Shangri-la 8: Rube Goldberg, not MacGuyver

by dm00


All the pieces are there, assembled by thumbs.

All the pieces are there, assembled by thumbs.


Update, one week later: This post starts out negative, as that was my first reaction to the episode.  Then as I thought about it more and more (as I wrote this post) I began to appreciate how the episode had been put together.  The end result was a complete reversal in my feelings, such that I think this episode is actually quite good.

I’ve tried to believe.  There’s been a lot that’s quite good about this overly-maligned series.  But really, this episode was almost bad enough to be worthy of the disappointing Allison and Lillia.

You can see that they’re trying.  The climax wasn’t a deus ex machina — we see all the bits of the machina being assembled, Macgyver-like, from things that have been introduced earlier in the series or in this episode, and it’s easy to see that something is going on.  There’s pleasure to be gained from seeing how all the clues we see will be put together.

Unfortunately, some of it requires prison-guards with an almost Imperial-Storm-Trooper-like inattention to detail, plus there’s a small coordination problem that is glossed over: how does solitarily-confined Kuniko communicate the plan she’d hatched, during her three-days of punishment, to her co-conspirators?

The creators of Shangri-la actually try to account for the problems.  We see the prisoners exploiting the corruption of some guards; the inmates stage a fight, creating a plausible cover-story that a potential weapon is to be used to get revenge against another prisoner; we see the components for the escape being assembled from parts we can understand — alchohol distilled from fermented orange juice, hydrogen generated by an alchohol-catalyzed reaction — the hydrogen was introduced in an earlier episode as fueling explosions used in the logging operations; we see a vital component tossed from Kuniko’s window and discovered lying in the dirt by one of the prisoners.  There are lots of significant looks and exchanges that only make sense once you see all the pieces put together. The only “luck” involved may be the timely arrival of the ice-shrapnel storm.  Even that is accounted for: Kuniko sighs that the “weather prediction was right, for once”, when it arrives.

I imagine this episode actually works in the novel (which is not something I expect is true of Allison and Lillia).

On screen it still adds up to being disappointingly unbelievable. What tries to be a plot built by MacGuyver feels like it was built by Rube Goldberg, instead.

Update: The one thing I will say in its favor: paradoxically, the more I think about it, the better it looks: the mis-direction worked on me as well as the prison-guards, I suppose.  It’s just that first impressions count for a lot (moreover, the escape is followed by a few happy coincidences that are poorly timed to win this viewer’s sympathy).  This series has shown signs of being very subtle and clever, this time I think it was too clever by half.

Update update: PSGels keeps the faith, I think with some justification.  As I said in comments there, it’s possible that, in the context of the entire series, this episode will come to seem less contrived than one’s original impression leads one to think.

14 Responses to “Shangri-la 8: Rube Goldberg, not MacGuyver”

  1. 1 zaeris May 26, 2009 at 6:30 pm

    “this episode was almost bad enough to be worthy of the disappointing Allison and Lillia.”

    Lol, A strong Guest of Wind or a Swiss watch deflecting a knife at point blank vs an elaborated escape plot that actually has well time execution. On the fun side the prison break has a little Lupin the III style added. Highlighting the great humour uses by many phantom thief seen in most anime.

    The only issue is the way people perceive shrangi-la as something more dark, serious and arguable righteous in its own with its environmental and economic front.

    The real star of this episode is in fact Tomoka who her played brilliantly as a solid friend, I could had used more Tomoka interaction couple with her monologue to heighten the tension of their current situation. While the escape require a little suspension of disbelief it is no way as terrible as having Mother Nature involved in tripping villains off the roof.

    ***Lastly I’ve tried to figure out What DM00 means, in hindsight with regards to another forum. While something obvious using characters in your initial and also a similar post from your archive on Carbon trading. Maybe something’s are better keep a mystery***

    • 2 dm00 May 26, 2009 at 9:27 pm

      “dm” was taken.

      And thanks for reminding us of Tomoka’s role.

