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Shangri-La Part 1 & Part 2 Anime DVD Review

11 min read

The future is green but not in the way that we’d hope.

What They Say:
In the distant future, earthquakes and the effects of global warming have splintered Japanese society. Some struggle hand-to-mouth in the jungle-tangled ruins of civilization. Some live comfortably within the closed-off city of Atlas. Others lurk online, anonymously hacking the global economy. As nature grows more violent and the divide between classes expands, one spirited girl, Kuniko, must face her destiny and lead her people into the utopia of Atlas.

The city’s ruthless government isn’t going to welcome them with open arms, but Kuniko won’t give up until the gates of Atlas are kicked open for good – even if it means discovering that the promised land she dreamed of is built upon a foundation of twisted secrets and lies.

The Review:
The audio presentation for this release is standard fare as we get the original Japanese language in stereo and the English mix gets the 5.1 upgrade. The series is one that has a good bit of action at times but the majority of it is dialogue based with some good variation to it that keeps it lively. The show in general keeps to just one or two characters talking at a time and mostly they tend to be center screen so it doesn’t have a lot of depth or directionality to it, but it does hit those moments along the way. The action is where it tends to shine a bit more with some good ambient and sound effects hit well and gives it a good feeling. The opening and closings do tend to be what stands out the most and the English mix bumps things up a bit in volume more than anything else. Dialogue is clean and clear throughout and we had no problems with dropouts or distortions during regular playback.

Originally airing in 2009, this TV series is presented in its original aspect ratio of 1.78:1 and is enhanced for anamorphic playback. The show is released across four discs in two sets with six episode per disc for the twenty-four episodes total. The series has a pretty good look to it as Gonzo works its style here with some clean looking character designs and plenty of detail in the backgrounds. The series isn’t one that’s heavily distinctive in a sense but it has a good look throughout with bright, solid colors and a lot of appealing greens to it with all the plant aspects. The backgrounds generally hold up well with only a small bit of noise throughout that’s fairly normal. The big action scenes stand out well while the dialogue scenes generally have a good feel to it. The series is not one that stands out overall but it has a consistently good look here.

This series is done with two separate releases and we’re looking at the limited edition for part one as well as the regular edition that’s released for part two. The first part limited edition is really nicely done as it gives us a focus all on Kuniko with illustrations done by Range Murata. The two main panels give us a different look of her where one is thoughtful and one is a bit more action oriented. It’s filled with lots of soft, natural colors that’s given a good splash of color with her hair color. The logo is a bit hard to read with its outline style done with a yellowish orange against beige, but it’s not a huge detriment.

Inside the box we get the standard size clear keepcase where we get a great shot of Mikuni with a dark slate of colors around her that gives it a very distinct and appealing feeling. The back cover is done similar with an upper half look at Mikuni against the temple style background. The bottom half uses the clean beige look with the logo done in gray as it breaks down the episodes by number and title for both discs in this set. The reverse side has artwork done in the same kind of layout where Mikuni is swapped out for Klaris.

The second part sadly isn’t done the same way since it’s sold separately. The front cover has a bright and outgoing image of Kuniko with a smile as she leaps into action against the blue sky. The back cover shows off a number of colorful shots from the show and gives us a brief rundown of things. The discs features are included and we get a solid if small technical grid. The reverse side is set up more like the first volume so you can reverse it and keep it in the same style. The left panel shows off the Kuniko character illustration while the right side has her with a pair of her friends from the surface. No show related inserts are included with this release.

The menu design for the release is pretty nicely done and in-theme overall as it uses the same layout across all the discs while changing the character artwork used for each disc. The background gives us that exterior look that has a nod towards Atlas in it while also having shades of the greenery. Mixing in some grays and oranges works better than I would have expected but it plays well against the various pieces of character artwork that’s used. The layout is clean and effective with navigation along the left smooth and effective. Submenus load quickly and language setup is easy as it defaults to English with sign/song subtitles.

The extras for this release are pretty good though the English language fans make out the best as there are a few commentary tracks here spread throughout the set for key episodes. In addition to having the cast/crew talk about the show, we also get the clean versions of the opening and closing sequences.

Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
Based on the two novel series by Eiichi Ikegami that came out in 2004 and 2005, Shangri-la is a twenty-four episode series that aired throughout 2009 from Studio Gonzo. Directed by Makoto Bessho, it was also given a simulcast airing from FUNimation before finally arriving here on DVD. Normally we’d review these two part releases separately, but as we watched the show there wasn’t a lot in a way to say about the first half and it turned into a show that needed to be talked about as a whole. I had missed the simulcast the first time around so this was a fresh viewing for me with a generally positive feel about what Gonzo typically gets involved in, though not everything.

The series takes place in the relative near future, some fifty years from now after the world made a dramatic change in order to deal with the climate change that hit. The world’s economy change in a significant way as well as it moved to a carbon tax approach which has lead to a lot of changes that are impressive with how quickly it’s all gone through this. For Japan, they’ve taken the radical approach, with a good loss of population, to letting the country go literally green as the plants are taking over to convert the carbon dioxide to oxygen in an attempt to regulate things and to keep their carbon level low.

