Review for Shana: Series 2 - Part 1
I never thought that we would see the second season of Shakugan no Shana a.k.a. Shakugan no Shana Second. As I type this, I’m sitting here right beside myself with a look of shock on my face as I contemplate the first half of season 2, now upon us in the UK courtesy of MVM. It’s had a long and tortuous journey to its release. Shakugan no Shana is one of the more popular shonen properties, melding tsundere (hard-shelled and soft-hearted female characters) with shonen (long running, and convoluted action plots). It’s as if Bleach went all moe. The first series begat this second series, a set of spin-off OVAs, a feature film, and most recently a third and final series. That’s the sort of franchise longevity that fans lust after. The problem was that the show was licensed by Geneon in the US.
They released the first series in the US in 2006, and we got it in the UK way back in 2008 on six volumes. Then Geneon stopped distributing in the US. Funimation did a quick smash and grab of their properties to get some re-releases out, but not long after, Geneon was bought out in Japan by Universal. Before, with anime companies licensing from each other, it was a case of like dealing with like. With Universal Japan now holding Geneon licenses, they are a company with bigger fish to fry. To continue with the piscine metaphor, dealing with Universal is for companies like Funimation, MVM, and Madman, like minnows hovering dangerously close to a shark hoping to scavenge some fragments. It was only in 2012 that Universal Japan started dealing with its newly acquired anime catalogue, and shows have only just started trickling out from them via Funimation in the US. I was surprised to see that familiar globe logo when I bought the Ai Yori Aoshi collection last year, and now that Shakugan no Shana Season 2 has finally made it to Western shores, its discs too start with the Universal logo.
Once again, the usual rules of anime licensing go out of the door when it comes to dealing with industry giants. Funimation licensed the show and created a dub for it in the US, but none of the usual suspects in Australia touched it. Rather than wait indefinitely for a PAL disc that may never turn up, MVM went and obtained the US masters directly from Funimation for UK release. So it is that Shana Season 2 comes to the UK as a rare NTSC release. With Universal’s left hand not knowing what the right hand is doing, a couple of weeks before the UK release date, Sony Universal in Australia has announced an Australian release of Shana Season 2, as well as a few other Geneon licenses, some new to Australia, some formerly Madman licenses rescued by Sony Universal. It’s unknown at this point whether their DVDs will be PAL discs.
Shakugan no Shana tells the story of high school student Yuji Sakai, and what happens when Shana enters his life. Shana is a Flame Haze, whose purpose is to fight the Denizens of the Crimson World and the Rinne they send to do their bidding, and stop them eating the lives of the people in the real world, who remain blissfully unaware. She isn't always successful, which is where the Torches come in. The balance of the world would be destroyed if people suddenly started vanishing, so Shana creates Torches to take the place of the dead, short lived replacements who eventually vanish from the world, along with any memory of their or the original's existence. When Yuji walks into the wrong place at the wrong time and dies, it's the start of a really bad day for him.
In Season 1, Yuji got resurrected as a Torch, but a unique one with amazing powers. Now known as the Midnight Lost Child, replenishing his energy every night, he became a target for every Denizen around, and attracted the attention of the Ball Masque, who planned to use Yuji to create a Fountain of Existence that would give them ultimate power. Naturally this would attract the attention of other Flame Hazes who would work to protect existence, including the oft-inebriated Margery Daw, and Shana’s mentor Wilhelmina. But the Flame Hazes don’t often work well together. Soon Yuji’s school friends also get drawn into this mystical world, making things even more complicated. As season 2 begins, Ball Masque may have had their plans defeated, but they haven’t finished with Yuji just yet. But worse, things are about to get domestic, as a new girl named Konoe transfers into school and latches onto Yuji, making the awkward triangle between him, Shana, and classmate Yoshida into an even more awkward square. And Konoe looks just like...
The first twelve episodes of Shakugan no Shana Second are presented across two NTSC discs by MVM Entertainment.
