Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Apr 30th 2013
Shakugan no Shana S
Shana and Yuji are sorting through the junk in Friagne's hideout looking for valuable artifacts. Yuji finds a little black telescope and looks at Shana through it, immediately swapping bodies with her. Alastor tells them it'll be bad news if someone finds out, so they dodge their friends trying to find somewhere quiet to reverse the switch.
Wilhelmina notices that Shana is being more secretive than usual. She asks Yuji's mom for help, and his mom suggests that Wilhelmina enlist Yuji in her quest. The two try to ferret out what Shana's doing, but it seems that everyone they know is in on the conspiracy.
Before Yuji and Shana's first meeting, Shana goes to a town where the Torch of a missing American model has appeared. Shana finds the Torch of a girl named Junko and destroys it, taking the dead girl's place to investigate whatever it is that ate her and the model. Clearly a Denizen is involved, but it's acting weird—even for a Denizen. In tracking it down, Shana must also cope with the unfinished turmoil of Junko's truncated life.
This four episode OVA, situated chronologically between the second and third seasons of the Shana television series, covers three stories. They vary widely in tone and quality, as well as importance to the franchise, making this feel a lot more like a supplementary disc than a self-contained release. Its value to anyone will vary greatly depending on where they fall on the continuum between casual fan and fanatical completist.
The first of this OVA's tales is the middle one in terms of quality. It's a one-episode body-swapping trifle, with all the depth and resonance that that implies. It's quite pleasant all told, a dose of light fun in a franchise that too often leans towards the dark and humorless. There's no excitement, no emotion, no real importance in it; just two people discovering what it's like to be the other person and having a meaningless little adventure trying to get back to the way they were. Yuji realizes just how hard Sha>na has to work to get her tiny little body to do the big things it does; Sha>na learns that Yuji's stomach can't take the abuse she dishes out to her own. It's a little disturbing to see Yuji (with Sha>na in control) beating up on Sha>na (with Yuji in control), and there's a perceivable deepening of their relationship at the end, but mostly this is just an enjoyable bit of throwaway fluff.
The second of the OVAs isn't even that. It's equally fluffy, and even more disposable, but it isn't really that enjoyable. The episode's main purpose is to tap into some sort of fuzzy ensemble warmth, showing what good friends everyone has become over the course of the previous two seasons. We see everyone in Yuji's group of friends, both normal and supernatural, all working together to throw a surprise party for Wilhelmina (don't get upset; that is way too obvious to count as a spoiler), while Yuji and Wilhelmina get some quality time to understand each other better. Which is all fine and dandy, except that fuzzy ensemble warmth is probably the thing (besides love-triangles) that the show does worst. The camaraderie comes across stilted and forced, and the happy-fun-times cavorting leaves a phony, sticky sweet aftertaste. The extra depth is good for Wilhelmina, and again the OVA brings welcome lightness to the franchise, but otherwise it's a waste of twenty-five perfectly good minutes.
The real meat of this release is the third story, and not just because it's two episodes and therefore a full fifty percent of the OVA. It winds back the clock to present us with a darker, more disturbing Shana. A Shana whose main character is still cold and scary and a little alien. A Shana with a cutting grasp of the tragic potential of its premise, and the willingness to explore it. At the heart of these episodes are two mysteries: one a mystical whodunit in which Sha>na pursues an underpowered but truly vile Denizen, the other a web of bittersweet emotions that Sha>na untangles as she stumbles through the remnants of Junko's life. Eventually the two merge into one, bringing the show to an exciting, poignant close, but it's the latter mystery that gives the OVA its kick. The scene where we learn what Junko was doing when she met Sha>na, and what Sha>na robbed her of by supplanting her, cuts deeper than anything in the series has in a long time. It's an elegant, ambiguous, and subtly but deeply felt story. A gem, really: compact, multi-faceted, perfectly cut.
Being an OVA, the show's visuals weigh in somewhere between those of the Shana TV series and those of the Shana movie. Characters have a decidedly wider range of motion, certain discrete actions—particularly Sha>na's assault on a moving truck in episode four—tend to be more complex and fluid, and the atmosphere has a sharper edge to it, especially in the prequel episodes. The effect is inconspicuous, maintaining strict continuity with the TV seasons, but significant. Characters feel somehow more physically substantial, more tactile—realer if you will. Which helps the show's fairly mild fan-service immeasurably. The OVA as whole feels cleaner, more accomplished, more effective.
Kô Ôtani's score is as it has always been: atmospheric, rousing if necessary, yet always tinged with a bit of sadness and doom. Junko's episodes allow it to exercise its melancholy side more thoroughly, reminding us of what a beautiful pianist Ôtani can be.
Funimation's dub falls down in a couple of important ways this time. The first obvious issue is in the body-swap episode, where Cherami Leigh and Josh Grelle clearly don't take the joy in aping each other that Rie Kugimiya and Satoshi Hino do. The real problem, however, is in the prequel episodes, where a stiff Hilary Couch badly blunts the emotional edges of Junko's story. That said, the dub's foundation is still pretty solid: the writing fine, if rather conservative, and the recurring cast is professional if not terribly enthusiastic.
This disc collects all four of the OVA's Shana-tan omake. Each one is about five minutes, and just as much an acquired taste as Shana-tan has ever been. Miniature Sha>na-tan camps out on Yuji's head and throws tantrums, Yoshida plays a mean-spirited, blunt-spoken version of herself, much weirdness is indulged in… you know the drill.
Like any supplementary disc, this is an up-and-down experience. It wouldn't do to give out episode-specific grades—that'd be a bad precedent—but it should be mentioned that if the prequel episodes got their own disc, it would rate in the A- range. If you're a fan of the franchise, those episodes alone make this disc worth your while. If you're just passing through the Shana universe, maybe you can skip it. Nothing here impacts the main story enough to make it essential viewing.
Overall (dub) : C+
Overall (sub) : B-
Story : B-
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : B+
+ Appropriately improved OVA visuals; final two episodes are about as good as Shana has ever been.
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