What would you get when you let girls and mentally unstable women run the country in a post-apocalyptic world? The answer is simple: a brilliant premise for a sci-fi anime!
Shangri-La set in a very pretty looking post-apocalyptic world (with focus on post-apocalyptic Japan in which Tokyo has been consumed by the forest). Carbon emission was a new currency and Japan was on the brink of bankruptcy. The story revolved around ‘Atlas’, a gigantic building complex intended to be the home of the suffering people but instead creating different social classes and ultimately leading to conflicts between the people outside and inside of Atlas.
The world in Shangri-La was exceptionally intriguing. It was a strange mixture of political struggles, economical crisis, potential civil wars, out-of-this-world environments and clash between modern technology and ancient magic. As if all those were not exciting enough, the main cast of this show purely consisted of female characters. All the key players were female ranging from kindergarten to elementary school to high school age (not to mention a few transsexuals). If only all these interesting elements were put to good use, Shangri-La would have been an instant classic.
Shangri-La was the anime which had lots of awesome ideas to offer but did not handle them very well. Sometimes I felt that the show tried to do everything, be everything and include everything into itself that the show become a little too messy. It was like a cupboard full of poorly organized pretty things. Earlier part of the series was spent on the Metal-Age’s rebellion against the tyranny Atlas government. The story then moved on to focus on the founding of Atlas which involved some kind of dark magic and its three successors. The middle part of the show turned to focus on environmental subject about the spreading of Daedalus which could destroy the world’s ecology. In the final part, the protagonists must save the world from carbon economic collapse caused by rebellious AI called ‘MEDUSA’ and thus, the focus of the anime changed to the dark side of man-made artificial intelligence. The last few episodes tried to wrap everything up hastily. But since there were so many subplots that needed conclusion, the ending was far from satisfactory and it failed to build up the suspense.
As I have mentioned, the characters in Shangri-La were mostly female (or nearly female, in certain cases). They were generally colorful in terms of appearance, context and position. But when I gave them more thorough thoughts, I found that they were not as innovative or unique as they initially appeared. Kuniko was your generic leading girl; young, pretty, smart and very energetic. Momoko was your typical mother-figure or guardian angel for the leading girl. Kunihito was also a stereotypical male protagonist in anime which had a girl as a main character; he was kind but was generally good for nothing except being a good person. Karin was the representative of the naughty younger sister for Kuniko. And Mikuni…well, she was the mysterious magical girl who often appeared in sci-fi/fantasy anime just to make things more mysterious. To say it simply, these characters looked interesting but they were actually not.
The only saving grace for Shangri-La was undoubtedly the production. What can I say, it was big and beautiful and nearly flawless. I especially admired the portrayal of the futuristic world in this anime; from the retro-looking Duomo to the fancy deep forest and the super-high technological mega-structure of Atlas. Wide screen shots were extensively used to showcase the enormous fantasy world of Shangri-La The animation were consistently fluid and full of life. Such fantastic production really kept me interested for many episodes.
Conclusion: Shangri-La looked absolutely beautiful. The anime boasted intriguing and ambitious sci-fi concepts. But it failed to build on that great concept and ended up as just another pretty-looking mediocre show. Throughout the 24 episodes, I felt that the anime was always on the verge of getting into something interesting but it didn’t. I was hurt quite badly.
Genre: sci-fi, fantasy
Released date: April 6, 2009 – September 14, 2009
Director: Makoto Bessho
Animated by: Gonzo