After five or so years of working on projects as part of The Backloggers, I think I can, with full confidence, say that I’m cursed. When you hear “cursed,” you likely aren’t thinking of it in relation to an anime blog or blogger. Sure, maybe a blogger is reviewing some “cursed” content, or maybe the content being put out by the blog is “cursed,” but that’s all in the fun, jokey, colloquial use of “cursed.” It’s never, you know, the “you got on a witch or demon or whatever’s bad side” bad cursed.
Folks, I mean I am the bad cursed. And it’s all because of fucking Hand Shakers.
It’s been a little over four years (circa January of 2017) since I first found myself foaming at the mouth, as it were, over Studio GoHands’ 2D/3D hybrid “experiment,” Hand Shakers. The trailer looked pretty suspect, but I was fascinated by the idea of a show could do with a hybrid approach to 2D/3D stuff, so I figured, what the hell? Unfortunately, I was left thinking “what?” as I was in “the hell,” if you will. This was a show so monumentally bad that, with equal levels of awe, vitriol, and desire for self-preservation, I found myself pleading with our listeners in our Winter 2017 seasonal podcast, and in several other podcasts later that year, whether or not Hand Shakers was even relevant to our discussion, to stay as far away as humanly possible from the show. Two years following that, in an affront to god and all that is holy, Studio GoHands released a sequel to Hand Shakers: W’z. Understandably puzzled and scared out of my mind (seriously, who the fuck greenlit a sequel to Hand Shakers?), I posted a warning, or more like bargaining with whoever would read it, about W’z. Hilariously enough, at the time of writing this, it’s my highest-viewed post on the entire blog by a decent margin, so I like to think I’ve done some good for the world with it. It only seems fitting, then, that two years after W’z dropped, and after two years of sweet silence from Studio GoHands, I am pulled back into the fray to watch their newest “masterpiece”, Scar on the Praeter, which I am henceforth going to affectionately refer to as ScarP.
Ever since I saw Hand Shakers, something in me snapped, and I started seeking out as much “3DCG experimental” anime as I could possibly find, which inevitably branched out into a general search for season trash in general. This brought me to gems such as KADO: The Right Answer, Babylon, and Ex-Arm (don’t forget about that last one – we’re coming back to it later). But nothing that I encountered really felt as bad or as much of a duty of mine to watch as Studio GoHands shows. Every two years, with terrifying consistency, they release a new abomination in the winter season, and I feel compelled at my core, against every instinct I have, to watch, if for no other reason to warn people against it. And this year, right on schedule, I am compelled to watch ScarP.
Hence, the bad cursed.
Hand Shakers‘ camera work is seriously like someone put a GoPro is a washing machine, like what the fuck?
Okay, so what’s the deal with ScarP? At first glance, I wouldn’t blame you if you mistook it for yet another entry into the Hand Shakers Cinematic Hellscape. Although the characters were designed by Shingo Suzuki, as opposed to Takayuki Uchida, who helmed the, uh, truly inspired designs of Hand Shakers and W’z, they have the same distinctive flair that just screams “this is a GoHands production.” More than that, the show still has the blue/purple/I’m-drowning-help-me sort of color gradient present in the Shakers duology, as well as the vertigo-inducing cinematography that comes from the very special blend of 2D and 3D that the aforementioned series contained (and weaponized a few times to make me almost vomit). Visually speaking, even with four more years under their belts, Studio GoHands has essentially learned nothing from the previous abominations they put out, and ScarP only looks marginally different in style and scope from the previous shows I’ve crusaded against.
To ScarP‘s credit, the characters definitely don’t look like they’re melting as much as they do in Hand Shakers, so that’s a plus.
“Okay, it looks bad, so what? What’s the big deal?”, you may be asking. If you are, then you have clearly never seen a Studio GoHands show (admittedly, I haven’t seen a GoHands show before Hand Shakers, and the K and Seitokai Yakuindomo series are supposed to be passable, but they don’t count in this review or my curse since they were released in BHS years [obviously, Before Hand Shakers]). A show can have a wild, yuck-inducing art style and still be surprisingly good – kind of like KADO if you just cut out the last few episodes, except KADO’s 2D/3D blending is not quite as bizarre. But if you heap an absolute nonsense story, absurdist worldbuilding, and complete nothing characters onto a show that already looks like what Microsoft SAM yartzed up after a few too many drinks, then buddy, you’re in for a bad time.
