Shakugan no Shana

September 25, 2008 at 5:54 pm | Posted in Anime | Leave a comment
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(Seasons 1 and 2 covered, movie mentioned)

Shakugan no Shana (lit. Shana of the Burning Eyes) is a drama/comedy/romance series set in the fictional Misaki city. Its title character, Shana, is a “Flame Haze”, basically one who gave up his or her humanity to hunt for the beings known as Guze no Tomogara, creatures from other demensions that hide in our world to devour humans, which potentially disrupts the balance of the world. As a counter, Flame Haze replace those devoured by “Torches”, a slowly fading being taking the form of the assigned human and gaining the thoughts and emotions attained from its remains. Each Flame Haze has within itself a King of Guze, a powerful being that both advises and manifests its powers in the Flame Haze. Shana’s companion is Alastor, the Flame of Heaven, and thus she is generally known to other Flame Hazes and Tomogara as the Flaming-Haired Burning-Eyed Hunter.

She comes to Misaki City and investigates the mass abundance of Torches, and there she encounters the school boy Sakai Yuji, who turns out to be a torch. However, Yuji is not simply a Torch, but a Mystes, a Torch that contains a special treasure called a Hougu. She tells Yuji of his situation because of her irritation at his questioning, but surprisingly to her he takes it without the fear that many Torches that learn of their fate usually have. Annoyed at her reference to him as “just a Torch” and to herself as “just a Flame Haze, Yuji names her “Shana”, from the name of her sword, Nietono no Shana. Since that day, the once nameless Flaming-Haired Burning-Eyed Hunter, the Flame Haze of the Flame of Heaven became Shana, and her stay at Misaki City originally to fight Tomogara brings her to doubt herself as a Flame Haze as her view of Yuji becomes more than “just a Torch”.

Shakugan no Shana (Season 1)

Story:

Shakugan no Shana begins with Sakai Yuji’s first day of high school. His first day of school goes well, and he stops by a store on the way home, where he runs into his classmate, Hirai Yukari. As the two part ways, the scene turns dark, and the world around Yuji unexpectedly freezes in time. In front of him, two monsters (Rinne, servants of the Tomogara) appear and begin to devour the frozen humans. Realizing that Yuji was “special”, the Rinne begin to attack him as well, but a flaming sword cuts through them, and holding it is a red haired girl with fiery eyes. At that moment, Sakai Yuji’s normal life as an average student ended, and his life as a Mystes began.

After the incident, he follows the girl around, hoping to get answers to what just happened. Annoyed, the girl answers everything and the details shock Yuji. He learns that he is a Torch, fated to disappear from the world and nobody will remember him. The girl leaves him, and the next day Yuji realizes that Hirai is a Torch as well, and she only has no more than a day to leave. Struggling to keep her frail being alive, he takes her to have fun with him and his friend, Ike, who the original Yukari had a crush on. However, this proves fruitless, and she disappears before his eyes. The girl that saved him the other day tells him that she (and Yuji) are nothing but Torches, and when asked who she was, she tells him she is nothing but just a Flame Haze. Angered at her pessimism, Yuji asks her name. Startled, she replies that she doesn’t have a name and tells Yuji she is simply the Flaming-Haired Burning Eyed Hunter of the Nietono no Shana. Determined, Yuji names her Shana, after her sword, and the two part ways, the girl confounded with anger at this sudden move.

Shana and her contractor, Alastor, decide to follow Yuji around, and she even takes the existence of Hirai Yukari as her own in order to keep an eye on him in school. Nevertheless, Yuji continues to refer to her as Shana, much to her despise. Gradually, the two become unexpectedly attached, and despite Shana’s stubborn “hatred” of Yuji, she continues to be confused about why she chooses to stay with him, considering that he is simply a Torch that will burn out and cease to exist.

Later, it is learned that the Hougu within Yuji is known as Reiji Maigo, which replenishes his power of existence (as the name suggests, the power to keep a being existent in the world) every night at midnight. Shana chooses to stay and protect Yuji, forming an alliance between a Torch and a Flame Haze that not even Alastor expected to last.

Thoughts: The general plot seemed very generic, and really amounted to nothing more than a really cool chick with a sword hunting monsters to me. However, what makes Shakugan no Shana strong is its surface value: its development and execution always seemed to exceed expectations. Also, the elaboration on the story’s background regarding the Flame Haze and Torches was a nice touch to an otherwise bland plotline.

Story – 6.5/10

Characters:

Sakai Yuji is the primary narrator and male lead character of the series. Despite his rather ominous situation and otherwise average image, he takes being a Torch rather bravely, and doesn’t complain much. He’s probably the most likeable character for me, as he’s pretty straightfoward, and has a simple grasp on everything that none of the other characters seem to have.

