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Review: "Shakugan no Shana" Season 2 + OAV: More Moody Melancholia

Let it be known that I’m a generous guy. I originally reviewed Shakugan no Shana‘s first season and didn’t have a favorable reaction. Naturally, I wasn’t exactly chomping at the bit to review the second season. But, when asked nicely if I’d be so kind as to take up that burden (partially because a different reviewer would’ve been going into the series blind, and that wouldn’t be fair to them), I relented. Yes, I gave up some of my valuable free time to watch and review the sequel to a series I hated, because I’m such a team player.

shakuganS2-1Why do I not care for Shakugan no Shana? Because a show like this is completely incompatible with my tastes. It’s melodramatic (in that angsty kind of way), full of cliffhangers (I prefer stories which are self-contained), involves supernatural battles (I’ve always had a detached attitude toward those kind of fights), takes place at night most of the time (without any of the stylish tribute to film noir that made something like Batman: The Animated Series so cool), and is deadly serious with hardly any comic relief to lighten the downbeat mood. Now if you like all this stuff, this show’s for you, but in addition to that, I don’t particularly care about the characters, and the story features a LOT of padding (featuring my pet peeve of drawn-out explanations).

Shakugan no Shana‘s second season picks up where the first left off, with “torch” Yuji Sakai, taciturn Flame Haze Shana, and shy classmate Kazumi Yoshida still involved in a romantic triangle while Yuji and Shana fight the Crimson Denizens that want to feast on humans. Strangely, though, the start of the second season is much lighter on action, instead focusing on a mysterious, soft-speaking new student, Fumina Konoe, who bears a striking resemblance to a Crimson Denizen character from season 1. Because of this, Shana’s naturally suspicious of Konoe, and also jealous, since Konoe has a strong attachment to Yuji. Over the course of a good five episodes, Shana and the group of school friends gradually warm up to Konoe as they introduce her to all sorts of aspects of teen life (she’s another one of those characters who is unfamiliar with customs-  she seems to be learning everything for the first time). Did this suddenly turn into a slice-of-life school drama? Oh yeah, and there’s a two-part flashback episode focused on Margery Daw’s earlier days as a Flame Haze. Can we pick up the pace here? I feel like the main story, weak as it was, has been put on hold.

shakuganS2-2Be careful what you wish for, I guess; the action (that is, Flame Hazes battling Crimson Denizens) returns towards the end of the first half, and remains just as uninteresting as in the first season. Despite the action unfolding on-screen, with characters flying through the air and swinging powerful swords at each other, I honestly felt bored. As for the story, it wasn’t that interesting; the Crimson Denizens (including a returning villain from the first season, Dantalion) are poised to destroy the city, so the good guys have to stop them. And Yuji briefly has a bout of doubt where he doesn’t feel like he is strong enough to protect the city and almost flees. Admittedly, that’s a decent bit of character development, but we’ve still seen that before. To make matters worse, the ending doesn’t really change anything when it comes to the love triangle. This kind of thing really pisses me off; the series is arguably just as much about the teenaged romance as the supernatural fighting, so to watch 48 episodes of this series and not get any conclusion to that plot thread made the whole thing feel like it was stalling, and a waste of time.

For season 2 and beyond, FUNi opted not to get the original Ocean dub cast back, and instead decided to produce the dub in-house. I know this angered some fans, but in all honesty the Ocean dub was hit-or-miss and I didn’t have a big attachment to the original cast. This time around, Shana is voiced by Cherami Leigh, and I thought she was a good fit for the character. Brina Palencia continues to showcase her range by providing the new voice for Kazumi Yoshida. Carli Mosier as Wilhelmina Carmel is virtually indistinguishable from Anna Cummer’s portrayal. And Colleen Clinkenbeard voices Margery Daw, which makes sense given her propensity for adult women roles. The only voice I took issue with was Greg Ayres as Keisaku Sato, one of Daw’s assistants. His higher-pitched voice didn’t seem to fit that taller character.

shakuganS2-3Volumes 1 and 2 are being released as a Blu-ray/DVD combo, with two DVDs and two Blu-ray discs per volume. The discs are housed in a Blu-ray case with swinging hinges for the disc holders, and is what you’d expect if you’ve bought most of FUNi’s recent combo sets. Volume 1 also includes an art box for both volumes, similar to how Strike Witches‘ season 2 set included room for the season 1 set. All the artwork on the cases and art box is by Noizi Ito, the original creator, and looks quite nice. The image quality on the Blu-ray sets is mostly acceptable, though it had the usual banding problems. Special features include more Shana-tan shorts (far more comedic than the series), more “Why? What, Shana!” shorts (super-deformed versions of the characters explaining the terminology in the series), English audio commentaries on episodes 1 and 21, textless songs, promos, and FUNi trailers. It’s a nice collection of extras, but there is still no episode 13.5, which was also absent from the first season re-release! What’s the problem?

Also recently released is a four-episode OAV in a Blu-ray/DVD combo; they’re self-contained side stories, such as Shana and Yuji accidentally switching bodies (a clichéd premise, but I did like the differences in vocal deliveries once the characters are in their new bodies), Carmel tailing Shana to see why she’s acting strangely, and a two-part episode where Shana assumes the body of a girl who’s become a flame (that is, whose essence has been consumed by a Crimson Denizen and is slowly fading from existence). The two-parter is super serious as usual, but I do like how it actually focused on how the first season began; it almost feels like the show forgot that plot thread over time. One criticism about all four episodes, though: Unlike OAVs of the past, these episodes aren’t that much higher quality than the TV series; as such, these feel like regular episodes, nothing special. More Shana-tan shorts (none of which have an English dub), textless songs, and trailers are available on that release.

Shakugan no Shana‘s second season was a chore to watch. It took forever for things to happen, the animation wasn’t anything special, I didn’t care about what was unfolding, and it felt excessively melodramatic. I feel like telling this show to lighten up!

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