5 of 11 people found this review helpful
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