Shana the Flame Haze is the title character and female lead of the series. She generally has a very hostile attitude to most of the others, including Yuji. However, over the course of the season her expression at times change to a more gentle look, especially when talking to Yuji. Her internal struggle between her love for and friendship with Yuji and her duty as a Flame Haze is nothing that hasn’t been seen before, but its executions brings the very important romance and drama genre to the otherwise pure-action series.

Margery Daw is a supporting character and another Flame Haze of the series. Her contractor is named Marcosius, and is known as the Fang of Devastation. Her special powers include changing her form to a feral beast; a purple bear-like animal. She is an implied alcoholic, and is rather lax in terms of her responsibilities. Nonetheless, she gets the job done when she has to, and even grows to become affectionate of her chosen henchmen, Keisaku and Eita. Her personal goal is to find something called the “Silver”, which ruined her life.

Yoshida Kazumi is a classmate of Yuji and Shana. She is extremely considerate and very sensitive. She also has a very strong crush on Yuji, and often competes with Shana for his attention. Later on, she learns the truth about Flame Hazes and Torches, and this turns her life completely around.

Keisaku and Eita are two bully-like characters in Yuji’s class. Keisaku is very hot tempered, but Eita is quite passive and often only acts when Keisaku acts. The two become close to the Flame Haze Margery Daw, and are “hired” to help her with her work while she’s in the city. Realizing the danger of the situation to the people of the city, they begin to devote all their power into helping Margery.

Ike Hayato is Yuji’s close friend from school. Ike is very academic, and even takes cram classes at night to better prepare himself for school. He often helps Yoshida Kazumi with approaching Yuji. Oblivious to the true nature of the world around him, he often serves as an advisor to the characters regarding matters such as friendships and relationships.

Thoughts: Well, that covers most of the main protagonists. Overall, the characters, like with the story, aren’t completely unique in and of themselves. However, their roles in the story as a whole brings a good balance to the plot and they develop very nicely as the episodes pass by. From the merciless battle between the Flame Haze and the Tomogara to the amusing Yuji-Shana-Kazumi love triangle, in my opinion the characters are what truly makes this series shine.

Characters – 8/10

Art:

Starting off with the character designs, the series does a good job with putting an image to the story. Most of the character features, including Yuji’s simple “plainness” and Shana’s passive-aggressive expressions, do Shakugan no Shana some good justice.

The animation is simply amazing at some times (particularly the beginning and end of the series) and weak at other times. Nevertheless, the special effects and fluid motions in most of the scenes make the series not only a great story, but a pretty good action or visual series.

As with many anime, the opening sequence seems much better animated but the series itself, but that’s not a great problem. The endings feature some original art by Noizi Ito (the one who designed the characters), most of which from the original light novels from which the series is based on.

Thoughts: There were times when I enjoyed the visuals and times when I cringed at them. However, the art itself is often very well detailed, particularly the effects, such as the Fuzetsu effect. As mentioned, the strong points of the animation lie in the beginning episodes and ending episodes, but this shouldn’t hinder the overall experience of the series too much if you like the other aspects.

Art – 7.5/10

Sound:

The Japanese voice actors do a great job of portraying the characters, and most of them match the characters quite well. Even the most ridiculous characters, such as the Professor, sound great. I wasn’t too fond of the English dub, however, but I don’t usually judge a series on that.

The background music throughout the series was pretty solid all around. From piano versions of the first opening song to hard vocal choirs chanting to the scene, the background music matches each episode very well. There are tracks that are very forgettable, but a couple tracks will catch your attention as you watch the series.

The openings of Shakugan no Shana are pretty good, but nothing amazing. My favorite of the two, Hishoku no Sora (Crimson Sky), is the first opening and is done by Nami Kawada, who will do another opening and two more endings for season 2 along with the ending for the movie. The second opening, being, is done by KOTOKO. I’m not a great fan of her, but it’s a decent song nonetheless.

As with the openings, I’m a tad impartial about the endings. Yoake Umarekuru Shoujo is the first ending by Yoko Takahashi, and comes in during the last few seconds of the episode as a male choir sets the mood for the ending sequence. It’s a pretty cool song and matches the mood well. The second ending, Aka no Seijaku, by Yoko Ishida, also is an ok song, and works well with the art set to it.

Thoughts: I’ll give sound a high score for the solid background tracks and Japanese dubbing and decent openings and endings.

Sound – 7.5/10

Overall:

Shakugan no Shana isn’t anything especially amazing by any means. However, its range of appeal is quite wide, and most anime fans would probably like it. It always seems to keep the viewer happy, and has never made me lose motivation to continue watching it. As I said, it’s nothing revolusionary whatsoever, but it does a good job exceeding (or at least trying to exceed) expectations as you watch.

