Shakugan no Shana X: Eternal Song - Harukanaru Uta is a manga adaptation by Shii Kiya of the tenth volume of the light novel series by Yashichirou Takahashi. It depicts the end of the Great War, an epic in the Shakugan no Shana mythos. This adaptation by Kiya does an excellent job in visualizing a novel that is quite difficult to fully grasp with its numerous and complex terminology and supernatural battles. It contains quite a bit of foreshadowing for events that would occur in the future (as in LN volumes 11 onwards), and this manga even added a bit more than the original novel. It shares its themes with the series as a whole and can been seen as mirroring the rest of the series. It is a shame and in my opinion a mistake that this story was not adapted in the anime series because of the shared themes and foreshadowing.
That being said, it delves into the war strategies of both sides quite a lot, and most characters featured are ones that aren't present in the main storyline (as it is a flashback arc), most glaring of which is that the titular character Shana is not even present, so therefore the manga may not be for the more superficial fans of the franchise. However, it is a profound event which forever stays in the hearts of the characters that make it to the main storyline and affects the setting and worldview in later (chronologically) installments. Newcomers to the franchise, I feel, will have difficulty following the manga; though it explains terminology vital to the story, it doesn't do the same for ones that are more central to the franchise, and perhaps are expected to be known before reading this manga. Reading this manga without knowing those would mean the reader would likely not understand some aspects of the story and be confused, but I think it can still be enjoyed.
The underlying backdrop and narrative of Eternal Song is really not that complex. It is the 16th century and there is an ongoing war between the Flame Haze Army and the Crimson Denizen organization Toten Glocke. The leader of Toten Glocke, Asiz, is seeking to complete his ambition, the Grand Scheme, and the Flame Haze wish to prevent it. Newcomers of the franchise who have never heard of the terms Flame Haze and Crimson Denizens will unfortunately have to suffice with a 1-page explanation. What is depicted in Eternal Song is the final battles of the Great War, and is basically Asiz's followers, the Nine Eternal Divine Scales (hereafter NEDS), holding off the Flame Haze to buy time for Asiz to complete the Grand Scheme.
However, I would say that the setup of the first three chapters is quite hard to grasp at first. A lot of the content in these chapters are original to this manga (as in not in LN volume 10) or just briefly explained in the novel, and these chapters were likely Kiya's attempt to visually go over events that took place before the main story of the manga (but I can only guess at this). The first chapter takes place a while before the rest of the manga, and is probably to introduce the protagonists, Mathilde and Wilhelmina. The second chapter is where the main conflict begins, a battle between two characters which was glossed over in the original novel. The third chapter has the antagonists discuss important events from 5 days prior, completing the gathering of background information required for the conflict, and also introduces the protagonists to the battlefield. After these chapters, the flow of events is depicted chronologically and is easier to understand.
Like the series proper, this is definitely not a manga that spoonfeeds the reader the answers straight away. There are many questions early on that won't be answered until much later in the manga, such as what the Grand Scheme really is, what Bal Masque are doing on the battlefield, and what Mathilde intends to do. Some readers may not like this lack of explanation early on, but I think it keeps things interesting and illustrates the agency of the characters involved with those questions. The answers to these questions are also foreshadowed quite early on, if early parts of the manga are looked at in hindsight, increasing the re-readability of the manga. The story moves forward through the progressing of the state of the war while it answers these questions.
Something that the Shakugan no Shana franchise is known for is how it is a bit difficult to keep track of all the characters. My opinion is that there are not that many characters in this manga, the problem lies with names. Apart from normal names, every Denizen has a true name and every Flame Haze has a title (Flame Haze are contracted to Crimson Lords, even more characters and names, but they are not so prominent). Sometimes characters use the true name/title to refer to someone, and the reader is expected to know who they are talking about. This adds to the supernatural feel of the series by adding more depth to that feel, similar to long spells or invented languages from other fictional franchises. It excites people who are interested in the franchise, but if the reader is struggling to keep up with the names, perhaps a wiki should be used to assist in reading this manga.
I felt that the chapters focused only slightly more on the two protagonists, with Toten Glocke also receiving significant focus. The plot moved forward because of both parties, not simply one reacting to the other. Both are imperative in exploring the themes of the narrative, peoples' deaths and ways of life and challenging the pre-established laws of the story's world. The Flame Haze are fighting to stop the Grand Scheme not because it is inherently evil, but because of the devastating effects it will have on the world. Despite the depiction of war, love is also a central theme, and like the franchise as a whole, it reverberates throughout the manga, touching many of its characters.