01. Time Again
02. Prelude to Everything
03. The Suspicious Transfer Student
04. The Dismayed Girls
05. The Family Dinner Table
06. Eve of the Ordeal
07. Hayato Ike’s Day of Glory
08. Door to the Past
09. Sad Milestone
10. The Man Who Returned
11. The Promised Pair
12. The Clear Autumn Festival Begins
Shakugan no Shana’s second season gets a 1.78:1 anamorphic transfer in NTSC format on these discs. It looks to all intents and purposes that MVM have sourced the discs directly from Funimation, stripping out the trailers. NTSC does offer slightly lower resolution than PAL, but Funimation have apparently given these discs a progressive transfer, which makes all the difference. If you have compatible equipment, then you can watch this anime at 24 frames per second, as opposed to 60 half fields per second, which results in smooth, clear and unflawed animation. I have to say that up-scaled progressively onto a flat panel display, Shana Season 2 looked great. I did watch the show on an old CRT set for comparison, and you might then be a little disappointed at the slight ghosting and judder associated with interlaced playback. That should be an issue for just a few at this point though.
Shana Season 2 is an old anime dating from 2007. It lacks the crispness and production values that you’d see in current productions, but the image is clear and sharp throughout, the character designs are consistent, and the action sequences are dynamically animated. It’s also been a while since I last saw the first season, but it is my impression that production values did take a knock between the two seasons. Certainly the character designs are a little rougher and lack the detail of the first season, also there are more static scenes standing in for animation in this series, as you’d often see in a show holding tight to its budget. It’s not enough of a drop in value to mark it out as a different show, but it is enough to make you feel something is amiss, especially during those scenes that flashback to the first series where the differences between the two become obvious.
You get the option of DD 5.1 English surround, and DD 2.0 Stereo Japanese, with translated subtitles and a signs only track. I went with the original language track as always and was very happy with the experience. There’s the continuity of voice cast, and the music also carries over from the first series. The action is presented well, and the dialogue is clear. I sampled the English audio and found it to be a typical Funimation dub, so if you are used to their way of doing things, you should be fine with this, with the proviso that this time Shana was dubbed in-house, while the first season was dubbed at Ocean studios when Geneon released it. There is no continuity of cast here. But the 5.1 treatment given to the action sequences balances that out. The subtitles are timed accurately, and are free of error.
There are quite a few extra features with this collection. The episodes are presented with static menus and jacket pictures on these two discs.
Disc 1 holds only the audio commentary, in which ADR Engineer Chris George joins Cherami Leigh (Shana), and Josh Grelle (Yuji) to chat about the dubbing process. They compare the series experience to recording the movie dub, and there is some mention made of Season 1 too. But it is a typical Funimation yak-fest.
You might be as relieved as I am to find the first four Naze Nani Shana II featurettes on disc 2. They are the Q & A sessions presented by an animated Friagne and Marianne, in which they provide a glossary to some of the arcane mystical terms used in the show. They last 17 minutes, and you can choose to play them separately or in one go.
You’ll find about five minutes worth of Shakugan no Shana II DVD Commercials and Promo Videos.
The best bit as always is the Shana-Tan comedy animations. In it Shana is reduced even further in size, until she’s sitting on top of Yuji’s head munching her way through melon bread. These shorts allow for certain scenes in the main story to be re-imagined with comic overtones, and the results are invariably mirthsome.
Shakugan no Shana-Tan Begins lasts 4 minutes.
Shakugan no Shana Tan & Yoshida – Fumina Konoe Strikes Back! – lasts 9 minutes.
Be aware that the latter has spoilers for the second half of the series, which we are yet to see.
You also get the textless credit sequences, and the US trailer for the show
I’m getting no little déjà vu from this second season of Shakugan no Shana, which given that I’m comparing it to the first season is no surprise. It’s still a fun, entertaining, and exciting supernatural action romance with an added helping of comedy, with likeable characters and an interesting story. Once again, my problem with Shakugan no Shana is the sheer amount of jargon that goes with it. There are so many terms, definitions and appellations to each and every fantastic aspect of this universe that it is easy to lose track of just what is what, and even though the Naze Nani Shana featurettes do shed some light on these aspects, I really feel that I need a mega page user manual to go with the show. If you are a fan of the Shana franchise, and are invested in the characters and the story, then it’ll probably be less of an issue than if you just casually dip your toes into the story as a harried reviewer might.
The second season of Shana also mirrors the first in the way that it is structured, or at least it looks that way at this point in the run. The first series was really a show of two halves, with the first 12 episodes used to set up the universe, drip feed a few nuggets about the way the particular world works, and focused more on developing the characters and their relationships. The second half was where the overarching story came into play, the mystibabble expounded, and the time for comic interludes in high school was past. I recall that with less of the jargon, and more character development and bits of comedy, I preferred the first half of season 1 to the second.
