Hand Shakers – 01 (First Impressions)

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Jist: Tazuna is a quiet high school student who loves to tinker with and fix things, getting so focused he loses track of time. One day he comes across a hospital bed not unlike the one where he watched his younger sister die.

Tazuna takes the girl Koyori’s hand, and receives the “Revelation of Babel.” He’s then attacked and chased by a pair like him and Koyoti, Break and Bind, but with Koyori he learns to summon millions of gears he can fashion as shields and swords with which to fight back.

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First of all, this show is very elaborate and shiny. Those who watched K or its sequel are no strangers to Suzuki Shingo’s baroque style that employs sweeping camera angles that fly around not one but many animated characters, nearly photo-realistic settings, and super-saturated colors.

There isn’t a single shot in this that doesn’t have something going on, whether it’s highlighted dust motes, lens flares or sun rays, or any other number of tiny details. I’ll be honest: it was a little overhwelming, especially after the relative stillness of ACCA.

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It also reminded me a bit of the Star Wars prequel films. Let me explain: their producer, Rick McCallum, spoke with pride about how dense every frame is, how much is going on at once. But while a little bit of chaos is nice, put too much shit in every single frame, without any kind of hierarchy, and the audience’s eye can’t focus on any of it and basically throws up its eye-hands. In other words, too much stuff and too much excitement can be static and boring.

There’s no denying Shingo’s ambition, or the fact he makes a damned impressive and distinctive-looking show here. But there are many instances where the cracks show, and where frame rates slow to the point we’re back in the mid-nineties, watching PSOne cutscenes.

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Not only that, Break and Bind’s rain of chains simply aren’t interesting enough to occupy as much screeen time as they do. It’s fun watching Tazuna and Koyori dart through a tripped-out alternate dimension of the city, dodging the chains from the BDSM couple…until it isn’t.

There’s more to dislike: Tazuna’s inner stream-of-consciousness to open the episode (and his running commentary throughout) was generic, uninspiring shonen-speak. Break is your typical loud-mouthed one-dimensional villain (ironic considering how much in this show is 3D), and female characters’ busts are a size too big and bouncy for my personal taste.

Hand Shakers is big on jargon (babel, ziggurat, nimrods) but small on telling us what the heck is going on and why. So far, the characters of Hand Shakers are being literally and figuratively out-shined by their environment. And like Lily’s reverse tower card, that’s not a good sign.

There were some nice isolated moments of music/animation/character synergy; that and the overall scope of the visuals are good enough for a 6, but—and I can’t believe I’m saying this about this show—I’m going to need a lot more.

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ACCA: 13-ku Kansatsu-ka – 01 (First Impressions)

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The Jist: From the creator of House of Five Leaves, the director of Space Dandy and One Punch Man, and Madhouse, ACCA follows the vice-chairman and second-in-command of ACCA’s Inspection Department Jean Otus, fulfilling one last audit before the department is shuttered.

However, Otus’ exposing of corruption in a district results in the shuttering being cancelled. Otus starts to feel like he’s being followed and watched, as he wonders if his department was really spared because trouble is on the horizon in otherwise-peaceful Dowa.

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Rejecting the notion that all police dramas must start with a bang and with thrilling action or the capturing of some devious members of the criminal classes, ACCA takes a far more leisurely, introspective, and detailed approach.

While some early scenes where ACCA officers talk to each other about the structure and purpose of their own organization (which is a little clunky), the episode rights itself by diving into the monotonous but not awful day-to-day existence of a glorified functionary who seems to be coasting.

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If this all feels somewhat boring, I think that’s kind of the point. There’s a distinct foreboding feeling lurking on the margins of otherwise mundane world of Dowa. Comments about the increasing number of fires and the fact the King of Dowa has just turned 99 adds to the looming dread.

Nice little details like Otus’ penchant for smoking cigarettes (a rare luxury in Dowa), the birdlike form of the country, and all the various organizations and ranks and their relationships with one another also kept me interested.

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But while trouble may loom (Otus’ discovery of black market corruption indicates there could be larger rot lurking in the depths of ACCA, and one of the org’s “Chief Five” mentions a possible coup d’etat), life nevertheless continues as normal, and that’s where ACCA really shines.

Otus and his colleagues spend a lot of time either in diners, bars and cafes, or opening up tasty treats at work (specifically, at or around 10). The building he lives in is managed by his sister, who wants him to get out of ACCA and join her in the family business.

All those little slice of life moments add up to a rich, lived-in experience, which makes up for the lack of exciting action. The visuals are nothing fancy, but get the job done, while the eclectic soundtrack is superb. If ACCA continues along this offbeat tack, it should secure a firm place on my Winter watchlist.

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