In the distant future, earthquakes and the effects of global warming have splintered Japanese society. Some struggle hand-to-mouth in the jungle-tangled ruins of civilization. Some live comfortably within the closed-off city of Atlas. Others lurk online, anonymously hacking the global economy. As nature grows more violent and the divide between classes expands, one spirited girl—Kuniko—must face her destiny and lead her people into the utopia of Atlas. The city's ruthless government isn't going to welcome them with open arms, but Kuniko won't give up until the gates of Atlas are kicked open for good—even if it means discovering that the promised land she dreamed of is built upon a foundation of twisted secrets and lies.
Everybody knows of at least one anime that, while being rather decent for the most part, is sorely let down by certain rudimentary failings which a little more planning could have easily resolved, and it's unfortunate that as anime has gradually become more commercially viable, this phenomenon steadily been increasing. It's a sad fact though that one of the main avoidable flaws is also one that a little common sense could fix.
A case in point is Shangri-La.
Adapted from the manga of the same name, which in turn is an adaptation of a series of science fiction light novels by Ikegami Eiichi, the anime version is
a reasonably good envisioning of the story. In what is effectively his first time directing a full series (movies notwithstanding), director Bessho Makoto has done a pretty decent job of bringing the series to life.
Set in the mid 21st century, the world has become a very strange place indeed as an international committee forcefully imposed a "carbon tax" on all the CO2 producing nations of the world in order to mitigate the effects of Global Warming. The financial and economic markets of the world altered greatly because of this change as more nations poured their money into the carbon markets in an effort to offset their current tax levies. Unfortunately, Japan suffered a major earthquake which destroyed most of it's infrastructure during this time, and to further compound matters, Japan's carbon tax rate was not lifted out of fear it would set a precedent, making Japan one of the poorest nations on earth.
However, a lifeline has been thrown to the ailing nation in the form of ATLAS, a project to rebuild Tokyo far above the ground, while the land itself is given over to the jungle.
The story begins with a young girl being released from a Japanese detention center, where she has been for two years. She is Hojo Kuniko, the "leader" of the anti-government group known as Metal Age, and her newfound freedom sparks a chain of events which will shake the world.
As far as the story goes, it can honestly be said that Shangri-La has almost everything anyone could possibly want, however this is also it's Achilles' Heel. The plot, which is generally paced quite well, has a tendency to go off the beaten track in an effort to justify events in the anime, and this is where the whole thing begins to unravel.
Quite simply, Shangri-La tries to cram far too much into 24 episodes. The rather lengthy introduction to the story earlier is an example of just how much content is in this anime, and while one can appreciate the effort that has gone into producing a viable screenplay, an experienced screenwriter like Onogi Hiroshi should really have known better than to try and put the whole story on screen. Likewise the director, having had some experience with the Ah! Megami-sama and Armitage: Dual Matrix movies, should have made the effort to keep things a little more simple.
As it is right now, Shangri-La isn't a bad series, however the numerous twists, turns, plots, counterplots, double crosses, extortions, blackmails, vendettas, factions, and characters who have a stake in the future of Japan, all serve to cloud the story proper, and confuse the viewer who may be left scratching at some new direction to which the show has suddenly veered. While the series does try to tie up the various loose ends and explain what has actually happened, there is simply too much to absorb in one go, and many people may find themselves stretching the series out just so they can absorb what has already happened (and maybe make sense of it).
For the most part the series is fairly well animated and the characters move nicely. However, whenever the show takes a turn towards action or combat, then the cracks begin to appear. The action sequences are decent enough in their own way, but there are numerous occasions when the characters somehow defy the laws of physics (Kuniko's spinning boomerang attack outside of ATLAS being a great example of this at work). One can only attribute this to a marked lack of attention to detail, or an attempt to make the show look "cooler" than it is. Whatever the case may be, Gonzo have let themselves down with Shangri-La as it is a long way from being their best work.
On the plus side though, the backgrounds and settings are failry well realised. Likewise, the characters are also reasonably well designed, although there is degree of naivety inherent in this, especially in the case of Kuniko, as while the characters appear as individuals facially, their clothes never really seem to change at all (except for Momoko).
To be honest, I was expecting somthing a little more in keeping with the theme and setting of the series given that the characters were designed by Range Murata (who also designed the characters for Last Exile and Blue Submarine No.6), but like everything in this show, this department is a bit of a mixed bag.