The art is probably what immediately stands out about the manga. What draws the eye first is the impressive level of detail, especially for the background elements. This manga depicts a war, and as such there are multiple armies battling, but these are never a bore to look at. The monster designs of mob Crimson Denizens are exceptional to look at, and they are highly varied in appearance, something that cannot be said of the anime series. Even armies with similar looking troops such as Knights and Legion are visually appealing. The designs of the regular characters are also quite good, from the armor, weaponry, and costumes of the humanoid characters, to the fearsome and sometimes zany (in the novel author's typical fashion) designs of Toten Glocke. I feel that the existing designs for a handful of the characters in this manga from the novel illustrator Noizi Itou were also improved upon by Kiya. Despite being serialized for about 5 years, there is no visible change in Kiya's art style.
Though the story is set at a mountain range, the armies are too vast and sometimes the combatants themselves are too big to really focus on the scenery. The scenery is only really given focus to express the damage done to it from battles. However, there are barely any panels which depict no background, only a character on top of white space, and the few ones that do are done for visual effect. The few times when the story moves to inside buildings however, like inside the Toten Glocke fortress while the Grand Scheme was in progress, and inside Labyrinthos (if you can call it a building), the background looks good. Entering the castle Tendoukyuu is also one of the visual highlights of the series.
In terms of depicting the action in the story, the fight scenes in the manga are quite dynamic. The paneling of pages is done well; I felt that there weren't any panels which served no purpose or told the reader nothing. Sometimes it is not 100% clear what happened for certain battle scenes, but I think this is more to do with the powers and abilities of the characters themselves, which are more unconventional and less straight-forward than that of more standard shounen manga and thus harder to depict visually. There is an effort made by Kiya to not leave the reader behind in his use of maps throughout the manga's run to visualize the current state of the war, as it can get quite confusing when both sides have armies on different flanks, and characters from each side talk about both their flanks and their enemies' flanks.
One aspect about the art I noticed in contrast with art more typical in the rest of the franchise is that the eyes of the humanoid characters are quite a bit smaller in this manga. Perhaps this is Kiya's style, or the traditional anime type of art style to depict older characters, as most humanoids in the manga are adult characters. This change was kind of unusual for me, as I was a fan of the franchise before picking up this manga, but I was not really bothered by it. However, as the events of the story progressed, I grew to appreciate the art style. I can't say this was why Kiya drew their eyes this way (as I can't read his mind), but to me, the smaller eyes meant that Kiya could convey more emotion in the characters with his art style. The happiness of Mathilde, the determination of Wilhelmina, the excitement of Merihim, and the madness of Chernobog, were conveyed very well, and increased as those characters were affected by the story's events. Another peculiar example of Kiya's art, perhaps a nitpick from me, is that the younger-looking humanoid characters look really young. These two characters, Hecate and Leanan-sidhe appear in the anime as well; if they looked 14 years old in the anime, they look about 8 here. There is not really any reason for this, so it can just be dismissed as Kiya's art style.
The covers of each volume feature artwork of vibrant colors stretching across the front and back of the book. What is depicted is not just one or a few characters posing but more like a scene with multiple characters. Honestly, they are my favorite covers in the whole franchise. There are multiple stunning one and two-page spreads throughout the manga's run to depict massive attacks or clashes between opponents, and as earlier stated, there is an enormous amount of detail in the art. The climax of the manga begins with what appears to be 4 pages in a row featuring something dark. Flipping back and forth between them reveals a grand 4-page spread, something I have never seen before, though I haven't read that many manga. The climactic battle is simply majestic, complimenting the struggle and clash of emotions and ideals between the characters.
The characters reflect the conflict itself in not having a black-and-white morality, in fact it is more grey than many other series. "Flame Haze = good, Crimson Denizens = bad", is a description of these two factions that is simply not good enough and absolutely wrong. This was never true in the novels, even from the beginning, and it is certainly not true in this manga. Both are paramount in the themes of both Eternal Song and the main series, that of love and what love makes people do because of or in spite of it, and the struggle over whether the established laws of this world are just and whether the protagonists are doing the right thing in trying to stop the antagonists. Toten Glocke's struggle leads to them being likable characters. Similarly to how the main series turned out to be, it is perhaps the Crimson Denizens who are more likable characters.
