17 Nov 2013
It's no great secret that our previous reviews of Shangri-La, covering the Crunchyroll streamed episodes, garnered some of our worst review scores ever. I had feared I'd be spending an afternoon talking Andy down from a window ledge at one stage, but if you want to see incredulity captured in a review at its finest, start with his review here.
For those of you who'd like me to go through a quick synopsis, here we go: the world's economy is now based entirely on carbon-emissions as it seems that the global warming alarmists have comprehensively taken over the planet, and as such it's a complete bloody nightmare, with an elite few controlling the lives of a massively subjugated worldwide population. Governments who try to produce goods for consumption have to grovel and effectively hand over their economies to these eco-overlords, and as such neither side of the current global debate come out looking good. Drop into this the rebel group Metal Age, whose (admittedly vague) goals are to essentially defy a system that has already pretty comprehensively won. Talk about seconds after the nick of time eh?
Our heroine is a teenage girl, Kuniko, heir to the Metal Age leadership and fond proponent of dressing like a schoolgirl and fighting tanks with a giant boomerang. We first meet her as she walks out of jail having served 2 years. So that strategy seems not to have been overly successful in the past. Aided by a rag-tag group consisting of a manly man with a beard, two transsexuals and her granny, Kuniko is ready to buck the system once more. And if that sounds like a winning strategy to anyone, get yourself checked by a doctor...
Shangri-La starts strongly. It has a kick-ass opening by May'n, the mighty vocals of one Sheryl Nome of Macross Frontier fame. The opening animation is lush and exciting, and it kicks off in a girls prison where inmates throw their shirts into the air. Score!
However, a few episodes in, and things start to look a little ropey. You'll always get an extra point if your lead heroine has pink hair so far as I'm concerned, but that's where my leniency stops. I have to confess I wasn't really taken with much of Kuniko's supporting cast. While her transsexual guardian Momoko is initially the most vibrant character in the series, after several episodes of her endless double-entendre I found myself wishing she had kept her balls just so that I could kick them. This Carry On-esque humour is also massively at odds with the levels of sado-masochistic violence prevalent throughout the first half of the show. While it may help make the villains look evil, it also acts as a massive turn-off. I got the feeling that the director (a rather green Makato Bessho) was aiming for an Alan Rickman inspired level of intelligence and callousness, but the villains here just aren't even close to that level, and without the wry humour it's just a bit sick and hard to watch, especially Ryoko, a poor man's Cruella D'ville. Every single slave/lackey/public death seemed intent on ratcheting up the cruelty before skipping back to Kuniko's merry band laughing at another joke. It's jarring and frankly a bit tasteless.
That said, while presentation isn't always subtle, I genuinely laughed out loud when the "baddies' fortress" is revealed, complete with "dun dun duuuuuuun" music. It was so over-the-top cheesy that it left me grinning like an idiot.
The narrative is initially pretty scrappy, but that's really just down to the amount the writers try to cram in. As the plot progresses, I do start to see just why Andy was becoming so despondent. Metal Age seem somewhat aimless in their goals, and the journey becomes tedious quickly. However I did find the animation more tolerable than Andy, and the English voice cast do a fine job in bringing distinctive performances to the varied character roster.
So, is Shangri La for you? Well if it suffers from anything, it's that it gets lost in the sheer breadth of first-tier shows flooding the market right now. It's lively in spots, it has some humour and if you like genuinely evil sickos for your villains, Shangri-La won't disappoint on that front, but it's just too overly uninspired and too badly written to garner anything other than an average score, and in this market, that's no longer good enough.