Shangri-La Part One (Episodes 1-12) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 284 minutes approx.
In the near future, the ravages of global warming meant a drastic drop in CO2 emissions leading to a carbon tax and the world’s economy now being traded largely around carbon. After a devastating earthquake rocked Japan the carbon tax remained in place turning Japan into a poor country and Tokyo into a “jungle-polis” to absorb all the carbon. The government then built a safer environment in the city of Atlas which only has a capacity of 3.5 million people thus only the rich and those who win an Atlas lottery are allowed to live there while the poor remain living hand to mouth under meagre conditions. Fighting this oppressive system is the Duomo based resistance group Metal Age, fronted by de facto leader, feisty teen Kuniko Hojo, who aims to establish equality for all and a gateway into Atlas. However, once inside the closed off Metropolis, ruled with an iron fist by the tyrannical Ryoko Naruse, Kuniko discovers the sinister truth behind this utopia.
Just when you though that every possible storyline set in a futuristic Japan had been covered, along comes Shangri-La to show us there is life in the old dog yet – or perhaps more cynically, to have us poor anime fans splash out on a tired old concept with a new coat of paint. Initially a 2004 light novel by Eiichi Ikegami, it became a manga in 2008 before Gonzo were given the green light to bring this pseudo-sci-fi yarn to life. Despite the familiarity of certain principle elements Shangri-La has a lot of ideas to keep these moving – perhaps maybe too many ideas.
We meet Kuniko as she is released from an all female detention centre where she is picked up by her comrades in arms, burly man mountain Takehito, flamboyant transsexual (and proud of it) Momoko and younger transsexual Miiko. For reasons as yet unknown, Naruse has Kuniko’s movements monitored. A white skinned, sharp featured and outwardly cruel woman, Naruse treats everyone with contempt, even her loyal servants, she orders military attacks on Duomo on a whim forcing Metal Age to spring to the defence of the people, with Kuniko’s weapon of choice being her boomerang. Later in this first volume Naruse somehow takes over the detention centre Kuniko was in and imprisons her for a second time (largely for no real reason) then becomes Prime Minister of Japan! How and why this happens is never explained but it is indicative of the rushed storytelling of this series.
Elsewhere a number of other threads are introduced which for the moment have little interaction with each other outside of tenuous contrivances. First there is Karin, a young shut-in who talks only to her teddy bear while manipulating the world’s stock markets via her impressive computer system. Aside from a brief meeting with Kuniko in Akihabara there is, at the moment, little clue as to how relevant to the plot Karin is. Equally dancing around the periphery is the sub plot featuring a young girl of Atlas aristocratic stock named Mikuni who suffers from a rare affliction that prevents her from being exposed to sunlight. She wears an earring identical to one that Momoko wears while her newest nanny is Miiko, who won an Atlas Lottery. Another seemingly incongruent distraction is the thread featuring an Atlas soldier named Kunihito Kusanagi, who abhors the violent orders of Naruse and tries to use more peaceful methods to resolve issues.
That is a lot to take in and so far, these twelve episodes are jam packed with more material than an average series covers in twice that number. With twelve more chapters to go, it will be interesting to see if it all comes together but with so many balls being juggled at once, there is a fear that some will drop the floor with a great thud, never to be seen again. As much as this ensures the viewer is invested in the plot this undermines the importance of the environmental themes introduced so heavily in the opening episodes. Whether this is something diluted in transition from novel to anime this writer cannot say with any authority, but it certainly comes across as a missed opportunity.
But here is the anomaly – Shangri-La is very entertaining! It shouldn’t be but director Makoto Bessho and screenwriter Hiroshi Ōnogi have given us something that manages to deliver a show that is guaranteed tickle at least one fancy of anime fans. As ever, it is often that intangible quality that wins the audience over and keeps then engaged as much as it is the writing, characters and presentation yet somehow this show does all that despite being a cluster of ideas. It certainly helps that this is one of the better looking shows seen recently with highly detailed backgrounds and smooth animation, while the character designs are a little too obvious representations of the personas they are assigned to.
Kuniko is actually a well developed character so far, proving to be funny, charming, determined and likeable lead with guts and strong moral fortitude to match without laying it on too thick. Momoko – and to a lesser extent Miiko – will be contentious for some merely for their presence, which is frankly a huge disservice, especially for Momoko who as a key player – if you excuse the contradictory pun – has more balls than more heroes in anime! That said, they speak with male voices despite their feminine appearances just to get the message home to the viewers. Perhaps a bold and progressive move to feature such cast members but of course there are moments in which they, mostly Momoko, are the butt of jokes and crude comments.
I wish I could put my finger on it but, despite its faults, Shangri-La is an unexpected blast of show so far. However the crucial test is to come in the second volume and how they bring all the disparate threads together – if they can.
English Language 5.1 Surround
Episode 1 Commentary
Episode 10 Commentary
Textless Opening Song – “Kimi Shinitamou Koto Nakare”
Textless Closing Song – “Hajimari no Asa ni Hikari Are” (Version 1)
Textless Closing Song – “Tsuki ni Kakuseshi Chou no Yume” (Version1)
Promotional Video for “Magical Gina The Akiba Fairy”
Ratings – ***
Man In Black