Sakai Yuji is just an ordinary high school student living an ordinary life, with a best friend, and a cute girl who finds him interesting. So far, so average anime right? And yes, as you might suspect, if this isn't your initiation into anime, his normal life is going to be turned upside down before we're done with him -- and by a girl, no less. Nothing new there either. Indeed, moments into the first episode Yuji gets caught in the middle of a battle between demonic creatures called Rinne, and their sworn enemies, Flame Hazes -- indeed one Flame Haze in particular, a girl with flaming eyes and hair. And -- drum roll -- his life is never going to be the same.
But it is only in well-worn story elements and tropes that we can define Shakugan no Shana as average. Because in this case, it isn't the originality, but rather the execution that makes the series worth watching.
First of all, let me state that Shakugan has one of the finest opening episodes of any anime series I have ever seen. It is artistically realized, tightly written and designed, very skillfully employs in medias res, introduces concepts only as necessary for the current action in a given scene, and it is a masterwork of the "hook."
This is a series that assumes from the outset that the viewer is anime and story literate.
Unfortunately, the promise of the first episode is not entirely realized throughout the course of the series. Christopher Vogler (in synthesizing Joseph Campbell's themes about story archetypes) wrote extensively about the "hero's journey," with such stages as "introduction of the ordinary world," "the call to adventure," "rejection of the call," etc. I won't write a dissertation on the subject, nor do a point-by-point analysis (too many spoilers would be required) but suffice it say this series is almost a study in Vogler's thesis. And that is both its strength and its weakness.
While the opening episode felt fresh and at times even surprising as it introduced plot devices, as the series progressed it at some levels came to feel more and more like "been there, done that" in the arena of story. We've done the normal kid who has something special about him, the magical girl with a supernatural helper, the "fight the boss, move on to another boss" series of battles, the love tri- and quadrangles, and frankly the whole save the world thing. At the same time, however, it is the universality that lies at the heart of the hero's quest that pulls us through Shakugan no Shana.
Upon reflection, I find myself somewhat surprised at how slowly the story actually progresses -- and yet, for me, it never felt particularly slow. Which should tell you something about the excellence of the series' execution. Even the handful of filler episodes didn't feel all that much like filler, but further story and character development.
This is not the finest series ever -- but it is worth watching.
My main problem with this series is that it ultimately feels like a giant preface for a larger story to come. Although I think it says something positive about the series that I hope this is indeed the case.
The animation is very clean. The character designs feel fairly typical -- they are classic in their lines, with an almost cutesy feel to them. The settings and backgrounds are solid, if not particularly impressive or overtly artistic. Overall, the scenery here seems to be cleanly functional, rather than attempting to raise the aesthetic bar in any sense.
The colors are vibrant, though not overly so -- with, once again no apparent attempt to use the color palette to do anything special, or for that matter thematic.
I am fond of the flaming cinder effect that surrounds Shana in battle, but that's one of the few things that really feels like it stands out visually.
Artistically, in almost every way, this series is simply solid -- but no more. Which, with very real skillful execution, still places it above the average but not in the realm of actual genius.
I enjoyed the music of Shakugan. It was better than average, but didn't so much call attention to itself as simply -- and truly -- enhance the scenes it was meant to underscore. Though none of it feels very original, it more than serves its purpose here. I particularly enjoyed the strings track called Reveil, which I consider more of a theme for the series than the actual theme. The opening and closing songs are both solid pop numbers.
Overall, the sound design is average, but the vocal performances are excellent. The contrast between all-too-normal Yuji and the often acerbic Shana works well within the context of the characters and themes explored. The supporting cast also do an excellent job of bringing life and emotion to their characters.
Comparisons could easily be made between Shakugan and Bleach --- there are similar themes, and similar characters (though some are inverted), especially in the case of Shana and Rukia (of Bleach). These are both young women who aren't human yet must nonetheless learn what it means to be human, and why that is important.
Shana is easily the most interesting and important character -- which is probably why the series is named for her. Her character arc is far and away a better story than the primary plot of heroes trying to stop demonic forces in their attempt at world conquest. We get to see enough of Shana's back story to make us care about her and her predestined fate. As she struggles to find herself and attempts to grow up into a more mature and caring self, it's hard not to cheer for her.
