Everyone seems to hate this show. It died like a dog, both in Japan and abroad. Its sales figures are in the toilet. Every single one of its episodes came dead last in Anime News Network's polls of each week's new anime, which had never before been achieved. Obviously I was gagging to watch this legendarily bad thing, so perhaps it's inevitable that I was disappointed. I quite liked it. I thought it was fine, albeit open to accusations of being both underwritten and overblown.
It's based on a new and underwhelming twist on the anime cliche of "let's put a bland nice-guy protagonist in a situation of forced intimacy with a girl!" There are lots of these. Harem shows, magical girlfriends, parents who promised their children's hands in marriage years ago and never told them... the variants go on forever. Here our identikit protagonist (Tazuna) has to hold hands with a girl (Koyori). That's it. Sounds innocent, doesn't it? If they don't hold hands, she'll die. Now think about the implications. Admittedly the rules soon get relaxed, but there's a time during which they're together in the bath and even the toilet. This must sound seedy and distasteful, but surprisingly it's not. I think Tazuna and Koyori are too young to be thinking of getting frisky. (I'm unsure of their exact age, but they're significantly shorter than all the show's adults and I think they're attending middle school.)
In other words, hand-holding means what it says and no more. Tazuna and Koyori hold hands a lot. It's about going around together and learning to work as one. People take them for boyfriend and girlfriend a lot. The in-story reason for this is that there are people called Hand Shakers who work in pairs and have superpowers if they're holding hands. They fight other Hand Shakers. If you beat everyone else, God will grant your wish.
Allegedly. There's no proof.
I quite like this show, but it's not hard to take jabs at the writing. It's contrived. Contentious points include:
(a) Koyori will die if she ever stops being partnered with Tazuna. Why? It feels arbitrary. It feels like authorial fiat, imposed on the story for genre convenience and never satisfactorily justified, because you're not meant to be asking questions like that. It's just a plot contrivance to set up the show's format and the show otherwise pays it no attention. The fights aren't presented as life-or-death. You never get the sense that Koyori's life is at stake. Furthermore I think it breaks a dramatic choice in ep.11. "I don't want to be separated from her" is an appalling reason to risk someone's life.
(b) Similarly everyone in ep.2 accepts this very weird situation with no argument. The cast aren't questioning it either. Tazuna's embarrassing parents? They're all for it. Classmates at school? They make a comedy fuss for a minute or two, then seem to forget about it. However this can be handwaved (at least with the parents) if you assume that Professor Makihara's offscreen explanations were superhumanly convincing.
(c) God? Really? However you could also call this quite interesting, since it's such an extreme belief for everyone to be holding. They take it on faith. They have no proof, beyond the fact that they have superpowers.
(d) bland protagonists. Tazuna is a classical Nice Guy Hero with only one character trait, that he's mechanically minded. He likes fixing things. Beyond that, he might as well be a silhouette in the air. Meanwhile Koyori is mute and follows Tazuna around. (Until recently she'd been in a coma.) There's no conflict between them at all and they never argue, differ or need to compromise with each other. Koyori doesn't turn a hair even at sharing a bath with him.
This is so anti-dramatic that it's almost freaky. How can two people in that situation generate no conflict? Even when one of them's a mute doormat, there should have been endless material available from them discovering each other and helping Koyori come to terms with a post-coma world. It doesn't have to be artificial forced drama, i.e. arguments. There will always be things you didn't expect when you first start living with someone. Maybe the other person's trying too hard to be considerate and not telling you things because they don't yet have enough confidence, or else perhaps you hadn't realised that you had some slightly odd habits. We could have seen the moments where they did something together for the first time, or the tricks they came up with to cope with everyday activities that you or I don't have to think twice about.
Think of all the real people in your life, then imagine being handcuffed to them 24 hours a day. What are the chances of this going as smoothly as it does with Tazuna and Koyori? Answer: zero. We're not seeing any of this because the characterisation doesn't have level of detail. This anime is populated by generic types, not people.
That said, though, for me it worked. Tazuna and Koyori don't have much characterisation individually, but as a couple they're remarkable for the reasons I've just been talking about. They form a strong bond. What's more, the whole point of the anime is, I think, to show how building relationships can trump conflict. Tazuna and Koyori never fight among themselves, about anything, ever. In addition, they don't care about the ritual of Hand Shaker battles and will instead try to befriend their opponents. Meeting God? Pshaw. We can manage by ourselves, can't we? Instead they're just being nice to everyone and trying to help them, in a story that's explicitly about co-operation.
(e) empty fights. These don't mean much, because the prize is so arbitrary and because most of the fighters don't fundamentally want to be fighting. Again, though, I think that's the point.
(f) lots of boring stuff between relatively few fights. This is fair comment, but I liked the boring stuff. It's slow, yes. Not much happens. It's generally about us getting to know the next fighting couple before they're unmasked in battle. However I liked those people (except for Professor Makihara, who's slightly annoying in the wrong way) and I think all the befriending material is what the show's really about. Fight scenes are overrated. I'm a supporter of this show's ratio of violence to non-violence.
(g) ep.7, which is so shameless about a string of implausible coincidences that the show's clearly stopped taking itself seriously. "All the chefs broke their arms while practising secretly!" The episode's only saving grace is that it's being played light-heartedly, for the sake of making Tazuna and Koyori help out in a school festival.
(h) the sexuality. There's nothing happening between Tazuna and Koyori, of course, but there are at least two supporting couples who won't be going too well with most viewers. (I'm choosing to ignore the paedo possibilities of a third couple towards the end, because I don't want my brain to melt. Besides, they probably aren't like that anyway.) The abusive bondage jerk in ep.1 isn't particularly pleasant to watch, while there's going to be an incest couple later on. I'm pretty sure there's no bedroom action, but that doesn't necessarily make it all okay.
That's quite a lot of potential minus points, if you're looking for them.
Then, in addition, we have the visuals. It's been animated with lots of flashy CGI effects, which gave some viewers motion sickness and drove away my anime-watching colleague at work. The title sequence is particularly horrible. It's messy, it's doing too much too quickly and it's tiring to pay attention to. I usually skipped it. That said, though, I quite liked the show's visuals. They're bold. They're not always the most effective choice, but they're making a statement.
Lili's boobs look a bit silly, though. This isn't a fanservice show, but they do.
All that said, I liked it. I could probably have marathoned it. I enjoyed spending time with these characters, even if Chizuru and Hayate are a bit one-note and Professor Makihara is a bit of an insurance test. (Chizuru is Hayate's boss at work, but she looks as if she's eight years old. We've seen this before in other anime, but this height difference goes beyond "she's a bit small". Chizuru's a midget.) Lili and Masaru are quite sweet if you can overlook, um, that. I was cheering for Kodama and Hibiki. (Kodama's wannabe-intellectual quotes were annoying, but they eventually become a character point.) I like seeing the show explore the contrast between their desire to fight (or not) and their willingness to be supportive and let bygones be bygones.
I don't get it. I can see all the negatives, but I'm not being ironic or "so bad it's good" when I say I genuinely enjoyed this show. I disagree with the hatred. Obviously it helped that I had rock-bottom expectations, but I enjoyed following the story of Tazuna, Koyori and the friends we see them making. I'd watch a second season. (There's no chance in hell that it'll be made, though.)