Episode 3 of Shangri-la, “Layers of Heaven and Earth”, begins with a dream by Kuniko where she hears a woman saying that ATLAS has to be completed before some baby is born. This is a recurring dream, although it seems to have been absent during Kuniko’s stay at the rehabilitation center. When Kuniko wonders what the dream might mean, Nagiko offhandedly mentions that Kuniko’s true parents are at ATLAS. For such a monumental revelation for Kuniko, Nagiko irritatingly deflects her queries by simply stating that she’ll learn the truth in due time. But before Kuniko can interrogate her grandmother further, her friends arrive to drag her to the farewell party for Miko.
While Takehiko leads a heist against an ATLAS train, a farewell party is being held for Miko who is soon to be heading to ATLAS. Her dream is to reopen the “Tropical Fish”, which was a show bar that Miko and Momoko worked at in Roppongi before it was presumably swallowed up by the jungle. Sounds like the spread of jungle throughout Tokyo may have been started more recently than I thought, or maybe Miko and Momoko just age really slowly. Momoko cheers Miko’s dream by giving her the sign for the Tropical Fish, and as Miko departs for ATLAS, Takehiko shows up to give her a piece of meat, presumably obtained as part of the heist, as a parting gift for Miko, who does have an extraordinary fondness for food.
After Miko leaves, Metal Age starts distributing the rest of their gains from the train robbery, among them being boxes of Atlas Milk Chocolate. (Does ATLAS have to manufacture everything?) But this sparks a conflict among the townpeople between those who are grateful for the supplies that Metal Age procures and those that want Metal Age out of the town lest everyone is tainted as a terrorist. Kuniko also hears about the case of a baby who had died of a sickness that would have been easily treatable with medicine available in ATLAS. This has Kuniko wondering about things, but with the lack of information about ATLAS, Kuniko decides that she should actually see with her own eyes what kind of place ATLAS is.
Meanwhile, Karin is being spoiled by herself and has bought crates of Atlas Milk Chocolate just because she couldn’t think of anything else to spend money on: she may have an obsession with making money, but she obviously has no idea what she wants to do with it. In the background, Medusa is continuously asking for help, when Klaris calls in and complains about the carbon market being manipulated to her loss. Karin has no idea what Klaris is talking about, but she soon confirms Klaris’ complaint. It seems that Medusa’s insatiable hunger for hacking has made it go beyond the control of Karin and Medusa may be acting on its own on occasion. I think it’s going to get worse …
In ATLAS, we get to see the top administrator of ATLAS, Hiruko, who looks like an inactive girl or boy integrated with ATLAS itself. The ATLAS staff mentions that Hiruko apparently has detected the resonating knives from episode 1, although there has been no particular statements from Hiruko. It also seems that the ATLAS administration has no direct control over the “Sun” and the “Moon”, which is no surprise concerning Kuniko but unexpected for Mikuni, who happens to be living within ATLAS itself. Of course, it might just be an indication of how dysfunctional communication is between ATLAS divisions.
Back in Duomo, Takehiko has prepared fake identification with the help of the old men of Akiba, although Momoko mentions that they’re the sort that Kuniko has no need to meet. Even in the future, it seems that there is no love for the geeks and otaku of Akihabara … Kuniko, Momoko, and Takehiko infiltrate ATLAS disguised as construction workers. Momoko and Kuniko get a taste of what today’s Japanese subways must be like during the rush hour, and they also hear a nearby protest by the Nerima chapter of Metal Age.
Meanwhile, Miko is checking into ATLAS, but despite her wishes to have a place where she can reopen the Tropical Fish, she is directed elsewhere to the eleventh layer. Along with other women, Miko has been directed to the Moon Palace, the same place that Mikuni resides. It’s not a good start when Miko and the other women are deloused without warning, and it’s really bad when they start burning their personal possessions. Thanks to her birth gender, Miko proves how strong she is by knocking down the guards and trying to stop them from burning her mementos, especially those from the Tropical Fish, but she’s soon tranquilized.
When Miko regains consciousness, she hears a body breaking and a woman’s death gasp, and hears a woman mentioning that she was the last, although Miko doesn’t recognize what had just happened. When she opens her eyes, her makeup has been removed and she finds herself in the presence of Mikuni, who requests that Miko feed her medicine. This seems to be a test for selecting a new attendant to replace the one Mikuni killed in the previous episode, and all the other candidates so far have been killed. Miko has no idea the grave danger she is in, although this ignorance might in fact help her, and perhaps there’s the small possibility that her uniqueness would also help, as I do not believe that transgenders would be common even in the next century.
The infiltration by Kuniko, Momoko, and Takehiko goes well up to the point when they pass an automated security gate, where Momoko and Takehiko passes through with no problem. However, alarms are raised once Kuniko passes the checkpoint. The timing of the alarm suggests that something within Kuniko herself was scanned as anomalous (specifically, when Kuniko was scanned by a “MUSA TYPE63 IC-SCANNER”), although they don’t realize it and suspect a defect in the fake identification. Obviously, the three have nothing else to do but run.
Ryouko gives a shoot-to-kill order against the intruders, although I’m not sure if she would have done so if she knew Digma-2 was among them. As Kuniko, Momoko, and Takehiko head up to high places to evade the guards and end up in a high place, Kuniko notices how small Duomo seems to be compared to the open spaces within ATLAS. This seems to screw up her priorities a whole lot, where she freezes thinking about the open spaces in ATLAS that could accommodate so many people instead of worrying about the bullets being shot at her. At the same time, the entire structure of ATLAS starts shaking and the eyes of Hiruko open deep within the structure.
The obvious explanation for Kuniko’s screwy prioritization would be that she’s a naive and impulsive girl, but I suspect that there’s more to it. It might be due to some deep psychological mechanism embedded within Kuniko, and perhaps Kuniko is somehow connected to the ecosystem itself, the latter of which could explain why ATLAS suddenly started shaking. It might be too much of a jump that Kuniko is the mind of the ecosystem given only two cases where it seems that the Tokyo forest has responded to her emotional state, though. And as ATLAS shakes, Ryouko murmurs that they have to hurry, similar to the voice in the dream at the beginning of the episode.
As Momoko and Takehiko make their escape while carrying Kuniko, she can’t take her mind off of why they wouldn’t take everyone within ATLAS when there is so much space. And the episode ends with a different ending song, one that sounds sad. Another nice thing about this episode is that I didn’t see so much indecision on whether to spell ATLAS as ATLAS, ATRAS, or ATARAS …