In Shakugan no Shana II, it looks as if it will follow the same formula. This first 12 episode collection has a couple of short interludes of action, but most of the run is devoted to matters more domestic, as it focuses on the triangle of Yuji, Shana, and Yoshida, made all the more unstable by the arrival of a new potential interest for Yuji in Konoe Fumina. It’s only at the end of the twelfth episode that what looks to be the series big bad villain arrives, and things appear to be heading in a technical and action packed direction once more. No doubt events will take a more serious tack in the second collection of this series.
All things being equal, I should really have enjoyed this first half of Shakugan no Shana II, just as I did with the first half of season 1, but oddly enough I felt somewhat let down by its frivolous diversion. The problem is that the first season used its first half for character development. Here the show just uses the episodes for comic diversion, and other than the arrival of Konoe throwing a monkey wrench into the relationship between Yuji and Shana, nothing really develops. It’s really a holding pattern of occasional silliness. The most obvious example of the show spinning its wheels is Margery Daw, the other Flame Haze in town. Every so often the show will cut to her to keep us appraised of the lack of development in her storyline. She’s either drunk, or hung-over at these points, and it’s really just to remind us that she exists.
There are a couple of notable, serious interludes in the show, just to remind us what Flame Hazes are all about, and the dangers posed by the Denizens of the Crimson Realm. The opening two episodes are a quick and quite intriguingly accomplished recap of the setting, with Shana and Yuji once more facing a particularly tricky denizen with the power to invade her target’s dreams. She’s after the Midnight Lost Child of course, the powerful Mystes that has taken up lodging in Yuji, and the interesting way that she attacks is by making her targets relive the past. So it is that we find ourselves apparently at the start of season 1, with only Yuji noticing that things aren’t quite right. We also get a bit of essential development in the story, when it turns out that the Mystes in Yuji is protected by a ‘Keeper’, and that Yuji has hidden power that goes beyond what they previously believed. The subsequent episodes have a background of training for Yuji as he tries to harness that hidden power, and fight side by side with Shana.
That’s something that inspires Sato, which leads to the next bit of essential character development, when he asks Margery to train him. I can’t remember if she’s drunk or hung-over at this point, but the request sparks off a two episode flashback sequence, that takes us to Depression era New York, and the last time that Margery encountered a rookie similar to Sato. It goes some way to explaining why she finds solace at the bottom of a bottle.
The rest of the episodes are devoted to frivolity, soap opera, and domestic drama, following the arrival of oddball transfer student Konoe Fumina. She behaves like a spoilt princess, and latches onto Yuji with a tenacity that unleashed the green-eyed monster in both Shana and Yoshida. That she is a dead ringer for Ball Masque member Hecate merely heightens Shana’s ire. A couple of episodes of getting to know Konoe ensue, along with Yoshida and Shana having to deal with their complicated feelings, and with Yuji, true to the dense male stereotype, oblivious of the whole thing. The girls compete even harder for his attention, which has the odd effect of drawing Shana and Yoshida closer. Shana learns to cook, Yuji gets a stomach-ache, they all get together to revise for exams, Ike tries to get closer to Yoshida by organising a day out at a theme park, Yuji’s dad returns, and the school puts on a cosplay parade for its Autumn Festival. It’s all painfully light and inconsequential.
The interesting stuff takes place in the background, mostly with Yuji’s training, and with Wilhelmina’s research into the Midnight Lost Child. It turns out that Yuji is powerful enough to construct an Unrestricted Method of his own, but when he finally does so, it threatens to change the whole dynamic between the Flame Hazes. He generates a flame like any other Denizen, but the colour of his flame is ominous indeed, and its meaning won’t be lost on Margery Daw when she find out. The second thing that is important is the origin of the Midnight Lost Child, a tragic power created by one named Pheles in the hope of eternal happiness with the one she loved. Now that she’s found out where it is, she’s coming to reclaim it.
The collection ends with her sudden arrival at the height of the Autumn Festival, and things look to get a lot more serious for part 2 of the series. The first half of Shakugan no Shana II is light, frivolous and silly for the most part, domestic drama punctuated by gentle comedy. In that respect it is much like the first half of season 1, but it lacks the character development and narrative growth to make it really stand out. The episodes are certainly entertaining though and very watchable, and if you’ve been missing out on Shakugan no Shana for the past few years, this will be a very welcome return for the show. I think I’ve re-watched season 1 enough to have half a handle on all the jargon, and I find I’m looking forward to more mystical technicalities in Part 2.