Musically the show is a bit hit and miss. The OP, a boppy little J-Pop track called "Kimi Shinitamo Koto Nakare" by May'n, has some extremely well choreographed visuals to go along with it. The ED is another J-Pop track, this time by Midori, called "Hajimari no Asa ni Hikari Are", and while it's a nice enough little ditty, it's not really memorable in any way. Both the OP and ED are decent enough tracks, but the series is let down by some poor and cliched thematic music. That's not to say that all of the mood music in the anime is bad, no, it's simply that the usage of certain tracks is a bit on the silly side. One example in the very first episode occurs when the viewer is shown ATLAS for the very first time - cue the dark and foreboding "Castle of Ultimate Despair" style music. It's this cliched music usage that really spoils certain parts of the series as the viewer is left in no doubt who the bad guys are.
Even if the show had tried to be a bit more ambiguous with their definitions of right and wrong (and oh how I wish they'd gone down that route), the music would have simply given the game away.
As far as the voice acting goes, it's pretty good on the whole. The cast are fairly talented, and are able to express a good degree of emotions, however there are several occasions where the drama is really "hammed up", which somewhat ruins the mood of the scene.
One of the biggest problems with Shangri-La is it's wealth of characters. The show has several leads and numerous supporting characters, which on paper would make for some great development if handled correctly. Unfortunately,the development of most of the characters is often haphazard, or stunted completely, and the reason for this is because the series attempts to justify everything. In simpler terms, the show tries to give every regular character a reason for their actions, thoughts, idealogies, feelings, etc, and because of this there is no real focus on the lead roles because the show simply runs out of time - which is why many people find the ending to be extremely rushed.
Shangri-La isn'ta bad series, and I would be lying if I said that I didn't enjoy it. The show has many interesting concepts to recommend it, but none of them are ever fully explored due to the attempt by the screenwriter to cram the entire novel series into 24 episodes. The sci-fi twist is coupled with a supernatural angle later in the story, and while this is not a bad thing, the show uses this as a justification for certain actions and events without ever fully explaining the link. The trade shenanigans in virtual carbon could have made for an OVA at the very least, as could life in the show's version of Akihabara.
Somewhere along the way the environmental message also went missing. Being ambitiousis all well and good, but it shouldn't be taken so far as to be a detriment to the series.
On the whole this series has much to criticise about, however don't be fooled into thinking it's godawful because of it's flaws. It's said that the whole is greater than the sum of it's parts, and Shangri-La is an example of this at work. Even with the numerous flaws I was extremely surprised to find that the story was pretty engaging, the characters were amiable and relatable, the settings were nice to look at, and the majority of the music was fairly easy on the ears. It's these positives that are the reason why the series is raised above the level of medicority, and while the plot may be a little garbled and far too convoluted and involved for it's own good, that doesn't mean that the premise or story are bad. It simply means that one has to work that little bit harder to figure out what's actually going on.
It's just unfortunate that, with so much potential inherent in the story, we didn't get to see the show as it should have been. Still, better luck next time, and hopefully Gonzo et al will learn from their mistakes.
I happened to have caught the first episode of this anime on it's air date and I stuck it through all the way to the end. I must say that I am very pleased as upon finishing this anime I am left with that "epic journey" feeling. Well lets get to it...
STORY 6/10 - It was interesting, but I suppose I wouldn't say that it's breathtakingly captivating. Sometimes there will be discussions about the worlds fictional economy and to the less sophisticated the dialogue might go in one ear and out the other. Towards the middle you might feel the plot
begins to go into tangents but it does eventually tie together. All in all, it had it's "awesome" moments and it's "touchy" moments, and as for the ending... it was good.
ART 8/10 - I'm personally not that nit-picky about this kind of stuff, but it looked good to me. Lots of awesome explosions, nice backgrounds, action scenes and the characters were drawn well (particularly the transsexuals who definitely looked like transsexuals)
SOUND 7/10 - I personally can't remember any of the background music and I don't think there were any notable inserts which says enough for itself. The SFX were up to date and what they should be, sounded great. I give it a 7 cause I enjoyed the opening and ending credits which to me can sometimes make or break an anime if it's borderline.
CHARACTER 8/10 - Main character is very like-able, cute but not drenched in "moe" which is a plus in my opinion. A lot of the other notable characters are cute little girls as well. What I found the most interesting was the presence of a couple transsexuals in the main cast that played a big role in the story. They fit their roles really well, ironically playing motherly roles with those touchy family like bonds as well as having their own sense of transsexual humor. They may be one of the more memorable assets to this anime.
ENJOYMENT 7/10 - Simply put, I enjoyed it : ). I wasn't tossing and turning in bed waiting for the new episodes to come out, but I didn't skip a beat to watch them when they did. I probably won't watch it again but I'm glad I watched it.
For those who haven't watched it I would give it 3-4 episodes before you decide you don't like it. If you like animes where the main character can seemingly do anything then you should check this one out.
