In Japan, the line between “artistic masterpiece” and “pandering otaku trash” is one pixel wide.
What They Say:
“Lo, Thou Art Assailed on All Sides”
Content: (please note that content portions of a review may contain spoilers)
I’ve finally accepted what Shangri-La Frontier is, and as a result, I’ve been able to appreciate what it has going for it quite a bit more. Once I embrace Sunraku’s investment in his unique quest and his drive for revenge, I can get into his headspace and find myself engaged with the world, which is the repeatedly stated point of the game-within-a-show. As I’ve said before, it makes me feel like I’m playing a game without actually putting all of the time and effort (and, for me, frustration) into the endeavor. Much of the early part of the episode is just another big monster fight, one that obviously can’t compare to the unique monster that set him on this path of redemption, but now that I know not to expect much more from it, the level of detail, clever strategizing, and slow-motion drama make it a compelling action sequence assisted by the continually strong production values.
A big focus of the episode is transforming Emul from a cute NPC mascot into Sunraku’s first actual party member and even partner. At some points the transformation even becomes literal, prompting Sunraku to provide some commentary on the nature of even the finest JRPGs always containing a bit of that anime-style fanservice. The nature of Emul is interesting for the same reason as Sunraku’s previous comment about the NPC AI in this game, because she’s depicted in this episode as the liveliest character of all, spouting philosophy and weaving absurdly complex tales about Sunraku’s journey to try to cover for him. At a certain point it seems like we’re meant to just forget about her background and view her as a normal character in the story – just as Sunraku notes the “game logic” allowing a giant monster to dive deep into a shallow swamp, we find ourselves up against some “anime logic” here. It would be very intriguing if they decided to explore how this AI is so complex and lifelike, but for now that doesn’t really seem to be the focus.
Probably the most significant development was hinted at in the previous episode. Sunraku is now taking the initiative to make Emul less conspicuous, resulting in the aforementioned transformation and also regularly leading to the gag that Sunraku’s half-naked curse-marked bird-man design will always be the most conspicuous thing around. But the moment that inspired that renewed caution, being seen talking to a Vorpal Bunny in town, was enough to make waves throughout the community. It’s difficult to believe that a game with this level of attention could drop this one unique scenario on this one new player and have all of the experienced veterans up in arms with mystery, but I suppose that’s “protagonist logic” for you. At any rate, it means that Sunraku has inadvertently and unknowingly become quite infamous from that quick screenshot that wasn’t even strictly allowed. This brings a lot more attention from various players which, as I mentioned last time, is a nice change of pace given his solo nature thus far. But of course, more critically, some of those players are also PKs, a few max-level even, who are willing to go to extreme measures to get the details out of him. This may still just be a game, but this is the first time that the stakes have felt quite this high for Sunraku.
After several episodes of very little character interaction, the addition of a major party member and actual human threats shakes up the dynamic of the series in a very welcome way. Ironically, the most substantial example we see in this episode is just another NPC, and a monster at that, but Emul quickly becomes so much more than that, breathing more life into her scenes than most of the actual humans have so far. How this AI functions would be an interesting side story to explore, but for now the introduction of other players with their eyes on Sunraku, especially the PKs, ramps up the tension a lot higher than they’ve been from simple monster battles and quest fulfillment.
Streamed By: Crunchyroll