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24 of 24 episodes seen
These are the questions that Shakugan No Shana likes to ask in the first two episodes.
A monster killing high school student is really nothing new. From Bleach to Kaze no Stigma, we've all seen these kinds of anime, most of them are pretty mediocre. But then Shakugan No Shana comes about to reaffirm my faith in these types of anime. Adapted from the light novel series of the same name written by Yashachiro Takahashi, Shakugan No Shana is one big existential crisis, no puns intended. Sporting perhaps one of the most enthralling first episodes I've seen in anime of late and some interesting concepts, Shakugan No Shana easily sets itself apart from the typical monster killing high school fare.
As far as general premises go, I can assume we've all seen this sort of thing before. Monster type things from some place called the “Crimson World” are running amuck and it seems the best suited to handle said monsters is a short teenager with bipolar hair and a bad temper. Honestly, it's likely one of the most bromidic concepts I can think of (Maybe not the bipolar hair part). In spite of this, however, Shakugan No Shana makes contrived themes more than just stomachable, but actually enjoyable. From Shakespearean references (Margery Daw shouting “Madness! Get thee to a nunnery!” made me burst into laughter) to surprisingly deep characters, Shakugan no Shana is a cut above your average anime.
The story, despite it's lackadaisical base premise, is well paced and puts equal emphasis on the characters and action. The narrative style taken for the first half seems to be through Yuuji's eyes, looking back on the events. It's definitely not an original method but it's an effective way to tell the story. As I've said earlier, Shakugan no Shana raises some interesting questions and ideas about 'existence', which was the sole reason I continued to watch the series. However, something I'm not a fan of is that, sure, they talk a lot about the 'power of existence', but a lot of the interesting questions risen in the first few episodes are essentially forgotten later on. Couple that with some obvious, although minor, plot holes (Where did that sword come from?), the story is likely the weakest part of Shakugan no Shana, who decides to focus a lot more on the characters and relationships between them.
Thankfully, that more than compensates.
A host of distinct and varied characters make up Shakugan No Shana's roster. The majority of the characters are well designed and believable, if not, at times, a little archetypical. We've all seen the hot-headed heroine and down to earth male lead, it's nothing new to anime fans. However, the way said characters are portrayed is what makes them interesting. Most seemingly stereotypical characters show a certain quality that allows them to transcend their archetype's preset limitations. Shana's character goes beyond the typical hot-headed heroine, showing a weakness and depth that made her more than I had expected. Margery Daw's growing concern and care for Eika and Satou gives her more depth than just being the buxom boozing broad. Almost every other relevant character is given a sufficient amount of time for us to see their motivations, goals or background without bogging down the story. Even Yuuji's mom gets to strut her stuff and gives us quite the insights into Shana.
Something that can ruin a show and happens all to frequently is poor character progression pacing. Luckily for all, the pace at which the characters develop is believable and well considered. Shana's growing feelings and perhaps humanity, I suppose you could say, was especially well done and the uncovering of her past was equally well executed. Yuuji also undergoes a fair amount of character growth and we even see some of the minor characters change as time passed. Likely one of the easiest ways to develop a character – a lazy way in my opinion – is to add a romance plot. Be warned, as there is a fair amount of romance, but thank the gods, they did it well. I was looking for a shape to adequately explain Shakugan no Shana's love plot but there is no such shape in existence. All of this considered, even among the slick action and art (more on those later), it is the characters that makes Shakugan No Shana the success that it is.
The art is definitely not ground-breaking but it is crisp and clean, holding up even to today's standards. The characters are designed in a very formulaic high school anime manner, but that isn't necessarily a bad thing. Other than some (not many) recycled animations (The attack animations of Margery Daw, for example) there's really nothing to gripe about, the backgrounds are well drawn, and the effects such as the flames and such seem to have been given special treatment, making them look above average. Speaking of the effects, I have to give a special commendation to the flaming... dandruff? I don't know what to call it, but you'll know it when you see it. The flaming cinder flakiness that floats around when Shana's about to stomp someone looks like it was payed close attention to, and those types of little touches made the art enjoyable.
At times the art fell a little flat, when Margery Daw becomes a wolf-bear thing is a good example, some of the things just don't look quite right. But my biggest complaint of all is that most characters' eyes take up the 80 percent of their face, I mean ridiculously large eyes for no real reason. Having said that, the art and animation is nothing earth-shattering or spectacular, but it gets the job done.
The sound was overall a pretty solid aspect of Shakugan no Shana. I only had a few minor quibbles with the sound, but those are pretty negligible. The first opening is your standard J-pop song to an introduction of the characters, not the greatest opener I've heard, but it gets the job done and is better than some other openers out there. The background music is very well done and varied, ranging from Gregorian Chants to solemn solo violin pieces to happier ditties depending on the scene. Every track does a good job of matching the tone or mood that the scene was intending and it was effective at emulating the particular emotion the scene had strove to achieve.
Shakugan No Shana's end themes were better than the openers but I at times didn't like how the show cut into it. Every now and again the show would attempt to end on a serious note, perhaps with a little Gregorian Chant, but the way that it cuts from Gregorian Chant to the end theme just didn't sit right with me. Another minor complaint I have in the music department is that a few instances throughout the series, the music was a little louder than everything else, even during some dialogue heavy scenes, which made it hard to get into the character interactions when the music is half-blaring louder than the dialogue. It didn't happen often enough for it to be a real bother, thankfully.