Behold – our ward floating in, I think, animated Jell-O?
In the spirit of generosity, which I cannot fathom why I am currently feeling, I will at least give this to ScarP: its story, rules, and worldbuilding are less bizarre and impenetrable than that of the Handsiverse. In Hand Shakers and beyond, people called hand shakers hold hands, team up, and fight each other in a parallel psychedelic world called the Ziggurat for the opportunity to meet capital G God and get a wish granted. Unfortunately, the laws that govern the powers of hand shakers are, essentially, a shrug in the wind and don’t really have any core mechanics beyond the writers saying “this is probably something, right?” Oh, and Koyori, our female lead, does not speak for, like, two-thirds of the show and will literally die if she stops holding hands with Tazuna, our gadget-tinkering nice guy protagonist (he’s maybe one of the few good things about this show, and I hate that he’s in it). I literally wrote a post two years ago about W’z, as dictated by the bad curse, so go read that if you want a rundown of why that’s a trainwreck. Suffice it to say, W’z is also quite bad.
I really just wanted to use this image again, because what a hilariously bad first line for a show. W’z is truly on another level.
So, how does ScarP surpass its predecessors? Let’s talk a bit about that. On the surface, the general premise behind ScarP is, admittedly, pretty interesting in terms of the setting. The story is essentially about gangs and factions with powers from divine tattoos (at least it’s not Nimrods – did I mention that the powers in Hand Shakers are called Nimrods?) vying for control of and/or peace for the Akatsuki Special Ward. The ward was intended to be a special economic zone of Tokyo with lower taxes and other special rights in order to promote growth of the zone. Unsurprisingly, corporations thought it would be cool to continually escalate aggression tactics against each other for control of those rights, up until it turned the Special Ward into a whole zone of mercenary gangs, outlaws, and other lawless factions that almost burned it to the ground. Now, groups of varying sizes armed with divine tattoo’d superdudes (called Scard) try to run the town in their own ways. Toss three central factions and a corrupt government public security force into the mix, and you’ve got a drama bomb just bursting to go off. Were this in the hands of a good show, this could result in some primo shit™. Unfortunately, it’s in ScarP, so.
Having typed all of this out, I think I’ve convinced myself that making ScarP a better show than its predecessors from the outset is not much of an accomplishment. Saying that ScarP is, so far, a better anime than Hand Shakers and W’z in terms of storytelling and worldbuilding is more or less like saying that your first hour hanging on a cross is a better time than a full session of scuba-diving in Quikrete. It isn’t exactly a high bar to clear, and it’s pretty much guaranteed to not be a good time either way.
Also, slight sidebar, you cannot expect me to believe that a ward that has been rocked by militia and supernatural-powered conflicts has apartments and cafes that look even remotely well-maintained. It just ain’t happening.
Even with a comparatively better setting, ScarP would still need extraordinarily more compelling characters in order to make itself remotely worth watching, and after having watched four episodes of it, I can confirm that it supremely does not succeed on this front. The core cast of the show is a faction called Helios who tries to dish out justice in a city with, as of the end of the first episode, no more heroes. Our main boy Kai Yamato is a sweet guy who took in a complete stranger as his adoptive younger brother during the chaos of the aforementioned militia conflicts and such who is, frankly, a Gary Stu with some minor parkour skills and some slightly better aptitude with gunplay. After being rescued by and as a result being partially responsible for the death of the ward’s hero and leader of Helios, Eiji Arashiba, Kai receives Eiji’s tattoo, Cerberus, which gives him…some kind of power? Seriously, I’m four episodes in, and I’m still not convinced I know what it does. Part of me doubts I ever will.
Anyway, after receiving Cerberus, Kai joins Helios with the intention of keeping the Ward safe from the ever-encroaching competing interests of other factions, specifically the mysterious Dusk. Unfortunately, even with a setting that could allow for something pretty neat, Kai is uninteresting. The other members of Helios are uninteresting. I can conclusively say that every character in this show is pretty uninteresting, except for Eiji, who was kind of cool, gave me one-liner-spouting Kamina-ish vibes, and then unceremoniously died (probably also where I get the Kamina vibes from). It’s at least better in its treatment of women than its predecessors, if only because there’s, like, one woman in the show, and they don’t give her enough screen time for us to figure out whether or not she’s just a trope.
I shit you not, this is the end of the first episode. Eiji deserved to live in another, better show.
