Reviewby Theron Martin, Jul 25th 2007
Shakugan no Shana
Wirhelmina has judged that the Midnight Lost Child continuing to reside in Yuji makes him too easy a target for the Bell Masque, so she seeks to destroy the Mystes in order to randomly relocate it elsewhere. Though Shana initially agrees to the plan, her growing feelings for Yuji get the best of her, and she thwarts Wirhelmina at great personal risk. Although Yuji settles on leaving town to help protect it, Bell Masque makes their move before he can. His capture allows them to complete the Whole Sacred Chapel, which freezes the town in a seal while using it, the Midnight Lost Child, the Palace of the Stars, and the peculiar abilities of the Denizen Hecate to generate an endless font of power of existence. Such power could be ultimately destructive to the town and unbalancing to all existence, however, so Wirhelmina, Shana, and Margery Daw (and their respective Crimson Denizens) must all act to invade the Palace of the Stars and disrupt the Whole Sacred Chapel by either freeing Yuji or killing him. But for the Flame-Haired Blazing-Eyed Hunter, is there really even a choice anymore?
The sixth volume, which covers episodes 21-24, brings the first series based on Yashichiro Takahashi's novels to a fairly typical conclusion. The formerly purely businesslike heroine must call her growing feels into question, cope with them while dealing with a crisis, and rescue her love from a plot by the bad guys in a series of dramatic confrontations. Little that the final few episodes do is original, and no big surprises lurk in the storytelling. (At least, not any that veteran anime fan could not reasonably see coming.) Even its post-climatic rooftop scene has been directly ripped off from several other anime.
For all its storytelling weakness, though, the writing still pulls off a fully satisfactory conclusion and still manages to at least slightly overachieve given the content it has to work with. It does that primarily by sufficiently rounding out the main underlying plot established in the first 20 episodes: the emotional awakening of Shana as her relationship with Yuji develops. These episodes show her finally coming to fully accept Yuji as a person and admit her feelings for him, and accept herself as the girl Shana and not just Alastor's Flame Haze, even if that means going against a fellow Flame Haze that she adores. The smile she gives when reunited with Yuji after rescuing him from Ball Masque has the kind of honest, joyous feel rarely accomplished in an anime series like this. It also helps that Yuji proves worthy of her love. Characters in his situation normally play like doormats, but his willingness to do what he can to resist and fight back without losing the essence of his character justifies two girls having a conflict of love over him. The interaction between them feels good, but they are not the only characters in final few episodes who relate well.
The battle against Ball Masque requires a healthy dose of action, but none of the individual action scenes stand out as spectacular efforts. The artwork most distinguishes itself with its more subtle CG effects, such as the rotating rings of symbols which surround Ike and Sato during the seal scenes, the flaming embers tumbling off Shana's hair when she is in Flame Haze mode, and the sparkles of Alastor's pendant. The design for the Denizen Hecate never has the sinister edge it shows in the volume cover art, instead reminding one more of the styles seen in the .hack// animation, while Wirhelmina's traditional maid outfit looks more than a little out of place; combat maids may be all the rage, but this is pushing it a bit too far. No nudity ever creeps into the production, but Shana having to do acrobatic fights in a school skirt assures lots of panty-flashing fan service. The animation, as in past volumes, holds up but does not excite. With the subject matter now turned completely serious, the musical score follows suit, providing a more consistent style than what was heard in earlier volumes but allowing no drop-off in reliable quality. The second opener, which features better graphics but a more generic J-Pop sound, fronts all four episodes, while the equally generic second J-Pop closer only gets used on episodes 21-23; the original opener is back to serve as the background music for the final episode's closer.
The English dub has always been a strong point, and does not falter here. A combination of appropriate casting and good performances forms a solid effort which would require serious nitpicking to complain about. The English script stays reasonably close to the original, with Wirhelmina's speech affectation being translated as the word “indeed” tacked on to either the front or back of nearly every sentence she speaks.
Titles which put their Set-Up and Extras options on the same submenu usually have minimal or no Extras, but the final volume offers a good and entertaining set. The final edition of “Naze Nani Shana,” which should only be watched after viewing the final episode, comments on various issues which come up in the final few episodes, and a clean closer for the final episode offers a view of the final scenes unobstructed by the obtrusive credits; unfortunately it is, inexplicably, only available raw, with no dub or subtitles. (What's up with that, Geneon?) The best Extras, though, are the wonderfully funny Shana-Tan Videos #1 and #2, which offer reinterpretations of scenes from throughout the series featuring a chibi version of Shana. The frequent eye catches are almost as entertaining as the actual content.
Though the story wraps itself up sufficiently, it certainly provides room for further tales involving the Flame Hazes, Yuji, and his school friends. Those are scheduled to come when the second series of Shakugan no Shana premieres on Japanese TV in the fall. (There is also a single-episode sequel OVA involving a hot springs visit which has not, to this reviewer's knowledge, yet been licensed.) Until then fans will have to content themselves with a nice, if predictable, finish to a series that has always played out at least slightly better than it feels like it should be.
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B
Story : B
Animation : B
Art : B+
Music : B+
+ English dub, Shana-Tan Video extras.
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