Story – 6.5/10

Characters – 8/10

Art – 7.5/10

Sound – 7.5/10

Overall – 7.5/10 (Not an average of the above scores)

Shakugan no Shana Second (Season 2)

After defeating the Balle Masque, Shana and Yuji return to their normal school lives. Yuji continues training with Shana, still determined to fight with her. Meanwhile, Shana continues to struggle with her affection with Yuji, who unfortunately couldn’t completely hear her confession at the end of the last season. Kazumi continues to “fight” Shana for Yuji, not knowing of Ike’s feelings for her. Margery decides to stay with Keisaku and Eita to protect Misaki City, and Wilhelmina continues to take care of Shana with Yuji’s mother, Chigusa’s, help. However, despite the nearly carefree situation of the current world, Hecate and the Balle Masque still run free, and a lingering voice from Reiji Maigo’s past rides the wind to the city. Shana continues to serve her duty as a Flame Haze, and Yuji takes up the Blutsauger to protect what he wants to protect.

Thoughts: Though not as fundamental and to-the-point as the first season, the second season slightly surpasses it. With introductions of several new characters, such as Pheles and her lover Johan, who resides in the Reiji Maigo, the story seems renewed, but the story remains the same: Shana and Yuji fight the Tomogara no Guze to protect the city. Also, Yuji’s progression as Shana’s “student” is rather interesting, especially with his Silver flame color. The light novels also progress into Yuji becoming an antagonist because of the Silver inside of him, leading to him defeating Shana. This would make a great plotline for a season 3, and signs of Yuji’s descent into bad-guy-ness are subtly showing.

As for execution, the story itself seemed to waste some time on filler episodes, especially on the “new” character Konoe, who really should not have gotten all those episodes all for herself. She did make the Kazumi and Shana situation more interesting though, and made a definite impact at the end. Speaking of the end, it seemed a bit rushed, but was great nonetheless, and ends in a cliffhanger that leaves you both wanting more, and satisfied and willing to wait a few more months for the next season.

Expectedly, the animation was better this time around, and all of the scenes looked consistent, unlike in season 1 where some scenes made certain characters look completely different. The voice acting is as good as it was during the first season. The background tracks are still strong, but for some reason, they seemed to make less of an impact, and I barely noticed the music playing during most of the scenes.

As for opening and ending music, it’s run completely by Nami Kawada and KOTOKO. The first opening, Joint by Kawada, is a really strong start to a second season fans waited around two years for. It combines the usual keyboard and sound effect tricks generally carrying j-pop music with the heavy rock of electric guitars. Along with that, the sequence is well executed, and the animation looks nearly flawless. It also plays very nicely during a fight later in the series. The first ending, triangle by Kawada, is also a good start off, and the endings feature the usual original art sequences.

The second opening, Blaze by KOTOKO, is a really odd song to change from Joint, but it grows on you. The first time it appears, you probably won’t like it much, and find the light childlike voice in the verses very annoying, but it grew on me (listening to it right now) and I hope it will for most. The sequence is basically animation overkill, but it’s a really fun video, and it’s still enjoyable to watch after the 10 or so episodes that it appears. The second ending, sociometry by KOTOKO, doesn’t have much to talk about, but as with most Shana endings, it does its job. The last episode caps the series with the song “sense” by Nami Kawada, which holds a sort of Christmas feel to it (goes well with the Christmas eve setting of the last two episodes). The song is probably one of the best songs of the series, and a great way to end the season.

Probably spent too much time talking about music, but that’s that for season two. Overall, Shana Second was a pretty solid sequel to the first season, and progressed well. It might have seemed slow or rushed at times, but it all amounted to the usual barely-expectation-exceeding I loved to see from Shana.

Story – 7/10

Characters – 8.5/10

Art – 8/10

Music – 7/10

Overall – 8/10 (Not an average of the above scores)

Final Words:

Shakugan no Shana was a good anime. It wasn’t great, and it wasn’t bad by any means. It was good, which is the minimum of what anime creators should strive for. It doesn’t try too hard to be incredible, and that’s what made it appealing to me. The characters themselves are always doing something, which carries both seasons to safety.

I’d also like to mention the Shana movie, which is a retelling of the first six episodes of the first season. I’d recommend to start the series with the actual first six episodes, but the movie simply cannot be missed and is, dare I say, great. The general story is the same, but with a few twists and turns in the second half that sets it apart. However, I’ll say again to watch the first six anime episodes to start the series, as the movie inevitably skips a lot of material from the series.

Last thing I’m going to say is that I’ll be very enthusiastic when (or if) the third season comes out, and I’ll be on the fan wagon for a while until then.

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