Shangri-la is supposed to be an anime set in a future where global warming is a serious issue. Carbon emissions are controlled to a militant degree, and even Tokyo, a city that is a thriving metropolis today, is deliberately made into a forested area as part of the effort to control carbon dioxide in the atmosphere. The story revolves around a girl named Kuniko, who is part of a rebel group living in Tokyo that is fighting against the forestation effort.
At first glance, this story sounds like it’s so ridiculous that it cannot be anything but an incoherent mess. On the other hand, if they can tell the story in a way that actually make sense, it could be nothing but an awesome show. With this dichotomy, it would be nice if we can tell which case Shangri-la will be from the first episode, but it’s still not clear, although small things make me think it will be great in the end.
The first episode of Shangri-la, “Return of a Girl”, starts with the release of Houjou Kuniko from a girls’ rehabilitation center, i.e. prison, that is operated by ATLAS. She must have become quite the celebrity in the prison during her stay, as all the other girls are cheering her release. She was even on good terms with the prison staff, with one of the guards sort of wishing her luck as she leaves.
We already get hints of very advanced technology as Kuniko is restrained by cuffs based on some sort of energy field as she is escorted out of the prison, and there also seems to be very precise climate control as it is raining right inside the prison walls while the rain has stopped immediately beyond the walls. The reaction of the prison guard indicates that it’s not widely known how advanced climate control has progressed, although it might just be myself making a molehill out of nothing.
Back at her hometown of Duomo, Kuniko also seems to be quite popular with the general populace. Kuniko is also the natural successor for the leadership position in Metal Age, a resistance group which is against the draconian carbon control regime, although Kuniko herself is not interested in becoming the leader. For that matter, the general populace doesn’t think she would become the new leader of Metal Age, maybe because she seems to be too care-free to be tied down as a leader. Momoko, who is almost a mother to Kuniko, definitely prefers Kuniko to be unfettered and not feel pressured to become a leader.
The same sentiment is not shared by Kuniko’s grandmother Nagiko, however. She has a large collection of paper books that originate from the previous century and mentions that not all information is online, which suggests a great deal of centralized control of online networks. Interestingly, we see her looking at a book with what may be blueprints for ATLAS, which might come into play in the future. ATLAS seems to be both the name of the gigantic structure that overhangs Tokyo and the corporation that controls the structure. But Kuniko isn’t very interested in her grandmother’s lectures and discretely runs off. The way she jumps off the roofs and lands suggests her shoes is another piece of advanced technology. While not important, the prices in Duomo also caught my eye: there must have been very little inflation during the preceding century …
Meanwhile in ATLAS, Ryouko, a high-ranking if not the highest ranking member of ATLAS, has a harem of obedient pretty boys, with at least one boy adoring her, although I’m not sure if this is despite her poor treatment of the boy or because of it. For that matter, I’m not sure if she treats the other boys similarly. Ryouko asks for a status update on a “Digma-2”, which from the sounds of it is Kuniko, making it clear that Kuniko is in some way important to ATLAS and is under constant surveillance. Ryouko also asks for an update on a counterpart for Kuniko, with the metaphor being that Kuniko is the Sun and the counterpart is the Moon.
This counterpart is apparently a little girl called Mikuni who has eyes with different colors. We see her visiting the outside world while being escorted like royalty, although for all we know she is royalty. Her escort is headed by a woman named Sayoko, who is quite zealous about protecting Mikuni as we can see when she fires a cannon against an approaching car. Sayoko also seems to be quite powerful within ATLAS, as she quite casually demotes the ATLAS member who was driving the car. However, at this point Mikuni seems to be quite out of place in a story like Shangri-la, although this should change quickly enough. In any case, Sayoko mentions that they should hurry before the eclipse is over? (I don’t see the sky darkening, so maybe I misheard …)
Elsewhere, a head of a third world country is negotiating with a Karin Ishida, although the negotiations are not done face to face. In fact, the head of state does not even know what Karin looks like and has to basically talk to the face of a teddy bear. The carbon market is controlled by the ratio between the carbon dioxide emitted and absorbed, and with a high ratio of 2.48, the country in question has to pay that much more for their carbon emissions (for comparison, the ratio for Japan is 1.12). The country tried to compensate with cheap labor, but Ishida Finance can reduce the market ratio artificially for a lower cost, and once the contract is signed, the market ratio is reduced to a balanced 1.0 without any change in the actual carbon dioxide emissions.
