Reviewby Carl Kimlinger, Mar 19th 2013
Shakugan no Shana: Movie
Not content to confine itself to the opening of a TV series, Yashichiro Takahashi's first Shana novel returns for a stab at big-screen glory. Our story is the same: Yuji Sakai is a totally ordinary high-school kid who encounters a life-sucking beast on his way home from the music store. He is rescued by a badass girl with flaming hair, a talking pendant, and a sharp sword. The girl, whom he eventually calls Shana, slays the monster and informs Yuji that he's actually “Torch.” A Torch is a placeholder fashioned from whatever's left over after someone is eaten by a monster such as the one Shana just killed, designed to minimize the damage when that person suddenly disappears from reality. As a Torch, Yuji will simply cease to exist—and soon. Yuji is devastated but decides to do what he can with what he has left. Even if that means helping ruthless Shana fight Friagne, a Crimson Lord who has nasty plans for Yuji's hometown.
Movies made from anime shows come in several varieties. There's your feature-length sidestory, your existing arc that gets squished into a recap movie, and your total reinvention, among others. Shana: the Movie falls somewhere in between the second and the third. It's a retelling of the television series' first arc, but it's altered and polished and rearranged such that it actually functions as a movie—bundling all that's good about Shana's first arc into a tight 85-minute package.
It helps, of course, that there's a lot that's good about Shana's first arc. It's built around one of the nicer twists on standard supernatural action—a main character who discovers that he's dead and doomed to disappear at the same time that he partners up with a cute girl to take on a world of danger and magic—and predates most of the bad habits that the franchise eventually develops. It captures both Sha>na and Yuji at their best, when Sha>na still had her hard edges and Yuji was a confused, sometimes angry boy. They're a prickly and complicated pair, their tentative partnership uncertain and even dangerous—yet clearly a source of growth for both. It is a tale of a boy coming to grips with his own imminent demise and a girl grappling with unfamiliar human contact, wrapped inside an action flick about soul-munching monsters and the alternate-world warriors who fight them.
All of which is as true of this movie as it is of its TV predecessor. The film is very smart about what it retains and what it excises. Gone is most of the schoolyard romance, reduced to weighted glances and a few scenes with Yoshida—later to be Sha>na's main rival for Yuji. Sliced clean out are the inconclusive tussles with Margery Daw and the momentum-killing subplot about a wise old Crimson Lord. Kept is Yuji's quiet battle to cope with his despairing new reality and the incremental shifting of his relationship with Sha>na, both of which get funneled into an extended showdown against Friagne in the second half. The resulting film is fast and eventful, smoothly streamlined yet still effectively tense and emotional.
Naturally some things are lost in the process. The creeping atmosphere of the film's television sibling is greatly reduced and without the space to really build them up the film's emotions are less intensely felt. The movie adds things too though. It spends more time with Friagne, deepening his weirdly sweet motivations and more clearly establishing the threat he poses. Friagne is both scarier and more sympathetic in this incarnation, as well as more logically consistent—a potent combination, especially at the end when his plans start to unfold and then unravel. The film also gives a compelling reason for Alastor's choice of Sha>na as vessel—something that through both season one and two the TV show never did—and allows Friagne a sendoff that beats the stuffing out of his anticlimactic TV demise.
But most of all the film adds big-budget polish. It cleans up and enhances the show's TV visuals where it uses them: sharpening the art and adding some extra effects. As with the plot, the film tends to preserve the best of the show's visuals while minimizing the worst. The revolting mobility of the monsters who first attack Yuji is kept while the unimpressive animation of Yuji's everyday life is pared down and supplemented with new, nicely fluid animation. The quality of the new animation isn't enough to clash (too badly) with the spruced-up older visuals, but it is enough to add extra dimensions to things like Yuji's relationship with short-lived classmate Hirai, whose liveliness as a living girl is in tragic contrast to her zombified inarticulateness as a Torch.
Where the theatrical budget really comes in handy, though, is in the second half. The second half is almost wholly new. Director Takashi Watanabe reworks the final battles to be closer to the original novel, creating all manner of spectacle not allowed by a TV budget. There are rocketing mannequins that explode in lovely little clouds of lavender destruction and citywide magical light-shows. Fighters run and dodge and parry in full motion and are blown through windows and ricocheted off of walls in impressive detail. And then there's the finale, an apocalypse of living flame and total, utter destruction that makes the film's first half look pretty shabby and the TV version look positively prehistoric.
This version of the story showcases Kô Ôtani's score to great effect. The baroque thunder of his action music fits the spectacle of the second half to a T, the melancholy sadness of the score's sensitive side helps shore up the shakier emotional bits, and the eerie quality of the work as a whole nurtures an unsettling supernatural aura that the visuals don't always have the time to properly create. As for his clunky humorous themes, there's no space in the film for humor, so they never make an appearance.
Funimation dubs the movie in the same style as the later TV seasons: solidly, without too many liberties and without the extra spark of life you get when the staff really puts their heart into it. It's rather a broad and blunt kind of dub, especially in its scripting. The dialogue tends to be high on directness and low on finesse—not quite graceless, but definitely lacking some of the original's finer sensibilities. Cherami Leigh remains a good, aggressive Sha>na and Josh Grelle a reasonable Yuji, but no one puts much of anything extra into their acting—just the minimum necessary to get whatever needs doing done.
You don't have to be a Shana devotee to enjoy this film. Though it does help of course. Especially with the little in-jokes sprinkled here and there. This a surprisingly well-made film by any standard however: trim, exciting, and, at least before the final minute or so, quite satisfying. (Unfortunately it retains the original's cop-out ending, a last-minute revelation that sadly negates what could have been an achingly bittersweet conclusion.) If you're a Shana neophyte you may want to pop over to the extras menu to watch the “Why? What? Sha>na!” video—which gives a quick and dirty overview of the show's core concepts—before starting, but otherwise feel free to dive right in. You may find yourself quite hooked.
(The set's other extra, by the by, is Shana-tan: The Movie, a movie-version of the usual uber-moe Shana parody.)
Overall (dub) : B
Overall (sub) : B+
Story : B+
Animation : B+
Art : B
Music : A-
+ A streamlined, technically accomplished reworking of the franchise's first—and best—arc; conclusion is in every way superior to the original's.
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