It’s the end of 2018. The year is coming to a close, with a new year and new anime just on the horizon. As I scan over the Winter 2019 season’s offerings, I spy a show called W’z that stirs something within me – it looks a whole lot like Hand Shakers, a show that, no pun intended, shook me to the core almost two years ago. I find a trailer, and sure enough, it’s the same style, aesthetic, and even the jarring gear-looking weapons. I’m having minor heart palpitations. Surely Hand Shakers didn’t get a sequel greenlit – a show that was as consistently panned by critics and viewers alike couldn’t have been given the blessing, let alone the budget, for a season two. I talk to my co-host Owningmatt93, and I’m assured by him that “it’s just the style GoHands does, man. All of their stuff looks like this.” Looking at trailers for, for instance, K: Return of Kings, it does indeed look pretty much exactly the same, aside from a lesser emphasis on a mix of 2D and 3D animation. My fears assuaged somewhat, I continue on with my look at what’s in store for the next few months.
It’s 2019. A new year, a fresh start, and a new season ahead of us for anime. It’s 2019, and I get this message in The Backloggers Slack chat:
If you’ve been following The Backloggers for a bit, or if you’ve (for some reason) gone very far through our backlog of casts, you’ll know that I have had (and still have) some strong opinions about Studio GoHands’ Hand Shakers. Billed as an experiment using 2D and 3D animation, I was immediately interested, as the use of 3DCG in anime is something that’s caught my attention for some time. Great things can be (and have been) done with 3DCG alone, as well as 2D/3D hybrid animation, as we have seen in recent years. The style Hand Shakers shot for, though, was lacking. As the show’s MC, Tazuna, would say, it just doesn’t mesh – the project was ambitions, to be sure, displaying a veritable cornucopia of color, camera angles of all sorts, and fight choreography the likes of which I had never seen before.
Unfortunately for Hand Shakers, it was not a pretty sight. It was disorienting, messy, and just not pleasurable at all to watch. That in itself was disappointing enough, but for the show to also be a train wreck beyond that? For that, and the awful sum of its parts that it turned out to be, it earned a warm place in my heart as one of the worst shows I have ever had the displeasure of watching the entire way through. To summarize my grievances with the show: its story is a mess; the conceit of the show is poorly executed; the hybrid of 2D and 3D is just garish to look at; the fight scenes are somehow simultaneously incredibly boring and also likely to give you a case of vertigo; it does not give a damn about the women in the story unless they have a brother complex, have enormous bodily proportions, are only there as a (completely misrepresented) BDSM prop, or literally do not talk until the last third of the show (in the case of the show’s female main lead Koyori); and other small annoyances that lead up to me screaming during a podcast several seasons later for people to not watch this show.
So here we are two years later. Though W’z does not carry on the titular banner of Hand Shakers, and as of the first episode (aside from a minor flashback telling us that the show is ten years after the original season) has not alluded to any characters from Hand Shakers, it is basically a second season of the show. Somewhat unsurprisingly, this second foray into the Hand Shakers universe has not proved to be any sort of improvement over the first. Let’s dig into the nitty-gritty here.
From what I have gathered, the story seems to be as follows: For a brief review, Hand Shakers form teams of two, hold hands, and go to a parallel world called the Ziggurat to do battle with their weapons called Nimrods. This can only be done by chosen pairs of hand Shakers. 14 years prior to the beginning of W’z, our protagonist Yukiya Araki is born and is raised for several years by some unnamed character (presumably, in my view, oddball character Daisuke who is only really confirmed to have been a Hand Shaker at some point, and seems to know Yukiya, judging by an offhand comment he makes). Yukiya is called an “irregular Hand Shaker” and is warned against touching anyone’s hand, as doing so will bring Yukiya and whomever he touches hands with to the Ziggurat, regardless of whether or not they are a Hand Shaker. Knowing his fate, Yukiya spends his time away from people so he doesn’t accidentally hold their hands, and instead pursues a life as student by day, on-the-rise DJ by night.
After a session doesn’t get as many viewers as he would have liked, Yukiya talks with a friend of his, Haruka, who is ostensibly our female lead. She suggests he does a PV for his channel, he asks her for help, and he takes her into the Ziggurat that night to broadcast/record his PV. They are soon attacked by two other pairs of Hand Shakers, and even though Haruka is not a Hand Shaker, Yukiya braces for battle against, basically, four folks on his own.
If it sounds somewhat absurd, riddled with unnecessary and uninteresting-sounding jargon, and kind of contrived, you would be right. But hey, at least this time around our main female lead talks, and she won’t literally die of our main boy doesn’t hold her hand 24/7. In a way, though, the absurdity of Hand Shakers’ plot was part of what made it somewhat bearable – while much of the show was awful, it was an experiment, and it was its first go-around. However, after having at the very minimum a year’s worth of experience to build off of, W’z contains many of the same elements that afflicted Hand Shakers, and as a result is just bad. It had time and room to change itself, and yet it is largely an unchanged product. This time around, it is not new and shiny, and it does not really have much in the way of redeeming qualities to keep me at least somewhat interested to keep coming back to hate-watch it each week.
