These days, choosing a good anime to watch has become rather difficult. But after watching the trailer for Shangri-La Frontier, I found a few themes and characters that I really needed to know more about. Not only because it gave me Sword Art Online vibes but also because the animation was striking.
Shangri-La Frontier’s first episode introduces us to Rakuto Hizutome, a 2nd-year high schooler who loves to clear one type of game: crappy VR titles, or as the term is known in Japanese, “kusoge,” which refers to games that simply cannot hold up with the current standards. Think of it as the games you’ve wanted to give a very low score or one you absolutely regretted buying and wish you could still return.
Well, instead of avoiding these crappy games, he considers himself an avid hunter of those, and it did get a chuckle out of me because of the names that the animators had to come up with for the game spines for the games on his shelf. It looks like Hizutome is a physical collector. His character design differs slightly from the manga, but when compared to your typical gamer protagonist, I wouldn’t say his design stands out remarkably, but it isn’t too bad either.
While the anime does not specify the year it takes place, the scenario reminds me a lot of Sword Art Online because it tells that the era is where full-dive VR technology has become mainstream and display-based games are now considered “retro.” Despite this, the scenery and schools don’t exactly invoke that “sci-fi” vibe, which I’d say is because the real focus of the anime is more on the virtual world rather than the real one.
After he finally finishes a game that has become rather infamous among game collectors as the worst game ever, Hizutome begins his hunt ,looking for the next trashy game to play as his school enters summer vacation. It is there where the owner recommends that instead of going for another game from the garbage pile, he should try a new hit VR game called Shangri-La Frontier, which currently has over 30 million players and seldom any haters.
Perhaps the funniest part of the episode is when he decides to create his character, Sunraku. You’re immediately told that his play style consists of forgoing strong armor in favor of strong weapons, which does explain why he goes into the game pretty much half-naked, with the bird mask merely to hide his face. And well, he’s also not the type to stick around and enjoy a game’s story, given that he decides to hit the Skip Cutscene right on the Prologue, which almost looks like a Star Wars opening cinematic.
Now, here comes the key part. Shangri-La Frontier doesn’t portray the character as a weakling who struggles at the beginning, but rather, he is seen doing whatever he feels like. The voice acting is absolutely on point. While in this episode, we only really get to hear three characters at most, the cast comprises some big names such as Yuma Uchida, Yoko Hisaka, and even Seiichiro Yamashita. Honestly, I think Yuma Uchida did a really great job as Sunraku.
Furthermore, the entire episode animation was well done, and after comparing the scenes to the ones in the manga, Studio C2C managed to recreate the expressions well. The visual effects weren’t too overblown and overstimulating on the eyes. Still, they managed to present Hizutome’s excitement in what he calls a godly game, or “kami-ge” in Japanese. I particularly enjoyed the ending by CHiCO, who I’ve been a massive fan of since her collaboration works with HoneyWorks.
Shangri-La Frontier looks to be a promising anime series to follow, and I say this, especially for any Sword Art Online fans. From its quirky comedy to well-done animation, I must say I am interested to see where Sunraku’s journey takes him or how he will break the game.
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