Voicing wasn't an issue however, as each character receives a more than appropriate VA. Tabitha St. Germaine does a stellar job as Shana, capturing her characters' hot-headedness pretty well. She even did a good job with Shana's signature “Shut up! Shut up! Shut up!”. However, Kristian Ayre's take on Yuuji was far less memorable, but it is still a solid performance. Some of the more minor characters could have received a better voice but as a whole, the voicing is really nothing to complain about. Special mention goes to Paul Dobson as Alastor, whose opening lines sounded like Optimus Prime.
Now, I have one complaint that doesn't really fit into a specific category but I can't go without mentioning; The fuck was up with the creepy brother/sister incest thing? Could they not have omitted that? It creeped me the fuck out. I guess it was really trying to emphasize the meaning of a kiss but... It was still gross and weird and made me feel really uncomfortable. Pardon my swearing.
Shakugan no Shana is by no means perfect. Some plot holes, flat animations and ridiculous villains (Giant baby, blimp-mech, floating ball of heads, incest twins. Not the best baddies I've seen) restrain Shakugan no Shana from being a true masterpiece. These few flaws are vastly outweighed by the well designed characters, a good musical score, slick action and some solid art. I will reiterate, Shakugan no Shana is by no means perfect, but it is a cut above your typical high school fare is definitely worth watching.
Shakugan no Shana most certainly deserves a watch and even a buy.
A solid 8/10 read more
13 of 13 episodes seen
The general concept of the show was intriguing to me at first, but soon lost its luster. A boy who, by some unexplained phlebotinum, is able to see and predict peoples dreams through ... Polkadots...? Yup, Polkadots. It's pretty silly, I know. But anyways, said boy, Yumeji Fujiwara, can see peoples dreams. After bumping in to the series' female protagonist (Which is truly a terrible way to introduce the two main characters. Falling out of a tree? Really?), a dream demon who has no recollection of how she arrived in the human world and only seeks to return to her dream world. After a run-in with the awesome cat-master dream demon, The Chaser, the two decide to team up in order to hunt down dream demons and try to help Merry return home.
All of this is essentially forgone after a while. I completely forgot that Yumeji could see dreams, or the significance it had in the plot in the first place. Dream Eater Merry's concepts were intriguing and at time thought provoking, but the story itself was quite dull.
Now on to the animation. I quite liked the animation and art, everything looked well rendered, the characters were designed nicely albeit generically (I can't put my finger on it, but Yumeji looks so familiar I was scouring my list of watched anime looking for who it was he looked like). In the first few episodes, 2D and 3D are quite well integrated (But the makers must have completely forgotten that they could do that sort of thing later in the series) and the way that the art changes between the real world and dream worlds was refreshing.
However, come an action sequence, the animation left something to be desired. One fight in particular looked so bad I wanted to avert my eyes. The art isn't terrible however, it's just a bit of a mixed bag. The stuff done right was really nice, but some of the art and animation was just plain bad. There were some small touches in the art however that I quite liked, such as the wall-art hanging in Yumeji's room or Isana's weird fishy paintings.
On to something terrible; the sound. The sound was likely the worst thing about Dream Eater Merry. One track in particular sounded like it was taken directly out of a porno. The background music is often times too loud and just doesn't fit the mood that a scene is striving to achieve, effectively dampening the impact the scene could have had. The opening is pretty mediocre, played to a very shounen opening sequence. I honestly could never make it through the end theme, but I could say that about most anime.
Regarding the voicing, all of the VA's did a respectable job with their characters. Blake Shephard makes a good lead, and Hilary Haag does a respectable job as Merry Nightmare (Yup, I watched it dubbed). All of the characters, for the most part, receive a suitable voice, but none in particular strive to bring the material over the top, leaving the work just about average. It's better than a lot of dubs I've heard, that's for sure.
The characters consist of a classic bunch of terribly generic personalities and quirks, but I can't really fault it for that. Given the variety of characters one would expect a fair ammount of development from at least some of the main characters. Much to my chagrin, there wasn't much at all. I can't really think of a character that grew even the slightest, or even a character, other than perhaps Yumeji, that was given an adequate amount of background or characterization.
There is an attempt at romance made between two of the more minor characters, but I would hardly call that development. Actually, the romance between the two supporting characters feels incredibly forced and tacked on. The minor characters are given a very finite time frame to show us a summary of their past and of their 'dreams', a word that is thrown around so much in this show that I forgot what it meant.
I just want to add that I hated the ending. I hated the ending so much that it forced me to write this, my first review. Through the power of heart, something I dread, and the 'throw yourself at the problem until it's resolved' mentality, the big-bad is defeated. It was an awfully contrived ending that will leave you saying “Dafuq?”. Of the three potential antagonists, 1 is dealt with and the other two are completely forgotten. I finished episode 11 and thought to myself “How will they wrap up this series' loose ends with so little time left?”. The answer is simply “We won't!”, the loose ends are swept under the rug, and the creators are hoping that no one sees the obvious. Things are completely ignored, there is absolutely no sense of closure, and from what I heard, it is unlikely to receive a sequel due to story deviation from the original material.
Reading what I have just wrote makes me sound like I hate Dream Eater Merry. That couldn't be any more wrong. This series has so many flaws, yet somehow I was left wanting more. By some miraculous twist of fate, Dream Eater Merry transcends mediocrity to actually be pretty good. That being said, I thoroughly enjoyed the series and would welcome a sequel if ever they find a way to make that happen.
All in all, I wouldn't spring to buy Dream Eater Merry, but I would definitely watch it.
I would like to give Dream Eater Merry a 6.5, but I'm rounding up.
7/10 read more