But it’s also done something else radical by creating a massive citadel tower called Atlas which has a lot of spires out into the land. It’s here where, under the guidance of the Atlas Corpporation, they’ve spent the last fifty years bringing people into it slowly but surely as they make it sustainable and adapt to what’s going on. Of course, it’s not on track, has its own issues and is generally seen as the privileged land while those on the surface outside suffer under the ecological conditions such as the bombardment rain and the like. The country is pretty simple to understand and you can throw in the whole government angle as well which comes across as pretty ineffective.

What we’re introduced to with the show in terms of factions and characters does work well, but it takes more than half the series for it to really start to come together. The sides all have their motivations and plans,and the connections that come out are decent even if some are very clear from the get go. The driving catalyst for the show is Kuniko, a teenage girl who has just gotten out of two years of prison to return to the outside world on the surface. With the people in the are she lives in, she’s well known and popular as she’s considered a part of Metal Age, a terrorist group of sorts that fights against Atlas. She’s not a formal member, but her grandmother who runs it has lined her up as the next president of it for when she gets it into her head what must be done. Through Kuniko, we get a small and diverse cast of characters to deal with that come and go throughout it.

On the Atlas side, it’s a curious place as we get to know what’s going on there with those that run it. There’s the mysterious man who funded it in his youth that’s there now but has a hands off approach, instead letting a vicious young woman named Ryoko run it. She has a group of people that are utterly faithful to her that she abuses and treats like crap as her playthings. She also has a sort of guardianship over a pint sized young woman named Mikuni who serves as the opposite end of things within Atlas. She’s unable to go out in the sun, speaks in an old style form and is highly revered in a religious way. She has ties to something mystical that becomes increasingly important to the series as it goes on but just feels very surreal early on and similarly cruel to Ryoko, just in a more restrained way.

To complicate things further, especially as the main sides don’t interact much at all during the first half, we also have Karin, a young woman who prefers to be away from everyone who has mommy and daddy issues as she uses a special computer program called Medusa to manipulate the carbon markets to make money. Through her and a pair of cohorts that she knows virtually, they exploit loopholes and small countries to bleed them of money after manipulating the rates. It’s something we see a lot of early on and gives us a feel for how this side of the world works, but it’s not something that’s really handled clearly. It does fit in with the general idea well though, especially with the financial instruments learned about in the real world the last few years as you can imagine this occurring in this manner easily.

So how does all of this come together? Mostly through Kuniko as she attempts to figure out her place in the world, gets involved in a few fights and experiences the different factions that are out there. She and two others are being manipulated into one of them taking on the role of heir of Atlas that will change the nature of the world as there’s some huge, deep, mystical and mysterious event going on underneath Atlas. It does make for some interesting material in the third act of the series, but it’s also something that never comes across like it’s fully realized. It has that grand, epic feeling and the visuals for it are impressive, but it’s that kind of piece of the series that isn’t given the kind of explanations that I’d want out of it, even if the end results play out really well.

The show does have a pretty standard feel about it as it goes through things and everything comes into play, but it also stands out with some interesting and sometimes unwelcome elements. Kuniko often gets help from Momoko, a transgender woman who was a man and is something that we get every couple of Gonzo shows it seems. I’m certainly not against it and like the inclusion, but the character is solely defined by this even if she has other really good qualities. Every other sentence seems to have her referencing that she’s a tranny as she puts it, which is really grating. On the flip side, I like that the show plays with some coarse language along the way as everyone is fighting for their right to survive and know that there’s a lot at stake. No darn’s and phooey’s here. It’s filled with some strong cursing that isn’t regular but does stand out and is surprising not only at first but as it goes along since you don’t always expect it.

In Summary:
Shangri-La is a series that really surprised me in some ways because when watching releases that are done in two parts, there’s always a lot to talk about with each half so I review them that way. With this series, it felt like it wasn’t something that I could break down that way. A lot of things happen in the first half, but they really don’t make a lot of sense most of the time. When the larger contexts are drawn in the second half and events start to move forward, it does make a lot more sense. It’s filled with a lot of characters and they all have their quirks, but the reason for it is left unclear for much of it. They end up being problematic early on and can kill some of the momentum, but there’s a reason for it all in the long run. I really like the concept and some of the more technical aspects of it, but it has its flaws that I can see as really damaging for some viewers. It left me with more questions and wanting a better structure to it, and even a few more info dumps early on to help give some much needed background. There’s a lot of potential here and a lot to like, but it’s a flawed series in the end.

Japanese 2.0 Language, English 2.0 Language, English Subtitles, Clean Opening, Clean Closing, Commentary Tracks

Content Grade: B-
Audio Grade: B+
Video Grade: B+
Packaging Grade: B+
Menu Grade: B
Extras Grade: B+

Released By: FUNimation
Release Date: August 21st, 2012
MSRP: $64.98 (Part 1 LE) / $59.98 (Part 2)
Running Time: 300 Minutes Each
Video Encoding: 480i/p MPEG-2
Aspect Ratio: 1.78:1 Anamorphic Widescreen

Review Equipment:
Sony KDS-R70XBR2 70″ LCoS 1080P HDTV, Sony PlayStation3 Blu-ray player via HDMI set to 1080p, Onkyo TX-SR605 Receiver and Panasonic SB-TP20S Multi-Channel Speaker System With 100-Watt Subwoofer.

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