The main protagonist is Mathilde, a Flame Haze contracted to Alastor. She is the predecessor to the main franchise protagonist Shana. She has an odd mentality of being self-centered and loving battles, and feels that fighting as a Flame Haze is her happiness and raison detre. Though she struggles against fate with the help of Wilhelmina, ultimately unlike Wilhelmina, Mathilde is willing to accept what happens and will keep moving forward not matter what. Only snippets of her past is shown, but I think that is all that is needed to show how she ended up this way and the reasons driving her, and any more would take focus away from the main storyline. Though she is close to Wilhelmina, she feels that Alastor is the only one who accepts and understands why she is this way. Mathilde can also be juxtaposed with her successor Shana (from the main franchise) in that unlike Shana, she doesn't have the insecurities in regards to her mission or seeking something beyond being a Flame Haze, because she has more experience and being a Flame Haze is everything to her. You could say that in this manga, we are following a completed character as opposed to a developing character.
The secondary protagonist is Wilhelmina, a character who is also prominent in the main franchise. You feel in the franchise that her character is very much shaped by the events in this manga. The main inner conflict of the manga comes from her; while both Mathilde and Asiz have already decided the path they will take, Wilhelmina is trying to take two mutually exclusive paths. Therefore, she is the more relatable one when compared with Mathilde. She is struggling against fate to prevent an inevitable loss. She has an expressionless face and her design features a mask which she puts on during battle, which are both symbolic in their ineffectiveness in shrouding her feelings from others. Chernobog also acts as a foil to her.
The one who is perhaps one of if not the standout character of Eternal Song is Asiz, the main antagonist. For someone who is holed up in his fortress for the vast majority of the manga, he is an incredibly interesting character, from the symbolism of his angelic appearance to his motives. From the perspective of the reader early on, he has caused a war simply for his own ambition, yet the NEDS earnestly believe in their master and the Grand Scheme, even willing to give up their lives for it. The reader is left puzzled by this, but all it takes to change that is one chapter. One flashback chapter, and Asiz is revealed to be so poignant, his fall from grace so tragic, and the Grand Scheme so admirable, that an organization was formed around Asiz to help him. Then you look back through the manga and panels foreshadowing this flashback were present in Asiz's scenes, now much sadder to look at. The reasoning behind him changing his name is heartbreaking. The fact that he is the antagonist here shows the complex morality of this series. His struggle against the unstoppable forces of the world, personified by the Flame Haze side, is moving, exemplified by his sorrowful, defiant lines during the climax. He is also a foil to Alastor in how he believes Alastor and Mathilde will come to understand his feelings and seek to join him, and it is expressed early on that Asiz would take them in if they wanted.
Asiz's followers, the NEDS, similarly to Asiz, are quite noble in their actions and believe what they are doing is just. They are quite atypical for antagonists because of this, and thus very likable. Now nine sounds like quite a lot, but in the first three chapters mentioned earlier, 3 are dealt with, so only 6 really need to be remembered while reading the manga. The 6 are different enough to be distinctive. They are all good people (or good monsters), and a lot of noble sacrifices are made, showing their devotion to their master. The ones who are more prominent in the story, like Merihim and Chernobog, are ones who not only show this devotion, but also epitomize the key theme of love. Some of them have very zany designs, which boil down to Takahashi's tastes. One such character is Jarri, a floating egg with three masks who talks in a random, roundabout way. In a franchise guidebook, it is revealed that his lines are based on three Latin poems. Now, this is completely random and doesn't really add anything to the story, only exemplifying this character's wackiness, but I appreciate how the author is original and just does whatever he wants, which is sadly not too common nowadays in fictional media.
Nearing the end, you can feel that some of the characters had been affected deeply by the events of the manga, so you get the sense that the events have consequences. One character in particular was deeply affected by trauma. The more minor characters are there to give a stronger impression that there is a war going on. There are some who only appear in one flashback and are irrelevant to the story, but this is just the linking up of characters here with characters from other franchise stories. There were no characters that were unlikable for me. If I was forced to pick one, perhaps the Flame Haze Karl, he seemed to be a cocky dude who didn't care about his troops.
I thoroughly enjoyed reading this manga, but that is not to say it was easy to do so. There are a lot of character names and terminology, making it a task to follow. I also read the manga through my Japanese tankoubon, which was hard for me to do (though I think it is a hard manga and franchise to properly translate, subtitle, or dub without errors). Something that was a bit uncomfortable while reading was the erratic differences in number of pages between chapters. The early ones are long because the manga was serialized in a quarterly magazine, then it moved to a monthly one, where the chapters were short. However, sometimes you still had huge chapters now and again.
I will surely reread this manga again in the future. Like stated previously, there is foreshadowing and character expressions throughout which will be enjoyable to go through again with newfound knowledge after completing the manga beforehand. Also, it would be nice simply to meet the characters again. I think I will also often flick through the pages without reading in order to admire the art. I will remember the events and important characters. In particular, I believe the powerful climax will last with me forever.