HomeAnimeANIME REVIEW | Striving For Virtual Greatness in "Shangri-La Frontier"

ANIME REVIEW | Striving For Virtual Greatness in "Shangri-La Frontier"

ANIME REVIEW | Striving For Virtual Greatness in "Shangri-La Frontier"

In the last few years, virtual reality has evolved greatly. Granted, it still hasn’t reached the same level of immersive-ness that was promised in Sword Art Online (or maybe that’s a good thing?), but titles like Resident Evil 7: Biohazard and Arashi: Castles of Sin have demonstrated how VR has gotten better in a short amount of time. However, virtual reality isn’t immune to shitty games, something that I’ve unfortunately have experienced as a gaming journalist. But can playing awful VR titles prepare you for being a pro at great VR games? If Shangri-La Frontier is anything to go by, the answer is a resounding “yes”!

Shangri-La Frontier is an immersive open-world fantasy game, one that has over 30 million players worldwide. New to the game is Rakuro Hizutome (Yuma Uchida), better known in the online world as “Sunraku”. His experience with virtual games is mostly with trash titles, with his most recent play-through being the infamous Faeria Chronicle Online. (In fact, the game is so awful, that Sunraku proceeds to beat up the dimwitted princess sidekick throughout the title’s end credits!) It’s because of this game that Sunraku suffers from burnout, which is why he’s given the suggestion to play Shangri-La Frontier, a title with zero bugs and glitches.

Thanks to his trash game knowledge, playing Shangri-La Frontier is a breeze for Sunraku…at first. After creating a strange bird-headed character, Sunraku dives deep into the world and proceeds to slay every monster he comes across. However, after losing to the unique monster Lycagon Nightslayer, a permanent curse is placed onto Sunraku, one that makes him unable to equip armor on his legs and body. As such, he’s treated by other players and NPCs as something of a pervert, despite his trash game-leveled skills.

Yet even with such a burden on his character, Sunraku is having a blast with the game. Things turn slightly for the better when he finds the secret rabbit city of Rabituza, with the white rabbit Emul (Rina Hidaka) now joining his side in his quest to beat the game. But with a rare animal familiar now in his possession, a big target has been placed on Sunraku, with the likes of the infamous Arthur Pencilgon (Yoko Hikasa) demanding how he acquired Emul. Thankfully, another powerful player — Psyger-0 (Azumi Waki) — is in Sunraku’s corner, as she has a secret: she’s really his classmate Rei Saiga, and she’s been trying her best to confess her feelings to him.

A lot of Shangri-La Frontier is focused on the fun and challenges that Sunraku faces on his journey. Sometimes he’ll have some good downtime to chat with NPCs and get to know the world he’s immersed in. But the real entertaining parts of the anime come when Sunraku is thrown into various missions and campaigns. It’s here where the determination of our protagonist is on full display, as his time with trashy VR titles has helped make him a pro at this certain full dive.

Watching as Sunraku takes on the likes of Mud Digger showcases a bountiful of badass attacks and nail-biting tension. As his HP and MP lowers, the more intense Sunraku gets in-battle. It results in him thinking outside the box to defeat these unique monsters, sometimes with Emul offering a surprisingly good amount of aid. But when he’s forced to fight a countless amount of Packhounds, that’s when his more hilariously frustrated side comes out.

That angry side of Sunraku is what makes him a relatable character, especially for gamers. We’ve all experienced quests and missions that push us to the breaking point. (In fact, I’ve done my fair share of rage-quitting when a game reached an impossible-to-beat point.) However, overcoming those tough challenges can be euphoric, and Sunraku absolutely showcases that level of joy whenever he completes one tough quest after another.

There’s also the camaraderie aspect of Shangri-La Frontier. Bonding with other players and NPCs is key to many victories online, and seeing Sunraku find some common ground with Psyger-0 and — later on — Arthur Pencilgon sets in motion the bigger quests to take on. His respect for Emul is displayed with great admiration, going so far as to wanting to protect her from the game’s biggest threats. (After all, unlike actual players, NPCs have perma-death if they get snuffed.)

All of these factors result in an anime that’s a thrill to watch. Seeing Sunraku take on one quest after another, on top of what he has to do to succeed, would make anyone wish that a game like Shangri-La Frontier existed. (One is currently being made by Netmarble Nexus, although who’s to say how deep and immersive it’ll be compared to the source material!) It also helps that every frame of this anime looks simply gorgeous!

After last year’s successful adaptation of Reincarnated as a Sword, C2C has become the go-to animation studio for fantasy series. From the battles and scenery to the comedic expressions from Sunraku, every aspect of this anime is presented with flawless care and fluidity. There’s also a good balance of cute and freaky when it comes to the character design, be it the sweetness of Emul’s bunny form or the nightmare fuel that is Lycagon Nightslayer.

Although there’s a solid cast on display in Shangri-La Frontier, this is certainly Sunraku’s show. Uchida delivers a level of excitement in his portrayal. His battlecry, his complaints, and even his cool factor help in making him an Everyman that viewers can relate strongly to. By his side is Hidaka, who brings a good dose of adorableness as Emul that’s both cute and funny.

The trio of MONACA (Scorching Ping Pong Girls, Anne-Happy) present a foray of styles into the anime’s soundtrack. Sometimes you get an epic orchestral composition, and other times you’ll hear a song that feels like a Black Keys demo. But that mixture of genres helps to make this score one of the most memorable of the Fall 2023 season. While CHiCO’s end theme “Ace” is merely decent, opening theme “Broken Games” by FZMZ is — by contrast — one of the most rocking anisongs of the year.

Shangri-La Frontier is a blast to watch. It’s action-packed, funny, and simply beautiful in just about every frame. Sunraku’s adventures deliver one epic moment after another, and whether it results in something triumphant or funny rarely matters much. What matters most is the fun aspect, something that video games both in fiction and reality must always put as a top priority. Thankfully, in Shangri-La Frontier, fun is in abundance!

Voice Acting: (Japanese dub)
Final Grade (not an average):

Shangri-La Frontier can be viewed on Crunchyroll, and has been licensed by Crunchyroll. Episodes 1-11 were observed for review. Promotional consideration provided by Crunchyroll.

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The J-POP king of America, Evan has been bringing the hottest sounds of the Land of the Rising Sun to the English-speaking public since his college radio days. He's also an expert in the gaming, anime, & manga realms, never afraid to get critical when the times call for it. Born & bred in Boston, he achieved his biggest dream yet by making the big move to Tokyo, Japan in Summer 2023! For personal inquiries, contact Evan at evan@b3crew.com. For press/band inquiries, write to us at thebastards@bostonbastardbrigade.com. (Drawing by AFLM of Wicked Anime)