Shakugan no Shana aired back in fall of '05, and quickly became popular with a combination of action, drama, comedy, romance, and of course, the sword-wielding, melon pan eating heroine, Shana. A J.C. Staff production, it was an fun series to watch over its 24 episode run, and I went ahead and bought it when it came out on region 1 DVD. Shana's character development over the course of the series, and a decent male lead in Sakai Yuuji, were a big part of what made it worth re-watching for me, along with good animation quality and action sequences. With the second season starting this fall, I figured now was the right time to marathon it (not all in one sitting though...unfortunately, I don't get enough vacation to take a "Shana sick day" to watch it all in one go).
To give a very basic summary of the story: Sakai Yuuji is an ordinary high school student--or at least he thinks he is--until one day on the way home he gets caught in a 'sealed space' and encounters a Rinne, a monster that consumes people in balls of fire. It turns out that unknown to ordinary people, there's a deadly battle being waged between the Denizens of the Crimson World, who are consuming people for their 'power of existence', and the Flame Hazes who hunt down Denizens to prevent the balance of the world from being disrupted. Yuuji is saved by a Flame Haze, Shana, but she surprises him by telling him he's already dead...
Without further ado...here's the play-by-play for the first series, one episode at a time (heavy spoilers, so be warned...):
Episode 1: The End of Everything, the One Beginning
Yuuji is having an ordinary day--until suddenly he finds himself in sealed space, with a Rinne facing off against Shana, a Flame Haze. Shana nearly cuts him in two, kills the Rinne, puts him back together, and to top it off tells him matter-of-factly that he's actually dead, merely a 'torch' that's a copy of the original Yuuji who was killed at some point in the past for his "power of existence." This is the kind of day that's really bad at the time, but years later you look back on and laugh about...well, maybe a lot of years later...
Wow--the animation quality for the fight sequences was better than I remembered. Shana makes a dramatic first impression, and the direction throughout was just top-notch. Yuuji's narration set a dark, dramatic tone from the very beginning, giving you a glimpse of what's to come, with the scenes of normal school life interspersed with glimpses of the world in the shadows Yuuji's about to be drawn irreversibly into. Overall, a great episode. Damn, it's too bad Yukari-chan is going away in the next episode, because I'd pick her over Kazumi in Saimoe any day. I remember at the time this aired a lot of people criticized Yuuji for being cowardly--but come on, the guy stepped between a girl with a sword and a complete stranger to defend her (bad luck for him she turned out to be one of the bad guys). I doubt many of Yuuji's critics would have the balls to do the same thing, in that extraordinary a situation--most people would run like hell, and I couldn't blame them if they did. It's interesting seeing how cold Shana is in this episode--seeing where she started just reminds me how good the character development is as the series goes on.
Episode 2: The Lit Flame
Yukari Hirai, a classmate of Yuuji's who likes his friend Ike, became a torch after the Rinne's attack, and her remaining time is running out--but Yuuji tries his best to make her last moments memorable and preserve her memory. After Yukari disappears, Yuuji confronts Shana, asserting torch or not, he is Sakai Yuuji.
Friagne and his minions must pay--killing bishoujo like Yukari is a serious crime. It's a crime she's only in the first two episodes...
It's hard to watch this episode without thinking of Yorito's sorry ass in Sola--in the same situation as Yuuji, Yorito's reaction is about a million times weaker. I think Yuuji's reaction is more realistic--if you think, you are, after all, and whether he's technically a torch or not, he's the only Sakai Yuuji left, and he thinks and feels the same things the 'real' one would, so who's to say he's not real? That last scene where he's arguing with Shana was especially well done--we finally see the first glimpse of dere-dere Shana when he gives her a name.
Episode 3: The Torch and the Flame Haze
Shana takes Yukari's identity to attend school and keep an eye on Yuuji, expecting the Denizens to make a move. She proceeds to bitchslap the entire faculty, pointing out mistakes in what they're teaching and making them flee the classroom in despair. Friagne the doll-loving Denizen appears, after his doll attacks Shana and fails, he makes the standard Bad Guy 'I'll get you next time' speech, and leaves. Yuuji turns out to have a special treasure, which regenerates his power of existence every night at midnight.
The little touches JC Staff puts into this are collectively impressive--the shinkansen going by in the background, the sound of the wind flapping her jacket as Shana stands outside, the embers dancing in the air when Shana's in Badass Flame Haze Mode. Shana verbally laying the smackdown on her teachers was hilarious--she may be four foot nothing tall, but mess with her at your own peril.
Episode 4: The Confused Flame Haze
Shana ends up staying at Yuuji's to keep an eye on him, and at school smacks down the gym teacher this time. A new Flame Haze, Margery Daw, arrives and proceeds to kick Shana's ass.
Iwata Mitsuo is one of my favorite seiyuu (Gan-chan in Mini-Goddess, Sato in Stratos 4, and a bunch of other roles), and he does a great job as Marco, Margery's smart-mouthed sidekick. I think every role he's ever done has cracked me up, and it provides some welcome comic relief. But who am I kidding, the real selling point of episode 4 is Shana fanservice! Although it's not just service--while Shana's getting nekkid in Yuuji's room, Alastor is doing plot exposition. Now that's multitasking.
Episode 5: Respective Feelings
Yuuji gets set up on a date with Kazumi, Margery recruits two of her classmates to help her and fails to catch Friagne, and on his date Yuuji meets with Lamies, a Denizen who's been collecting power of existence from fading torches. Shana, meanwhile, is getting pissed off because she lost her fight with Margery and thinks it's because Yuuji's keeping her from concentrating--Alastor suddenly suggests killing him, which I guess is one way to solve the problem...
I know Kazumi has a lot of fans, but her type of character really doesn't appeal to me. Yes, the great Kawasumi Ayako is her seiyuu, but Kazumi is no Lafiel. Kazumi is your stereotypical 'the guy I have a crush on means everything to me and I have no personality of my own', and I really can't imagine a more boring girlfriend or wife. If this was School Days, Kazumi would be sleeping with Makoto like the rest of the hos, while Shana would take a pair of pruning shears to his wang. At least on re-watch I don't feel bad fast-forwarding through Kazumi fidgeting and pouting about a guy she barely knows.
Watching this episode also reminded me how many open questions there still are from the first season--what is Lamies collecting power of existence for? Hell, what are any of the Denizens collecting it for, why can't they just get it in their own world and leave ours the hell alone? Hopefully Shana II will give us more answers...
Episode 6: Complication - Invocation - Confrontation
Shana almost follows Alastor's advice to kill Yuuji, but hesitates--meanwhile, Rozen fan Friagne activates his plan to take over the city, which works OK, I guess, until the part where Shana shows up and kills him.
So Yuuji always gets his power of existence recharged at midnight by Reiji Maigo...but what if he changes time zones? If Japan goes on Daylight Savings Time at some point in the future, does Reiji Maigo know to "spring ahead, fall back?"
Kind of disappointing how easily Friagne was taken down, although he was having mental health issues at the end...but it was very cool how Yuuji found a way to be useful to Shana, rather than just assuming he can't do anything. I also give JC Staff a lot of credit, they animate flames really well, especially on Shana's sword.