Kuniko is a spirited girl living in a world that has been turned upside down. After an environmental calamity all but decimates Japan, Kunkio struggles with the remnants of humanity to carve out an existence in the face of deadly reoccurring hailstorms and the strict control of carbon dioxide emissions. The Atlas Corporation, a military organization, is in the process of migrating survivors into a large bio-dome like structure, but a growing amount of civil unrest begins to form out of the perception that Atlas isn’t working hard or fast enough to migrate people. There are a large number of colorful players that Kuniko will interact with, both directly and indirectly, such as Metal Age, a scrappy resistance group and Atlas’ main antagonists, a band of good-natured but deadly transsexuals, an intelligent hacker named MEDUSA who wheels and deals fortunes using carbon dioxide commodities, a mysterious child priestess, and a sadistic, high ranking officer within the Atlas army.
For the first few episodes, Shangri-La seems to lack a solid direction. Ideas and potential plot points are introduced as quickly as they are wrapped up and moved out of the way for something different. Each time I came back to the show after stepping away, I would often find myself asking, “Wait, what’s going on again?” Additional confusion is caused by the motivations of MEDUSA and her hacker crew who play the CO2 markets to amass fabulous wealth. I felt like I needed to take notes on their activities because, as important as they appeared to be, it was hard for me to discern their roles in the world around them. It isn’t until about the halfway mark of the series that a central narrative takes form and is heralded by the horrible, anguished shrieking of a tortured seer who’s appearance always leads to me fumbling for the TV remote’s volume switch. There are a number of standout moments in the early parts of the story, such as Kuniko’s daring raid inside Atlas and the introduction of three elderly otakus in Akihabara.
Amorphous plot aside, Shangri-La’s biggest draw is the quality of the animation. While its not quite up there with some of Miyazaki’s recent offerings, it is, nonetheless, striking to behold. Because of the environmental upheaval, instead of the story being set in a typical “bombed back into the stone age” post-apocalyptic atmosphere, Japan finds itself being taken over by nature, as grass, weeds, and ivy slowly devour the broken remnants of homes, shopping centers, and office blocks. Despite my preference for bleak, harsh apocalyptic settings, Shangri-La is a welcome change of pace.
Shangri-La is a good enough series, just know that the story is very much a slow burn. While it does contains a fair share of violence, sexual connotations, and situations, none of them are so severe that teens from the 15-17 set will be disturbed by its content, especially if they have a long history with anime.
Shangri-La, part 1 and 2
directed by Makoto Bessho
600 minutes, Number of Discs: 4, Box set
Company Age Rating: 17+