Not long ago I had the opportunity to check out FUNimation's first release for Shangri-la. The show was on my hit list for a while and needless to say, if you read the review, it didn't exactly turn out the way I expected. It was a befuddled mess with a sloppy premise, quirky characters, and the story was crazy slow in its own development. Now the second and final half has arrived. Does the show redeem itself? Or does it wallow in all its flaws.
In case you missed the review for the first release, Shangri-la is an anime that tries to do a lot. It's a supernatural show with mystic elements, it's a post-apocalyptic setting with nature running its course and humanity struggling for survival, the economy is driven by CO2 emissions, and it's a utopian dream of a sorts with a massive powerful and thriving city being built above crumbling civilization. Oh, and there are trannies, school girls with pink hair and big boomerangs, and Akihabara has survived with all its otaku glory intact. Okay, maybe it doesn't sound like "that" much of a hot mess, but when you throw in the fact that it takes forever to get anything explained and to get from point a to b, it's a frustrating series to watch.
The show revolves around the adventures of Kuniko, who is referred to as the Sun in the supernatural side of the equation. Kuniko has recently been released from prison and finds her way back home to the quaint village of Duomo, which just so happens to be in the ruins of Tokyo. It's overrun with vegetation, some of it poisonous, and the people more or less have to scrape by with what they can. The nearby citadel of Atlas looms and casts an ominous shadow over Duomo and that doesn't sit well with its citizens, a group of which have broken off into a militant terrorist group known as Metal Age. Kuniko finds herself shoved squarely in the middle.
Her actions soon take the notice of powers that be in Atlas and slowly but surely she's edged ever closer to Atlas. Apparently her mother lives there and one of her transsexual friends wins a lottery and takes up residence there as well. It's in the outskirts of Atlas that events shape Kuniko's character and leadership abilities though. As the first half of the series progressed we got to see some development for her, though admittedly it was rather one-dimensional. The writers picked a direction for Kuniko and stuck with it. She's more or less the same from start to the mid-point though things happen to her and she reacts predictably to them.
Other Duomo characters such as Momoko, the tranny, and Takehiko, the rebellion leader, stepped forward to be major players in the development of the story. Atlas folks got in on the game as well with Mikuni of the Moon, Karin, an economy obsessed tech wiz, and Ryoko, the sadistic governess of Atlas. There's also a military guy known as the Land, Kunihito.
With so many characters to focus on, several get lost in the shuffle from episode to episode. It takes a long, and I mean LONG, time to iron out the details and figure out who's doing what and what their motives are. Much remains unclear until this second half, and that has been extraordinarily off-putting. It left the pacing a wreck and story development sporadic at best. If the first half of the show just focused on one or two characters with others branching around them in more minor rolls it wouldn't have been so bad. But with ten or so characters vying for the spotlight now and again the script simply can't keep up. That's unfortunately true even into the second half
The whole thing starts out with Metal Age launching an attack against Atlas. It was building to that in the previous set, and that climax hits the fan here. Kuniko gets involved with Mikuni and the two have some interesting revelations that are dropped on viewers at the very end of the show. Up to that point it's lots of fighting, hoopla involving Ryoko, and befuddled storytelling that just remains a hot mess. I'll be honest, the story lost me. It was disinteresting, drawn out, and ultimately didn't offer a payoff that was worth the investment of time. There's a definite end, which is a good thing (I'm looking at you Deadman Wonderland), but is the fact that the show ended something to be happy about?
Several interesting premises and some entertaining characters make the show "watchable" but it's not exactly a cream of the crop kind of anime. Throwing everything against the wall to see what sticks is never a good practice and it doesn't work here. Maybe the source material is better, and if you're a fan of that you may appreciate this series as a rental. Everyone else can move along and check out something else.
Shangri-la's second release is presented on DVD with a 1.78:1 anamorphic widescreen aspect ratio. As with the first DVD set, the second looks good, but not great. Colors are vibrant, animation is clean for the most part, and the show carries strong lines and a dynamic look thanks to Range Murata's designs. Few instances of grain and compression are present, but cross-coloration is minimal and I didn't spot any aliasing. Overall this is a decent looking show even if it won't knock your socks off.
Japanese 2.0 stereo and English 5.1 surround are the mixes that you get with this series. In both cases the audio is presented well and on par with expectations. There's never any drop out or distortion, presence on the soundstage is solid all around, and fidelity is good. The Japanese track is worth watching, but the English dub is actually the better of the two in terms of language, at least in my opinion.
The second release for Shangri-la includes clean animations, trailers, and more episode commentaries to round things out for those who picked up the first release.
I said in my review of the first half that I really wanted to like Shangri-la, and I still hold to that. The show has a lot of interesting aspects and a lot of fun characters, but it simply doesn't handle the workload well enough to balance everything out and make a cohesive final product. By the end most every question is revealed in a way, but it's ultimately not satisfying. It's the journey, not the destination that makes a trip worth taking. This journey is wrought with sidesteps and distractions and it takes far longer than it should to see fruition. Don't bother unless you're a fan of the source material. Even then I'd call it a rental.
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