      As you say, it’s tempting to take this series very seriously, but the creators have been playing a lot of games. Looking at the escape as something from a Lupin III movie isn’t a bad idea.

      • 3 zaeris May 26, 2009 at 10:14 pm

        I was thinking what are your other alias are on other anime forums. ^^, I spent time reading yoru background and following a few of your post thought it reminded me of someone else on other forum.

  2. 4 TJ May 26, 2009 at 8:01 pm

    Come on. Give in to the hate and join the droppers’ camp.

    • 5 TheBigN May 26, 2009 at 8:28 pm

      And that’s just being silly. Shangri-la is a fun watch. Don’t know what you we’re expecting though. 😛

      And I’m almost tempted to counterpoint the complaints for fun, even if they don’t make any sense.

  3. 6 dm00 May 26, 2009 at 8:46 pm

    Yes, TJ — there’s an awful lot that’s clever in this series (for discussion, see here, here, and here. And those posts don’t even go into the fun they had with Neo-Akihabara.

    This show has displayed enough subtle intelligence in the previous episodes that I’m willing to cut it a bit of slack here.

    And, as I think about this episode more, I see more of the things they did to put the episode together. Gosh, I’ve even managed to convince myself that the balloon wasn’t quite unbelievably small: the lifting power of hydrogen at standard temperature and pressure is about 1.1 grams per liter. Kuniko and her friend are about 100 kg — requiring only about 100,000 liters, or 3500 cubic feet. A nineteen-foot diameter sphere would lift the pair of them, plus a fair amount of soil clinging to the envelope.

    “Lupin escapes” is not a bad model — this show has been pretty playful, despite Ryouko’s campy Nazi cos-play and cold-blooded callousness.

  4. 7 psgels May 27, 2009 at 12:04 am

    Yeah, while this episode stretches the viewer’s suspense of disbelief quite a bit, I’m still a big fan of this series simply because the rest of the show is so good and clever and has such believable characters. Kuniko’s escape plans now too begin to make much more sense once you think about it, though we still don’t know how Kuniko managed to communicate her plans to the rest of the inmates, unless she knew that Momoko would be bringing her the nanowire and told them about it after her three-day detention was over.

    What I like about Gonzo is that even though they’re in serious money problems, they never stop taking risks with this series. You’d expect them to only make safe series from now on with lots of moe and fanservice (like Strike Witches and Saki), and yet they still come up with Shangri-la, which has many people hating it.

  5. 8 Shounen A May 29, 2009 at 3:30 am

    I was quite impressed how Kuniko managed to pull off her escape all the while being nonchalant about it. I was expecting Kuniko to pull off some superhuman physical feat, not a cunning escape plan.

    I still had one big disappointment with this episode, though: it precludes any possibility of a prison riot with chainsaw-wielding girls. 😉 😦 (I might have still clung to the hope that the girls survived if it weren’t for Shion’s reaction, which confirmed that the gunshots were not just more misdirection.)

  6. 9 npal June 1, 2009 at 1:52 pm

    Come on people,this series is fun BECAUSE Kuniko is SO epic and gar and all that, and BECAUSE there are all those disturbed chars, weird psychos and plain stupid guards. I mean, once you take all that away from Shangri-la, what’s left? Another ordinary, try-to-be-original-but-lol sci-fi show. Nah, I’d rather have uber Kuniko pwn everything 😛

    • 10 dm00 June 3, 2009 at 10:56 am

      Yes, the characters definitely add a lot to this series, but I think there’s even a bit of real “original” among all that “try-to-be-original-but-lol” — if only in the way they keep pulling head-fakes on the audience.

  7. 11 megumi123 June 5, 2009 at 4:37 pm

    Nice =) I like anime too ;P come and visit my blog if you want

  8. 13 Animepalm June 28, 2009 at 10:24 am

    Hmmm, I’ve seen previews of this Anime, and images on websites of it; but I’ve never actually looked into it. I will now, so thanks!

  1. 1 Shangri-la 8: Rube Goldberg, not MacGuyver | Trackback on May 26, 2009 at 3:47 pm

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