Yuji is walking home with a classmate when the skies begin to darken and the people who surround him appear to be frozen in place. He watches in panic as each of them transform from human beings into blue flames, only to be devoured by a menacing doll-like monster. Before this creature can claim Yuji as a victim, he is saved by a young katana-wielding girl with eyes and hair like fire. She refers to herself as a Flame Haze, a warrior who maintains the balance between evil Crimson Denizens, who consume human existence, and Crimson Lords, who wish to protect that power.
When Yuji thanks her, she dismisses him as “residue,” explaining that the real Yuji Sakai perished when the creature attacked. Now he is simply a “torch” that will hold Yuji’s place until he inevitably fades away, forgotten by those who knew him. Not willing to accept this fate, Yuji follows the girl, imploring her for more information. He discovers that she is contracted to a Crimson Lord known as Alastor, with whom she communicates through an amulet on a necklace. Though she has no name, her sword is called the Nietono no Shana, prompting Yuji to refer to her as Shana.
Shakugan no Shana is an anime series with a lot to offer: action, romance, comedy, and plenty of suspense. The series encompasses three distinctly different 24-episode seasons, as well as four supplemental OVA (Original Video Animation) specials and a movie, which is a condensed interpretation of the first 24 episodes. However, the specials and movie are not vital to the core series.
The first season serves as an introduction to the series’ primary story and its characters. Though Yuji has died, his torch doesn’t fade, and he is revealed to be a Mystes, a torch with special abilities. As luck would have it, Yuji’s flame is known as the Midnight Lost Child, which renews itself upon the stroke of midnight. Therefore, Yuji continues to exist in spite of his death. Shana begins to attend school with Yuji, replacing a classmate whose flame was consumed by a Crimson Denizen. As Yuji learns more about the Crimson World, Shana begins to find herself drawn into the everyday life of a Japanese teenager, and ultimately, drawn to Yuji.
Shana is what is known as a tsundere character, meaning that she is initially hostile, but melts when she falls in love. Unfortunately, the only life Shana knows is that of a Flame Haze, and she becomes instantly frustrated whenever her feelings for Yuji intensify. In contrast, Yuji is naturally kind-hearted and self-sacrificing. Beyond Shana’s reluctant affections, he gains the admiration of classmate Kazumi, who is warmer and more open than Shana when it comes to her feelings. Other characters include a busty rival Flame Haze named Margery Daw, Yuji’s delinquent classmates Kesaku and Eita, and several others from the human and Crimson worlds.
Season two is the strongest of the three, focusing equally on character development and romantic entanglements while advancing the overarching plot established in the first season. There is plenty of action, and several characters who could have been easily dismissed instead become beloved parts of the cast. Yuji himself grows to become a complex character, while Shana warms to the life of a human girl with adorable results. This season includes extra mini-episodes, which rehash several dramatic scenes played out to a comical end.
The third season is utterly confusing in the context of the previous two installments. At times it feels like a completely different series, and its characters’ actions are so out of sync with the personalities we have come to know that it is easy to become frustrated. We are also introduced to a menagerie of new additions to the series’ already-huge cast; it is difficult to care about any of them as they add little to the story but chaos. To complicate matters further, everyone in the Crimson World has several long, complicated names that we are expected to remember. For example, Shana is also known as the “Flaming-Haired, Blazing-Eyed Hunter,” as well as the “Flame Haze of Alastor, the Flame of Heaven.”
Another distraction occurs when the English dub changes actors in the second season. For instance, Tabitha St. Germaine’s Shana defines the character with an aggressive, world-weary frustration in season one. When Cherami Leigh takes over, Shana takes on a more innocent tone. Like many other replacement voices, one can get used to Leigh’s portrayal with time, but other actors simply don’t fit the characters as well as the original voices did.
In terms of its content, this series is for older teens. The battles are bloody and there are some issues with foul language. There are a few minor sexual situations, including kissing siblings, insinuations of prostitution, Margery’s copious cleavage, and a scene in which it is implied that two characters consummate their feelings by making love.
At three seasons plus, Shakugan no Shana is a significant investment—but even with its drawbacks, fans of all genres of anime will find something to enjoy here.
Shakugan no Shana, Seasons 1-3, The Movie, and OVA Series
directed by Takashi Watanabe
2000 minutes, Number of Discs: 27, DVD/Blu-ray Combo Sets
Company Age Rating: TV-14
Related to: Shakugan no Shana by Yashichiro Takahashi