Shangri-La Part Two (Episodes 13-24) (Cert 15)
2 Discs (Distributor: MVM) Running time: 284 minutes approx.
Without pausing for breath we leap right back into the action from the exact point we left it at the end of the first volume of this post-apocalyptic sci-fi fantasy adventure, with our heroine Kuniko Hojo and he transsexual guardian Momoko once again defying the tyranny of the Atlas government lead by the pernicious Ryoko Naruse.
Having previously accepted the mantle of president of the resistance group Metal Age, Kuniko leads an attack on Atlas, the prosperous utopian city for the rich which intends to wipe out the infected parts of Japan in which Kuniko and her people reside. Using internal connections Kuniko is able to secure the use of a stealth bomber from the now defunct Japanese Air Force for the attack, which is bolstered by a rebellion by construction workers in Atlas, who oppose the inhumane treatment of those still in Japan. This provides a handy distraction for Kuniko and Momoko’s raid but the ever ready Naruse has the technological advantage to assure the mission is thwarted. Kuniko manage to infiltrate the Diet (Japanese parliament) where she makes a shock discovery that opens the flood gates for more devastating truths that will change the entire complex of this dispute.
That pretty much covers the action of the first two episodes in this set and while going further would constitute spoiling the outcome, there is a slight caveat attached to that – ergo: everything that follows is utterly confusing!
One of the complaints levied against Shangri-La was how it had too many irons in the fire and these tangential subplots appeared upon first inspection to be mere incongruous distractions in order to make the plot seem deeper and more involved than it obviously was. The fact the show had a fairly credible environmental message to explore didn’t seem enough and the abundance of somewhat clichéd sci-fi elements were piled on top of this solid foundation to make for a potentially unstable tower. The revelation of this second volume is that these concerns were somewhat prophetic and the inevitability of these disparate facets coming together would prove catastrophic (and not just in a storyline sense) has sadly been realised.
In what makes for a night and day situation, the rebellion premise which had fuelled Metal Age’s conflict with Naruse is suddenly derailed by the appearance of a genetically modified plant called Daedalus that threatens to consume Japan, forcing Kuniko to destroy her own homeland to protect it from becoming a giant flowerbed. Meanwhile precocious stock market manipulator Karin somehow manages to turn her artificial intelligence mascot Medusa, a slug like creature that is able to scour the computer networks and create profitable deals for Karin, into some sort of sentient cyber being that can affect the weather. One minute Medusa is causing stock market crashes the next it is coursing through the oceans a creating snow storms. Or something silly like that, such is the incredulity of the turn of events.
Elsewhere royal shut-in Mikuni goes on the rampage when her loyal servant Miiko is sacrificed to be the next vessel for Hiruko, the Lord of Atlas, which sees her making a naive pact with Naruse who has plans for the diminutive royal. In fact, Naruse has a whole lot of plans, some of which we knew about, others which were seemingly made up on the day of production since they come out of leftfield. And twist? You want, we‘ve got them. Loads of them. As we crash headlong into the grand finale the skeletons are let out of the closet in rapid fashion and – I’m not making this up – almost every player in the conclusion is secretly related to someone else in the scenario. If not a parent then a brother or a sister or a distant cousin or clone or a genetic mutation and god knows what else, the reliance on deus ex Machina solutions goes into over drive and surely must have set a new world record in the process.
Studio Gonzo have a bad reputation amongst hardcore anime fans for their ability to create an intriguing series that sports some stunning, high quality animation and artwork, only to spray it up the wall with a convoluted conclusion that doesn’t reward the viewer’s investment prior to this. Sadly Shangri-La, for all its promise to break this trend, falls into this category with a huge splash, effectively justifying the lack of faith many have in Gonzo. It’s a shame because the show as a whole is quite entertaining and offers plenty of action to compliment the intriguing storylines. It possesses great energy and keeps things moving along with little distractions but a story is only truly successfully because of its ending and this is its downfall.
The fact that we have a story which, despite its faults, keeps the audience invested until the car crash conclusion spares this show from accusations of style of substance, this being one of the better looking shows of the year. If any lessons can be learned from this then “less is more” would be the main one. Up until the last two three episodes this show was firing on all cylinders and defying its derivative roots to be a potential sleeper hit of the year.
Perhaps it is just me who found the ending a confused mess. Maybe I missed something. Others out there might find it satisfactory and cogent; if so more power to you. If you have already invested in the first volume of Shangri-La then obviously you will need to pick this concluding volume up as well; just be wary of the corner the writers have painted themselves into prior to the last few episodes and take everything you see with a pinch of salt.
English Language 5.1 Surround
Episode 15 Commentary
Episode 23 Commentary
Textless Opening Song – “Kimi Shinitamou Koto Nakare”
Textless Closing Song – “Hajimari no Asa ni Hikari Are” (Version 2)
Textless Closing Song – “Tsuki ni Kakuseshi Chou no Yume” (Version2)
Ratings – ***
Man In Black