Years ago (we're talking back when Geneon was still in business and releasing titles) I had the opportunity to pick up a volume of Shakugan no Shana. It was late in the series and the episodes housed within were mostly out of context, but the show piqued my interest. Ever since then I made a commitment to myself to check the rest of the series out at some point, and that day has finally arrived thanks to FUNimation. Newly released in a Blu-ray/DVD Combo pack, Shakugan no Shana's first season comes presented on three Blu-ray and three DVD discs.
Animated by J.C. Staff Shakugan no Shana hit Japanese airwaves in 2005. The franchise dates back to 2002 when Yashichiro Takahashi first released the series as a light novel, and later adapted it to a manga. Since then two subsequent series have come out along with a film and multiple OVA releases as well. As stated though, this review is for the 24 episode first season that was just collected together and repackaged for another Region 1 release.
In a nutshell Shakugan no Shana is a supernatural anime where demons battle it out in our world and devour human souls. Standing between these Denizens of the Crimson World and the meager humans are beings known as Flame Haze. These are people who, in order to avenge something in their former life, formed a pact with certain Denizens and gained powers to fight demons. Caught in the mix are shadows of killed people known as Torches. These flickering lights are brought into existence in an effort to keep common everyday people from finding out about the Crimson World. Basically when someone gets devoured by a Denizen a Torch is put into the world. A Torch looks like and for a time lives the life of the deceased, but it eventually fades away taking every trace of the person's life with them, including memories in others. It's a rather far out there concept, but hey, it works within the context of the show.
At the beginning of the story the show introduces mild-mannered high school student Yuji Sakai. There's nothing remarkable about him, as is typically the case in shows of this nature, but events soon drag Sakai into the Crimson World. It's apparent that at some point he was killed and the Sakai we see now is merely a Torch, a shadowy existence of the real boy he is a copy of. When the world around him freezes and a giant monster appears and starts sucking souls, he's naturally freaked out.
The monster recognizes him as a Mystes, which is a Torch that bears a treasure of a sort within its flame. Think of a Mystes as a mystery prize box that you want to collect, and you have the appeal for Denizens to find one. Thus Sakai becomes a hot commodity, but before he can be devoured, a flaming blade appears out of nowhere and saves his life...if you can call it that. A young girl with flaming red hair and a sharp sword jumps into the scene, and yes, this is Shana as Sakai eventually names her. Shana is a Flame Haze hunting Denizens and she recognizes the Mystes inside of Sakai. She decides to stick around to protect him so that a Denizen doesn't get the treasure
As Shana gets closer to Sakai, she finds ways to work her way into his life to be sure to stay with him. She assumes the existence of a girl in his school to accompany him to class and sleeps at his house, which you'd think would raise suspicion from Sakai's mother, but it's never really addressed. Though she starts out cold and distant Shana eventually warms up to Sakai. It's an interesting metamorphosis because she views Torches as things, and not people, but she starts to realize her feelings when she gets embarrassed changing in front of him (insert typical tsundere reaction here).
The evolution of Shana's feelings for Sakai is really the driving force of the plot and the manner with which their relationship is presented is handled well. It's a focal point for the show and often overshadows the supernatural backdrop and whatnot. Now, you might be thinking, "why would Shana fall for a Torch that's going to die soon?" Well, as it turns out, the Mystes inside Sakai is a special treasure that rejuvenates its bearer at midnight to ensure they live forever thus his flame never dies. Convenient, huh?
Rounding out the cast is a host of other residents of the Crimson World. A busty, drunken Flame Haze with a talking book makes her way in eventually and provides a nice contrasting element for Shana's character. Other Denizens with unique ambitions also provided the necessary antagonistic push the plot needs. Granted the whole affair gets a little long in tooth as the show progresses, but taken in small doses it works well. For the 24 episodes of the first season the show definitely manages to tell a good story and it presents interesting characters and plots as it does so. Pacing issues leave the experience lacking early on, especially. Flashbacks to prior episodes, meaningless character interactions, and drawn out conversations or situations really stretch the plot further than it should have.
Ultimately Shakugan no Shana is a successful series. It's easy to see why the franchise has been running for the better part of a decade and to this day it's still going strong. This first season hits plenty of bumps on the road, but it hits plenty of high notes as well. It's not an instant classic, but the series is worth adding to your collection if you're looking for a shonen-style show with light harem elements.
Shakugan no Shana Season One is presented on DVD and Blu-ray with an anamorphic widescreen transfer. My primary viewing for this series was the Blu-ray edition, though the DVD was spot-checked for reference as well. In both cases the video performed mediocre at best. The Blu-ray transfer features AVC encoding and a 1080p presentation, but as one might suspect this is an up-conversion since the show is not natively HD. Some vibrant colors and some clean lines are here, but the transfer suffers from largely blurred details and an overall softness. Scattered in between are moments that are muddied with artifacts and bits that just seem out of focus. The show views well enough and it's not "ugly" per say though you're not going to be showcasing this one to your friends.
Two channel Dolby TrueHD mixes are available for English and Japanese. No surround sound remix is available here so it's stereo all the way. What the tracks lack in sense of immersion they make up for in quality of the voice acting and technical audio points. The sound is crisp and clean with a fine balance being given to voice, sound effects, and the soundtrack. One is never really drowned out by another and everything rings through loud and clear.
Supplemental features on this release are pretty light, though there are a few "extras" to peruse. Clean opening and closing animations are available, as are some FUNimation trailers, but there are also some mini animations with chibi characters from the show. Designed to produce the occasional chuckle or two, though the humor often gets lost in translation, Naze Nane Shana and Shana-Tan combine for ten small episodes of gags and whatnot. All told the chibi sequences last for roughly 40 minutes, so there's at least some mileage to be had from them.
Sporadic in its pacing, mildly generic (by anime standards) in its execution, and too drawn out for its own good, Shakugan no Shana is definitely a show with some flaws. It is, however, a series with great characters that evolve and develop and the story is good enough to carry it along for 24 episodes (and them some as evident by future series and other projects). The Blu-ray transfer disappoints due to flaws in the source material and a lackluster up-conversion, though the audio is on par with expectations. Overall this release is recommended.