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“Shakugan no Shana” Season 1: Why So Serious?

by on September 5, 2012

Wow, 2012 hasn’t been a good year for me when it comes to anime.  Rosario+Vampire, Arakawa Under the Bridge X Bridge, Sekirei, Motto To Love Ru, Panty & Stocking, Infinite Stratos … I haven’t been crazy about very many of them.  And now we have Shana, which sadly doesn’t reverse the trend.

Unlike the previous anime series I reviewed for TZ (Panty & Stocking, which was super silly), Shana is melodramatic, lacking comic relief for the most part, burdened with deadly serious orchestral music (complete with ominous choir on some tracks), and frequently encumbered by night-time settings.  I’m more of a fan of series with lighter moods, or at least an even mix of the two (see Cowboy Bebop and Full Metal Panic), so watching Shana was something of a downer for me.

Let me explain the premise, which is admittedly unique.  Basically, a group of supernatural beings called Crimson Denizens feast on human powers for fuel. In essence, people who have been sucked of their essence are left with only a shred of their self left (the show calls it a “torch”), and the torch dissipates over time until the person just fades from existence.  That’s a neat idea, and is hammered home by an affected schoolgoer’s torch being so dim that people don’t even see her: she’s that close to vanishing.

Obviously, this kind of thing can’t happen, because it makes the world unbalanced, so Flame Hazes are chosen to maintain the order between the Crimson Denizens and the unsuspecting humans. Shana is one of those Flame Hazes, a red-haired girl with a sword.  The person she reluctantly protects is a high school boy named Yuji Sakai; she’s reluctant because as he’s already been left with a torch, she doesn’t view him as worth saving, since his death is inevitable.  However, over time she grows to like him, even letting him train with her in the ways of combatting Denizens.  Oh yeah, and mixed into this plot is a love triangle between Shana, Yuji, and a shy, anemic classmate, Kazumi Yoshida.  It’s treated with the same dour tone as the rest of the series, and while it’s done competently enough, isn’t anything you haven’t seen elsewhere.

As some prefer emo/darker series, I can’t really fault Shana for this, but it wasn’t my cup of tea at all.  However, I can fault it in other areas.  I didn’t like the villains; the series is basically a series of arcs, so no “monster of the week” stuff here.  But when you spend a bunch of episodes in a row with a particular villain, they better be interesting.  And who did we get?  A guy with a soothing voice who has an obsession with a talking doll, an incestuous brother and sister who kiss like it’s going out of style, and a maniacal man in an airship who shouts nearly every line.  Meh.  The battles are preceded and succeeded by a lot of explaining, taunting, and exposition, which isn’t something I’m a fan of.  And when they are fighting, it feels short, and I’ve seen it before.

I’ve also seen protagonists like Shana before:  She’s the kind of character who is taciturn at the start of the series (complete with annoying catchphrase: “Shut up shut up shut up!”), but gradually warms up to Yuji as the series progresses.  As a result, I can’t say I was all that interested in her; even the three flashback episodes focusing on her training from maid Wilhelmina Carmel to become a Flame Haze (which theoretically are supposed to reveal why she is like she is) feel rather thin.  I will say this in her favor:  For starting the so-called “Shana clone” character type, she’s probably less objectionable than her successors; at least she doesn’t whip Yuji like Louise did to Saito in Zero no Tsukaima, for example.

The animation by J.C. Staff is nothing to write home about either; it’s typical TV budget.   And you won’t really find many unique settings in the series, either, aside from maybe the flashback episodes.  I do like the character designs, though, especially the voluptuous Margery Daw, a fellow Flame Haze with glasses who dresses in a formal business suit/skirt.  Carmel isn’t bad either: gotta love tough maids.

Much like Sekirei, this series was originally released on DVD only, but is now also available on Blu-ray.  Unfortunately, I have no way to review the Blu-ray image quality because FUNi only sent me the DVD version.  While not an awful transfer, it does have the usual softness and jaggies associated with anime on DVD.  The set contains a variety of special features, all of them on the fourth DVD disc.  There are “Naze Nani Shana Question Box”, a bunch of short videos explaining some of the terminology in the series, as presented by SD versions of the characters; on the down side, they’re barely animated at all, but on the plus side, they’re dubbed (sometimes, such features aren’t so lucky). In total, they equal 30 minutes.  Also included is ‘”Shakugan no Shana-tan”, a 3-minute video of Yuji and a bite-sized, squeaky-voiced Shana, and “Shakugan no Shana-tan Returns”, a six minute video which is mostly focused on Kazumi and Margery; they’re cute pieces, and a much needed break from the uber-serious series proper.  Also included are some textless opening and ending songs and FUNi trailers.  The only thing missing is the OVA episode, “Love and Outdoor Hot Spring Tutorial”.  Considering that this was on the previous complete collections, its omission is puzzling.

As for the Ocean dub cast (retained from the original Geneon releases), I had no major complaints; my favorite VA was Janyse Jaud as the sultry, no-nonsense Margery Daw.  That said, Tabitha St. Germain as Shana had a few awkward reads here and there.

I couldn’t get into Shana, so I was restless just waiting for the slow-paced, cliffhanger-heavy story to be finished.  Nothing more needs to be said; let’s move on.

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