Well, looks like I did have something to talk about…
Apparently quite a few of the new releases for the March-May season are starting now, namely a few of the series I decided I would check out but was on the fence on as to whether I would actually start following them or not. So, let’s talk about Shangri-la and Saki.
Both these series are Gonzo offerings, which may or may not decide your opinion on them depending on your opinion of the studio in general. I have no problem with Gonzo stuff, although this could be due to the fact that I haven’t watched many of their series’ or perhaps I have only watched their good ones. Blue Submarine No. 6 ranks as one of my favorite anime adaptations ever and I rather liked Bakuretsu Tenshi and Full Metal Panic. Strike Witches I was a bit dubious about but I watched it until the end anyway, although that was mostly for lulz and loli fanservice.
Geh, anyway, I wasn’t impressed at first by Shangri-la. The female lead seems to have no flaws beyond lacking a sense of duty and responsibility and she’s an all-around high energy girl that everyone in her hometown likes. She has a boomerang as a weapon that is able to carve the barrel off a tank’s main gun. She’s able to go where she wants and do as she pleases, and for some inexplicable reason this irritates me with regards to Shangri-la in particular. However, the tone is refreshingly light compared to what I thought it was going to be, considering the subject matter involved. This first episode didn’t get too preachy with regards to the environmental themes present throughout but on the other hand I love how Tokyo has turned into some kind of giant green forest and the Third World is still struggling with the consequences of industrialisation and the restrictions imposed by the global economy. Actually it takes the whole issue to its logical conclusion with the foreign minister of an unnamed Third World country turning to an outside agent to manipulate the so-called carbon market in its favour so that it can continue to grow economically without the burden of carbon emission taxes.
Some of the other characters, like our token heterochromic loli, seem pretty interesting. Some just frighten me. Momoko is like some kind of transsexual rapist or something. If it were possible to rape men I think s/he would come pretty close to the technical definition. The knife that looks like a tuning fork seems to be a fairly interesting plot device, I want to see what they do with that if nothing else.
Artwise, I can’t fault Gonzo, Shangri-la is pretty beautiful. Even the villains aren’t totally colourless and it’s easy to fall into that kind of trap. Having colourless, soulless villains works sometimes but I don’t think it would really look good in this anime. The outside natural environments aren’t too over the top with the green and there was one shot of the old outside world that sorta reminded me of Aeon Flux, with the wall separating the jungle from the city, except that this city isn’t so clean and shiny. Even the dark rooms have bits of colour in them, with all sorts of bright computer monitors, water tanks with exotic animals, things like that.
All of this does not change the fact that Kuniko irritates me, so I’m debating whether I will continue watching the series. Of course it’s only the first episode so everything I’ve said here could change in an instant depending on how the plot develops over the next couple of weeks. I’ll be watching it with more than a passing interest though.
Then we come to Saki. Why am I watching this series? It’s always interesting how anime can take something that seems rather ordinary and turn it into an over the top and in-depth drama story about love, loss, and the human condition. Something as simple as baking bread, writing in a notebook, or playing mahjong. This is where Saki comes in. It is, at its heart, a series about mahjong and I used to play a little so I figured it would be good for a few laughs. Admittedly I had a bit of trouble following the rules and terminology since I’m more used to playing with the Cantonese rules but it’s really interesting to see the amount of strategy and probability that can go into (artificially or not) the game. The art is as nice as one can expect and the side characters are reasonably likeable, but there’s one thing that’s holding me back from endorsing this series and swearing to follow it to the end.
Once again, it’s the main characters. Nodoka’s skill marks her out as the designated rival but my initial impression is that she doesn’t have much room to develop and I can’t imagine how her relationship with Saki will change her, if at all. Normally this would be okay but there’s the added problem of her being the fanservice character as well, and when a main character who doesn’t have any visible character development potential is also the main service target, disaster ensues. At least it’s only one character, unlike some of Gonzo’s other monstrosities. Then there’s Saki herself. I originally thought I’d be able to sympathise with her because I also really started to hate Mahjong after my family forced me to play it but as it became more and more obvious that this was not the case. No, I can’t sympathise with her at all, and with her phenomenal talent she has the potential to become just one of those characters who crushes people without effort, who would otherwise be considered very good. I didn’t mind it so much when I was younger but when I went back and watched Angelic Layer again it really bothered me how Misaki seemed to just destroy her opponents AND completely change their outlook on life. I don’t want that to happen. It’s a shame because I like Angelic Layer, I really do.
But I digress. It’s the same kind of principle, anyway, and I’m simply applying it here to indicate my worries for the future. Again this must be taken with the caveat that this is only the first episode, so future installments may prove to me that my doubts are completely unfounded. In fact, I would welcome it. Saki’s got an interesting premise but the first episode was plagued a bit by unnecessary fanservice and poorly executed yuri subtext. I’m more willing to give it a chance than Shangri-la anyway.