So Shangri-La was a major financial failure for not just Gonzo, but the North American and French licencors as well. Long story short, it wasn't what they hoped. Viewers who hate Gonzo need no help in forming an opinion, those who have already seen the show as well; but what about new viewers who don’t know what to expect? So why was this series a failure? Not because of a lack of quality, actually. It delved into themes and issues that simply don’t grab people and presented it in a sometimes too subtle manner that will leave many viewers bored or unaware of what really
happened. It is a really good series though, if you’re the right viewer for it; and while this is true for most series this one is especially narrow in what “the right viewer” is.
To make it easy I’ll divide this in sections while also avoiding spoilers within the measure of the possible (You might still want to skip the next 3 paragraphs if you absolutely don’t want any hint at all as to what might be coming):
The series starts slowly in explaining its premise, setting the world and introducing the characters while building up their struggle. This part might be the reason a lot of people turned away and never returned. It deals with the economy in detail, introducing a world where a “Carbon Economy” spearheaded by the UN is now dominant. The various group in the series include hackers, governments and super corporations all using the net, schemes and economic and political manipulations to achieve their ends. The biggest problem is that while interesting and fascinating for some, unlike a show like say Death Note, they don’t explain anything as to what is happening and how and the series assumes most viewers are versed in economics. This can lead to the first 6 episodes sounding to most like a lot of babble and then someone wins for some reason which could unfortunately, but understandably, turn away a few heads.
The second part becomes more interesting: We see why this utopia is not all it seems, just how horrible its rulers are, how privileged their citizens are compared to the outsiders and why the rebellion is so justified. The series holds no punches either with its villains and their cruel acts. Utopia, a central theme, will be more thoroughly explored throughout this part and the next.
The third part (Second half of the series) obviously deals with the meat of the conflict. It’s going to be more action heavy for certain. It will also carry over more economics, some botany, hints of religious elements, political intrigue, and Supernatural/mythological elements. I’d like to say more, but spoilers are not something that makes a review helpful to new potential viewers.
The series will be meaty in its themes and in its more intellectual content as you’d guess. One such element, which will be surprising, is how in spite of being a series set in a sci-fi setting, it still has supernatural elements. We’re used to sci-fi series using science to try and explain otherwise supernatural elements right? Well this series mixes in the sci-fi elements right alongside strait up supernatural elements and magic, no scientific explanations. Whether or not that’s a good thing is up to you but I personally found it gave the series a unique vibe and worked for it.
The series can also be surprising in its concepts. It will throw stuff like juvenile detention centers run by Nazi with public executions, medieval carriages transporting a young priestess, who kills with her voice, in the middle of the highway. Transsexuals fighting with bullet stopping whips and their boobs. A boomerang throwing, rebel leader, school girl, with a metal slashing lipstick… But perhaps the most surprising is how those elements are, against all odds, presented seriously and realistically (Within the context of the series at least). You’d think this would be a wasted opportunity for comedy but they made the elements work so well it would have been wasted potential to actually make it comic relief. Very skillfully handled.
The action, visuals, scenery and other technical elements are all top notch as per Gonzo’s standards.
The characters are a mixed bag. The lead is more than a fit for the role, though her supporting cast is, while solid, not on the same level. You’re likely to take a liking to Karin who is an adorable but socially awkward, rich, hacker who likes to hide in a teddy bear suit and strong-arm international organisations and nations. The villains are well executed as well: The central antagonist is perfect for the role but her supporting cast suffers from the same problem as the lead (Solid but could have used more fleshing out at times). The Moon Priestess is adorable as well if not a little psychotic, though not due to malice. You’re unlikely to appreciate the Moon Priestess and her mother until the second half of the show, honestly.
That’s it! A pretty great series that offers everything from Moe, to action, to economics. Be certain the series is something you’ll like before trying it as it seems to be heavily hit or miss, more so than most series. I personally greatly enjoyed it, and I’m sure it will find its place with other viewers as well.
This anime was outstanding and a jewel of the genre.
It is as enjoyable as it is clever, as fun as it is sad in a sense, and kept me hooked from start to end. It gives the Code Geass sort of feeling, so it was not a shock that I enjoyed it.
The only negative sides I really saw were that they could have developed a few of the characters a little more. But I see an unfathomable amount of potential in this series if they were to extend it, giving it a chance to do as such.
The plot itself
was interesting and got complex at some times. But I like some complexity in plot lines, for it keeps the audience wondering, guessing, and wanting to know more. And this was the case with the beautifully drawn, beautifully enacted, and beautifully thought over Shangri-La.