The second tier characters -- in which list I'd even include Yuji -- like most of the elements that make up this story and series get the job done in a dependable manner. One of the few exceptions, a character that rises somewhat above the workaday role she is given, is the Flame Haze Margery Daw. At first she seems like your average well-endowed hard-drinking fighter babe, but as we come to know her back story a bit, and as we see her struggle to find herself beneath her self-imposed callous mask, she takes on a very real depth.
This is not a particularly original series, but like some typical but solidly written fantasy novel that owes much to Tolkien, Shakugan no Shana takes the familiar and makes it worthwhile through solid execution and good, sympathetic characters with whom we enjoy spending our time. Shana's journey from hard-boiled and single-minded Flame Haze to a person with a growing realization of the need for interpersonal relationships makes her very human and ultimately, despite her hard exterior, very lovable.
If you are not looking for something new and different, but can appreciate familiar themes executed skillfully, then this is definitely a show for you.
Notice: This review covers the whole franchise.
The Melancholy of Haruhi Suzumiya may have been the title which made light novel adaptations popular, but it was Shakugan no Shana the title which popularized urban fantasy and battle harems.
- It was something new for its time, instead of the saturated mess it became today, combining fighting shonen with romcoms.
- Its formula became a staple that for many years, any similar show was humorously called a Shana clone. What contributed to that was nobody still remembered 3X3 Eyes from the 90s.
- Many were starving for an anime similar to Fate/Stay Night and couldn’t wait a year to be disappointed.
- Having teenagers with transforming swords in high schools at a time when Bleach was becoming famous, was also an easy way to be the first title everybody were recommending.
Basically, Shakugan no Shana came out when the stars were aligned and everything was going in its favor. Circumstances aside, it also had many of the usual elements that could hype a new series regardless of the time it came out.
- A catchy premise about an alternative world full of monsters, demon slayers, and victims getting replaced by fakes.
- Good production values for its time, albeit they worsen along with the notoriety of the bad job studio J.C. Staff was doing with all its shows.
- An overcomplicating terminology to make it sound smarter than it actually was, so the pretentious overthinkers could have a blast.
- A famous voice actress (Rie Kugimiya voicing a loli tsundere)
- A spicy chemistry between the main characters.
So what went wrong? The plot did. Compared to the overcomplicating terminology, it was way too simple and was boiling down to a beta male and a loli tsundere beating generic monsters. There was a build up but it couldn’t excuse the slow and almost uneventful bulk of the episodes. The first season ended with the tsundere confessing her love, only to completely forget it in the beginning of the second and head for aimless filler missions. As for the third season, the guys at the storyboard gave up and went BONES on it. Nothing made sense and was presented in a vague, rushes, and dull way. In a few words, the setting went to waste, the story sucked, and the pacing was terrible.
Eventually, it was not the story most were fond of, as was Shana, one of the most memorable tsunderes for defining the archetype in modern times by yelling URUSAI every 5 minutes. She also had infinite potential to evolve as a character which kept everybody’s hopes up, only to disappoint them with how they erased the love confession in the second season and had no idea of what they were doing with her character in the third.
Yuji, the other lead character, is one of the few cases when he doesn’t remain that beta male with no personality all modern shows must have. He clearly matures and grows stronger in the second season, and even becomes a bad guy in the third. He otherwise spends most of the time being the same old spineless idiot, mistreated by the tsundere for some done to death romcom comedy. The third season is also a mess and doesn’t do him justice.
Down to it, it was yet another light novel plot with all the usual bullshit that comes along with it. Shallow philosophy, cheap plot armor, pseudo-intelligent terminology, and fan service for loli tsundere fans. Just like it happened with Sword Art Online, the Shana phenomenon was a dud, overhyped by viewers with little exposure to good anime and with their loli goggles constantly on. It began as THIS IS A MASTERPIECE UNLIKE ANYTHING WE HAVE EVER SEEN BEFORE and slowly got demoted to just another light novel piece of shit, before eventually getting completely overshadowed by Soul Eater.
The opening is all it needed to get me into watching this series. There's a strong ambience in the first ep (Tokyo Majin-ish?), well-chosen scenes that suggest a well thought out story. But turns out, no, with every ep the series keeps failing me even further.
