this show don’t exist. Countless instances occur in the Makihara’s lab where the scientist is talking to the protagonists about something directly related to Koyori, but rather than addressing Koyori, Makihara’s warnings, concerns and information are given to Tazuna which is followed by Tazuna affirming what he has been told before they move on. This remained the case even after episode nine when Koyori was able to speak.
On the flip slide we have instances when female characters don’t stick up for themselves in situations when, in reality, anyone else would! The most obvious example I can think of is in the final episode after the last battle where Mayumi reveals that, like her sister, she also has emotions and she does in fact care for Daichi. Ordinarily, this might be a touching moment but not in Hand Shakers, as Daichi woke her up use mind influencing drugs that made this young girl love him. I needn’t say anymore.
Art, Animation and Sound
Gahhhh. As if the content of this wasn’t bad enough, I also had to look at the screen for the twenty-five minutes at a time. While the people that made Hand Shakers are clearly very talented, they have made an anime that can only be described as sickly. Even in the scenes that aren’t based in the mind-bending ‘ziggurat’, the proportion of the characters and colours used around them feel wrong. When fights were ongoing though, things were even worse – everything was too bright and psychedelic.
On the whole the animation wasn’t bad, but it was by no means very good. The fight scenes were choreographed pretty well, but I found that movements outside of battles were often quite wooden or unnatural. The opening sequence looks like it was put together by me. And to give you context, I’m the kind of person that likes to have custom animation and slide transitions on everything that I possibly can on a PowerPoint. My point is, although some of what they are doing isn’t bad, the whole sequence is overcrowded and confused.
I will give the music credit where credit is due. It’s pretty good the first time you hear it through. I mean it’s all used entirely too much and it gets old pretty quickly, but I can’t hate on everything here can I.
Hand Shakers was a mistake. It is a show that’s only positive is that if written different, the concept could have been vaguely interesting. I don’t want to say anything positive about it because I’ve had such a poor experience watching it. TV anime makes an attempt over the course of a run to build elements up to a satisfactory conclusion: Hand Shakers attempts this but only succeeds in progressively adding fuel to an already out of control bonfire. Stay as far away from this as you can.