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Shangri-la Eps. 04-12
Date 25 Jun 2009
While some series hit you with the quality of their animation, characterisation or story telling right from the off, others can take a little longer to warm up. I think it's fair to say that the opening three episodes of Shangri-La failed massively to impress us on any of those counts, especially given the potential of the show's concepts, but as we reach the half-way stage of the series has it given us any cause to reconsider our initial evaluation?
In a word, and at risk of making this the shortest anime review ever - No. After laying out so many seemingly disparate elements in those early episodes, Shangri-la continues to struggle to piece them together or progress them in any coherent or (more importantly) enjoyable manner. While the underlying major plot points of the series are finally beginning to come to the surface by the time we reach episode twelve, to be quite frank it's hard to care by that point after being dragged though some of the more ridiculous plots and characters to come out of an anime series in recent years.
Indeed, it's arguably the characters that Shangri-La employs that destroy both the credibility and enjoyment of the show, bringing us a line-up of characters that are frequently comical in their over-the-top and cliché-ridden behaviour. You have Lady Ryoko, a woman so evil that she takes over a prison for a few weeks dressed as a Nazi; Momoko, the transsexual who won't let you forget her sexuality by making it the topic of every conversation, joke or even fight in which she engages; Takehiko, a man so manly that he spends three entire episodes digging an entirely pointless tunnel using only a shovel; Sayako, an evil scientist with a fetish for pain... and so the list goes on. Indeed only Kuniko, the star of the show, manages to be anything approaching a likeable character, but even in her case the patchy writing and quality of scripting deaden any attempts to make her an interesting focus to the series.
This cast of laughable misfits really hurts the series most when it tries its hand at something a little more serious, trying as it does at times to be maudlin and tear-jerking but yet again failing by surrounding those moments with ridiculous scenes that only serve to detract from any emotion or feeling that may have been built up by the viewer.
Add to that yet more ropey animation which does little to accentuate Range Murata's character designs, and some occasional side characters that somehow manage to upstage even the regular cast in terms of being intensely irritating, and you have yourself a recipe for disaster. It's almost as though Shangri-la isn't sure what it wants to be (ironic for a series that employs a fair amount of gender confusion amongst its characters) and as a result it ends up as little more than a mess - An environmentally-based series that largely ignores talking about the environment, a comedy that isn't funny or a coming of age story where nobody grows up. Whatever the series is trying to do, there can be little doubt that it's failing spectacularly (even despite a slight trend of improvement in the last couple of episodes), and as a result should definitely be avoided like a football-sized hailstone.
Japanese audio, English subtitles - Available in Standard Definition and 480P streaming resolutions.
Perhaps the biggest pile of over-blown nonsense to hit our screens this year - Avoid at all costs.