It seems as though I'm bound to make more of these. Thankfully, they don't come up only when a series fails to impress.
Today's exploration of anime introductions features Shangri-La. A few of my personal preferences will exert their bias in this analysis. Overall, this episode was enjoyable and served its purpose effectively.
Excellent: The opening scene. It is raining, and we begin the story in a prison. A young female prisoner is being released, and as she is escorted from her cell toward the exit her fellow prisoners cheer her on. They fall quiet as she stops. The prisoner boldly announces, "Today is the day that I, Kuniko Hojo, am released!" and her peers cheer with gusto as the guards look nervously on the confident girl. Cue intro sequence.
One of the most important tasks that must be completed in the first episode of any television show is the introduction and fleshing out of the main character. This usually must happen immediately, and very quickly, as we rely upon this character as our window into the plot, the world, and the other characters. For many stories, the main character is the vital anchor who keeps the audience grounded and engaged.
This opening scene completes the lion's share of this task without any exposition and with great economy of time. The beaming, confident girl is contrasted against the rain and the dank prison. She commands the respect of the other prisoners, and even the begrudging respect of the guards. The question, "How did such a girl end up in prison anyway?" draws in the audience. It does its job, and ends the moment it's done.
Bad: There is a particular character design that I generally tend to despise and hate in anime. The only exception was an isolated case where it was explicitly used to point out how its stupidity. This is the "very overweight girl who nevertheless asserts they aren't and try to dress and act in a perversely extreme cute way in order to make up for the fact that they don't meet cultural standards of beauty" character.
That's a fairly loaded archetype that the majority of my readers will not be familiar with. For their benefit, here is a picture for reference purposes:
The problem with this character type isn't that they're unattractive or outright ugly, it's that they don't have much, if any, inner beauty to speak of. Their only purpose in almost all cases is to deny reality whenever anyone points out that they don't meet current cultural standards of beauty. There is nothing else to their existence except to deny the truth about themselves, cry about it, and perpetuate a rather vicious stereotype.
There is one of these characters in this series. Thankfully they don't appear but for a minute in this episode, but I know any further episodes I may watch will ultimately be tainted by the dread of encountering this atrocious mockery of an archetype.
Good: World building. Shangri-La follows the important principle of building a world through emergence rather than exposition. A narrator doesn't explain to us that melting icecaps flooded the world, we learn this slowly as the characters discuss the state of their barely-above-water home. We aren't subject to endless droning regarding the complex carbon cap-and-trade tax system that's was implemented globally decades ago when the crisis happened, we experience it through a shady backroom deal between a desperate government and a hacker/loan-shark.
This style of world building is effective not just because people generally prefer action over exposition, but also because it allows for simultaneous character development. We learn more about a world by watching the people in it as opposed to being lectured about it. As a result we can move more quickly toward the introduction of the plot, the intrigue, and the meat of a story.
Meh: Shangri-La still, however, may have tried to introduce too much at once. Several characters and their surrounding organizations could have had their introductions delayed until later episodes, even if elements in the first episode alluded to them. As an ironic counterpoint to the Book of Bantorra's failure to explain enough, Shangri-La may have tried to show too much.
Uncertain: The end of the episode throws two big mysteries at the audience, one which demands immediate resolution and the other which obviously is a thread for the greater plot. This type of double hook could work well, or it could only make the next episode confusing.
All in all it was far better than the Book of Bantorra, but due my personal grudge against that secondary character's archetype my personal enjoyment was diminished. If it wasn't for that character, I'd probably not hesitate to watch further. If the series was otherwise flawless, I possibly could overcome the issue and continue forward. At the moment, I'm content to let it sit idly as I move on to something else, like finishing Turn A Gundam or Vandread.