The visuals, for instance, are still as oversaturated, disorienting, and crowded as they were in Hand Shakers. Whether it’s an acid-laced Ziggurat skyline, a fisheye lens-view of a crown of people on an overpass, or a fight scene that moves camera angles to impossible points at breakneck speeds that detract from allowing viewers to actually follow any meaningful action, the visual component of this show is severely broken. Not lacking, but broken – it is not as though there is not enough going on in the show, but that there is simply too much. Whether it’s poorly-integrated 3DCG background characters flooding your vision or the aformentioned camerawork catastrophe, it is often difficult to focus on what you are supposed to be focused on in the show. It is unfortunate to look at, and a real test of character for you to sit through the entirety of an episode without feeling visually attacked. This feeling certainly isn’t alleviated when you have jarring overlays of 3D objects over 2D characters that just looks and feels out of place, or seeing a simple diner knife change sizes, I kid you not, about four times in the span of a two-minute scene.
Really, look at the size and perspective of this knife, my god.
The characters in the are also unavoidable hindrances to enjoying the show. Our main boy Yukiya is unremarkable in his design, and there are also two other male characters in the show (one of which is clearly older than Yukiya and seems to make some weird pass at him) that fit the bill of “average-height sad-boy-looking guys with white hair.” When you have to give your main lead a prop of headphones to really make his design stand out much from side characters in the show, you might have a problem. But beyond his design, Yukiya is just not an interesting, engaging character. He’s different from most MCs because he is a DJ of a sort, but we have seen him in many other shows. He’s the young protagonist with a tragic backstory which has caused him to isolate himself from the rest of the world, and he has only one real hobby or thing he does that is a release for him, aside from his magic powers.
I understand that we are not supposed to get the entirety of a character from the first episode of a show, but at the very least, we should be somewhat interested or invested in the protagonists of the anime we watch. However, this show, from the first episode, has not done anything to endear Yukiya to me, and the same can be said for the rest of the cast. Haruka, for example, is less a character and more the embodiment of a trope – she’s the girl that’s talented and a longtime friend of the main character, but everything she does is in some way related to her being infatuated with the MC. And boy, does W’z hammer that home with Haruka. She skips a meeting with her light music club to go with Yukiya, makes very un-subtle comments about liking him during an unrelated conversation, gets miffed when he doesn’t pick up on what she said and her protestations to what she said, and talks with herself about how them both going to a place at night (which could have been literally anywhere) is a date because other people are out at night and they’re on dates. Essentially, what we know about Haruka is that she likes music, and that she likes Yukiya. The fact that our main female lead is defined not by her own characterization or personality, but by her relationship to Yukiya, is a major problem.
Oh, and fun fact, she is the second-most fleshed out character in the show so far.
And yes, the main characters are usually those with the greatest amount of character arc and development, but the side characters are supposed to get a good bit of that, as well. That being said, I’m not exactly expecting much, given the fact that mysterious DJ/producer man’s personality is “uses words and phrases intentionally incorrectly”, and one of the two teams Yukiya encounters in the Ziggurat is essentially “girl duo; the one with a larger bust that sways with the slightest breeze is in love with the other”. I suppose it’s a step up from Hand Shakers and their duo of Break and Bind, the genuinely bad faux-BDSM duo that is literally the first fight in the show, which is introduced by Break dragging Bind around by a chain and stomping her crotch until she has a pain-induced orgasm. That’s not exactly a high bar to beat, though, so W’z isn’t exactly getting points for that.
What really confuses me, though, is how Hand Shakers essentially got a second season via W’z. Hand Shakers was pretty universally panned, and it sure as hell didn’t sell well as far as BD sales go, so…why? It’s like if Glasslip tanked like it did, and it was decided that, after its unequivocal blastback from fans and critics alike, a second season was greenlit, because the first was obviously so profitable. I am just genuinely confused as to how and why this got a second shot, but here we are, I guess.
I can take pot shots at W’z all day, truly. But honestly, that would defeat the purpose of this piece, in a way, because from the bottom of my heart, I wanted W’z, and by extension, Hand Shakers, to succeed. In 2017, even though Hand Shakers looked pretty solidly bad from its PVs, I was genuinely excited – it was rough in its execution, but this was something new and weird in anime. I had not seen anything like it in quite some time, and the fact that people were looking to experiment with meshing 2D and 3D together in this way was exhilarating. But its poor execution of animation style, coupled by uninteresting characters and story was genuinely disappointing to me. The fact that, from first appearances, W’z has done nothing to remedy these issues is equally troubling and disappointing, because it’s definitely an interesting, ambitious idea. On paper, the mixture of these bombastic visuals, the potential for some over-the-top, intense fight scenes, and the collaborative efforts of a number of interesting musical artists to make up the show’s score sounds like it could be truly incredible. In execution, we have, well, not that. It’s a disjointed, frustrating series to watch, especially considering the promise it could have held, specifically being a show that could have done exciting things with its blended animation styles.
Since then, we have seen shows like Kado: The Right Answer and Land of the Lustrous make strides towards successful, compelling uses of blended styles and 3DCG, respectively, all coupled with some great character arc, storytelling, and just a genuinely good watching experience all around. I do think that there will always be a part of me, though, that will be disappointed in Hand Shakers and its ilk, but I suppose that, in the end, much of that comes from placing a bit too much excitement and possible promise on the show. I want to see other shows like Hand Shakers and W’z that push the envelope and play with animation styles that may be a bit more risky and less safe – I just want them to be good. In the meantime, please, for the sake of your own sanity, please avoid W’z. Unless this somehow unironically becomes a masterpiece of our generation by the end of the season, you’ll thank me later.