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Review of Shangri-La Frontier

I wasn’t really interested in this series at first because in my experience anime about videogames tend to be crap, but this one got quite the positive reception so I checked it out, out of curiosity, and surprisingly I found it to be fun and I enjoyed it.

Unlike other videogame anime this one doesn’t have endless exposition about how videogames work, partly because the protagonist doesn’t care about the lore of the game he plays, and partly because the director realized he could add all the information needed as quick short descriptions in or outside the HUD of the videogame for those who don’t play and don’t know the terminology of MMORPGs.

Since a big part of the second part it’s about a specific boss raid, it means that part of the buildup to that it’s showing the lore behind that boss, or train in order to defeat him, there is more exposition than in the first half unfortunately.

Same thing happens with the pacing, although there is no long term objective, thus it’s weird to say that the series was moving well in the first half, it was definitely faster and with more energy than the second half. But still, it makes sense when you consider that part of the second cour is the fight against a raid boss that can literally kill the characters in one hit, so they have to get around that somehow.

The show also lacks all the stuff that people that want a videogame anime don’t want to see in them, no slow moody bonding between sad people like in .hack//sign, no tons of plot points that overstuff and ruin the series like Good Night World, no pretentious and cringy sense of empowerment for playing fucking videogames like in Accel World, and no overpowered protagonists with an endless harem for a sense of a self-insert male power fantasy like, well…a lot of titles with a similar premise actually. And it’s also not an isekai or a semi isekai, thus it doesn’t feel like you are following a setting that should be natural and instead feels artificial. You know this is a videogame being played by real people, so you can adjust to the mechanics and simple lore and world building much easier.

Did I say world building? Yeah, there is some explanation behind the lore of some npcs, enemies and weapons, but because the characters don’t care much about it and don’t properly explore it, it feels short, simple and disjointed from everything else.

The show focuses on people having fun playing videogames, simple as that, and it looks like the author pays enough attention to actual mechanics and builds, since the protagonists goes full aggro focused on damage and agility with twin blades and masters parries, like the dude that solos her in Elden Ring that became a meme. I mean he even goes half naked with a short and something on his head and nothing else, like that player. Actually the whole thing feels like if From Software made a VRMMORPG, and now I kinda want to see that happening, but with their usual tone and aesthetics.

The power and level scaling feels mostly appropriate as well, since even though the main character is particularly good at videogames thanks to all his previous experience playing lots of them across different genres and implementing that knowledge and mechanics into the titular one, he still gets his ass killed easily by a secret boss that he found randomly, as it sometimes happens in videogames of this kind.

He also unlocks secret scenarios for the first time, and it’s cool to see how everyone else reacts to that in a way that feels plausible.

Oh, and I also have to mention how no one takes the game nowhere near as seriously as I have seen in other anime, so I never cringed with this title as I did with all of those other anime I mentioned earlier.

It’s not like everything about it it’s believable of course, such as the placing of the bosses and the amount of players that the game can support at the same time, among others that have been called out, but for the most part I can buy the way things in this series are presented and play out.

On top of that the series is pretty well animated, especially in its initial episodes. The character designs are typical both in and outside the videogame, but the artwork is often very good, the backgrounds are pretty great and so are the motions and special effects. The directing is quite good in portraying the parries and following every element and abilities or spells used during the fights, and even implementing the HUD and effects such as the parry confirms into them. Now that I mention that, perhaps there are some moments that deserve a seizure warning. There is some CGI but for now it’s well rendered and mixed with the rest of the visuals, even though it’ll inevitably look worse in some years. In the second half, some episodes looked and were overall worse than others, but overall it was a very well animated show.

As for the audio, the sound effects are loud, impactful and just very good as a whole, the voice acting is nothing special but properly done, and it’s funny how sometimes the seiyuus imitate the characters of others during some short lines. The soundtrack is composed mostly of electronic themes and although I’m not into that genre much, it fits the action scenes well, I otherwise prefer the more fantasy themes and the insert songs sung by the seiyuus. The openings are typical j-rock stuff and the endings are typical j-pop stuff, I liked some of them but they don’t deserve any special mention.

The thing about this show that prevents me from giving it anything more than an average score is exactly the same thing that can make it enjoyable for its target audience, there is no long term objective so what are you watching this show for? There are no antagonists besides some player killers that get disposed of quite easily and fast, there are no stakes whatsoever besides some in-game death penalty that hardly matters to these hardcore gamers anyways, and there is of course no ending.

And the characters are completely shallow, they barely have some presence and personality, and are otherwise given no immersion or characterization whatsoever beyond their play-style or short scenes of their everyday life, plus the girl that’s in love with the main character for superficial reasons acts like a creepy stalker half the time, even if it’s played as comedy.

The anime also has a comical mini segment after the ending and a similar issue that Megumi no Daigo has, the recaps at the beginning of every episode that takes away runtime from it and makes the pacing feel slower than it actually is. It’s not as bad as it is in that other series, but it’s still a problem, even more so because this series even had special recaps, outside the episode count, like that other show, were any of them even necessary? The plots in both series are extremely simple to begin with.

So those are my two cents about the show, well made in aesthetics and accessibility for its target audience or anyone else that just want to kill some time with something easy to watch, but also lacking in any actual content, substance or characterization to care for in it, which is what ultimately makes it a title that you watch casually and most likely forget about once it’s over.

Added by Fernando Leonel Alba
3 weeks ago on 1 April 2024 03:05