Shana's character is inconsistent. She didn't exactly grow up heartless for she could cry over and say sorry to a broken skeleton. But throughout the series, especially the first couple ones, she's exaggeratedly devoid of human sensibility. Except for the melonpan. So the idea here feels like a protagonist of a killing machine turning an innocent girl in love. With one strangely-very-plain-human obsession (the melon bread part). Been done before, executed better many times elsewhere.
Yuji is the second worst male protagonist after that of Mirai Nikki's. Nuff said.
Introduction of Yoshida into the series only makes it awkward and blatantly obvious it's trying too much making up a conflict (more personal was it? appealing? two girls over one guy is something we all can totally relate to?) as part of the story.
There's nothing interesting either about the antagonists. They're mostly unrelated to each other, except in the latter part. And with every new antagonist it's more unclear what they're trying to achieve. There's hardly any story to back their reason there--to be evil, to do what they do, etc.
The fighting scenes are not exactly bad, but nothing extraordinary either. You'd think they're all the same, anime fighting scenes, but not really, IMO. Sailor Moon can get away with sluggish and unrealistic battle cause grown up guys are not their target audience. Naruto has long explanations for every jutsu they come up with cause their target audience like to feel special for being able to memorize and understand the mechanisms behind. Evangelion makes every second count. Shakugan no Shana, no idea. At first there's this crazy psychotic "I can do everything" thing when Shana is fighting alongside Yuji, which is a rather nice variation cause normally it's the opposite in similar series (where the weaker male protagonist would show more determination to become strong). But later that notion is gone.
Shakugan no Shana, literally Burning-Eyed Shana. Makes sense.
Shakugan no Shana was a contestant of the 2006 Femal Tsundere games, with its apparent rival, Zero no Tsukaima. It's story for the first seasons was wonky as hell, but they seemed to explain the basics of souls and stuff pretty well.
Shakugan no Shana didn't have amazing animation. It was pretty average. The fights didn't really have much in 'em either (in terms of animation, or, in general I guess, sorta).
The opening of Shakugan no Shana was alright, and even thought it was just "alright", it set up a basis for my liking of the other openings. The soundtrack in general was probably the best thing about this season.
I know my reviews are short (mostly because I can't remember jack and I don't want to rewatch), but I remember Yuuji and Shana both being sort of annoying. I understand what they were going for, the scripters that is, but the show itself was a little incorrectly timed, and thus the poor characters got lost somewhere behind the anime's pacing. Rip in rip I'd say.
Sigh. Unfortunately that's all I can say about the Adventures of the Red Loli and Dead Dude, but I hope this helps a little.
I dropped this anime after about 8-10 episodes, even though it had a promising, dark first episode. The problem was that very soon it just settled on the average, typical anime tropes instead of providing something new.
The animations is pretty good for the most part, but in some episodes they get budget-conscious.
The story is interesting enough but it is very reminiscent to "Bleach". It has monsters that regular humans cannot see, and these monsters go around consuming people's souls or essences. There are especially-trained warriors that come to our world to do battle with these monsters in order to keep the balance between dimensions. The main character gets paired-up with a pint-sized female monster-hunter that fights with a katana (Rukia anyone?).
The relationship between the main characters is typical anime. She knocks him around and acts weird whenever there's any semblance of an emotion between them. I guess this passes for humor but when I've seen it 500 times, it is just tiresome.
The fights are not good. Yes, there's plenty of magic and abilities and names for them all, but they show it with zero consideration for actual tactics, combatant's positions, etc.
For example, in one big fight with a boss-like character, the enemy kept shooting volleys of energy blasts, and how does the battle-damaged heroine kill him? She charges right at him and cuts him down with her sword. Yep, that's it. Disregard ranged attacks vs. melee attacks, straight-line charging vs. variable and aimed distance attacks. Sigh.
So if the fighting is not good, what's left in this anime to consider?
The relationship between a flat-chested female warrior and a puny teenager male? The ever-present high school sub-plots? The obscure make-it-sound-cool terminology?
I'd rather keep to my "Bleach" and "Naruto" that waste my time with this me-too fantasy anime.
But hey, if you are looking for an average anime that does nothing new, then by all means. You might enjoy it.