What the head of state and Karin were talking about was clear enough, but the emotional response from the head of state really confuses me. He or his predecessors obviously have not cared much for rising sea levels and acidification of the oceans (and in this world, rising sea levels are presumably no longer a theoretical prediction but confirmed fact), but he feels like he’s sold his soul to the devil for getting a corporation to eliminate the money the country has to pay for its carbon dioxide emissions? A little guilt I could understand, but I don’t get how he seemed to be emotionally broken after the transaction.
As for Karin, I get the feeling that she has never had direct contact with another human. In any case, she seems to have plenty of practice talking to herself, using a teddy bear and ventriloquism to simulate talking to another person. Karin definitely has a thing for teddy bears, with her virtual avatar being a teddy bear, carrying a physical teddy bear, and even sitting in a chair that looks like a teddy bear. The Medusa, which is what Ishida Finance uses to influence the carbon market, is also interesting in that it seems to have a mind of its own, as we can see when it starts glowing red and asks for help. It’s unique, and I wonder if it implies anything about how carbon emissions are monitored in the world of Shangri-la. And who or what is Klaris?
Karin’s manipulations of the carbon market does not go unnoticed, and ATLAS detects an unexplained fluctuation which Ryouko wants an answer for. I’m not sure if she knows full well what happened, though, given the way she smiles (at least I think she was smiling). At this point a subordinate suggests that Metal Age may be responsible. It was probably an honest opinion, but it could also be part of another conspiracy going behind Ryouko’s back for all I know.
Meanwhile, Momoko tries to cheer Kuniko up and hopes that Kuniko does whatever she wants to do instead of feeling pressured into becoming the leader of Metal Age. It’s too bad that Kuniko’s cunning plan to stay in prison for two years didn’t work to negate Nagiko’s obsession to make her the leader of Metal Age … Momoko talks about how she (or should I say “he”?) watched over Kuniko since she was very little when she was smaller than even a finger. It could just be an exaggeration, but I have the feeling that Momoko was being literal, suggesting that Kuniko may have been born through artificial means. Their conversation is cut short when they see smoke coming out of the colorful chimneys in the center of the town, however.
It turns out that Takehiko was responsible, creating carbon dioxide emissions to celebrate Kuniko’s return. Obviously, one of the way Metal Age protests the carbon control regime is to burn stuff, and apparently they’re careful enough not to generate too much carbon dioxide lest it unduly affects the carbon market, although this time a tad bit too much was burned. This would be enough to attract the attention of the carbon police, but this time a response is provoked far too quickly. Of course, it’s not a response to the burning but rather the manipulations of the carbon market, something Metal Age is unrelated to and knows nothing about.
In fact, the response comes in the form of the military, not the carbon police. It is a special forces unit that is attached to ATLAS, and they fire a few shots into the town without warning, which makes the commanding officer Lieutenant Kusanagi pretty unhappy about an unprovoked attack against civilians and breach of protocol. He can’t do much about it, though, since an apparent businessman presumably from ATLAS is the one who is really in charge. With the military in town, Nagiko tries to give Kuniko an oddly shaped knife via Takehiko, which is the symbol for the Metal Age leader, but Kuniko refuses and goes out to face the military.
