A couple weeks ago, I watched an ad on one of Greggo (the game show host)’s videos for an anime called “Shangri-La.” For some reason, this series intrigued me, though not for any obvious reasons. After all, the main concept of the show is right up a leftist’s alley: global warming has destroyed the world. And the main character is nothing to look at, no Ryoko from Tenchi Muyo or anything of the sort. But for whatever reason, I decided to buy it (it helps when the cost is under $20). And having watched it in its entirety, I can safely say it’s one of my favorite anime that I’ve ever seen.
The premise is simple enough: global warming and earthquakes have caused mass destruction, so the government of Japan has created a utopia named “Atlas” for those who win a lottery to enter. You’ve probably heard that same plotline in about 50 different forms of media before, so let me tell you that by the end of the series, not a bit of that matters for even a second. This series has so many twists and turns that by ep. 10, you can’t even remember how it started. Trust me when I tell you that the main plotline is nothing like the Hunger Games or any of the other dozen popular dystopia novels out there. The “Hunger Games” premise disguises something that is totally different.
The main character is a pink-haired girl named Kuniko Hojo, a spirited, energetic girl who wants to change the way the world works, but at the same time, doesn’t have the courage to take over “Metal Age,” which is the name of the group opposing Atlas. She is flanked by a cross-dresser named Momoko who is flamboyant and outrageous. Momoko’s fellow cross-dressing friend Miiko wins the Atlas Lottery and leaves Kuniko and Momoko in the land of Duomo, which is basically District 12.
And that’s pretty much as far as the “Hunger Games” parallels go. Because this series completely turns on its head, introducing tons of new characters that seemingly have nothing to do with each other. There’s Karin, the hacker who creates a computer program called Medusa which looks like a dragon. Karin’s sole purpose seems to be to make money, and she talks to her bear Pudding (or, rather, her bear talks to her). The entire world runs on a carbon economy, and Karin is a “neocarbonist” who takes advantage of nations’ rising carbon levels to make money. Her friends Klaris (“I love money! I hate poor”) and Zhang, who only appear as avatars, work with her to make enormous amounts of money (and also lose tons of money along the way).
The main villain is Ryoko Naruse. She’s a green-haired sultry woman who is head of Atlas and has all kinds of nefarious goals. Any more would spoil the series. Just know that she is a fantastic villain. She’ll have you hating her in no time. Or, perhaps, she’ll have you secretly rooting for her a la Light Yagami as event after event falls in her favor. Who says there can’t be a good female villain?
There’s also Mikuni, a little girl with one yellow eye and one blue eye, who speaks with the royal “we,” and who is just as mysterious as Ryoko. Again, I don’t want to spoil anything, so I’ll cut it short about her, but just know that this weird little girl who seems to be interrupting the actual action is really important to the series.
The series is a thrill ride from start to finish. It doesn’t suffer from any pacing issues. No, from the very start, there’s a purpose and reason for everything that happens. Nor is it rushed; it goes at exactly the right pace to end the series at 24 eps. The ending is super-satisfying, and as confusing as things get during the series, everything makes sense at the end. I just can’t spoil an iota or else your experience will be ruined.
My only regret about Shangri-La is that it isn’t popular; in fact, probably no one who reads this has ever seen it. It’s very Evangelion-esque in every regard, including that regard of, you know, being good. I feel a little embarrassed saying this, but in some ways Shangri-La is actually better than Evangelion. Obviously there is no Shangri-La without Evangelion, but I cannot think of any main character as likable as Kuniko.
With the DVD set at under $20 or streaming on Funimation for possibly less, what are you waiting for? Marathon this thing as fast as you can, and enter the Shangri-La!
Series rating (out of four stars): ****