The thing is, even with all of my complaints, I still find a small twinge of guilt in saying that ScarP is objectively bad. Much like with its predecessors, even though it’s pretty largely been panned, there are still a fair number of folks out there that appreciate the style and aesthetic of it, or do think that the show is cool in its own right. I can come in and say all of this and warn you about this show, but the bottom line is that you really just have to feel how off-kilter ScarP is and decide for yourself.
That’s part of why this curse is so wild – ScarP and its ilk have to be experienced in order to truly understand how bad the show is (or how bad I perceive it to be). It’s not like Ex-Arm, which I can objectively say is an unmitigated disaster. Writing a nasty review of a show like Ex-Arm is easy – for instance, I could just dial deep into the unfortunate fact that its 3DCG is so bad, it boggles the mind. It honestly sends me into giggle fits thinking about it as I write it. Everything about the show just feels so out of place and completely unnatural, and it’s no wonder, considering it’s an anime made by people who had never made anime, who had zero respect for anime as a medium, and who had zero interest in consulting anyone who had ever worked on anime before. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to see how that one would turn out. It would have been so much easier for me to write something about Ex-Arm as opposed to Scar on the Praeter (that being said, there are folks out there who have written intelligently about why Ex-Arm sucks, and not just that the show sucks full-stop, and that is some hard work).
All that being said, I could write a thesis on poor design choices in this show, starting with the fonts. Uh, what?
Either way, dunking on Ex-Arm until I get tired of it would, simply on principle, be much easier to write than this whatever-this-is on ScarP because I’ve realized something in watching these GoHands productions and other trash series for years now. Things like Ex-Arm are, probably, pretty soulless. How can you possibly make something like Ex-Arm and not be absolutely ashamed that you’re putting it out in the world unless you lack a conscience? It’s unquestionably hubris-produced garbage. On the other hand, you can tell that folks at GoHands really thought they were doing some cool things with ScarP, W’z, and Hand Shakers, and that they still do think they’re doing cool things (or at least like what they’re doing to a degree), given that they’re sticking to their aesthetic. Honestly, I love that they’re trying to do cool shit with the 2D/3D blend, because there’s nothing wrong with that idea on principle. That’s why I tried watching Hand Shakers in the first place – the promise of doing cool shit with new animation techniques for anime is a thrilling prospect, and I have no doubt that some genuinely amazing series could come about if the right folks did the right things with it. Unfortunately, ScarP, etc. are absolutely not doing the right things, and they probably don’t really have the right folks for the job, either.
Regardless, folks at GoHands obviously care about these series. It’s because of that care that even if these shows are pretty dang bad across the board, there’s still a part of me that feels marginally bad for shitting on them as righteously as I do, since these shows are clearly produced out of something akin to a kind of love and pride. They aren’t good shows, and a lot of anime fans agree with that sentiment, but the series keep coming regardless, so the folks behind them clearly think they’re doing something right.
I guess we at least aren’t dealing with zero-gravity breast shit again.
Having said all that about respecting the team behind the shows, the love behind them, and all that jazz, the passion of some animators is not going to keep me from telling the full and honest truth that Scar on the Praeter is an utterly horrid show, and you should do your best to stay as far away from it as humanly possible. While I admire GoHands in some sick Stockholm Syndrome-esque way for speaking their truth in anime form, I genuinely see absolutely zero reason to watch this show or to recommend it to any of you. The story is whack, the characters are either trope cities or absolutely lifeless (except for, ironically, the dead one), and the visuals for the show are atrocious, and are only made worse because I see them as a complete failure to do something cool and new for the medium. I wouldn’t even recommend that you watch the first episode as a goof, because it’s not even good for that! (Seriously, my partner and I watched the first episode together for that purpose, so she could understand the existential terror of these shows, and she looked at me about seven minutes in with eyes that begged me to end either the show or her, and at this point, I’m not sure which one she would have preferred.)
As per my being stuck with the bad curse, I’ll be watching the entirety of Scar on the Praeter, and the knowledge of that excites me about as much as knowing that I’m probably going to have to watch another one of these disasters in another two years. If I come upon any major revelations about the show (I will not), I’ll scream into the void on Twitter to get them out of my system. Regardless, I will continue to stand sentinel and keep the masses safe from, or at least warned of, GoHands’ horrific children.
Oh, and from the bottom of my heart: fuck you, Hand Shakers.