Kuniko makes quite a flashy appearance, jumping from building to building with her great shoes, although it’s cute how she responds when she has to admit that she isn’t the leader of Metal Age. The ensuing argument between Kuniko and Lieutenant Kusanagi is also cute, but it’s cut short when the suit has the soldiers start shooting at Kuniko. Incidentally, the suit is quite aware that Kuniko is “Digma-2”, so I don’t think he’s serious about hurting her. Kuniko appears to be much more than a normal human since she can actually see and react to bullets heading her way. Kuniko’s boomerang and Momoko’s whip also cut through guns and tanks like butter.
In contrast, the equipment for the military with their tanks and helicopters do not seem particularly advanced compared to today’s military equipment, which is odd especially for what is supposedly a special forces unit. The only thing different would be the body armor worn by the soldiers, which doesn’t appear to give them any more abilities than even Kuniko’s shoes gives Kuniko. Perhaps the body armor is effective in stopping bullets and can operate against chemical or biological threats, but I’m not sure they can do even that. Even so, I don’t think the military is really serious about killing Kuniko or Momoko given how they even give them time to put on lipstick, although they might not be able to do much even if they were serious.
Kuniko has a little trouble with her boomerang on the return, though. She stops the boomerang with her feet, and on one especially painful stop, Lieutenant Kusanagi nags her enough about surrendering that she throws the boomerang towards him with all her might. I don’t think she would have done that in a normal state, given how the boomerang cuts through metal like butter (or does it somehow magically blunt itself against flesh?), but it’s a moot point since Lieutenant Kusanagi pulls out an old knife and blocks the boomerang.
The knife looks similar to the one that Takehiko tried to hand to Kuniko, albeit much more worn down. And when Kuniko’s boomerang hits the knife, it starts resonating and emits a high-pitched sound. It also resonates with the Metal Age knife, and in fact, Mikuni also has a similar knife that starts resonating as well. Interestingly, each knife has distinct symbols: the Metal Age knife has a red circle, Mikuni’s knife has a dark crescent, and Lieutenant Kusanagi’s knife has a grey circle. Kuniko, Kusanagi, and Mikuni all have no idea what’s going on, although Kuniko thinks she’s heard the high-pitched sound before.
It is at this moment that a large number of objects starts falling from the sky and devastates the town. Not only that, but it also decimates the military force. It would have been cool if they were kinetic projectiles dropped from orbit, but they’re probably just kinetic projectiles shot from within the atmosphere, perhaps from ATLAS. A bigger question might be why the attack occurred when it did. Did the resonating knives provoke an automatic response? Was the attack going to happen anyway and the timing just a coincidence? The episode ends with this attack.
This first episode has mainly focused on introducing the characters and some of the background behind Shangri-la. But it was the small things that makes me consider the show to be promising. Hints of advanced technology that is used by a ragtag resistance group but not the military, Kuniko seemingly being much more than a normal human, hints of advanced climate control, etc. indicates that there is much more to Shangri-la than has been apparent so far. The attention to detail, if this is what it is, is also a hopeful sign for the overall plot. However, the lack of reaction to superhuman feats and emotional responses that don’t make sense are not a good sign: perhaps the promising signs are just in my mind, and they were all just to emphasize how cool certain characters are, which would be really, really bad.
I feel the need to make a bunch of speculations, the likely ones mixed with the completely baseless ones:
- Momoko is the real mastermind behind everything.
- Kuniko and Mikuni are experimental subjects that will act exactly as their creators intended until late in the series.
- Metal Age is only an apparent resistance group, having been created by the government or ATLAS from the start as a control mechanism.
- The carbon control regime may have started out of a real necessity, but now it is only used to maintain power since climate control has advanced enough to make it redundant.
- A conspiracy is brewing behind Ryouko’s back that intends to usurp control of ATLAS.
- Ryouko is pulling everyone’s strings, including Ishida Finance and Metal Age.
- Kuniko, Mikuni, and Karin were all created in the same place.
- Medusa is the actual global ecosystem that has become conscious.
- Mikuni is the head of the Japanese Imperial Family.
- Kuniko, Mikuni, and Kusanagi are descendants of the original three creators of ATLAS.